Though I may be one of the biggest football lovers I know, I’ve never been to a World Cup match. Despite the packed crowds at every tournament the vast majority of soccer fans only ever experience the game’s greatest spectacle through the medium of television. While I wouldn’t turn down two tickets to Brasil ’14, nothing brings home the exotic glory of the World Cup quite like the sight of sun-drenched foreign stadia beamed via satellite from a faraway land, straight into one’s living room.
With this project I wanted to celebrate the relationship between TV and football, and how especially with the World Cup the two things become even more closely linked. In many ways the commentator’s is a frankly thankless task: often he’s a distraction or an irritation, other times he goes unheard beneath the cheering. I’ve always thought a commentator’s job is a bit like that of the referee. It requires enough personality to be able to put one’s authority on the game but not so much that it’s to the detriment of the spectacle or contest.
Most of these clips have been shown repeatedly down the years, their narration as familiar as lines from a pop song or hit movie. No goal has ever been ruined by lousy commentary, in fact a goal of great beauty or significance serves only to enhance the work of the commentator. Sometimes a goal’s commentary can become even more iconic than the goal itself, as in the case of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s oft-repeated “They think it’s all over” line in 1966. What they were saying may have been straightforward, but their tone gave their words greater power.
But although these are simply spontaneous reactions blurted out in the heat of a moment, when seen and not heard the words take on a different quality. The diagrams of the movement leading up to the scoring chance are simply a visual reference, further highlighting the futility of illustrating a goal and the odd sensation of experiencing commentary without footage.
In 2014 television plays a less fundamental role in our consumption of the World Cup, and we can replay any goal at any time in the palms of our hands. But I still prefer to watch games on TV, at home, where I can give the match my full concentration. Today’s commentators seem intent on creating a narrative before the game has started, and going overboard as they grapple to convey the enormity of the occasion. The role of the commentator has become more conversational, their speech peppered with pre-written puns and ham-fisted alliteration. The voices are still there, but it seems no-one’s really listening.
All of the artwork on this page is available as prints here.
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