Exclusive: ESPN's Ian Darke Talks About His Call Of The Greatest Goal In U.S. History

I had the chance to talk to ESPN announcer Ian Darke earlier today about his amazing call of Landon Donovan's game-winning and World Cup-changing goal for the United States. Here are a few of the questions, but for the entire interview, including comments about England's tumult, the mess in Italy and France and whether or not America is full of conspiracy theorists or actually getting screwed by bad calls, listen to the whole interview. Below is a transcription of some of our conversation: ↵
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↵DL: You've become part of American sports fabric. ↵

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↵Darke: Well it's nice to hear that and very complimentary, but to be honest, as a commentator, the moment was an absolute gift. It was an opportunity, really, to go to 10 on the Richter scale because there you were…in one moment the USA were facing despair, on their way out of the World Cup – and undeservedly so too because they dominated the game, they had a good goal disallowed – and then wonder of wonders, just when all hope was lost, Landon Donovan scores like that. I don't think Steven Spielberg could have scripted it any better. ↵

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↵DL: I've talked to people who do baseball, and in baseball there is so much time between innings and in between pitches that they almost have time to think about how they are going to do a call, when a World Series is won or a perfect game happens, they have time to script in their head. Your call is just a natural reaction, so what's going thru your head at the time? Are you just saying the words that you're thinking or do you have time to prepare for something like that? ↵

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↵Darke: It's almost an impulsive thing. You can't possibly script it because certainly a soccer commentary is like a 90-minute ad-lib, really. Obviously you prepare the game and know the stats on individual players, but I do think in a moment like that if you did try to script it, it would come out horribly wrong. I think it has to be an impulsive, emotional reaction to that explosive moment. And you just hope that what you say – not so much what you say but more the pitch you choose to do it in – captures the moment. Hopefully that was the case. ↵

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↵I do have a feeling, though, that when that ball hit the back of the net, nobody was even listening to what I said. Maybe when they heard it later on, they may have taken it in, but I think then I could just imagine bars in New York and all points west where everyone was just dancing and doing a jig and there was an outpouring of joy, and that's how it should be, because that's what the game is about. ↵

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↵DL: People here are calling your call of that goal to Al Michaels' "Miracle on Ice" at Lake Placid in 1980. I don't know how familiar you are with that, but how important that sporting event is in America, that's what people are considering this goal by Landon Donovan and your call. I don't know if you've talked to people here in America, but do you have a sense of how important that was? ↵

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↵Darke: Only from what my bosses here at ESPN were saying in the bar last night, that it captured the imagination of the American public possibly like no other moment in this particular game in its history. To be honest, I don't. I'm sitting in a hotel bar in South Africa and I can only imagine. ↵

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↵What I’m absolutely delighted about, to be honest with you, is that soccer has taken a long time to take any kind of root, or really to galvanize people's imagination in the United States, but I think what happened here somehow…some kind of big step has been taken for the game. I don't know if that can be sustained – that level of interest – but I think somehow a boundary has been crossed and people who didn't care about it do care about it and everybody is talking about it. If my line of commentary has helped in any way in that, that's great. As a commentator you hope you do have the opportunity to come up with one line that will live a little in history. From my point of view, that's excellent. ↵

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↵DL: Let's talk about that one line because there is some debate here as to whether or not you say, "goal goal USA" or "go go USA." I thought just based on your accent and how you were saying it, you said "goal" we just didn't hear the "L" at the end. ↵

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↵Darke: I think it got lost in all the noise and emotion. I think what I said was "go go USA" because it just came out, like I said before, it is somehow instinctively what came out. They were playing it across the network yesterday and I think I might be the only one who hasn’t heard it back as yet. I'm not in the international broadcast center, I'm traveling to games – I was at the Italy game today – so I haven't had time, but a lot of people are talking to me about it. ↵

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↵I couldn't honestly tell you exactly what I did say. I can't remember what I did say. I will probably go and listen to it back. I just hope it was good. ↵

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↵DL: That to me, is one of the great calls that I remember hearing. It was so apropos of the moment. It's interesting because one of the things we all talked about going into the World Cup is that ESPN decided to hire non-American announcers and you've gotten the chance in the World Cup to call two of the matches. ↵

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↵Darke: I'm doing the next one, by the way. ↵

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↵DL: Do you almost feel like you're one of us now, in a sense? You clearly have the understanding that you're doing these for an American audience and I almost feel like your call is skewed that way. ↵

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↵Darke: Absolutely. I'm a firm believer in that if you're a broadcaster, you talk to the audience you're addressing. There no good me pitching it as if I'm talking in England. I feel I have a duty to retain my neutrality but be emotionally involved in the game and try to feel it as an American audience would feel it. I felt at a moment like that, you have to let it rip a little. I work with great people at ESPN…I almost did feel like I was an American at that moment. I did feel like an honorary American for a few seconds there. ↵

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↵DL: What I found most interesting about the call is after you do the play-by-play and the ball is in, you sort of let the moment breathe. John Harkes started to react and started to give his analysts and then just stopped, and you picked up and finished. And I felt that maybe Harkes had been overwhelmed by the emotion, being a former player for the United States side, that you sort of jumped in and gave him a lifeline there. Is that what happened? ↵

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↵Darke: No, it isn't. No, it isn't. I'll tell you exactly what happened. John was pretty emotional, but he's a great professional broadcaster too, now. He wouldn't have dried up, certainly not at a moment like that. The first thing is we tried to let the moment breathe and not talk all over it, the celebrations, just let people absorb the atmosphere. ↵

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↵At that time, the other game had finished and they were joining us. I was getting instructions from the producer to welcome people from ESPN2. I'll admit, that message in all the hullabaloo, did get a bit garbled, understandably. So he told John to hold up a minute while I did that. I think I said something somewhere over the replay, "if you're just joining us…" I'll defend John, he didn't dry up, but was he emotional? You bet. ↵

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↵DL: A lot of people have compared you to Gus Johnson, who is an excitable announcer in America, so the question is: obviously we're still right in the middle of the World Cup and you have more matches still left to call, but has there been any conversation between you and ESPN, now that you are ingrained in American fabric, to be doing other things. Do you know baseball? Can you do college football games for us? ↵

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↵Darke: No, no. There are two sports I cover. The second sport I can do is boxing. I've done a lot of big fights in Las Vegas to cover them for Sky Sports in England. But I'm mainly a soccer commentator, and that keeps you busy pretty much the whole way around. I've been signed as a freelance, kind of on loan from Sky Sports who I work with most of the time in England, to do the World Cup for ESPN, so that's kind of where we are with that. ↵

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↵DL: If that ever falls short and you want to branch out, learn some college football and you'll be fully embraced in America after that call. Absolutely embraced. ↵

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↵Darke: Yeah, I'm not sure I could do college football. I promise you, they wouldn't want to hear me on college football. All the guys I've worked with out here who know the game back to front, it would be an insult to them to have me doing that, I promise you. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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