Watching highlights of the 1981 FA Cup final replay between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur on ESPN Classic, two things struck me. First, the greatness of Glenn Hoddle, often obscured by later wackiness, and second, how the commentary of the late Brian Moore let the game breathe, allowing you to decide for yourself how it was going, to create your own narrative, as you might do if you were in the ground. And Moore was probably the least minimalist of the old school. David Coleman, whose catchphrase, tellingly, was "one-nil", and his BBC predecessor Kenneth Wolstenholme, said even less.
Contrast this with the work of today's commentators, who rarely allow you to make up your own mind about anything. We all have our own betes noires, mine being Clive Tyldesley, who is a fine commentator in many ways, meticulously prepared, rarely faltering in player identification, spotting player movements and so on, but spoils it with his compulsion to fill every available second with the voice of Clive Tyldesley. It is almost like a form of Tourette's.
The Cup tie between Manchester United and Arsenal on Saturday was a prime example.
Few viewers will have come to the match not knowing that Arsenal had been eliminated from two competitions in the preceding week, and were particularly keen to avoid a similar fate at Old Trafford. In case you were unaware of this, the build-up with Gordon Strachan and Gareth Southgate, and pre-match interviews with the managers, made it abundantly clear (inasmuch as the crazy camera angles and arty cutting on Gabriel Clarke's pieces allow anything to be made clear).
Yet, during a slight lull around 10 minutes into the game, Tyldesley felt obliged to launch into another lengthy rehearsal of Arsenal's circumstances, barely drawing breath: "There's been a lot of talk about recovery, response, and opportunity in the pre-match interviews, it's a touchy time of the year, it can all slip through your fingers in a couple of weeks in the spring when things turn against you, that's when you find out about the character of a team. Arsène Wenger has always insisted his teams have character, many doubt they have quite as much as United in the home straight so this is a great opportunity for Arsenal to show what they're made of this evening, and kick on towards the finishing line in the two great domestic races they're still involved in."
Arguably, this collection of cliches holds some truth (that is why they are cliches) but do you not sometimes want to say, "For pity's sake, Clive, just let us watch the bloody match"? It was, I am afraid, something of a cliche-ridden week for Tyldesley, who on Wednesday, gawd help us, had Spurs "earning the right to dine at the top table of European football".
As I often point out, I appreciate how difficult it is to choose words carefully in the hurly-burly of live commentary, but I feel Clive would give himself more chance if he were to pause for breath once in a while.
This is not, by the way, just some old geezer whingeing on about how the commentators were better in the old days (and I don't like the new money, aren't the policemen young, and why can't you get a decent cup of tea in Starbucks?) In the Spurs-City match, for instance, Moore missed a scuffle in back play that any of the new guys would have picked up on, and if you gave me a choice between Wolstenholme and Tyldesley I should go for Clive every time. I am just saying not every second needs to be filled with sound. It is football, not Just A Minute.
But, enough of football talk (see, that is how you do it, Clive). Many of you, I know, rely on Screen Break for news of the latest developments in shaving technology. Maybe you are afflicted with the curse of "tug and pull", in which case you will welcome the new Gillette Fusion Proglide, currently being hawked in pretty well every commercial break during the football.
"See how shaving may cause uncomfortable tug and pull," runs the advert, as an unhappy shaver furrows his brow (He is shaving, I assume, with the razor Gillette assured us was the dog's bollocks about six months ago). "The new Fusion Proglide has been engineered with Gillette's thinnest blades ever, gliding for less tug and pull, turning shaving into gliding, and sceptics into believers."
Not here, mate. I remain a sceptic. My razor has three blades; one to cut, one to follow on behind the first one, and a third so I can laugh scornfully at people who have just two blades. Now they want me to discard this, because it is no longer about the number of blades but about their thickness. Well, nuts to that – even if it means I am no longer dining at the top table of shaving technology.