balls up


Colemanballs is a term coined by Private Eye magazine to describe verbal gaffes perpetrated by (usually British) sports commentators. It is derived from the surname of the now retired BBC broadcaster David Coleman and the suffix -balls, as in "to balls up", and has since spawned derivative terms in unrelated fields such as "Warballs" (spurious references to the September 11, 2001 attacks) and "Dianaballs" (sentimental references to Diana, Princess of Wales). Any other subject can be covered, as long as it is appropriately suffixed by -balls. The all-encompassing term "mediaballs" has since been used by Private Eye as their coverage of gaffes has expanded.


Coleman's association with these verbal slips is so strong that he is often given erroneous credit for the earliest example specifically referenced as a Colemanball; in fact the broadcaster responsible was fellow BBC commentator Ron Pickering. At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal Pickering commentated on a race involving Cuban double-gold medallist Alberto Juantorena, whose muscular build and nine-foot stride contributed to his nickname El Caballo (the horse). Pickering said "and there goes Juantorena down the back straight, opening his legs and showing his class."

Another regular contributor to the section until his retirement was motor racing commentator Murray Walker. His excitable delivery led to so many mistakes that they began to be labelled "Murrayisms". Examples include "We've had cars going off left, right and centre", "do my eyes deceive me, or is Senna's Lotus sounding rough?", and "with half of the race gone, there is half of the race still to go." However, only Walker himself could utter a Murrayism, while Colemanballs remained the more generic term attributable to any commentator.

Private Eye's Colemanballs column has now expanded to include occasional quotes from sportsmen themselves (e.g. Frank Bruno's "That's cricket, Harry, you get these sort of things in boxing"), politicians (John Major's "When your back's against the wall it's time to turn round and fight"), and malapropisms from other public figures.

In terms of classification of the individual examples, these fall into a number of distinct groups, including the truisms such as "Stronsay is an Island Surrounded by Sea" and Coleman's own "He's 31 this year - last year he was 30" through to unintentional juxtapositions where the viewer/listener knows what is meant such as "Brendan Foster, by himself, with 20,000 people" right through to complete nonsense such as "Here they come, every colour of the rainbow: Black, White, Brown". Others include addition of pointless words, intended to add effect, as in: "He came in from the outfield there like an absolute Rabbit". In most cases it is possible to see the underlying intent, even if the delivery has left something to be desired.

Perhaps the most famous Colemanball is that of Brian Johnston announcing that "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey" on a BBC Radio 4 Test Match Special, although this may be apocryphal.


Private Eye has issued compilations of Colemanballs in book form

  • Fantoni, Barry (1982). Private Eye's Colemanballs. André Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-97490-3.
  • Fantoni, Barry (1984). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 2. André Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-97700-7.
  • Fantoni, Barry (1986). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 3. André Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-97985-9.
  • Fantoni, Barry (1988). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 4. André Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-98337-6.
  • Fantoni, Barry (1990). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 5. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 0-552-13751-0.
  • Fantoni, Barry (1992). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 6. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 0-552-13996-3.
  • Fantoni, Barry (1994). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 7. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 0-552-14279-4.
  • Fantoni, Barry (1996). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 8. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 0-552-14521-1.
  • Fantoni, Barry (1998). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 9. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 1-901784-11-8.
  • Fantoni, Barry (2000). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 10. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 1-901784-19-3.
  • Fantoni, Barry (2002). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 11. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 1901784304.
  • Fantoni, Barry (2004). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 12. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 1-901784-36-3.
  • Fantoni, Barry (2006). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 13. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 1-901784-45-2.


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