“Not by accident, nothing capricious about it, nothing fortunate
–it was insightful, questioning football.”
– Ray Hudson
If you are a soccer fan and you watch it on TV, as I do, you may have encountered the splendiferous voice of Scottish announcer Ray Hudson. Hudson played as a professional with Newcastle United from 1974-77 and then with various US teams until 1991. Since 2004 he has been a commentator for GolTV, a sport channel that broadcasts games from La Ligua. Alongside fellow commentator Phil Schoen, Hudson covers big Ligua matches, including the “El Classico” duels between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
When you watch these big matches you hear Schoen doing most of the play by play commentating. He’s the sensible one, tracking the ball from player to player. His is a reassuring voice, slightly low-pitched, with that page-turn quality that lends it a I wonder what will happen next? cadence. Schoen is a pro’s pro, adeptly narrating the flow of the game in a way that I could listen to all day—or least while I’m cooking. But sometimes sports TV is more than ambient sound, and during La Ligua broadcasts the X factor here that draws me in deeper is Ray Hudson. Relying on Schoen as his straight-arrow wingman, Hudson plays the role of exuberant interrupter, riffing on the game like a preacher with a microphone driving himself to exhaustion, yet somehow willing his body to keep going because the game unfolding in front of us is simply that good, that magical.
Hudson’s verbal poetics depend on two essential techniques. First, he improvises a seemingly never-ending stream of analogies to express his enthusiasm for how remarkable the goal that just happened really was. Hudson is a particularly rabid fan of one of the sport’s living legends, Barcelona’s diminutive forward, Lionel Messi. Hudson analogizes all around Messi’s goal-scoring. I have heard him say that a defender trying to stop Messi from scoring is like someone trying to stop “a twisting dragon in vaseline.” Or: “The placement is emphatic, the power 1.21 gigawatts.” Or: “Like Oliver Twist, he wants more. He just never says ‘Please, sir.’” Or this: “He could follow you through a revolving door, and come out first.” Or this: “Dynamite at the end of an electrical attack.” Or my favorite: “Defenders try to follow him on Facebook, and he comes out on Twitter.”
The second key Hudson technique is the intensity of his passion. He’s the only commentator I have ever heard who runs himself ragged calling the game, so involved is he emotionally with the unfolding action. As co-host Schoen holds it together, I imagine Hudson slumped in his chair, all but spent before it’s even halftime. On more than a few occasions I have found myself glued to a game hoping to hear Hudson do his thing—which can be grandly summed up thusly: breaking through the glass ceiling that exists on any occupation by transforming it into something else. What’s the secret? It has something to do with the effect intensity has on how we perceive something done. Hudson brings incredible energy to his verbal riffs, careening from ad lib to ad lib as he tries to render for us the level of his engagement with the game. What more could one ask for?