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.