Butch is so safe and square, I’m longing for Andy Gray

"This is great football. Well done, young man. Oh, I say, wonderful, wonderful. I've got to say, this is wonderful football we see here, wonderful football. He did well there, my word.

“Super game, super game. He's having a wonderful season, wonderful season. This man Scholes is a wonderfully gifted footballer. My word, what can I say? Oh, what a great pass, fabulous ball. Any young guys and gels lucky enough to be watching can learn a lot. Oh, he's been sent off, excellent stuff. Young Jack Wilshere, what can I say about this young man? Yes, that was a tad difficult. My word, he's been sent off as well, wonderful stuff . . ."

When Ray Wilkins gets into his full stride, he does make you long for Andy Gray. As a young man at Chelsea, he was known as "Butch" for reasons not clear even at the time, when he had a full head of butch hair. He was always a boring, limp player, clearly sensible and no doubt very intelligent. A good guy, everyone says, but a total drip.

It's strange how, in his playing pomp, turning out 84 times for England, he was known for his "square balls" - passing the ball backwards and forwards across the pitch, safely, sensibly, till you could scream. And now, in his career as a commentator, he is doing the same - talking endless square balls, backwards and forwards, never going anywhere, never committing himself, always going for the easy, the banal.

He has suddenly got lucky, landing all these big games as commentator for Sky, because Gray doesn't exist any more, and is surging to the top of the list of the most annoying people on TV. Not to be compared with the annoying players or annoying managers, though. They are in leagues of their own.

Shame about Ray

Wilkins has taken over from Alan Shearer in his ability to keep talking yet say absolutely nothing. Shearer's strength is his strength - he clenches his jaw, narrows his eyes, looks menacing, and, for one second, you are convinced he is going to come out with a half-decent opinion or insight. Then it emerges, sheer Shearer: "Here, we see, that was a good goal."

Shearer, though, is easily avoidable: he's a studio guest, so you can go to the lav, make tea and forget that he exists. It's the match commentators who are hard to miss. They're with you for the full 90-plus minutes unless, of course, you turn the sound off.

Garth Crooks is another studio expert who seems to annoy a lot of fans. He, too, appears to be on the point of saying something interesting - using his hands, bending forward, looking intelligent - and then he tells us nothing much. Yet I know how intelligent and fluent he is. Garth, do let rip. Let us hear what you really think.

Peter Drury used to be my fave hate among the match commentators - not for what he says, as most of it is perfectly reasonable, sometimes even enlightening, but how he says it. He has this air of intellectual satisfaction, that he's a bit too clever and educated for this muddy oafs' nonsense but has agreed to do us a favour and illuminate what is before us, as we are not up it.

Jonathan Pearce is just a pain - overexcited, overdramatic, in love with himself and his own opinions. Yes, he does have them and express them, which is good, and commendable, but it's mostly chauvinistic, Little Englander stuff. Or he tut-tuts self-righteously at some piddling bit of bad behaviour, giving himself the moral high ground, playing to the audience. I'm beginning to suspect that it's an act. All good commentators and TV presenters are actors - acting the part of themselves.

John Motson is a role model for all would-be annoyants currently learning their trade. He has perfected the overenthusiastic commentary, specialising not in the controversial or reprehensible, but in the utterly boring and banal, trotting out inane facts, getting worked up about pointless talking points that nobody else is talking about. Motty has been at it so long now that he has become part of the football fabric, an acceptable
and familiar irritant.

So, Ray, great stuff, young man, stick at it . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Beyond the cult of Bin Laden