The dynamic duo of Beinsports La Liga commentary, Phil Schoen (play-by-play) and Ray Hudson (color) have, for much of this past decade, compiled a highlight reel comparable to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s in sheer entertainment value. Most of this is down to Ray Hudson, who uses SAT words in breathless appreciation of every beautiful goal scored during a match. His exuberance is infectious, but also hilarious, a self-aware shtick that is somehow eternally creative.
Hudson’s M.O. is to answer the question: how do you describe the indescribable? How do you translate the superhuman physical feats of a soccer match into mere language? His profound answer: to stretch language to unparalleled heights. Ray pulls words like “magisterial” off the shelf, dusting them off to see if they fit. Their absurdity reminds us that these feats of soccer transcend the spoken word, and force us to laugh at the how language comes up short. But there is beauty in watching Ray get close.
When Lionel Messi scored a winning goal with the last kick of the game for Barcelona against Real Madrid in last weekend’s mammoth El Clasico, Ray Hudson and Phil Schoen were in full flourish as they chronicled this momentous occasion live. Here then are excerpts of their commentary from Messi’s outstanding goal yesterday, ranked according to their aesthetic brilliance.
“Astonishing” is a classic Hudsonism, and here it is well used. You can also feel the passion and earnest awe at Barcelona’s mélange of technique in Ray’s phrase “All the pieces falling into place.” But this is mostly functional, a bridge between Hudson’s other grace notes.
Near the bottom of the list by default. It’s got good words in it, but Ray’s shoehorning of his style into a more Phil-esque play-by-play feels a little wonky. Still, the phrase “Demonic skill” is one of the best descriptors in this entire symphony of adjectives.
Many will place this tortured Rolling Stones analogy at the top of their own power rankings on sheer camp alone. It’s certainly the excerpt that departs the most from conventional sports commentary. But it feels somewhat of an overreach; there’s an Icarus quality to it. Still it powers through you on the fumes of its own ambition, and you must give Ray credit for the undertaking.
This is the bass solo.
Some classically strong play-by-play here from Phil, who keeps up admirably with the speed and range of Barcelona’s passing style. By the time that Messi unleashes a first-time finish, Phil has escalated his volume, and his bellowing of “Messi” rings out from the foothills of Mount Olympus. The perfect way to set the stage for the Herculean linguistics to follow.
Far from being the most ostentatious Hudsonism of this commentary, it’s still something you could picture a more classically professional broadcaster using if he was feeling a little rambunctious. You could maybe – if you squint – imagine a wine-buzzed Vin Scully using a phrase like this in the throes of a particularly calamitous inning of bad fielding. But this is the kind of thing that Ray Hudson churns out fourteen or fifteen times a game.
Go through a list of every possible English language phrase a human being is likely to use in a broadcast, “flaming spear” is down there with nonsense phrases like “sideways canoe” or “horse battery.” And don’t get me started on calling the world’s premiere soccer talent a “medicine man” for some reason. It is sentences like this in which Ray leaves reason behind and temporarily wanders into pure music.
More of a punctuation than anything, Ray Hudson’s yell is usually the first unconscious reaction either of the commentators make to a piece of sublime skill on the pitch, in this case Messi’s dying-ember winner. The AAAAAUHHHHHHH is a Ray Hudson special, an inimitable howl that combines silly sports fan whooping with a quasi-erotic Ecstasy-of-Saint-Teresa-style moan of sublimity. This AAAAAUHHHHHHH is no exception, and rises admirably to the moment.
That said, I think Phil’s AAAAAUHHHHHHH, a much less frequent sound, takes the cake here. Phil dutifully rides the crescendo of his play-by-play call into a howl that has the same effect as Ray’s but feels remarkably different. It’s full-throated, growly, and earthy, where Ray’s is searing and tears across the sky like a comet. They complement each other well. For a brief, transcendent second, their AAAAAUHHHHHHH’s overlap, and I was reminded of this.
The first two words of this are both Hudsonisms, and they combine here into a perfect summation of Barcelona’s ruthless last-minute winner. But they’re also a kind of mission statement for how Ray Hudson approaches commentary, and how his commentary reflects the nature of soccer. A soccer match is a burning cauldron, and when the bubbles pop on the surface it is grand and often ludicrous to behold, indecent majesty.
2. “Messi. You could drop a tarantula into his shorts, and he’ll still be cool.” (Ray)
From the man who brought you “As electrifying as a hairdryer thrown into a hot tub my friends” comes a quote as instantly iconic as the maestro Messi himself.
There’s a lot to appreciate about this simple analogy, chief among them its unexpectedness and its witty riff on the “eye for goal” cliché. But its true virtue is the way Ray’s Newcastle-accented mouth contours perfectly around the syllables “Ror,” “Shach,” and “Blot,” as if it’s a wonder he said anything else his entire life. Say it out loud in your best Ray. Ror. Shach. Blot.