The two images in this post are taken from the English Noise map Viewer that can be found here. There is a key for the map indicating the average decibel levels represented by the overlaid colours at the end of this 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.
Milton United FC play at Milton Heights which sits above the Milton interchange of the A34. I made this recording from the centre circle of one of the two pitches on the site which is 370m South-West of the A34. The sound here differs radically from that at Drayton. There is more local detail and a more varied frequency range. There is a sense that we are listening to sounds from farther afield – that this is an auditory vantage point. If I turn my head to the South I can hear the road as a high frequency drone – a more distant sound; if I turn to the North-East I can hear a more complex sound – a greater range of frequencies that includes vehicles slowing and braking as they exit the A34. There are sounds that are closer by too – trucks sit in the lane that leads to Milton Heights; the president of the club is painting white lines and at times we can hear this as the wheels of the line marker work against each other and the paint moves from wheel to wheel before it makes contact with the grass.
The fleeting and ephemeral presence of grassroots football matches on rural recreation grounds has become an obsession during the development of Get Rid! The recordings in this post were made in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell during the match between Didcot Eagles and Marcham Reserves in the North Berks League Division Five. Didcot Eagles featured in the previous post Presence and absence at Brightwell Recreation Ground alongside recordings of a match taking place and a match not taking place. In another post I considered the ephemeral nature of the soundscape within any given match – the tendency for the sounding presence of the match to arrive and depart like a series of waves with sound-making concentrated around crucial moments in the game.
These recordings were made as I walked towards and then arrived at the Rec. I have written elsewhere about the moment at which we first become aware of a sound – the boundary of encounter – in particular when spending time in the marshes around Aldeburgh recording sounds for a project the Swimmer developed with Roma Tearne:
Standing in the marshes, microphone in hand, headphones on I am thinking about the point at which we first meet a sound, where we first become aware of it – the boundary of encounter. As I walk towards the beach I become aware of the white noise of waves on shingle. How long have I been able to hear this? I retrace my steps. I can’t hear it now. I step forward; one step, two steps. There it is – faint but present.
Standing in the lane
The variable presence of the sounds of any football match mean that the boundary is constantly moving – striking out into the surrounding fields and lanes as a firm command is given and then shrinking away as the game stalls. I first became aware of Didcot Eagles v Marcham Reserves as I walked along the lane next to the Red Lion Pub and stopped to listen and make a recording:
On the path next to the allotments
I began to walk down the path next to the allotments and stopped to listen again as the on-pitch voices began to become more audible. I was the only person present at that time. As I stood still and listened there was a balance between the on-pitch sounds of the match and birdsong in the surrounding shrubs and trees:
Near the stream
As the path leaves the allotments behind there is a copse of recently planted trees and the path then leads to a bridge of split logs that crosses a small stream. I paused just before the stream and recorded again. This time the on-pitch communication was much clearer. I arrived at this point just as there was a pause in play – perhaps a lost ball or a contentious decision – there was a lot of talk directed at the referee. Whatever the case, the game was static, inactive. After a couple of minutes of this the game began to move again articulating the dimensions of the pitch beyond the stream and the screen of trees at the edge of the Rec. As the play moved from end to end and the on-pitch communication followed the ball I began to get a sense of the space the game was taking place in:
Sitting on the bench
I crossed the stream, walked out onto the Rec and sat down on one of the benches. On pitch communication was very vocal at this stage. In addition to this several families with young children were playing on the swings, slide and climbing frame.
get out, get out
all up chaps
that’s a foul
well done lino
shut him down
come on boys
What the fucking hell
It’s gotta be said
he weren’t offside
let’s talk yeah
talk to each other
come on son
you’re on, you’re on
how long have we got?
I want to go and have a beer
can you do ‘im
stay up, stay up
go wide man
time, time, time
come on then boys
eh, well done lads
boys, you need to fucking mark a man
man on, man on
you’re not going to do another one like that
and you had a shot
you cannot say nothing
he’d have blown up
what’s it for ref
how far are you going?
it wasn’t there
stick it go on
touch it, touch it
He weren’t even offside
behind him ref
all of us, yeah
back ‘I’m up
he didn’t touch me
don’t fucking lose it
how long ref?
middle, middle, middle…
Standing close to the pitch
As the match finished I walked East across the Rec and paused to make a final recording as the home team dismantled the goals and talked about the match. The children continued to play and spilt out onto the pitch as the presence of the game waned:
As mentioned in previous posts the parameters of Get Rid! are under development. As part of the process of investigation into the sounding cultures of grassroots football I have begun to visit each of the match day venues of the teams in all five divisions of the North Berks League – a total of fifty-one teams for the 2016-2017 season. This number does include multiple teams from the same club. Wallingford Town – for example – have three teams – First in Division One; Reserves in Division Three; and A in Division Five. As you would expect venues are shared or pitches are adjacent. In total it looks like there will be around thirty-four venues in use this season. My recording process at present involves visting each of these venues during a match and at a time when there isn’t a match. At this stage I am making relatively brief recordings so that I can begin to understand the soundscape. It is likely that I will make much longer recordings later in the process.
The two recordings here were made at the Hithercroft home of Wallingford Town AFC and were both made in the same location behind and slightly to the right of the goal at the South end of the stadium. The first recording was made during the second half of Wallingford Town AFC reserves v Watlington Town FC. For the duration of the recording Watlington exerted almost continuous pressure on the Wallingford goal which I was only metres away from. As the action moves toward or away from my position the voices of the players emerge from or are submerged by the sounds of the by-pass; the high frequency sounds of the wind in the grasses; and the air conditioning system of the industrial unit to my right. In this recording I began to get a sense of the resonant qualities of the stadium as the voices of players rebounded from the stand and low-level building on the West side of the pitch. There is a partial transcription of the on-pitch communication below.
head, head, head
are you fucked, i’m on the line, oh my…
space, space, space
ref, ref, ref
free ‘ead, free ‘ead, free ‘ead
round the back
let’s go, let’s keep walking up towards them
get out, get out, get out
centre half’s on
head, head, head, head, head
hold that, hold that, hold that
(partial transcription of on-pitch communication at Wallingford Town AFC reserves v Watlington Town)
I returned to the same spot later in the week and made a recording in the absence of football. I could hear a lot more detail in the sound of the surrounding network of roads with clear distinction between vehicles travelling quickly on the bypass and those moving more slowly on Hithercroft Road. There was sound from air-conditioning and occasional release of air pressure from the adjacent industrial units; more distinct birdsong and air traffic. The fence behind the goal is a complex construction and there is some twine in one place the end of which occasionally strikes one of the metal uprights.
You can find out more about the North Berks League here. Of particular interest is the geographic spread of the competing teams. Participants need to be within twenty miles of Steventon Green – a playing field at the centre of Steventon – a village around four miles West of Didcot. Given this geographical limitation it is likely that the main sound-making features of the region – in particular the A34 and its tributaries – will have a major impact on the soundscape in each of these locations. There may be common traits in the wildlife of the area too. For example I have seen Red Kites at four of the venues I have recorded at but haven’t yet heard their call.
As a committee member of a local youth football club I sometimes find myself assisting with clearing up the pavilion at the Bullcroft Playing Field in Wallingford – one of our venues. The pavilion is a timber-clad building which must have been constructed in the twenties or thirties. There is often talk about refurbishing it or replacing it but this is usually accompanied by discussion of the alleged status of the Bullcroft Playing Field as a scheduled monument as – at some stage in the C12th when Wallingford was a major centre – there was a priory here. There have been several archaeological explorations on the site but no conclusive evidence has been found to my knowledge but then I’ve never been to Wallingford Museum… What you can see on the site are Anglo-Saxon earthworks which are visible on the North and East perimeter and one of the pitches is just below these creating a natural North Bank for spectators.
When clearing out the pavilion we have been discarding the containers that the line-marking paint arrives in. This is a recording of me crushing the containers and putting them in black bags for disposal.
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.
stand him up
get out boys
too deep, too deep
free ‘ead, free ‘ead, free ‘ead
stay high, stay high
eh, come on let’s keep working
get out, get out
walk it up
lino, lino, sub please
well done son
two touch two touch
Hey, settle, settle
watch the flick
put a challenge in there
just hold it
come on, gee it up, piss poor
free header, free header
left should, left shoulder
hey, we’ve all gone to sleep out here
stay high, stay high
hey shush come on let’s think about this now
hey boys let’s wake up come on
just do it
now we get up
all of us, come on, work
time, time, good lad
you going to kick the ball away every time it goes out are we
help ‘im, help ‘im
get it out
ref, we’re just going to swap linesmen
no free headers in there
no free header boys, no free header
attack the ball
winners boys, winners boys come on
stand up, stand up stand up
lob ‘im, lob ‘im
tell you what, another lucky one, tell you what, we’re shocking at defending corners
send it back and the second ball
man on, man on, man on
right shoulder, right shoulder
Can we keep the fucking ball?
we don’t want that
that’s alright, that’s alright son, head up
let’s attack this ball blues
ref, ref, ref
hey, why aren’t we talking about who we’re picking up? who are we picking up?
stay tight to your men, that’s good tight
and again, same again
get out, get out, get out
want it, get some chalk on your boots
good area, unlucky, that’s unlucky, good area
come on blues, let’s keep working
get that ball down
come on boys
that’s handball ref
let’s have a blue win this time
let’s compete in the air
free header, free header
stand him up, stand him up Jack
get out get out
that’s great ball
can you do him, go on son
hey come on
ref, ref, ref, come over here for me
don’t switch off
last ten, hundred percent, come on
come on ref
come on ref
give us the width out there
far too easy
walk it out, walk it out when we can
great ball, great ball
track him, track him
stay here, stay here
get rid, GET RID!
two touch, two touch
(partial transcription of on-pitch communication Dorchester v Hungerford Town FC Swifts 28.02.2017)
Wallingford Town FC are one of the bigger clubs in the North Berks League. They play in Division One and have a home ground that looks like it could belong at a higher level. There is a vast difference between this and the ephemeral situation of Didcot Eagles who play at Brightwell Recreation Ground in Division Five. There are regularly fifty to sixty spectators at Wallingford’s home games. On the occasion that I made this recording I was sitting in one of the stands so the conversations and comments of spectators – rather then the players and coaches – dominate the listening experience.
The most distinctive aspects of the sounding culture of the event on this occasion were spectators clashing with both the referee and the linesman. The first of these exchanges took place between a spectator and the referee. When I say exchange that might be inaccurate as it was – as far as I could tell – entirely one-sided. The spectator was trying to attract the attention of the referee regarding a decision but to my knowledge the referee didn’t respond which led to a series of rhetorical questions from the spectator – was he not through on goal? The spectator walked up and down at the front of the stand getting more and more frustrated as the referee chose to continue refereeing rather than halting play and coming across to discuss the spectator’s opinions. Referees at this level strike a lone figure. The assistant referees are supplied by the competing clubs and there is no other back-up so making controversial decisions or decisions that are unpopular with the most vocal team is a hazardous occupation.
(that’s a penalty)
(definitely inside the box)
(it’s inside the box)
(that’s a red card)
(he’s through on goal)
(he’s through on goal)
(he hasn’t even spoke to him has he)
(was he not through on goal there ref?)
(was he not through on goal?)
(was that player not through on goal?)
(was he not through on goal ref?)
(you didn’t even speak to him man)
(through on goal ref)
(through on goal)
The second interaction between spectators and match officials was between the assistant referee on our side of the pitch and another spectator who accused him of cheating. The Assistant Referee’s response was to challenge the spectator to a post-game discussion of the offside law – you explain the offside law to me after the game. Whether or not this discussion ever took place I couldn’t say.
how can he be offside from there?
I thought you’d give offside for that wouldn’t yah
cheating little cunt
that’s what i thought
cheater you are
you’re a cheater mate
(explain to me the offside law)
(explain the offside law)
(what do you know about it)
(what do know about it)
(you know nothing)
(you’re good sitting there)
(you come and do it out here)
(you know nothing)
we’ll see you next week
we’ll see you next week
(you explain the offside law to me after the game)
(in word for word)
Amidst the antagonism between spectators and match officials the verbal culture of the players and coaches communication – while playing a major part in the sounding experience – was indistinct at times. Lots of background noise – a real cacophony – but less clarity. These are the on-pitch comments that I could accurately transcribe:
The parameters for Get Rid! and my approach to collecting sounds for the project have developed over the last eighteen months or so. At first I imagined that I would largely document my experience of coaching youth football as it somehow seemed curious to have an area of my life – so rich in sounding material – that was entirely devoid of field recording activity. However, it was only when I started to think about broadening my approach to include my wider experiences of grassroots football that I began to see how this could work. I began to explore the five divisions of the North Berks Football League taking my boys to matches. The exploration began with Wallingford Town FC who are in the First Division and have what looks and feels like a stadium including a tuck shop which is always a bonus on a damp Saturday afternoon in October. One such afternoon we headed off to see the second half of Wallingford’s match v East Hendred. We walked from our house down to Brightwell Recreation ground with a view to cutting across the fields to Wallingford. When we reached the Rec there was a match in progress. I had no way of identifying the teams immediately but investigated later and found that this was the home of Didcot Eagles who play in the North Berks League Division Five. On this occasion they were taking on Steventon Reserves. As the boys walked on towards Wallingford I paused for a couple of minutes by the corner flag and made a recording with my Edirol R-09HR. What immediately struck me was the verbal sound culture of the event – the game time dialect of grassroots footballers – man on; get rid; options; REF! It was almost like sifting through the contents of a sonic time capsule with each phrase taking me back to a past football match; to the mud-clogged fields of Mid-Devon; to our coach screaming – YOU’VE ALL GONE QUIET! As I listened I began to think of possible explorations of regional varieties or even varieties of game time dialect that might exist between the different divisions of the North Berks League.
now get out
up we go, up we go
get ‘im in,
everyone on a man boys
got one in then, yeah
e don’t want that
go on take that
2 v 1, two of you
our ball, our ball
stay in there, stay in there mate
man on now, man on now
whip it in
and again, and again
well done mate, yeah
(partial transcription of Didcot Eagles v Steventon 29.10.2016)
Having established that the rec was the home of Didcot Eagles I looked up future fixtures and so later in December I took the short walk to the Rec to see the last few minutes of Didcot Eagles v Grove Rangers. As I walked down Mackney Lane I was expecting to begin to encounter the sound of the game as it bled into the surrounding countryside and travelled across the woodland towards me – but instead I only sensed absence. There were no shouts of man on, no options or LINO! The boundary of encounter with the expected sounding events remained elusive. As I turned into the recreation ground the reason for this became clear – there was no match. The Rec was empty except for some children fighting with sticks and a few dog walkers. I walked over to the pitch looking for evidence of recent action. The white lines looked recently painted and the goalmouths were muddy but whether or not the match had taken place at an earlier time that day I couldn’t be sure. The goalposts were neatly stacked against the pavilion and there was no sign of the nets. I leant against a railing and recorded the situation with my Edirol R-09-HR and imagined the sound of the ball being struck; of players shouting instructions and their voices bouncing off the flat surfaces of the pavilion and back onto the pitch; of the referee’s whistle; and the frustrated exclamations of the coach. In the absence of these sounds the ear was drawn to the wider soundscape – distant tyres on the asphalt of the bypass; the air vibrating with the movement of the rotary blades of helicopters from RAF Benson; the conversations of dog walkers; and the chatter of children in the play park.
Since becoming a youth coach with a grassroots football club in South Oxfordshire I have found myself spending a lot of time measuring and marking out pitches and then repainting the white lines week after week from September to May. During the course of the season through the multiple iterations of this activity certain characteristics of the pitch can become exaggerated – a goal-line with an ever more pronounced kink; a centre-circle that just seems to get bigger every time it is painted. You also find yourself revisiting and repeating mistakes. At the beginning of one season I made a mistake when marking out the D on the edge of each penalty area so that it was more than a metre too big. I then – somehow – repeated this mistake the following season so that every time I returned to paint the lines I had the familiar experience of thinking ‘I must fix that’ and yet somehow never got ’round to it – much like the various dysfunctional door handles at home that need to be fixed but somehow manage to maintain their idiosyncratic qualities year after year.
This recording was made in January 2016 on the Bullcroft in Wallingford. It starts as I set off from the pavilion with the white-line marker and ends as I return having marked out the pitch. I made the recording with a pair of binaural microphones and my R-09HR. The sound moves from the auditory experience of public security – scrolling through the combination on a padlock, opening the latch on the iron gates – to the rhythmic movement of the line-marker with an ever decreasing quantity of paint so that the sound changes gradually across the duration of the recording. For any listeners who have actually undertaken this activity they will know that there is a distinct difference between the sound of a line-marker where all the parts are moving and one where one or more of the wheels just won’t move. There is plenty of shaking and rattling of the machine to get everything moving regularly.
Line-marking is an unexpected pleasure; a time to contemplate; to drift off; to dream; to embrace the outdoors whatever the weather; to tramp the grass and dream of perfectly timed and weighted defence-splitting passes.
Get Rid! or Cultures of Sound in Grassroots Football is a project that has grown out of my engagement with grassroots football in Oxfordshire. Without a particular plan or framework in mind I will be making sound recordings of my experiences as a youth team coach; as a spectator at matches in the North Berks or other local grassroots adult leagues; as a groundsman marking out pitches; and as a member of a club committee. Grassroots Football refers to football played by amateur football clubs at youth and adult level so I won’t be visiting Didcot Town any time soon – other than for entertainment – as they are too far up the league pyramid.
Since I began making recordings for this project – and as noted above there has been no particular pattern at play – one of the most notable aspects of the experience has been the verbal culture of communication between players, coaches, officials and – when present – spectators. I am fascinated by the transformation of quiet parish council run local parks into sites of conflict and exuberant communication during the matches I have listened to.
This recording was made during the North Berks League Division Four match between Long Wittenham Athletic Reserves and Berinsfield Reserves (07.01.2017). I was driving through Long Wittenham and noticed the match taking place. I didn’t have my sound recorder to hand so had to make do with my iPhone 5s so there isn’t as much depth in the recording as I would have liked. Just before we arrived Berinsfield scored and Long Wittenham were under pressure while I was making this recording.There is a partial transcription below that provides a taste of the on pitch verbal culture accompanied by teenagers on the nearby swings discussing earlier matches in the FA Cup Third Round.
put ‘im under
send it back, send it back
it’s off…it’s off (go on)
get rid, get rid
come on lino
(John Stones scored it, no, do you know why, do you know what