Recreation Grounds, Playing Fields and Village Greens have fallen silent – football isn’t happening. A twenty-eight day suspension is in place as part of measures to reduce the incidence of Covid-19. On each of the twenty-eight days I will be visiting a football pitch and recording the sounding absence of football.
During the lockdown, on Saturday afternoons between 15.00 and 16.45, I have been revisiting the parish recreation grounds, village greens and playing fields where I have listened both to the sound of football happening and football not happening.
The image above is taken from the English Noise map Viewer that can be found here.
The Dugouts at the Lockway, home of Drayton FC, are situated around 150 metres east of the A34. The phasing, pulsing, grinding white-noise of tyres on asphalt; the resonating tarmac gong activated north to south – south to north; and the shuddering rattle of articulated trailers sweep down the embankment and engulf the pitch and surrounding village. All other sound is submerged. I wrote about this as part of Get Rid! in an earlier blog post:
The A34 runs from Salford to Winchester. The Southern leg of the road cuts through Oxfordshire from North to South. The soundscape at Drayton FC to the East and Milton United FC to the West of the road is dominated by the sound of the internal combustion engine; the resonating tarmac; and the rattle of trailers and trucks . Drayton FC play in the North Berks League and their pitch is on the South-West edge of the village. The centre circle is 175m East of the A34. If you stand in the centre-circle – where this recording was made – there are benchless breeze block dugouts; a line of low trees; and an electricity pylon that stands in the field between the pitch and the road. The embankment of the A34 rises above the field and the sounds of the road flood down the embankment and saturate the surrounding area with a band of consistent high frequency noise. The rattle of trucks; the phasing of tyres on asphalt as they approach and depart; the liquid drone of the road – these are the sounds that dominate the listener’s attention.
I returned to the Lockway on April 25th to listen to sound under the lockdown. I was expecting a big difference in the level of sound from the A34 but what I didn’t expect was the emotional impact of that difference. The soundscape was clear, sounds were discrete, they articulated the space. I could hear a family laughing and playing football; blackbirds singing on garden fences; the voices of children playing in back gardens; the squeak of rusty swings; the detailed tremolo of a lawnmower – or perhaps a strimmer – with a small petrol engine spluttering into action. I could also hear the A34, but distant, part of the soundscape, a band of white noise that ebbed and flowed, an occasional wave rising above the chatter of children and hedgerow birds but soon falling back. This was a place transformed, a place of casual conversation and play rather than a place of violently shuddering tarmac; of the wheels of trucks digging deep into the asphalt and finding a sheer resonance there.
I have been recording sound from an upstairs window in my house every day as part of On The Covid 19 Shoreline and have written about the ambivalence of our current soundscape and the changes ahead:
Leaning out of an upstairs window I can hear the sound of hedgerow birds, chickens running in one of the nearby gardens; a football bouncing on a paving slab and then being kicked into the shrubbery; a lone car heading West on the A4130 sounding the asphalt; a Red Kite circling overhead. I lean out further, listening into the distance, into the future, waiting for the tide of mechanised sound to return, for the drone of tyres on asphalt, not the phasing passage of a single car, but the sweeping tide of traffic sound flooding across fields, down lanes, through dense woodland. Perhaps it is still here, cars pass in groups, the air vibrates, the X2 pauses at the bus stop. Covid 19 has transformed our sounding environment, but how much is that transformation felt in any one place, in a place on the periphery of the situation? Can I hear it from my window? Is it evident in my everyday? And when will the tide of sound turn? and when it does turn how will we feel about it? As the air begins to vibrate with the phasing of distant jets will we want to step back or will we embrace the return to the normative sounding of the world? The soundscape is ambivalent. It represents the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere but also signals the absence of loved ones. The temporary absence of friends but also the permanent absence of those who have lost their lives. This is a soundscape of hope and a soundscape of loss. It is a soundscape of a brighter future, one where listening to the world is part of the decision-making process we undertake when we chose to travel or not to travel; but it is also a soundscape of a brighter past, a past where now lost loved ones were still with us, where we could hear the sounds of their voices vibrating in the air and not just in memory.
In Drayton this is about what happens next and how that changes the way we feel about our sounding environment. It is about what happens when the liquid roar of the A34 submerges every sounding thing in its path. It is about what we do with the memories of clearer skies vibrating with the sounds of laughter, rusty swings, garden fence chatter, and the sounds of football, heard, really heard, from the grass-tearing sliding tackle to the tap of goalkeepers boot on goalpost, to the cries of man on, they don’t want it… The wing-flap of wood pigeon and pheasant will no longer resound from treetop, vibrating across the fields, and reflect from the embankment, it will be stopped in its tracks, a sound observed not heard…
FC Köln v Mainz 17052020
As the phenomenon of games being played behind closed doors continues I will document the situations in which I experience the matches. Listening to the resonance of the empty stadium seeping into domestic space and then, in turn, imagining the thousands of domestic environments in which the game is being watched, returning to the stadium, resonating, filling the stadium with domestic noise and action.
‘…the collective song and intoxicating sound of the crowd does not just provide an accompaniment to the beautiful action of the players, but is the sublime matrix out of which play emerges, the force field that energizes the action, taking the form of competitive song and counter-song, strophe and antistrophe. This is why games played in front of empty stadia, say as a punishment for the fans’ racist behaviour, are such an abomination. A game without fans is a kind of category mistake; a mere training ground exercise devoid of sense. The key to football is the complex, configured interaction between sublime music and the beautiful image, Dionysos and Apollo, the fans and the team.‘
Simon Critchley What We think About When We Think About Football (2017 : p.70-71)
I am sitting in the car, waiting, watching the closing stages of FC Köln v Mainz on my phone. It stops and starts, the signal comes and goes. I can hear the sound of an ambulance somewhere outside the Rhein Energie Stadion. As the sound of the siren reflects off the banks of empty seats it reveals the resonant properties of the space, the reflective surfaces of the stadium, a resonance usually heard only when the stadium is empty, when football isn’t happening. Now the sound of football happening and football not happening are both here with me, sitting in the car, on a side road in New Milton.
When the signal stops it opens a window to the sounds outside: a babble of back garden birdsong; talking; the loading of the car boot. Then the signal returns and the resonance of the empty stadium conceals the domestic sounds, the sounds of the driveway, the suburban side street.