Football not happening at the Lockway

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.

Drayton and the A34

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.

The Lockway 25042020

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…

The Lockway, Drayton

Football not happening at Brightwell Recreation Ground

Goalposts lean against the pavilion at Brightwell Recreation Ground

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.

On November 5th 2016 I came across a North Berks League Division Five match taking place between Didcot Eagles and Steventon Reserves. I was on my way to the Hithercroft in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, but had taken a short cut across Brightwell Recreation Ground. A football match on a parish recreation ground is an ephemeral event, ninety minutes of sound on the occasional Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. This was Didcot Eagles first home match since October 1st and they didn’t play at home again until November 26th so the chances of coming across the match in that ninety minute window were slim. The sounding culture of rural grassroots football seeps out into the surrounding countryside, across fields, down lanes, through woodland and past graveyards. The chance encounter is the beauty of the situation as the calls of Jackdaws and Rooks transform into shouts of man on, stand him up, press. One of the first recordings I made for Get Rid! came as the result of stumbling across a match at Bodkins Playing Field in Long Wittenham:

This recording was made during the North Berks League Division Four match between Long Wittenham Athletic Reserves and Berinsfield Reserves. 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 phone so there isn’t as much depth in the recording as I would have liked. Just before I arrived Berinsfield had scored and Long Wittenham were under pressure while I was making this recording.


Of course there were successes and failures, chance encounters with matches and planned visits that delivered me to Village greens where nothing was happening. After a failed attempt to listen to Didcot Eagles later in the Autumn I wrote about the absence of football, about football not happening:

…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. As I turned into the recreation ground the reason for this became clear – there was no match. The Recreation Ground 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 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.

This is the recording that I made:

football not happening at Brightwell Recreation Ground

I pursued my interest in the everyday soundings of Village Greens, Playing Fields and Recreation Grounds, in the absence of football, and made multiple recordings, recordings of football not happening:


And as the deep quiet of the lockdown brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic spread I began to think about these recordings and started to revisit the sites where I made them to record the new absence, the everyday soundings of Village Greens, Playing Fields and Recreation Grounds in the pandemic. The drone of tyres on asphalt, the regular phasing of passenger jets, helicopters forcing the air to vibrate – these sounds are now rare, discrete, they arrive and depart, they are moments in a wilder and more diverse soundscape: