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.
(Bullcroft Playing Fields)
You can hear more sounds of plastic paint containers being crushed here.
The Sound Diaries advent calendar returns this December with twenty four sounds of 24″ duration from our growing archive of audio documentation of grassroots football.
Expect white-line marking; lawn mowing; apoplectic coaches; gale force winds; reversing trucks; despairing goalkeepers; disinterested spectators; rattling dugouts; lacklustre rounds of applause; and football not happening!
Stick it in the mixer!
I have already written once about marking out pitches. On that occasion I wrote about marking out an eleven-a-side pitch on the Bullcroft Playing Field. For most of this season I have been marking out the pitch at St.Georges Field but this week I returned to the Bullcroft as one of the teams that I coach has a match there in a week or so and the lines were beginning to fade. I’ve been looking into the history of the Bullcroft as a site of football and there was certainly football being played there in the early part of the C20th. This aerial photograph was taken in May 1928 with a match in progress and there is some evidence that there was an organised football club in Wallingford as early as 1881.
The ephemeral sounds activated by the painting of the white lines whilst being elusive appear to have been heard on this site for at least the last ninety-seven years and probably more. For much of that period some kind of wheeled appliance would have been used although lines were also painted manually. The pitch that can be seen in the bottom left of the photograph is further South than the present pitch but occupies the same part of the Playing Field.
On the occasion that I made these recordings I was struggling with the padlock on the back gate of the pavilion where I usually exit with the line-marker. I couldn’t open the padlock and so decided to wheel the marker through the pavilion and out of the front entrance.
As I began to make the lines the wheels were stuck so I moved the marker backwards and forwards to try to free them until giving in to the inevitable and turning the wheels manually until they became looser – covering my hands in paint in the process.
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.
(partial transcription of on-pitch communication Dorchester v Hungerford Town FC Swifts 28.02.2017)