DAVID COLEMAN has been hailed by Lord Coe as the greatest commentator of all time as the world of sport lined up to pay tribute to the broadcaster whose distinctive voice was synonymous with so many iconic sporting moments from the 20th century.
The 87-year-old, who covered 11 summer Olympics and six football World Cups in a 46-year career with the BBC, was remembered for his attention-to-detail – and the occasional gaffe.
It was one of these that inspired Sebastian Coe when he was growing up in Sheffield. When David Hemery won hurdles gold at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Coleman failed to spot the fast finishing Yorkshire runner John Sherwood, exclaiming: “Who cares who’s third?”
Yet it was a subsequent school visit by Sherwood that inspired Coe to become a middle-distance champion – many of the epic races with his great rival Steve Ovett were described by Coleman – before masterminding the successful staging of the 2012 Olympics.
“He was just incomparably the best and the best in any generation,” said Lord Coe yesterday. “It wasn’t just that he carefully choreographed intro pieces but he could always capture the moment.
“He liked being in the company of athletes, he would spend time with athletes and sit talking to them. He could read a race as well as anybody and really did understand the dynamics and strategy of the race.”
Coleman also excelled in the 1972 Munich Olympics when his nerveless updates about the massacre of Israeli athletes shocked the world.
While Coleman, who died after a short illness, will always be remembered for sporting institutions like Sportsnight, A Question of Sport and Grandstand – he presented the second edition of the latter – he came to prominence with his football commentaries and iconic phrases like “one-nil”.
Another memorable moment was the amazing save by England’s Gordon Banks to deny Brazil’s Pelé in the 1970 World Cup.
“Pelé... what a save... Gordon Banks,” said the man behind the microphone with the great economy of words which never distracted from the imagery on the then fuzzy TV screens.
“He was spot on. He knew what he was doing,” said England’s Sir Bobby Charlton who played in that match. “Pelé headed the ball and Gordon Banks somehow or other got his little finger on the ball and pushed it over the bar.
“The players trusted David to be absolutely correct on certain things on the football field, he was a charming man – I couldn’t tell you anyone else who was better.”
Coleman also commentated on the 1974 FA Cup final and declared: “Goals pay the rent, Keegan does his share” after Doncaster-born Kevin Keegan had given Liverpool the lead on their way to a 3-0 success over Newcastle.
“Wherever I go now people quote ‘pay the rent’, Keegan said. “Sometimes you can tell when people are out of their depths but he had them all covered. You just felt he was a master of what he was covering. He just had that voice – he is a true legend.”