Football is back.
Bundesliga was first, and the matches were lovely and unadorned, pure in what they represented in the struggle. Athletes running, huffing, puffing, yelling at each other, swearing. It reminded of the time that the NFL sold fans on “sounds of the game,” a pure mic feed bereft of fan sounds and announcer feeds, so that you could hear what was “really” going on. No commentator, no nothing, just the game. Bundesliga wasn’t quite that pure, but it was still very nice.
For some background, the bulk of my football viewing is done via Spanish-language channels. English-language stuff, such as Premiership matches, is done with the sound off, which probably explains the core of my argument here, which is that artificial crowd noise has no place in a broadcast when fans aren’t in the stadium. It’s offensive and deceptive. Same with the video tricks to fill seats. Let matches represent the world in which we are living now. It’s okay. We can take it. We risk our lives going out for carry out. We can probably take seeing empty seats at a stadium.
The last Barça match, broadcast on BeIN, featured the soundtrack of noise. It was pretty well done in the surges, ebbs and flows, reactions to plays, the polite clapping of the Camp Nou at a well-executed bit of football. But it was wrong. Save the theater for the stage.
Fans aren’t at football matches because there isn’t a safe way to bring them back. Don’t insult any of our sensibilities by choosing to use a human soundtrack for the great money chase. The games aren’t back on because of any reason other than money. It’s fun, and it’s nice to have football back. But every challenge, every heated exchange between players has me thinking, “What if one of them is positive?” Can’t help it. It’s the world in which we now live.
In many ways, this makes matches even more compelling, knowing that suddenly there is something more at stake than the scoreline. It also underscores how much money there much be for people to decide that yes, this is all worth it. The risk is worth it. Potentially taking something somewhere that it doesn’t belong is worth it. Every aspect of our lives now has become like the Edgar Allan Poe story, Masque of the Red Death. Life is a party that can now be crashed by someone carrying a viral load, and it’s creepy. It also takes away some of the purity, the enjoyment of the game that we all love so much.
This makes the decision to add canned noise, like a crappy sitcom laugh track, even more detestable and empty. Sport is a lot of things, even with aspects of theater at its grandest heights. But sport is also real. Winning is real, losing is real, failure is writ large. The sounds of the game provided an unparalleled opportunity, circumstances notwithstanding, to get just a little bit closer to that. As Sid Lowe wrote about being in the stadium for an Eibar match, even the sound of the footfalls of the players is loud. We forget how visceral, how REAL football is, so accustomed have we become to the roar of supporters, drowned out by the prattle of announcers. But football, with just the sounds of football, is also beautiful. And it isn’t a lie, doesn’t reduce the human endeavor to a studio production, complete with the sign that says “APPLAUSE.”
I hate it. BeIN allows you to choose the SAP option to lose the fakery, and it’s greatly appreciated. Footballers are wizards, the greatest of them seem like illusionists, yet it’s all real. Let us hear it. There will be plenty of time for the real sounds of the game to return, once life returns to whatever normal it will be coming back to. But for now, in these strange times, the aural starkness of matches, as even announcers tone back the volume of their talk (in some cases), fits the mood of the times. Risk is everywhere, from trips to the grocery store to a slide challenge that earns some verbal brickbats from an opposing player. The world is a heavy, heavy place, and football is part of that world. So let it be. Let us hear that world. Football is still an escape. It doesn’t need fantasy as well.