A football match is never complete without a football commentator.
How they employ their creative prowess, punchlines and wordplay changes the whole experience. It’s just insane how they do it.
Words like these ‘Spain on the plane, or Spain in the Russian rain. You’ve heard of Sharapova, you’ve heard Kournikova, now it’s all over. Pique climbed high, Dzyuba climbed higher and Russia as a nation rose highest,’ as used by peter Drury during the 2018 World Cup match between Spain and Russia still lingers fresh in the minds of football fans globally.
However, with the outbreak of coronavirus, matches were suspended indefinitely. Most of these talented commentators have also had their activities behind the microphones brought to a sudden halt.
So how have these commentators been coping during the Covid-19 hibernation?
Here at home, the renowned football commentators who always took us on that 90-minute journey, in television and radio commentaries have had their share of difficulties during this period.
“I have literary nothing to do in terms of my professional duty on the pitch. After the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) matches were cancelled, many of our activities were also called off,” says Bernard Otieno, one of Kenya’s finest football commentators.
The enigma who broke the airwaves after becoming the only Kenyan football commentator ever to grace and commentate during the World Cup, says it has been rough and tough since the outbreak of Covid-19.
Although he has other avenues to get a coin at the end of the day, the SuperSport East Africa English lead commentator agrees that this is the hardest time in his 3-decade long journey behind the microphone on the pitch since his first international commentary 31 years ago.
Perhaps the situation is the contradiction of a mantra he holds on to that ‘A good thing is made up of very many years of experience and research. It has been a long road to where I am today but I see even better days ahead.’
Otieno discloses that the situation is even dire among some of his colleagues who are also freelancing and do not have other means apart from the life in the commentary booth.
Similarly, the coronavirus whirlwind has also ripped off the roofs of the commentators who are employed and paid per month.
Although he works at the Standard Group as a Sports Editor and a commentator, Robin Toskin, agrees that the situation is not good either.
“As much as I’m an employee, the suspension of KPL matches has brought some unforeseen challenges. There is slow activity on the desk and we just hope things will return to normal, “says Toskin.
Toskin, who is a sports guru, also believes that the cloud will pass soon and the games will kick off again.
This is the hope some of his colleagues in the radio fraternity also hold on to, although they too are sailing in troubled waters.
“Our fans believe that we have powers to return football. They think we can just end coronavirus and give them what they crave, “says Hassan Kauleni, a veteran football commentator with Standard Group’s Radio Maisha.
Kauleni, who is well known for his comic and analytical Kiswahili commentary, says the coronavirus blow has also caused some turbulence in the sports airwaves in radio.
“Our work has been reduced drastically. The former days when we could report to work every day to feed our hungry fans with football is no more. This has translated to salary cuts, “adds Kauleni.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many media houses have been forced to enforce a pay cut on their employees. Some have been sent on unpaid leave while others have paid the ultimate price by being sent parking for redundancies.
The terrain has been very tough as advertisers have withdrawn their partnerships forcing the revenues to deepen.
“We had plans to bring our fans the Euro 2020 and advertisers had already come on board to partner with us. We also had the EPL, Champions League matches, La Liga, Bundesliga and the KPL to bring to our fans but all that sunk overnight after coronavirus hit the globe,” Kauleni further states.
Steven Mukangai, who is also a colleague at Radio Maisha alludes to the fact that it’s getting really murky for him and his fans.
“Apart from commentating the match, I also used to place a bet here and there. I could not walk home with less than Sh5,000 after a weekend. I believe, the majority of football fanatics are also facing similar challenges.All this is now gone,” says Mukangai.
The sharp-pitched voice commentator who has earned himself a share of a diehard fan base due to his remarkable ‘go go go goaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal’… mantra now says he has been forced to look for alternatives to keep his audience alive in this tough period.
“We have very little to offer in terms of sporting activities. So I have to improvise to keep the fans entertained. What I do is introduce a banter between rival fans, say Manchester United vs Arsenal fans on a topic like the race for top 4 in the EPL and see how they go for each others throats,“ adds Mukangai.
Because of the nature of football and the way fanatics argue about their teams, a conversation is always certainly sparked.
Calls and comments on social media erupt because this is a war and the battle lines have been drawn. That keeps his Saturday 3 PM-7Pm sports show going.
Soccer is a very emotive game. It gets personal if someone talks ill of your club and a retaliatory statement is always given by the opponent. It’s a rivalry going into centuries.
It is the game known to unite and divide in equal proportions depending on which side you are looking at it from.
Besides the tricks on how to keep his audience alive, Mukangai says he also spends most of the time updating the fans on the scope of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We also inform them on the possible return dates for the leagues, sports personalities who have been infected and also updates for those who have recovered from the disease, “explains Mukangai.
Some of the soccer personalities have tested positive for the Covid-19. However, most of them have recovered from it.
First was the Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta whose news came as a shocking reality that the coronavirus was not a joke. The Gunners boss has, however, recovered from the infection.
Other players who tested positive include, Chelsea’s Hudson-Odoi, Juventus forward Paulo Dybala and former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini just to mention a few.
"The official test confirmed that the club player Fellaini tested positive for the new coronavirus during the quarantine observation period, “said a statement from Chinese team Shandong Luneng's website
The situation is not different in the international scene.
Through an exclusive interview with Standard Digital and Game Yetu, the fans favourite and one of the Greatest Of All Times (G.O.A.T) football Commentator, Peter Drury, acknowledged that things are thick as far as soccer commentary is concerned.
“I have nothing to do professionally. But I’m not complaining, I am one of the lucky ones…I am surrounded by family and I have nothing to complain about amid this pandemic, “said the poetic commentator.
Drury who is revered for his mastery of the game of football and his enchanting punchlines during commentary says he had planned a whole tone of notes before the EPL matches were suspended on March 13th, 2020. The research was however never used.
“I have in front of me my notes for the game that I was to bring you between Watford and Leicester on Saturday lunchtime. Sadly for me, they were never used they were not used because it turned to be a lockdown Weekend,” said Drury in a video he posted on his twitter handle.
He, however, alludes to the fact that things will return to normal, despite the challenges at the moment.
“There is some talk that some sort of culmination to the English Premier League season, just might occur during the month perhaps of June, but nobody's making any promises, so we can just all of us keep our fingers crossed and pray that at some stage the football we love so much will return,” elucidated Drury.
Drury and other football commentators around the globe now stay put and hope that the whistle will be blown again and the games will kick off again.