The news that ESPN lost the rights to the Champions League to Fox Soccer Channel was usurped by the glee with which many fans around the world celebrated the end of Tommy Smyth’s smiley head waxing lyrical on the greatest club competition on earth.
And in fairness, the man does lay on the wax with a heavy hand sometimes. There has been enough ink and keyboard action about the bulging onion bag. But it’s his catchphrase, period. In an interview last June with the Sunday Independent Smyth described his role:
“I'm not a broadcaster. I tell you what I think. I may be wrong but I tell you what I think. I'm not a technical expert and have never claimed to be. There's an entertainment value to the games as well.”
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and those at www.nomoreonionbags.com have made it pretty clear on how they feel about one of County Louth’s most famous sons. It is a time for joy on that site.
But, if one takes the entertainment value Smyth talks about into consideration, has every entertainer been loved? Was everyone blown away by Seinfeld? No. Love Tommy Smyth or hate Tommy Smyth, at least the man elicits a reaction. Can one say the same thing, about, for instance, any other soccer color commentator at ESPN or Fox Soccer Channel?
Sports Illustrated’s Paul Gardner went one further this week in a piece by looking at the Fox Soccer Channel crew that will replace ESPN on Champions League commentary next season.
“So Smyth exits stage left, and trundling on, stage right, here comes the awful FSC assembly. A few Brits accents every bit as overdone as Smyth's - plus a bunch of Yanks who pathetically want to sound like Brits by using "pitch" and "nil" and - yes - "football," all the time. There is a lot of forced laughter and giggling on FSC, but is there any real humor there? Yes, from Steve Cohen. The rest are too seriously trying to polish their TV images.”
Tommy Smyth is about as unpolished as a sod of turf in a bog. But that’s half his charm. ESPN would not have a man on staff since 1993 unless he was adding value.
The Euro 2008 coverage by ESPN was almost as enjoyable for the non-relationship between Andy Gray and Smyth as it was for the superb quality of the games themselves. The two just did not seem to hit it off, and it made for occasionally hilarious television.
"At my age the legs start to go a bit when you have to run between so many studios. But most men around the world are taking time off work to watch football, I'm being paid for it, which is something that I can never allow myself to forget,” Smyth said in the same interview with the Sunday Independent.
Two things immediately spring to mind. The first is that the image of Tommy Smyth running down any corridor is priceless, probably commentating on the way “Outta me way lads, I’m going to miss me match.”
The second thing is that maybe Smyth is hated by some because of the green monster. No, not that Tommy is an Irish version of Gollum, just that people who don’t like him are a little jealous because he has such a great job.
And that he doesn't lose any sleep over the haters.