There are so many reasons to enjoy Wimbledon. The fresh green of the grass and the peering stadium shadows. The retractable roof ensuring late-night play. The anachronistic ballet of white figures charging after skidding slices. The jingoistic Brits cheering on a grumpy Scot. The happiness of Sue Barker in her natural habitat, safe from the oleaginous love-in that's Question of Sport.
For the keen television viewer, though, there is a further element crucial to the continued romance of the above: the presence of informed and informative commentators spread over two weeks and 19 courts.
These include, of course, the reputable ex-pro pundits: Becker, Wade, Smith, Austin, McEnroe, etc. They are almost all eloquent and insightful, positive of the play, constructive in criticism, and genuinely pleased to be there. Alongside them are the lead commentators, men (they are indeed all men) who exhibit similar affection for and knowledge of the game. These include Petchey, Cotter, Bradnam, Mercer and, as many on Twitter are exultantly realizing, the great Barry Davies.
As with Wimbledon there are many reasons to love Barry Davies. In fact, most are covered by this brilliant Rob Smyth article from the Guardian in 2008. He is at once enraptured by brilliance and completely disdainful of incompetence. He is tremendously articulate without being verbose. His voice is distinctive and gently reassuring. He illustrates a supreme knowledge of more than one sport and can complement them - like comparing a drop shot on Friday to Pirlo's penalty against England. He asks questions of his co-commentator. He allows the play to develop and sets it as the centrepiece rather than his own voice. And, with his trademark howls of emotion, he can inspire individual memories of sporting action.
His exclamation of 'Where were the Germans? But frankly, who cares?' during the Britain-West Germany Olympic hockey final in 1988 is oft-mentioned in the pantheon of legendary commentaries, as is his 'Look at his face! Just look at his face!' description of Francis Lee's goal for Derby against Manchester City in 1974. My personal favourite - which will forever send a shiver down the spine - is his primal, breaking yelp during the 1998 World Cup: 'Beautifully pulled down by Bergkamp...oh what a goal!'
Indeed, it is this primal outburst that proves the most crucial element of Davies' commentary, and why he retains such affection. Due to his less is more approach his instinctive reactions to moments of significance become more pertinent, and synchronize perfectly with the human response to sport. When we witness something great we do not think brutish sentences of hyperbole or utter definitive speech; we scream in delight, choke in disbelief, punch the air, and sink in despair. Davies responds like a fan in love with sport, living for these moments.
Four years on from Smyth's eulogy a call for Davies' return is wistful. Davies is now 74 years old and no doubt enjoying the odd relaxed assignment rather than contemplating a Sunday trip to Wigan for MOTD2. For those seeking a continued fix Davies will reappear in London, July and August, to commentate on Olympic hockey.
Yet his re-popularity is concurrent with and in some cases fuelled by an increasing repudiation of hysterical football broadcasting. While criticism of the studio and commentary box pundits has become bilious, lead commentators are increasingly viewed as unnecessarily loquacious and banal. Clive Tyldesley used to stand as chief villain, but Guy Mowbray has begun to choke himself with portent. Peter Drury's desperation to land a soundbite in the opening match of South Africa 2010 was a head-in-hands moment, and not for the right reasons. In the latest European Championships the number of times pre-prepared puns were made about Greece and the recession was enough to make one scream, over and over again. Jon Champion's (something like) "we've got disconsolate Greeks and bouncing Czechs" was the worst.
As sporting events have all but disappeared from terrestrial television we do focus more on the broadcasts which remain, and this enhances the likelihood of criticism. It is also true that many sports retain excellent commentators - especially swimming, cricket and rugby league on the BBC.
Yet the modern football commentators could learn a lot from the dignity, emotion, calmness and monosyllabic profundity of Mercer, Alliss and Davies. Contrary to the current principle of prattle, silence and simplicity is the most attractive and powerful approach.Suggest a correction