BBC sports broadcaster Barry Davies commentated on ten World Cups. The 80-year-old sat down with 888sport to talk about his favourite tournament memories, playing second fiddle to John Motson, the current breed of commentators and England’s chances in Russia.
1966 has to be my favourite World Cup. ITV sent me to the north east to cover the North Koreans so I didn’t actually do any England matches but it was my first tournament and, of course, we won it. It was wonderful to be a part of.
Italia ’90 was a brilliant experience. It didn’t necessarily produce the best football but what a great atmosphere. The whole strata of society in Italy are mad about the game. It was a pity they didn’t make the final and an even greater pity they didn’t face England in it. I’m convinced we would have gone all the way had we beaten Germany in the semis – we were the better side.
Maradona scored the greatest goal I commentated on. The atmosphere that day in Mexico City (1986 quarter final, England v Argentina) was sizzling. Maradona produced a goal of total deception and then one of total pure genius. It spawned probably my most famous line, ‘you have to say that’s magnificent’.
USA ’94 was a strange one. It was the only World Cup final I covered but the game itself was a huge disappointment (0-0 between Italy and Brazil and then penalties), through no fault of the players because of the unbearable heat. And then Roberto Baggio, without whom the Italians wouldn’t have got anywhere near the final, goes and misses the last penalty.
Russia isn’t the best place for a World Cup. I’m fearful of political unrest and racist interruption. I hope the football does the talking.
John Motson and I were never close friends. We were friends but there was always a rivalry and I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I was satisfied with the amount of big games I covered. I was lucky enough to cover other major events like Wimbledon and the Olympics, which I think helped make me a better commentator, but that perhaps counted against me with the football. Motty, more often than not, got the finals, but I’m proud of the career I had.
Silence can be golden in the commentary box. One of the reasons I stopped doing football was because of the need for constant conversation during matches. Viewers can’t form their own opinions and everyone seems to speak at 100mph. Maybe it’s because I’m an old fogey.
Too many ex-players are in the media now. I’ve never been against ex-players offering their expertise. I loved working with Brooking and Lawrenson, and Hoddle is also very insightful at times, but nowadays they seem to come straight from the field and into the studio– they were trained for their first career, so why not for their second?
The most skillful players are the most vulnerable. The media definitely play a part in England’s failures but players do invite problems and it always seems to be the most naturally gifted. Sterling and Alli in this squad, Gascoigne before. It’s the same with Cipriani in the rugby.
England might surprise in Russia. We’ve got an exciting attack – Alli and Sterling among them - that could cover some deficiencies in defence. If Southgate plays to our strength, I think we’ll do well.
Barry Davies was speaking at the launch of Rapper to Reporter, 888sport’s seven-part World Cup series starring Big Narstie. Davies features in episode one.