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Ian Darke and the USA: A love story

Ian Darke and the USA: A love story

Steven Maloney on 3 October 2012

Steven Maloney shares the moment that the USA soccer-watching public fell in love with Premier League commentator Ian Darke.

“Howard gratefully claims it… distribution brilliant. Landon Donovan… There are things on here for the USA! Can they do it here? Cross… and DEMPSEY IS DENIED AGAIN… AND DONOVAN HAS SCORED! Oh can you believe this!?! Go, Go USA! Certainly through! Oh, it’s incredible! You could not write a script like this.” – Ian Darke, Pretoria, June 23, 2010

It would not be surprising to hear a story about a last-second World Cup goal with the survival of the nation on the line changing the course of a career. But on June 23, 2010 in Pretoria, the career that changed was not the goal scorer’s (Landon Donovan), but was instead the career of one Ian Darke, the veteran EPL match commentator moonlighting on American television.

For the uninitiated in American sporting culture, there are two great sports calls in American history that stand out above the most. Number one is probably Al Michaels’ call of the USA’s “Miracle on Ice” victory over the USSR in the 1980 Winter Olympics: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” Number two is the famous call by Russ Hodges of Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” Home Run in 1951: “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!”

If the two above calls are the Pele and Diego Maradona of American sports calls, Ian Darke’s call of the 2010 USA-Algeria match is the Lionel Messi. Darke’s is the greatest in recent memory, and time will decide whether or not it actually joins that absolute upper echelon. Either way, its place on that next tier of great calls is beyond secure. Darke’s call made on the precipice of the explosion of the sport’s popularity in the United States, enhanced by the fact the play itself was set up by the country’s three most elite players (Howard, Dempsey and Donovan), and cemented in history by shots of Tim Howard pointing to the heavens and an American fan in tears of joy in the stands.

By tournament’s end, it seemed clear to all of us listening carefully in the United States that both our team and country had grown on Ian Darke. Make no mistake about it: we love him for this reason.

In the buildup to World Cup 2010 – besides serving as the letter “Y” in the now infamous “EASY: England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks” headline from The Sun – the main news story for Americans were that we were getting a real English commentator to do some of our World Cup matches. The previous job done by ESPN in 2006 was so poor that they felt compelled to run commercials before the tournament advertising that this time it would be different. ESPN’s change of attitude commercial featured U2’s “Beautiful Day” as fanfare to announce the big catch… Martin Tyler.

While Americans went to the party with Martin Tyler, they surely came home with Ian Darke. Even before the famous call in the USA-Algeria match, people were talking. In my world, it started with people saying, “Martin Tyler’s great, but you know who else is really good? Ian Darke.” Then it slowly progressed from respect into something more. And it seemed to be cutting both ways. Perhaps it was the fact that Darke’s early matches were spent paired with the dour Efan Ekoku (or at least I assume it was Efan Ekoku, it may have just been a tape machine that played him saying, “that’s poor, for me” over and over again) but when the time came that Darke was paired with former USA International John Harkes, Darke seemed to put extra emphasis on delighted in “I’m delighted to be bringing this match to you with John Harkes.” While Darke opting not to treat working with Americans with usual tone of voice (thinly veiled contempt) confused us, we noticed and appreciated it. By the time Darke was exclaiming, “Go! Go! USA!” we had, as a nation, forgotten all about Martin Tyler. A love affair had begun. 

The key to Ian Darke’s meteoric rise in the eyes of the American soccer fan has everything to do with the sense we had that he had fallen in love with us too. The American fan respects the great football cultures of the world, and is desperate for reciprocity. The American fan also saw World Cup 2010 as not just about bringing more American fans to the beautiful game, but it also bringing the global football community in to see the evolution of the American fan. Far from being the worst stereotypes about Americans, we were cosmopolitan. We knew the language and culture of the game, we had worked at learning it for years, and we wanted some acknowledgment that as supporters we were legitimate members in the community of nations. The auditory transformation of Ian Darke over the course of his World Cup match commentary seemed to personify the realisation of our hopes as fans. 

And we got to keep him!

Saturday mornings on ESPN mean, for America’s soccer fans, the joy of Ian Darke and Macca. USA internationals mean Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman. Women’s World Cup matches mean Ian Darke and Julie Foudy. Ian Darke, once the other guy brought in to cover World cup 2010, is now the pulse at the centre of ESPN’s football coverage. Someone was going to be at the intersection of American football going big-time and global football culture, it happened in the 91st minute in Pretoria. The American football fan is here to stay, and we showed our statement of intent by turning our loan deal for Ian Darke into a permanent transfer. May it go down in history as one of the best-post World Cup moves in history.


Steven Maloney writes about football and politics. He also holds a PhD in Political Theory from the University of Maryland and is a political science lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. You can follow him on twitter here.

Comments

As an Englishman here in the US, Ian Darke is really fantastic. He and Macca do an outstanding job on Saturdays presenting the Premier League game and they are truly having a big impact on the American soccer fan. Great article, spot on!
by Godderz on 03 October 2012 at 04:37 PM

Agreed. Great commentary for these two. They work very well together as a team.
by NHOwl on 03 October 2012 at 05:07 PM

In total agreement with this article. I live somewhat in a fellow-football-friend vacuum, so I'm pleased to learn that other Americans set the alarm on Saturdays!
by Lar on 03 October 2012 at 05:18 PM

As an American whose love of the game has grown exponentially over the last 6 years, Darke and Macca are every bit the highlight suggested. I only wish the US could produce a homegrown commentating talent as adept as either one. Twellman, Darke... they just leave me a bit cold.

On a personal note, my absolute favorite Darke moment was his call of the US Women's 2011 QF against Brazil. I know we Americans get flack for our devotion to our Women's team (hey, we're a world power there, we need SOMETHING when the Men aren't performing) but his reaction to the game tying cross still gives me chills.
by AronParson on 03 October 2012 at 10:38 PM

Enjoyable article, but why oh why did you have to bring Macca into it at the end. He is a symbol of all that is wrong in soccer analysis, both sides of the atlantic. lazy cliched soundbites, with a sprinkling of patronization.
by Jules on 04 October 2012 at 01:15 AM

I was pleased when Ian Darke's omission from UK boxing coverage finally allowed me to enjoy bouts without the aid of the mute button, imagine how gutted I was when when I stuck the football on after moving to Canada only to find him and "Macca" nausing up the early weekend hours with their soppy bonhomie schtick? I'm glad someone likes him because he does my brain in, different strokes for different folks I guess!
by Kilgore Trout on 04 October 2012 at 09:26 PM

Ian Darke's finest hour remains his truly wonderous description of Bruce Scott sticking Enzo Maccarinelli down in the first.

"OH OH WOAH OH WOAH OHHH - welcome to the big league Enzo, welcome to the big league"
by Chimmers eh on 09 October 2012 at 11:01 AM

Ian Darke has brought football coverage in North America (we get ESPN's coverage in Canada on our Spors Network) to a new level. My only slight complaint is that he sometimes tries to hard at being matey with 'Macca'. Still superb.
by Brad on 13 October 2012 at 06:50 PM

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