Some of the most wonderful memories that I have of my own childhood were the countless weekends I spent watching soccer match after soccer match from the comfort of my own living room. The English Premier League was a constant in my world. My dad would sit next to my sister and I making the most profound and perceptive comments that we could only hope one day to truly understand! Eduardo Galeano perfectly emulates my own father’s perspective when he says “I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer… And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it”. This was my father’s motto, and what I loved about this motto was the unedited and unapologetic love for the beauty of the game.
My dad could sit and watch soccer for hours, and not only this, but he would spend hours listening to the radio both before and after the game – allowing the game to live on past the allotted 90 minutes. He was enthralled by the commentators. He would happily sit in the corner of our living room, and not even look at the television whilst a game was on. The most expressive and exceptional commentators had the ability to bring a match to life in his mind merely through their choice of words.
Commentating has become such a huge part of the game, so huge that it has become hard to imagine watching a game without it. There is beauty that lies in the way commentators interact with one another and bring the emotions of the game to life. And if there is one thing that soccer commentators thrive on, it is unpredictability.
Central to the powerful hold soccer has over me, it is the unpredictability of the game that fuels fans around the world. You cannot control the outcome of a soccer game, nor can you predict it. It is because of this that soccer transforms into one of the most wonderful playing fields, not only for the players and fans, but also for the commentators. It is a true skill to be able to depict every action and reaction within a game with a whole new flurry of words. However, so many sports today have become overrun by facts and figures. Statistics are the name of the game. If something happens in a game, a commentator is at the ready with numerical data to support its occurrence.
Trevor Noah, a South African comedian, makes some perceptive observations in reference to this and discusses the comparison between American football and basketball commentators in contrast to British soccer commentators. And although his commentary is exaggerated, I think it touches on the complex nature of the changing role of numbers within sports.
(Trevor Noah: African American – Sports in America from YouTube user Trevor Noah)
I think that what Noah captures so humorously in this clip is the overwhelming and at times unnecessary use of facts and figures used today to validate and compare athletic performances. At the end of the day, facts and figures can only take you so far. If soccer was a perfect game, one that could be predicted by which team had the highest numbers, the best players and the least number of errors, would it still be the beautiful game that we know and love? I don’t think it would be.
There is an ease and playful nature that comes along with any soccer game which, when reflected in the commentating, makes it a much more enjoyable experience. What we may be able to predict from past performances is washed away by human fallibility. As we have discussed in class numerous times, the unpredictability of soccer becomes a reflection of life itself. The roles that people play, the flawed justice system, the role of fate. The outcome of a soccer match is a surprise to everyone involved; fate does not play favorites. And this, exactly this, is why it is the unpredictability of soccer that makes it beautiful.
I leave you with the words of Uros Zupan, “beauty in soccer has no desire to destroy us; it can only bring light to our lives. What will destroy us are formulas and tactics. But before us, they will destroy the game itself.”
Galeano, E. (2013). Soccer in Sun and Shadow. 14.
Turnbull, J. Satterlee & T. Raab, A. 2008. The Global Game: Writers on Soccer. 181.
Quelle réflexion formidable!!! Such beautiful weaving together of personal experiences and thoughtful reflection to describe the parallels between life and soccer! I’m looking forward to the next post!
The Man City vs Arsenal game over the weekend displayed the unpredictability of soccer perfectly. Fellow Arsenal supporters and myself knew that losing was far more likely especially if you take into account the statistics and numbers, but what happened was soccer at its most beautiful (which just happened to include Arsenal winning).
Lovely article, and I will keep it in mind as I scour the net before the game and listen to endless podcasts breaking down the moments long after the 90 minutes have passed. Keep at it, great read.
I could feel your love for it coming off the page. Love the quotes too.
Quality post, as a huge fan of the sport myself I always tell friends how comparable it is to life. I suspect that watchers such as yourself belong to a generation that is quietly and slowly dissipating. I remember when only three statistics would appear at half time and Full time: goals, possession and cards. Now we know how many miles each player ran within the time they were on the pitch.
P.s That last quote is everything
Aissa I love the way you bring out the differences in the way people follow sports in the different parts of the world. In Kenya, where I come from, people sit down and watch the game just for what it is, without paying attention to the details but I have found it very different here where part of watching a game is getting informed on the history of the game and other facts you might not have known. People have different ways of approaching the game but the most important thing is enjoying the game and different people have different ways of doing that.
Thank you for this beautiful post! I’m really happy for you that this sport obviously means so much to you and your father. And I’m slightly jealous because while I love soccer, unfortunately both of parents don’t. Sometimes I wish I could share my excitement with them.
Wonderful reflections here, bringing together your own experience with a thoughtful critique of the place of statistics in sports commentary. The Trevor Noah clip is wonderful.