The Samba spirit has made Cup a World away from boring, says BBC commentator John Murray

The North East's greatest broadcaster speaks about Brazil, football and getting drenched with Tony Pulis underneath Jesus

John Murray
John Murray

John Murray holds a theory about why this World Cup has been so jaw-dropping, gob-smacking, heart-gladdening brilliant.

The newly-appointed BBC Five Live’s chief football correspondent, and North East lad, believes location has everything to do with why the past few wonderful weeks have breathed life into the tournament that was in danger of becoming moribund.

“It had got to the stage, I’m sorry to say, when I think we all wondered whether World Cups would ever been truly great again. For too many tournaments it was all too tactical and negative,” Murray tells me over a crackly line from the Saint Moritz Hotel in Brasilia, which brought me back to the days when it felt commentators, on both radio and television, were speaking from Mars when broadcasting from the other side of the world.

“Why is this? It’s something we have spoken a lot about between ourselves over here and I have a theory.

“It’s because the World Cup is in Brazil. I honestly believe that the teams have come here and realised this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience so they should really turn it on.

“Why come to Brazil of all places and be defensive. Don’t you think?”

I do think this, as it happens. Indeed, all World Cups should be played in Brazil from now on.

And you know it’s a good tournament when even the games that haven’t touched excellence have still been pretty damned, good.

Murray said: “Four or five games have been ho-hum. But even then they were tight so there was something for the two teams to go for right until the end.

“The poorest match I have covered was Holland-Chile. When the schedule came out, this was one I looked forward to becau se it was the last group game and I thought one of the teams would be heading out. But they were both through and it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

“In saying that, Arjen Robben made a run from the halfway line, beat three players and scuffed his shot at the end. I remember thinking that if he’d scored that, it would be one of the best goals I had ever seen – and that is the worst game!”

Murray, it is fair to say, is having the time of his life.

The 48-year-old, who went to Haydon Bridge High School, is not only a superb broadcaster whose North East accent somehow makes his radio commentaries all the more listenable, he is a genuinely nice bloke.

Murray made space in one of his rare off days – although in saying that he was revising when I called him – to chat about his World Cup experience.

He has done a lot in his career, but nothing has or is ever going to top the past few weeks, which have been a joy to a man who remains as big a fan since the days he went to St James’ Park and Roker Park.

Even then he was a neutral and clearly destined for the BBC.

“The best memory I will take from here is the Brazil-Chile last 16 match,” he says. “I actually thought the game itself deteriorated, but that penalty shoot-out.. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“We happened to be sitting right behind the Brazilian and Chilean commentators who got rather excited, as you might expect.

“Before the match, I went for a walk for about half hour to clear my head and by the time I got back, and this was getting near to kick-off, the tension on their faces was incredible. It got worse during the shoot-out. Some of the Brazilians were beside themselves. They looked awful. It was the dread of them going out. Those penalties were epic.”

The whole shebang has been pretty epic, helped in no small way by the crowds that have been colourful, enthusiastic and, quite simply, a lot of fun.

Murray said: “The amount of South American fans has blown me away. The Argentines especially have been terrific. I can’t begin to describe just how many of them there are.

“You have to remember that the last World Cup here was in Argentina, 1978. People didn’t travel as much then, certainly not in these numbers, and the country was a dictatorship, which provided its own problems.

“So they, plus the Chileans and Colombians, believe this is the only time they will get to a World Cup.

It is the home fans that have really made the tournament what it has become.

Murray was at the opening game, Brazil-Croatia, which he describes as an “enormous privilege” and he has fallen in love with a country where life is taken almost as seriously as football itself. They used to say that when the FA Cup Final was on, every street in our county was deserted and there was something in that going back a few years,” he said.

“That’s what it’s like when Brazil play. There is nobody on the street. Not a soul. They really feel it. They live and breath their football.”

As busy as Murray has been, there has been some down time during a week-long stay in both Rio and Sao Paolo respectively...Although the changing weather in Brazil hasn’t made sightseeing easy.

“Tony Pulis and I decided to visit Christ the Redeemer. The day started great as we set out and then the weather came in.

“By the time we were standing literally under the statue, it was raining as hard as I have ever experienced. We were soaking. I couldn’t make out the statue.

“You wouldn’t have know it was there. There was a dark figure you could just about make out. It was more Turin Shroud than Christ the Redeemer.”

Murray will return home after the semi-finals and would surely have stayed out longer if England had managed not to make a complete pig’s ear of thins.

However, this is one English fan who hasn’t given up all hope.

Murray said: “We didn’t qualify for Euro 2008, were poor in the last World Cup and not much better two years ago in the European Championships.

However, I came away from this one feeling more optimistic. We have some players who I believe will form a great team in two years.”

And because John Murray says this, you have got to believe it to be true.

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