Is this the end for Tommy Smyth, possibly the most hated football commentator in history?

US sport fans will be hearing a lot less of Tommy Smyth, and his many irritating catchphrases, now that ESPN have lost Champions League rights

That breeze you feel gusting in from the Atlantic is thousands of soccer fans in the United States sighing with relief. For the news is in that Fox Soccer Channel will be broadcasting the Champions League next season. Which means that fans will be hearing a lot less of quite possibly the world's most hated sports commentator, Tommy Smyth.

For readers outside Smyth's extensive broadcasting reach, he is the "colour man" for ESPN. "There's a petition on the internet which apparently has about 500 signatures to get me fired," said Smyth in a recent interview with the Sunday Independent in Dublin. "One guy emails religiously calling me a scum bag and saying that my mother should have had me aborted. I get a lot of shit."

In 2007, while on a trip to Australia – where ESPN is also broadcast – Smyth was the victim of an internet death threat from a soccer fan who claimed they'd pay "good money for someone to put a bullet in his head".

The reason? Tommy Smyth 'with a Y' has what must be the most annoying catchphrase in commentary history. And he just won't stop saying it. During a recent Champions League game Smyth chortled: "What a bulge of the old onion bag that was from Fergie's men."

Minutes later, when Manchester United scored again, Smyth quipped: "And what a bulge in the old onion bag that is for United."

It's what Smyth says every time a goal is scored. And he's been saying it for years – the huge ESPN security operation that followed Smyth's Australian death threat was, with grim inevitability, called Operation Onion Bag.

And while commentating on those games where the old onion bag isn't bulged, Smyth is more than likely to comment on the lack of old onion bag bulging (causing desperate groans in living rooms and soccer pubs from coast to coast.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many American Canadian, Pacific and Australasian fans have called for the catchphrase to be retired – along with Smyth himself. "He's even been known to say, 'I know this annoys some people when I say it, but he really bulged the old bag there," groans 34-year-old Lazar Treschan who runs the website with a 31-year-old expat Irishman, Cass Crockatt.

Crockatt is particularly appalled by Smyth's brogue, which is as powerful now as when Smyth emigrated to the US in 1963. "In each of the years that he's left County Louth, his accent has gotten stronger to such an extent that he's now 94% angry leprechaun."

A fellow blogger opined: "He almost makes me ashamed to be Irish. How to Jaysus does the Bollix keep his job. It just goes to show how thick the yanks are."

Smyth's allegedly buffed accent, says Crockett, smacks of cod-Irish affectation on par with ersatz bacchanalia of the US version of St Patrick's day (Smyth was grand marshal of the New York parade in 2008 and an Irish folk singer wrote a song in celebration) and the culture of the "plastic Paddy" pub.

He's not alone. "He makes me cringe every time he opens his mouth," says Terri French, an Irish Liverpool fan exiled in Philadelphia who claims that Smyth is more embarrassing to expats than either Riverdance or the Celtic Woman show.

But it's not just the old onion bag bulging that upsets Smyth's legions of detractors. Crockett claims, for instance, that Smyth has a quixotic grasp of the tactics, laws and facts of the game. But what really irritates the anti-Smyth massive is the man's relentlessly unfunny upbeat banter.

"He's Ray Stokes, basically," says Crockatt, referring to the catchphrase-happy factory manager in When The Whistle Blows (the shitcom-within-a-show in Extras). "Are you having a laugh?"

And then there's the guff and the gaffes. Here's a small selection of Tommy Smyth's greatest moments:

"In the Dutch oven, the French are toast"

"Venegoor just turns and lampoons it into the net."

"Liverpool don't do very well in Italy, especially against Italian teams."

"It's 1–1, and if there are no more goals it'll be a draw."

"Like my mother said to me: 'If your cat had kittens inside an oven, would you call them scones?'" (About the naturalized black Polish player Emmanuel Olisadebe). "He is a burden we all have as Americans," adds Lazar Treschan

"He's the main reason why most Americans are illiterate about soccer," claims a Boston-based Lyon fan, Inara.

Other US soccer bloggers have called Smyth "Beelzebub's handmaid", a "pathetic and insulting blight" , a "garbage commentator", a "ridiculous clown" and "the biggest tit on the air" who talks "incessant drivel" and "utters inanity after absurdity after stupidity". Others also opined that Smyth commentates as "if he is watching the game through an aquarium" and that he "needs to be tied to a goal post for Juninho to practise his free-kicks on".

In an email to the Guardian, Steve Korowitz wrote: "He's the worst soccerball commentator on the planet, bar none, and having spent enough time watching Gary Lineker et al, I can say that with some confidence."

"There can be no argument that he is the worst commentator in history," agreed New Zealand viewer Jon Saunders. "I've never seen anyone so regularly misidentify players, stadiums and even whole teams."

Has any commentator ever provoked such ire (apart from Jimmy Hill, obviously)? The news that Smyth will soon no longer be chortling his catchphrase during Champions League matches has been greeted with jubilation across the antionionbagosphere. Unsurprisingly, the chaps at were particularly effusive.

"No longer will Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons be spent in … the internal psychological battle of wanting to enjoy the beauty and art of the goal but not knowing how to deal once more with the exceedingly grating faux-Irish ignoramus insulting our intelligence. Taxi for Tommy Smyth!"


Steven Wells

The GuardianTramp

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