Colemanballs is a term coined by Private Eye magazine to describe verbal gaffes perpetrated by sports commentators. Coleman refers to the surname of the former 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.
The term "balls" was first associated with Coleman in 1957 when he was at BBC Midlands, Sutton Coldfield, presenting a Saturday night 15-minute roundup of the day's football in the Midlands. A technical hitch occurred and there was a black-out, but Coleman could be heard calling out to the technician in the studio, "Trust you to make a balls of that." 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."
Clive James in a television review for The Observer collected in Visions Before Midnight reported Frank Bough as introducing a boxing match by saying "Harry Commentator is your carpenter", referring to Harry Carpenter.
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.
Irish commentator George Hamilton's penchant for the phrase "Danger here" has even spawned a website in honour of his gaffes on the microphone, particularly while commenting on international football matches involving the Republic of Ireland, including this one in an Ireland V Spain qualifier match. "He’s pulling him off. The Spanish manager is pulling his Captain off!”
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: tautologies such as "Stronsay is an island surrounded by sea" and Coleman's own "He's 31 this year - last year he was 30"; unintentional juxtapositions where the viewer/listener knows what is meant such as "Brendan Foster, by himself, with 20,000 people", or "I am not a man of faith, but my wife is"; and complete nonsense such as "Here they come, every colour of the rainbow: black, white, brown". Others include addition of pointless words or non sequiturs, intended to add effect, as in: "He came in from the outfield there like an absolute rabbit". One category with many examples is the use of the word "literal" to mean "figurative", as in "And he missed the goal by literally a million miles". In most cases it is possible to see the speaker's underlying intent, even if the delivery has left something to be desired. Yet another group is that of unintended puns, such as "There were 150 drug-related deaths in Glasgow last year, an all-time high" ("high" being slang for the euphoric state induced by many drugs).
Perhaps the most famous Colemanball is that of Brian Johnston announcing that "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey" on a BBC Radio Test Match Special, although this may be apocryphal.
In America, Jerry Coleman, a former baseball player not related to David Coleman, became known for similar statements as an announcer, such as, "Rich Folkers is throwing up in the bullpen," and "Winfield goes back to the wall, he hits his head on the wall! And it rolls off! It's rolling all the way back to second base. This is a terrible thing for the Padres." In spite of these statements, which earned him the nickname "The Master of the Malaprop," he was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame with the Ford Frick Award, their lifetime achievement award for announcers.
Private Eye has issued compilations of Colemanballs in book form
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (1982). Private Eye's Colemanballs. André Deutsch. ISBN 978-0-233-97490-3.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (1984). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 2. André Deutsch. ISBN 978-0-233-97700-3.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (1986). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 3. André Deutsch. ISBN 978-0-233-97985-4.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (1988). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 4. André Deutsch. ISBN 978-0-233-98337-0.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (1990). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 5. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-0-552-13751-5.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (1992). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 6. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-0-552-13996-0.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (1994). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 7. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-0-552-14279-3.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (1996). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 8. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-0-552-14521-3.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (1998). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 9. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-1-901784-11-4.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (2000). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 10. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-1-901784-19-0.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (2002). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 11. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-1-901784-30-5.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (2004). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 12. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-1-901784-36-7.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (2006). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 13. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-1-901784-45-9.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (2008). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 14. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-1-901784-49-7.
- Fantoni, Barry; Larry (2010). Private Eye's Colemanballs: No. 15. Private Eye Productions. ISBN 978-1-901784-54-1.
- "TV and Radio Sport's Howlers", BBC.co.uk, December 16, 2005
- Definition of "balls up" at FreeDictionary.com
- Hislop, Ian (2003). Mediaballs. Private Eye Productions Ltd. pp. 96pp. ISBN 978-1-901784-33-6.
- "Olympic Games: Days of abandon and the one grim day they did abandon", Barry Davies, Independent on Sunday, August 8, 2004[dead link]
- "Coleman retires without a word: it's probably safer that way", Brian Viner, The Independent, December 15, 2000[dead link]
- "IOC Profile - Alberto Juantorena", Olympic.org
- Deacon, Michael (23 March 2010). "RIP Harry Carpenter - or Harry Commentator?". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
- James, Clive. Harry Commentator. "Visions Before Midnight". clivejames.com. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
- "A breeze for Blowers", Dan Warren, BBC Sport, January 16, 2003
- "Just the job for a Very Nice Person", Simon Hoggart, The Guardian, March 25, 2006