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20th Jun 2018

In defence of Mark Lawrenson: football’s curmudgeonly and lovable grandfather

Mark Lawrenson receives plenty of criticism, but he should be treasured

Wayne Farry

That sigh, that unmistakable sigh

It often follows a tackle or a shot, a throw-in or a corner. Sometimes, it even follows a goal.

All of the time though, the source of the sigh is Mark Lawrenson, BBC Sport’s veteran football co-commentator, a man who has made the genre of football commentary, henceforth known as “Lawrentary”, his own.

What does “Lawrentary” entail exactly? Well, as referred to in the first of our World Cup Shorts series, lots and lots of moaning. When something bad happens, Lawro moans; when something good happens, Lawro moans. When nothing happens? Yep.

Many attempt to replicate his signature style, but few, if any, struggle to even come close. Roy Keane, perhaps the angriest man in football, simply emanates too much vitriol when speaking, as if he wants to rip off the very head of football itself, until someone – anyone – sees the game with the same level of perceived intelligence as he does.

Christ Sutton, a commentator and pundit on BT Sport and BBC – who is also out in Russia this summer – makes a creditable attempt. He has the dismissive tone, and the knowledge to back it up, but he simply hasn’t got the weariness of Lawro. Will his time come? Perhaps.

Lawro however stands out from these two and indeed everyone else for his individuality. In a world where commentators go over the top in their attempts to keep you watching the game you’re already actually watching, he’s happy just to sit their and comment.

He doesn’t care if you agree, he doesn’t mind if you disagree, he’s not trying to convince you of anything or convert you to his side. He just is.

Is he a moaner? Yes. But he is the purest kind of moaner. He loves a moan, but there is no bitterness there, no anger. There’s no ulterior motive or anything even remotely resembling it.

Does he make some slightly silly comments? None more so than any other commentator, but it is clear that he is not trying to settle any scores. He’s not using his platform to pick off targets and criticise enemies like some sort of football Alan Partridge figure.

If anything, there is a wholesomeness to Lawro that other commentators and pundits lack. He is not trying to be somebody else, not trying to create an artificial persona to ensure he gets asked back for more work.

He’s just being himself, to the point that one can safely assume he behaves the exact same way when watching football matches at home with his family. “Why’s he doing that?” he’d say to his wife as Ronaldo lines for a free-kick, signature sigh slowly emerging.

To some people this is an annoyance, spoiling their experience of watching the greatest tournament on earth. They consider him unappreciative of the spectacle on offer, a blot of negativity on a festival of positivity.

But to an increasing number of people Lawro’s uniquely authentic approach is becoming one of the highlights of this tournament.

His intrinsically low key manner is becoming an antidote to the slicked back, short back and sides, bleached teeth, suited and booted style of football coverage; sitting there in his sweater, sipping a cup of tea, making horrifically bad Dad jokes and loving every minute of it, even if you can’t hear it.

He’s your grandad, in his chair, having a moan about the game that he loves.

He is also a treasure, so cop yourself on and appreciate him.