Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Neat, eh? Football & Goldsworthy

From the Guardian yesterday. I think they're really clever.

I've never in the past been at all interested in football but for reasons I don’t fully understand I've started taking an interest, to the extent of watching the odd match on TV and switching on for Match of the Day. And reading the football in the sports pages -- often, these days, before the news. I enjoy skilful play, even though I don’t know the rules and can’t play, and I feel some involvement with players I can recognise such as Crouch, Rooney, Renaldo, Gerrard, Teves (they're the ones I can remember how to spell) though I'm not interested in their lives outside the game. I'm also intrigued by managers’ strategies, tactics and personalities and by the debates about whether Capello knows what he’s doing.

I think there are some terrific writers and broadcast commentators on football and am impressed by the expertise and intelligence that goes into commentary; I admire these people's capacity to see patterns and sense in what to me often looks like a meaningless sequence of events and situations. And I admire the analysts, whoever they are, who made the diagrams above which are both illuminating and beautiful. (Colour in newspapers justifies itself with images like these.)

At the risk of pretentiousness: football is a (more or less) discrete and contained zone of operations and cultural expression where some of the forces and modes of activity at work in the ‘real world’ of politics, business and war are echoed, but in a safe form, without potentially devastating effects on lives. But it wouldn’t be right to regard it as a substitute or displacement, a non-real, play-acting, symbolic world. It’s real in its own right, one of the things we do, answering to needs as real as those that make us go to work or form partnerships. A visiting Martian would have no basis for saying that football was somehow secondary and imitative/ symbolic/ derivative while politics and economics were primary and basic – even discounting the considerable economic role played by football.

I love works like those diagrams that result from taking a chunk of reality and applying a procedure to it, so generating something that wasn’t apparent in the original but was in it nevertheless at some level ; i.e. what it presents is true, though though not in terms of banal realism. This procedure removed time from the reality; the tube map removes scale and precise direction.

How’s it done in the football mapping? Does a computer analyse video images? How is the plotting onto the field done since there are no cameras (are there?) with views from directly on top? Does some kid in the backroom have to trace each move manually on a digital tablet?

Whatever, the result is intriguing. The artefact can be read for what it tells of the originating reality, but also engaged with as a thing in its own right. Chelsea’s less adventurous clustering, Liverpool’s more open and economical moves, were realities, I assume. But what wonderful vortices, with those sudden thrusts out of the force-field (often unsuccessful, I note). Like starlings flocking, or like, as I realised in the small hours last night after I'd already scanned the diagrams, these from Andy Goldsworthy:

The image I really wanted I couldn’t find – I've seen it somewhere: it’s just sticks in the air, thrown by Andy G, in a wind. But this one gives the idea:

Hazel stick throw, LYC, Cumbria, 10 July 1980 © Andy Goldsworthy

I realise from these that in looking at diagrams like the football ones, despite our best intentions to read them as evidence of what happened in a game, we can’t help bringing other imagery to bear, e.g. of clusters of twigs or bird flight, in a way that makes the image semiotically richer, charged with peripheral suggestion.

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