Friday, March 19, 2010

Is Football Better Heard than Seen?

Some of you may remember earlier this year when I wrote that I'd lost a bit of interest in the football.  At the time I put it down to the diffuse pixelated mess that is illegal live streaming.  Anyway, I've got this new fangled iPhone device and so far the neatest thing on it is my little global radio tuner app.

And so it was yesterday during my unglamourous joe-job that I listened to the second leg of the Fulham v. Juventus Europa league fixture on BBC London 94.9.  I should mention that it was terrible radio play-by-play, as far as that genre goes.  The "ra-ra for the London team" approach by the announcer and co-commentator (I'm too lazy to research their names but I also think it might be kind not to) felt idiotic to say the least.  You'd think you were watching a disabled orphan throwing rocks at an exploding H-bomb based on the hyperbolic hyperventilating about the difference in stature between the two teams.  And anyone venturing to make a drinking game based on the number of mentions of "Juventus' tired, aging legs" would have fallen over dead by the end of the first half.  That plus the habit of the colour man to begin every phrase with, "Yes, that's exactly right" should have rendered the entire broadcast unlistenable. 

So why I did I end up enjoying it so much?

Well, yes, it was an exciting game.  As we were reminded twice by the announcer, it was "the best game of the 2009-10 season."  No arguments there I suppose.  But I think my enjoyment of the match had a lot do with the medium of radio itself.  Football, though without pauses in play, tends to be a pretty casual game for the viewer.  Although you can watch full matches with your eyes on every movement (for some reason I have a love affair with Cup semifinals and can't look away), chances are if it's two-nil after twenty minutes and the ref is blowing his whistle for every fifty-fifty challenge, you're going to be tempted to wander off, either in thought or action.

Radio wipes a lot of that dead space away.  Even the worst commentators usually gloss over the boring bits.  Defensive throw-ins, the sometimes interminable pause between the linesman raising the flag for goal kick and the restart of play, the futile flutter of action on the bench after a questionable player injury; when viewed on a static television screen, this is the stuff of eye-rubbing boredom.  Yet on the radio, these moments disappear.  Instead, during these pauses the announcers fill the silence with their own thoughtless observations, the kind of football opinions that a fifth grader could likely take reasonable issue with. Which is annoying, yes, but at it least fires you up, makes you formulate counterarguments, keeps your focus on the game.  In the same way many newspapers employ crank opinion writers that nobody agrees with just to get their readers riled up and interested, so too does the schlock radio announcer grate in order draw you into the game out of sheer, appalled anger.

But the best part of radio is the same thing that makes good fiction enjoyable—the often unpredictable ways your imagination fills in the visual blanks.  Yesterday afternoon, my brain painted quite the impressionistic picture: Duff's blurred legs as he made one tearing run down the left flank after another, sending in searing crosses that only just missed their intended target; the psychotically-determined look I decided to put on Bobby Zamora's face every time he was on the ball; David Trezeguet's bratty, ever-present smirk.  Even challenges and off-the-ball scuffles, the sending off of Zebina, took on a Shakespearean quality they almost would have otherwise lacked (although Cannavaro's initial smile when the first red card was shown was too brilliant for my imagination to come up with on short notice).

The only major event my brain failed to capture was Clint Dempsey's stunning, tie-winning chip/cross/shot at the 82nd minute.  Although the resulting celebrations I envisioned at Craven Cottage outdid what I later saw on television.  I think I decided to give the Fulham ground a standing-only terrace, and had it lurch forward, banners and flags in tow, as Dempsey cartwheeled around only to go and bear hug Roy Hodgson.  Which didn't happen.  But at the time, listening alone in my office, it did. 

I took the streetcar home from work yesterday, already tuning in to Liverpool v. Lille, thinking that I may discard my illegal feeds altogether this weekend and opt instead for a pleasant walk.


Martha said...

You know, I was actually looking for a radio stream of that match yesterday, but rather than looking for an iPhone app, I foolishly went to iTunes, and found nothing. Lesson learned -- what's your preferred world tuner app?

Lord Bob said...

I, also, wish to know which app it is that would allow me to listen to English soccer radio broadcasts, and why I have not devoted my entire iPhone exclusively to this pursuit.

Sasha said...

You can listen to a free live stream at this site:

Sasha said...

Here's BBC Radio Merseyside for Everton, Liverpool, etc..

Irvin said...
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Terry said...

Great post Richard. I spent many years listening to a younger Jonathan Pearce on Capital Gold Sport in London before Sky (and before I could afford) Sky. I agree that radio commentary keeps the listener engaged even in the most boring games. I don't listen as much anymore but still occassionally tune into a 5Live commentary rather than watch a game. Especially if the odios Alan Green is not present.

Jim said...

Three games should be shown live on television per season and three only. The FA Cup Final, the European Cup Final (I refuse to recognise this new-fangled Champions' League abortion) and England v Scotland. Everything else, proper TV highlights on a proper TV highlights show.

If you want live football, there should be two choices. Go to the game. Or radio commentary. So much of my childhood and introduction to the game came courtesy of the dulcet tones of Bryon Butler and Peter Jones - still the doyens of commentary of any sport, in any age. Thanks to Sport on 2, European Soccer Special and the rest of them, from my council-house home in Cornwall I learnt of the existence of such bizarre and wonderful teams as Red Star Belgrade, Grasshopper Zurich and Sheffield Wednesday, whose 1979 Cup tie with Arsenal was about the only one to survive the last harsh winter and went to (I think) five replays.

Nowadays, for Argyle away games I haven't managed to get to, I rely on Radio Devon and the incomparably partisan "Sir" Gordon Sparks. This link gives something of the flavour of why he is such a legend among Argyle fans.

Damon said...

What Jim said, except I would add the UEFA Cup final, both legs of course, as long as it is the 1981 UEFA Cup Final. The winners of that final are playing Jim's beloved Plymouth this very eve and Plymouth are currently managed by a hero of those UEFA nights.

Good luck in staying up Mr Mariner, alhough tonight you must lose.

Oh, and another good read Mr Whittall.

Lanterne Rouge said...

Generally Five Live is infinitely preferable to any of the television stations although I agree with Terry on Alan Green whose self regard has long outstripped his worth. Many a time have I listened to a broadcast of my own team play only to be alarmed when the ball one had envisioned harmlessly bobbing around the centre circle was suddenly flying towards the six yard box.

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