Monday, August 23, 2010

Sports Writing Blues

Lately, I find I do not have much to say. In June and July I watched all but two World Cup matches, read enormous amounts of football journalism, and contributed to the genre in my own way via this blog and daily podcasts for The People's Game.  I loved this - especially the podcasts which gave me a chance to talk with bloggers I've been reading, who define my "imagined community." But by the end, I found that I had less and less to say. My co-host's queries regarding who I thought would win the matches left me increasingly annoyed. I started off reluctant, offering up who I would have liked to see win, but by the end I just declared "I have no idea." It isn't to say that I have no expertise (I did say the final would be determined by how a team handled the other team's fouling, natch), but naming the winner and loser of a match scarcely matters to me - it's interest value is dwarfed by the question of what kind of game it would be. 

Beware of sports writers who pretend to mastery of the facts. I come across a different version of these people in academia - they can recite a bunch of dates, or quote Hegel, and for this reason they seem to think that they've figured it all out. The ones who listen, however, who have a good sense of humor and know how to hold contradiction in their head without trying to resolve it - those are the ones who are most likely to say something interesting, something insightful, something new.

More often than not, sports pundits are writing with the certainty of hindsight, finding in what they've just seen evidence of what they already know.  (The one genre in sports writing that seems to escape this problem is the live streaming match report, an emerging art.)

Reader, beware of the sense of mastery which comes at the cost of a sense of wonder.  Who can say why Gyan missed his penalty, or that "any player" would have done as [Suarez] did? Who can say why Iniesta can find his shot under so much pressure, how he can make that look like the easiest thing in the world? Why would we want to know these things, anyway? These qualities are unquantifiable, the events are inexplicable, and this is why they fascinate.

Much of the "hard" stories in sports, on the other hand, go unreported. What the hell is going on with the French FA? And Nigeria's Football Association? FIFA supervises football associations, but who supervises FIFA?  Why did AEG back out of the LA Sol? What can fans of women's football do to combat the media's indifference to our sport?

So, I am avoiding the bloody pointless predictions of the EPL's new season. And fake scandals about WAGS, and managerial ego.  Instead, I am going get back my writer's mojo by re-reading Soccer in Sun and Shadow for the umpteenth bizillionth time. And then I'll be back to explain why FIFA shouldn't have anything to do with women's football, the wonders of midnight pickup games in Los Angeles, and stuff like that.


  1. I like this post--a lot! Does football/soccer do "fantasy" gaming? I play fantasy football (as in US grid iron football), and I bet you might have a lot of great ideas and things to say about "fantasy sports," or maybe you have already and I should look.

  2. Hello, I'm from Brazil,and I had some ideas of the football here, but it's only ideas, it's not a solid thing. I think thata your blog is interisting.I would like to talk about these two realities (USA - Brazil) of football, to know, to learn about it. So, is this it, and forgive my bad english, bye

  3. It's easy to feel jaded at this time of year, especially when the 'hard' stories take a back seat to inane stories about WAGS and, frankly, tedious (and constant) transfer speculation. I have always felt dubious about the value of 24-hour sports news channels and never more so than during transfer windows.

    Glad you still feel passionate about pickup games. Forgive my naivety, but are you guys across the pond familiar with the concept of 'headers and volleys'? If not, I'd be more than happy to furnish you with an explanation, complete with some of the more Byzantine rules. I played it the other day for the first time in ages and loved every second.

    Incidentally, I scored a wonder goal on Sunday morning. Shame it was in front of three spectators and a tethered horse...

  4. excellent idea! creating a soccer narrative out of the data is antithetical to and devalues what most people really appreciate about the game. i so enjoyed your WC work and hope to read a voice with heart that hearts the art of the *game* and covers the oft-overlooked sides (organs?) of soccer, once again ;)

  5. (I hate to be nit-picky about facts in your anti-fact-based post, but I'd bet you meant, "Who can say . . . that "any player" would have done as *Suarez* did". :-)

  6. Chris, I did. Thanks. I just can't stand Forlan. Correcting it now!

  7. Yes! Once again, I'm going to bang on about ITV's coverage of the Ghana v Uruguay game, where they reacted to Luis Suarez's handball with moral outrage, failing at any point to put it into any context. I must confess, I am jaded by football coverage and I've had too much coffee...

  8. @alex I feel like headers and volley is like soccer tennis...but please elaborate in case I'm wrong!

    "but naming the winner and loser of a match scarcely matters to me - it's interest value is dwarfed by the question of what kind of game it would be."

    win/loss is a betting concern, statistics and such. I've little interest in that as well. How the result happens-the winner sometimes plays the worse while the losers simply couldn't finish or fell to misfortune-that's the interesting part of the game. That's where the true stories lie, something that is sadly missing from a lot of sports journo right now.

    Looking forward to your return from sun&shadows...

  9. Headers and Volleys: A Brief Intro

    Technically it can be played with three people, but five are usually required to get a real game going. The optimum maximum limit depends on the venue - at school, pretty much anyone drifting by could (and would) join in.

    There's a goal - at my school we utilised two drainage pipes on a wall, but any kind of goal potentially works. The object is to score only headers and volleys. Simple. After the fifth consecutive goal is scored, the person who is goalkeeper usually receives some kind of punishment.

    Players end up in goal through various means: shooting wide; scoring a goal that was neither header nor volley; or being caught out by the incumbent goalie. At school, if the goalie caught the ball without it bouncing, they could throw it at a player. If it hits them without bouncing - they're in goal. We also stipulated that the final goal in a sequence of five had to be a header or bicycle kick.

    Punishments for the goalkeeper who let in the fifth and final goal vary. The group I played with favoured 'brands'. The goalkeeper had to turn and face the wall; meanwhile, players who scored goals took pot shots at the hapless swine from about 10 yards out. Another popular punishment was the 'tunnel of beats' - nothing to do with football here. All players form up in a tunnel and the 'keeper has to run the gauntlet of punches.

    No two groups ever played the exact same rules, but the fundamental consanguinity was that scoring was through headers and volleys only, and that finding yourself as goalkeeper could be a perilous situation indeed. Superb fun, English playground style.


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