Grassroots football is a game of variable intensity; of noise and silence; presence and absence; activity and inactivity. Substitutions are made; the ball takes a wild deflection and disappears into a garden followed by a player who climbs into the undergrowth to retrieve it; a free-kick is given and the game stalls; there’s an injury and the players stand around in small groups talking or looking at the ground. Then the game explodes with a high tackle; a controversial decision from the ref; a counter-attack; a coach barely able to prevent himself from running onto the pitch and who instead ends up kicking the dugout. The action comes in waves. The sound builds then recedes.
The quality that football pitches have as sites of presence and absence – of sound heard and sound imagined – is discussed in a previous post and will be discussed further as Get Rid! develops. This post concentrates on the presence, absence and qualities of the sounding events during two particular matches.
To listen to this recent recording of the match at Wallingford’s Hithercroft stadium in which they took on Berinsfield – leaders of the North Berks League Division One – is to experience an ephemeral and fragile soundscape. The sounding presence of the match is at times indicated by intense verbal activity whilst at other times there is little evidence of it at all. At these times of absence the sound of game-time activity – rather than being projected beyond the physical bounds of the players and the playing area – becomes localised. The sounds are denied to the spectator as they dissipate between the source and the listener: the sound of studs making small depressions in the soft surface; the sleeves of shirts brushing against the body; players catching their breath. There were times during the match when there was a real intensity in the communication between players, coaches and match officials; and times when those sounds were absent or indistinct and instead the ear was drawn to the conversations of small groups of spectators; the sound of a toddler exploring the stands; the sound of fast-moving cars on the bypass; and of birdsong. This variance in intensity of game-time communication may – on this occasion – result from the stage of the match as the recording was made in the last twenty minutes with the result already decided; or it may be the particular nature of these squads – perhaps they are not big talkers; or perhaps this ebb and flow is part of the syntax of the game.
Game-time communication in the match between Dorchester and Hungerford Town FC Swifts – who were the most vocal of the two sides – from the North Berks League Division Two was consistently intense despite one of the sides being several goals clear when the recording was made. I made this recording from behind one of the goals and the goalkeeper was vocal in instructing his defenders and encouraging the team. The culture of the squad was clearly predicated on a lot of talking – there was a sense that every action required an instruction – free header – and an assessment – tell you what, another lucky one, tell you what, we’re shocking at defending corners. A player making a forward run; an adventurous goal attempt; defensive positioning when in possession and out of possession – all of these activities were commented on. Perhaps this emanates from the methods of the coach or the way that training is conducted. Whatever the case the game-time soundscape provides an alternative behaviour to that recorded at Wallingford; one in which there is an almost constant chatter of instructional and reactive commentary.
(partial transcription of on-pitch communication Dorchester v Hungerford Town FC Swifts 28.02.2017)