Thursday, 26 February 2009

What Would We Do If...

...we had to decide if Andy Murray will ever win a Grand Slam.

Paul Morris: I’m not going to pretend to know much about tennis, but his recent success suggests he’s on course for a major sometime this year. Yet when I watch Murray I’m just in genuine disbelief at how much he’s already achieved. He appears to adopt a style not too dissimilar to how I play tennis: just get it over the net and let the other bastard make the mistake. Now I’m not knocking this technique, as it seems to have the same effect against members of the ATP as it does the ‘tard I play. However, Murray’s extremely defensive baseline tactics are almost offensive when we see Rog and Rafa tear it up every other month.

I could bang on about his general attitude and (lack of) personality for hours but three words sum it up pretty definitively: miserable Scottish twat.

Stephen Pietrzykowski: If Andy Murray were born south of the border, opinions of him would change a little. While it's undoubtedly true that he's sour faced and consistently unimpressed, if we were to project these attributes on to an English sportsman the contradictions in our judgment would be apparent. We'd be celebrating necessary grit and focus in an increasingly competitive game, rather than condenming him for lack of grace and gratitude. He's not playing to national type, it's being imposed upon him and that's to our detriment, not his.

Murray will win a Grand Slam. His exponential improvement over the last year shows that an inevitability and his record over supposedly the 'best player ever' is proof of this if needed. How he defeats good old fashioned English prejudice however is another matter entirely.

Kevin O’Neill: Though I pulled the Scottish card last time to claim objectivity, this time I'm denying it for the same reason. I don't have a patriotic chubby for the lad, but I feel confident in saying that Andy Murray will definitely win a grand slam. I'd prefer it if it wasn't Wimbledon; let him have the Australian or the US (I'd rather Nadal wins the French until the day he dies, also). Murray has the ability and the spirit to compete with the best of them. What he doesn't have right now is the physical side or the discipline. His fitness and strength are improving, and within a couple of years, he'll get the formula right.

Ryan Taylor: I fucking loathe tennis. My hatred was sealed when, having for some unknown reason agreed to work at Wimbledon, I was sacked about half way though the tournament. I was up until then working as a porter, or more accurately a gimp with a stack truck and a lot of overpriced strawberries to ferry.

Though my point is this. This was the mid nineties and serial quarter final botherer Tim Henman had the place in raptures. The height of Henmania if you will, about a year or two before the fickle tossers switched to Rusedski Ridge for a brief spell before coming back to the smirky twat until he retired empty handed to sell washing powder full time.

You'll miss him when he's gone they used to say. And BOOM! along comes this Scottish upstart with a lobotomy and unnerving disregard for self worth and Timothy is a distant memory. We have A New Hope. Someone to pin those dreams upon, someone to hold a torch for for ten agonising days until he meets a good tennis player or someone in form. It’s the experts that come out of the woodwork for those two weeks that really irk me.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

If You Read One Article This Week...

...make it Behind the Scenes on FA Cup Matchday with Setanta.

Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/Guardian

I've always been fascinated by the theory behind television coverage of football. The philosophy of televising a game can go one of two ways: 1) mimetic representation 2) ultimate representation.

1) The idea of mimetic representation is that it attempts to provide a faithful, authentic replica of the experience of attending a live football match. This is the classic model. The fundamental feature of this is the gantry perspective. Where is the best seat in the stadium to watch a match? Bang on the half-way line, maybe three-quarters of the way up the stand. It was a logical move for this to become the default angle for television coverage. It covers as much of the pitch from a vantage that's physically easy to access. Simple geometry!

What's interesting is that the gantry angle never switches sides. Obviously this would involve setting up cameras on both sides of the pitch, which is an extravagance, but at no point that I'm aware of in the explosion of football coverage has anyone ever attempted this. It may be pointless to have a flip/reverse gantry option, but most matches have cameras on either side of the touchline. Is that really necessary? What this points to is the desire to maintain authenticity. Every football fan knows that the teams swap sides at half-time, and so television coverage represents this switch.

I've discussed the philosophy I think lies behind the gantry perspective. But few football matches now, especially in the top leagues, are covered with just one camera. The rudimentary diagram to the right (thanks, Photobooth!) shows what I think are the basic principles of covering a football match. You've got the gantry camera (1), two cameras behind each goal (2/3), then I've been generous and allowed for two cameras on the touchline, one on each half (4/5/6/7). If we're being stingy, we could squeeze this down into two touchline cameras, on the half-way line (8/9). There are probably lots of variations on this, but I think this gets the idea across.

OK, so you're the director of a team of seven cameraman, and you're covering a live football match. How do you mediate all of this? When do you decide to jump to close-up shots? Can I just use the gantry camera for 90 minutes? Help! This is why the Guardian article is so interesting. Directing a football match, especially a live one, is an insanely complicated job. It's an art form. You're creating what will hopefully be a dramatic and suspenseful experience for millions of viewers. You're conducting an orchestra for a captive audience in pubs and homes around the country. Nuff respect to the man/woman who takes on this job. (Incidentally, Mikey Stafford's article points out that you probably benefit from being an ex-footballer if you want to be involved in this field.)

To elaborate on this a bit, let's watch a brief clip: Shunsuke Nakamura's goal against Rangers from an Old Firm derby last season (Yes, I'm a Celtic fan. No, this isn't shameless. Also, while I'm here, I might as well recommend watching it via Quietube - this lovely little bookmarklet removes all the crap from a Youtube page to let you watch in peace.).

0.00 - 0.03: gantry shot of some passing along the Celtic back line. This is your basic shot.

0.04 - 0.07: switches to a touch-line shot of Gary Caldwell receiving a pass, taking stock of his options, and lofting a ball forward. Why did the director choose to switch to a close-up here? The action was in Celtic's half, with the defence. What were the risks? Minimal. What were the potential benefits? A bit of texture, on the off-chance that Caldwell's pass might lead to something positive. And it did! Good work, director. I'm not sure these sort of cuts are welcome in football - too often, I'm shouting "JUST SHOW US THE GAME!" at the TV, but there are times when it works OK, like here.

0.08 - 0.12: back to the gantry angle for one of the sweetest goals in history. We get the traditional vantage point for this, which is appropriate as we're all sharing in the same experience, and it's in the traditional codification of the 'fans angle'. There are those horrible moments when we see a goal via a close-up first, and it causes dissonance. Have we watched a replay by mistake? Who hit that? What was going on? The gantry angle leaves everything neutral, the perfect medium for us to enjoy the action.

0.13 - 0.17: cut to a touch-line focus on Nakamura as he reels away to celebrate. The classic post-goal shot.

0.18 - 0.27: the benefit of extra cameras; we get more of the 'story' this way, seeing Nakamura face-on as he yanks on his badge with Celtic Pride.

And so on. The replays give more on the luxuries extra cameras afford, but the twenty-seven seconds above show the intricacies of mimetic representation. Just to finish up, it's worth noting that the mimetic mode only gives the 'luxury' angles during replays. You won't get a shot from the opposite touchline, or an angle from above the goal during the live action. These features are reserved for when the ball is out of play, so to speak, so as not to disrupt the realism of the presentation.

* * *

2) Ultimate representation, then, is a style of coverage that takes advantage of the technological advances of the last decade. More specifically, it foregrounds how it uses this technology. The director of this style of coverage breaks with the codes of mimetic representation, embraces the pleasure of the text, if you will.

The apotheosis of this was the Champion's League final a couple of years ago, between Porto and Monaco. I can't find any footage of it, unfortunately, but they had a Matrix-effect set-up where they had multiple cameras positioned so that they could pause a reply and spin around behind a player. It was pretty flash, but as the guy says in his blog post, pretty useless.

Watching the Milan derby on BBC Three this Sunday, we had the usual range of camera angles, with a bonus one that is best imagined as a toy-helicopter camera. The majority of the action was covered using the mimetic mode, but every now and then we'd get this floating swoop across the pitch. This angle comes from a gyroscopic camera on wires, that hangs above the pitch and can give some incredible shots. You can catch a glimpse of it in the first two seconds of this clip. It was pretty disorienting, as you don't expect to get given such freedom of viewing within the real-time flow of the game.

They used it for free-kicks a lot, and the effect you get is that you're virtually standing right behind Pirlo as he gets ready to strike the ball. It's useful for giving you an idea of the kicker's chances, but it takes you outside of your comfort zone. But perhaps this is the future of television coverage!

The question comes down to (and this is where you get involved, Badgekissers readers) whether or not we want to maintain the pretense that watching a match on TV should replicate the experience of watching it in a stadium. Should we have the same limitations and restraints that are involved in that experience? Or should TV take advantage of the possibilities of technology and give us a fully immersive feast for our senses, getting as close to the action as possible?

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

What would we do if

we could choose the England captain?

I’m hopeful that what would we do if... might become a regular feature. One of us will set a question and I’ll post our collective answers up. The plan was to have them a bit more topical than this fledgling effort. Still its a classic debate hotly contested in pubs that it's not frowned upon to get change from a £1 up down the country.

The most important thing to say is that we were universal in our decision that the current incumbent doesn’t warrant his position. Moreover there were doubts as to whether he should be in the team given current form, his and that of others.

Caspar Salmon: Rio Ferdinand. Aside from his knowledge of the game and obvious interest in matters of strategy and football history - as evidenced by his insightful editorship of Observer Sport Monthly this weekend; apart from the obvious socio-political impact of having a black English football captain; besides his commanding affection and respect from the other players and being a world-admired defender; beyond all this, it would be a thing of wonder to have a rubber-lipped freak fronting the English team. We could get him to grow his hair out again, and perform a Haka-like dance with Peter Crouch before every match to freak the shit out of every opponent. Just a thought.

Kevin O’Neill: Gareth Barry should be the England captain. Being a Scot, and an Irish-Italian one, at that, I've got no sentiment of any kind for your national team. So you know my opinion counts more than the other jokers on here - Caspar is about as French as I am. Barry is a solid professional and by all accounts a decent guy, more than I can say for the other main candidates, Gerrard and Terry. You'll never see Barry dive or hassle a referee to book an opponent. He's weathered a difficult transfer saga (Liverpool stirring things up, surely not?) and come out the other side still a top performer for his club. He's even earned back the captaincy he lost after Liverpool's game of silly-buggers. Barry for El Capitan!

Ryan Taylor: Jimmy Bullard. OK so I might not be entirely serious with this suggestion. But I’ve thought about all the potential candidates and I honestly don’t think that there is an outstanding captain in and around the squad. It pains me to say it as self confessed Liverpool ‘hater’ but Steven Gerrard is the heir apparent to the captaincy. If only he’d be as passionate for England as he is for miraculously digging Bentiez out of the shit (or even half as passionate he is about Phil Collins). The non too serious point about Bullard though is that he is almost unique in football in that he posses a personality, an infectious positive influence that impacts on those around him. Sounds like the trait of a captain to me. The perfect antidote to the charisma free inhabitants of the post since…psycho?

Paul Morris: Steven Gerrard. “Obvious choice”, I hear you shout. Hells yeah! And there’s a friggin’ reason why. Any England fan with an ounce of patriotism would give his right nut (statistics suggest the left as the bigger, better nut) to see Stevie G perform like he does for Liverpool. These isles haven’t produced a midfielder of this strength, influence and ability since Bryan Robson finished bulldozing through the 80s. Despite the best efforts of Rafa’s questionable tactics and signings, Gerrard’s inspirational displays have just about kept Liverpool’s heads above the water. Affording him the same role and responsibility nationally as he has domestically will fill him with the self-belief that has been sorely lacking from the majority of his international appearances. Due to past on the field (diving, two-footed tackles) and off the field (bar brawls, Phil Collins) indiscretions his position as a national role model is somewhat questionable. Surprisingly, being a Scouser isn’t a good enough excuse anymore. But I think we’d all let him regularly donkey punch senior citizens if he gave us magical moments akin to Istanbul and the 2006 FA Cup Final.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Of Football, Faith and Fighting

I’m going to psych you here. Watch out, because you’re going to get played like a fool. OK, here goes: think of a place that millions of people go to on Sunday, without fail, to sing songs of praise, and worship their deities. Eh? Eh? You said church, right? I told you I was going to trick you. I meant the football stadium! Can’t believe you fell for it.

Many commentators have drawn the perfectly obvious parallel between church and football support, and for good reason: even as C of E is deserted in droves by modern Britain’s broken society, lapsed Cathols and atheists and agnostics and Hindus and Muslims all over the shop continue to find other temples to donate their money and pledge their faith, and not just because they’d rather have a chicken pie than a wafer. That football is Britain’s religion is hardly a revelatory find.

I’m just interested, as an atheist and generally non-violent sports lover, in ways that a rational person can be a football supporter – and I suppose I mean a Premiership supporter, especially. If that makes you angry, consider how cross religious people get when their ardour is called into question. What do you love about your team (whose management, squad and perhaps ground may have changed so much in your lifetime that they are virtually unrecognisable)? Do you hail from the city that you support? Were you indoctrinated, i.e. did your father tell you what team to support and did you blindly follow him? Do you like the Sunday rituals – the songs, the scores, the food, the outfits? When your team play badly, would you still like them to have won the match? These are not logical, easily explicable behaviours – and they pertain to a religious way of thinking.

An argument to the contrary that I sometimes hear goes along the lines of football being like music, or art: something not easily explainable, but which transports you out of yourself, which appeals to the senses somehow, which corresponds to certain sensibilities. But this is to ignore the competitive nature of sport: don’t forget that your team is there to beat another team, and once you’ve defeated them, you’ll probably sing gloating songs of one-upmanship about Sheffield women being shit in bed. This isn’t what your average concert-goer gets from Tchaikovsky. No-one loses in The Beatles (apart from Ringo, I suppose).

Like all religious movements, football’s appeal is predicated on hatred and violence: it finds its greatest expression in Britain, where feudal divisions and a generally roustabout attitude inherited from the Vikings are well catered for in a classic derby. These are also things that religion picked up on when the Catholics brought it here: look at all those turreted church spires across the land, whence villages fired arrows at other villages, and you see how religion often centred on inter-communal fights. And so to hooliganism. Incidentally, I think everyone has the potential to be a hooligan: something in one’s blood that is not rational or noble is stirred up, bullfightlike, by football. Ah, how well I remember taking over the streets of Paris with the baying masses after France’s victory over Spain in 2006! Along with about twenty other people, I shook a whole car with passengers inside it, banging on the roof, screaming my head off, like a lunatic pagan. If some Dago had arrived at that point to tell me that Zidane wasn’t worth a peseta, I think I might have done him/her some serious harm.

So: football appeals to a base instinct for fighting, and an even lower instinct for the solace of spiritual uplift. The two are well connected: the word ‘fanatic’ covers a sizable enough portion of religious folk that I need not stretch the parallel too much. So how can the football fan maintain a sense of rationality amid all this? This is actually pretty much a rhetorical question: I’d really like to know, and I’m not sure I have the answer. Think, though, of such wonderful sporting moments as Fratton Park giving Thierry Henry a standing ovation for his part in Arsenal’s 5-1 ass-whoop of Portsmouth in March 2004: the casting aside of partisanship, there, shows a real love of the game that goes beyond scraping a win against your enemies; an appreciation of football as spectacle – perhaps getting close to an artistic appreciation of it.

I'm privileged in not having grown up in England, and therefore not having an especially strong allegiance to one team - as a casual football fan, I get to ignore the scores at the weekend, and only watch the occasional match. Using the third person to talk about a team ("we beat Man Utd last week") is anathema to me, and not just because while Rooney et al were getting beaten, I was sitting on my arse eating toasties: it's because I'm still able to have no real emotional, or spiritual, connection to football. For this I give thanks to God every day.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Artsoccer - Youves

This is the first in what might become a series of interviews with people from the music world, temporarily monikered Artsoccer, here we interview Stephen Broadze, lead singer and self appointed fashion icon of the excellent Youves (nee Mirror! Mirror!).

Q. So you’re raised in the Midlands between two West Midland powerhouses (Aston Villa and Coventry) and you end up a United fan, what went wrong?

I have family from Liverpool (Everton fans), Nuneaton (Coventry fans), Leicester (Leicester fans) - to me it makes perfect sense to support United. Besides, I am from Warwickshire not the West Midlands supporting Villa or Coventry was just not an option.

Q. I know Luke (the bassist) is also a red, are there any other affiliations in the band and do they cause friction?

Alex is an Aston Villa fan, there is no friction there because Villa never take 3 points from us & are never responsible for our rare premature cup exits. Mike is a Leeds fan, remember them? HAHA!

Q. You're a wannabe rock star and a red. Do you get prawn sandwiches on your back stage rider too?

Sadly not we get cheap beer & crisps, Mike gets Humus.

Q. More than openly liking football and having song title’s like Another Djemba-Djemba you tend to end up talking quite a lot about it on stage. I’ve only ever seen a muted reaction or shrugs from indie crowds, ever thought of giving up the football banter?

Not at all, it's a massive part of us & our charm. The reaction varies according to where we are & on the particular kind of show/club. When we played at New Slang in London just after Arsenal & Spurs drew 4-4 this season I asked if there were any Spurs fans & the place erupted, in came the Arsenal jokes. If I can get just one person in the audience to react to our football banter I am delighted, even when people don't it still amuses all of us. When we played in Leeds I told everyone there was a house party at Gary McCallister's house afterwards (he was manager of Leeds United at the time) and we had people come to ask us where it was, amazing.

Q. Not sounding like The Enemy or Oasis, Youves aren't really a band that would generally be associated with football. Do people in your 'scene' look at you weird when you start talking about the beautiful game?

People look at us weird whatever we do. But yes they are quite often baffled by it but we don't care. It's always nice to meet other bands who love football as much as we do like our friends Rolo Tomassi & Lesser Panda.

Q. I've noticed you cover some pretty bizarre subjects in your lyrics. Ever tried writing a football chant? Want to give it a go here?

Never tried that but it's definitely one for the future. I doubt I could top some of the Stretford End favourites though, some classic material I wouldn't be able to compete against.

Q. You played in the Big Scary Monsters 5-a-side tournament last summer but lost in the final. What went wrong?

I hate excuses for losing other than being beaten by a better team but firstly they scored two more goals than us. Secondly it was the hottest day of the year & we were a little dehydrated. We also think it had something to do with playing away from home. We won all of our games on pitch 3, the final was on pitch 1 where Punktastic played all of their games. We'll be back next year hopefully, and we will bring the trophy home.

Q. And finally, Fergie’s lost it, Neville’s over the hill, Ferdinand’s a muppet, Vidic is a fake hard man, Berbatov's disinterested, Carrick’s not good enough, Scholes and Giggs are too old, Ronaldo’s not playing as well as last season, Park, O’Shea and Fletcher wouldn’t get into any other top four teams, Tevez is off and Rooney’s fat, so is the treble on this year?

No not the treble, the quadruple. Don't forget the charity shield & world club cup, I can see 6 trophies this season.

Monday, 2 February 2009

His Name is Rio

Rio Ferdinand guest-edited the Observer Sport Monthly this week. After reading about his soon-to-be-launched online lifestyle magazine, Rio, I was a bit uncertain of how the OSM would turn out.

It's actually pretty good.

Just in terms of the breadth of content, you get a really good article from author David Peace in which his son interviews Rio on Man Utd's trip to Japan; interviews with big sportspeople going back to their hometowns, like Ricky Hatton, Mark Foster, Kelly Smith; Rio interviewing Gordon Brown; a series of features on why Barack Obama's connection with sports is a good thing for America; a few other good features too, on academies and sporting development.

The David Peace article has four sections to it, and the last one is probably the best, as Peace describes taking his son to his first ever Man Utd game, at the World Club Cup. His son shouts for Ronaldo, adamant that he can hear him. Peace tries to convince his son that he should support Huddersfield Town. It's a nice little sketch of what football can mean for a family. Go read it.

The interviews Rio conducts, with Gordon Brown and Usain Bolt, give a picture of a decent guy. Both interviews are enjoyable, the banter between Rio and Bolt conveying an impression of a pair of down-to-earth sportsmen just enjoying the success they've had while still taking pleasure from the fact they're paid to do something they love. Rio and Gordon Brown are just a pair of football fans chatting shit, some references to the positive values that sport can give back to a community, but more interesting for their shared respect for Alex Ferguson, talking about home/away changing rooms, and Brown saying he couldn't understand as a kid that his dad clapped when an opposing team did something good.

So, Rio does a good job, I think. And I've come away with a much better opinion of him. Rio's World Cup Wind-Ups did a lot of damage to that, but I might be getting a bit of respect for him now.

Just to fill some more space, what about Rio's internet presences? His Super Cool Celebrity Fan Site:

This is probably a template site, not something a fan has actually set up. Probably.

His Myspace page gives a bit more value. Favourite film? Silence of the Lambs. Drink? Ribena. Of more interest to me, a three-part video series of When Rio Met Usher (actually one of my favourite musical artists right now; Love in this Club Part II? Incredible!). Rio and Usher's chat is a bit bland, but I like that he uses the time/position he has to do cool stuff like this as well as starting up football academies in Uganda. And meeting P Diddy.

Expect more posts about Rio Ferdinand's media adventures at some point in the future.

Until then, there should be some actual football-related updates from Ryan and the boys soon.

Edit: I chose the title for this post before seeing this one. Promise!