03 July 2008

People take pictures of the summer just to prove that it really existed

It was with a jolt that I flicked on page 302 of Ceefax on Monday morning to find that they had already done away with their special Euro 2008 index. Way to punch me in the solar plexus, guys. It's been so nice to indulge for a few weeks without having a great big headline about a hot new Peter Crouch transfer rumour clobbering you over the head and dragging you back to its cave. I know the party's over, lads, but couldn't we just pretend, just have "BEAUTY IS TRUTH, TRUTH BEAUTY" on the top of the page for a few days?

Of course not. We haven't even been allowed the grace of that hazy minute between dream and reality when the two magically merge. Instead, the radio-alarm of life shakes violently with the din of a Five Live newsreader blaring "DECO HAS COMPLETED HIS MOVE TO CHELSEA".

It occurred to me while reading Brian's latest piece on The Run Of Play - particularly "'remembering' is a hybrid act that marries suspicion to the consultation of an external repository" - that I had not recorded a single minute of this tournament for posterity. For as long as I can remember, I've videotaped the final of major international tournaments, plus re-runs of particularly fine matches. My supposition was that I would, on some dreary day, feel an urge to transport myself back to an evening filled with drama, passion and no little splendour. Perhaps I would one day show my grandchildren how football used to be back in the good old days by digging out the old video machine from the attic and playing them the 2006 Germany-Italy semi-final ("would you believe me if I told you that this chunky 'cassette', we used to call them, could only hold three hours of video footage?").

But I honestly can't recall the last time I did actually fire up the wheezing VCR to watch one of these classics. The attraction is just not there. You can hardly marvel at the way the script was written before your eyes when you've already seen the ending. It would be patronising to act surprised at the twist in the plot when you've been silently reciting the preceding lines to yourself. If you're honest with yourself, you just want to see the explosions (and nod sagely at the expertise of the pyrotechnicians, of course). I have more than once accidentally inserted the tape of the Spain 4-3 Yugoslavia game into the machine; on discovering my error, I would resolve to watch the whole match, but after five minutes would grow restless and fast-forward it to the 88th minute.

I knew all this, yet would persist in my efforts to cryogenise these events. It may have been a pathetic hang-up left over from childhood, where these things really did seem to matter, because your worldview was defined solely by your own perceptions and feelings. If you were lucky enough, as I was, to have a blissfully untroubled youth, you could easily live in the fantasy that sport was the most important thing in the universe. I was just a bit slow in growing out of this (though traces remain and occasionally surface) and accepting, in Brian's words, "that even at its greatest, it’s one part of your daily life, something you make room for, something that fits in with everything else"; or as someone else may have put it, it's a TV show.

Looking at photos of some past special occasion is an unsatisfactory experience. It's a natural impulse to want to capture the spirit of a wonderful day in a way that you can later conveniently recall, but a photograph never succeeds in this. It can never present what you really felt, only generate a second-hand copy that doesn't match the purity of the memory that plays back when you close your eyes.

So, this time I didn't do it - not through prior resolution, but simply because it never crossed my mind. One could say that being all broadbanded up now means I have no need, seen as I can access these Precious Moments at the buffering of an embedded clip whenever I choose. (Also, throughout the tournament BBCi showed highlights of the previous day's games plus a loop of every goal in the competition thus far - instant nostalgia!) I like to think of it as a belated acceptance of the transience of sport, and indeed (adopts voice of Jim Hacker when giving a self-important speech about freedom or some such to Sir Humphrey) life itself. It's also to recognise that even though a football match is a slowly unfolding drama built on ebb and flow, on the tension between stuff happening and not happening, your recollection of it usually consists of a coalescence of the glory and the boring (even the best games normally have some dead air in them) into something perhaps even more beautiful that the original, and that it's probably wise not to disturb it. After all, it's the party that stays in your mind, not the trip to the off-licence.

Photos by chasing twilight and maddiesnapsthecamera


fredorrarci 3/7/08 4:43 PM  

The profile page for 'chasing twilight', the flickr member who uploaded the first image, contains the lines "Perhaps it's frivolous; painting, photographs, writing it all down. But what if I wake tomorrow only to have forgotten everything?". That's so deceptively deep they should call it a reservoir and put warning signs around it.

Sara Lynn 3/7/08 5:16 PM  

Thank you so, so, much.

fredorrarci 3/7/08 9:43 PM  

My pleasure. It was slightly jarring to read the words on your profile after having made this post. My thanks again for the image.

Brian 4/7/08 12:28 AM  

This is a brilliant post, and I'm not just saying that because my love for Ray Davies swallows suns and galaxies. (A Gooner from way back, Ray is, as you probably know.) Really happy to have discovered this blog.

I sometimes wonder if all our memories from this decade are going to be blocky, slightly blurry, and preceded by a three-second loading pause, in the same way that the 1920s seem to have taken place entirely in black and white. Someone said that if all the works of the Impressionists were destroyed, you could recreate them from the descriptions in Proust. Could you recreate them from grainy phone-cam footage that only showed a three-inch square of the painting? Still, you'd be glad for the fragment.

I think recording finals for posterity is a lovely thing to do. But like you, I'd always just skip to the good parts. Euro 2008 fed that impulse ruthlessly---so many good-not-great games suddenly felt classic thanks to two sudden goals at the end. Turkey may be the world's first YouTube football team.

fredorrarci 5/7/08 12:14 AM  

Thank you, Brian. I'm quite fond of your blog too, as you may have gathered.

I guess this YouTube-isation of our football viewing is the logical next step in the process that began when some TV station or other decided to chop out the dull parts of a match and present it as a blockbusting ten-minute package. To be needlesly fretful if I may, perhaps we're in danger of forgetting the dramatic tensions of a ninety-minute game, of craving the icing and foregoing the rest of the muffin. Or perhaps it's just the nature of football (or any sport) that most games probably deserve to be seen without the lulls, and we'll still remember the good 'uns for all their glory, not just their show-stopping numbers.

One's future memories of this era may also depend on how H the D is on one's plasma screen, and as far as sport is concerned, how many super-duper premium subscription channels one can afford.

Incidentally, when I had broadband installed the very first thing I did was go to YouTube and watch Dennis Bergkamp's goal against Argentina in 1998 with that wonderful Dutch radio commentary ("DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP!").

Steve,  5/7/08 8:03 PM  

I just watched that incredible Bergkamp goal again 2 weeks ago, 10 years after the last time. It was as awe-inspiring as I remembered. The Dutch announcer was well within his rights to respond as he did. I remember seeing it in real-time at a neighborhood picnic and calling everyone in to see the replay. Goals like that win converts even among our country's sports reactionaries.

Susan only recently turned me on to Brian's blog, but I can see already that you correlate with him at about 98%.

fredorrarci 6/7/08 12:13 AM  

"Susan only recently turned me on to Brian's blog, but I can see already that you correlate with him at about 98%."

As long as that's not an accusation of plagiarism or anything, I'll accept that :) I'll trust your statistical nous.

I concur totally with you on Bergkamp's goal. I watched that game as someone with a fondness for both teams, but a little biased towards Holland because of Bergkamp, obviously, especially because of his awesome contribution to Arsenal's double that season.

The goal literally had me on my feet cheering. The context was important, too. It would have been a great goal in any circumstance, of course, but coming at the end of a game which appeared to be winding down into extra time, and in a World Cup quarter-final, for goodness' sake, lent it even more impact.

And the goal itself...de Boer's "stretch limo of a pass", as someone (can't remember who) called it, the first touch - my god, the first touch! - how he made the ball his so effortlessly. He had no right to make it look so easy; if you just watched the replay from that point on you wouldn't guess that it was preceded by de Boer's pass. The presence of mind to take it inside on the second touch, the cold-blooded finish...I could go on about it for ages, and indeed I have.

(In fact, there probably should be an embargo on describing goals like these. They are poetry enough without people like me making them prosaic.)

Even though I made a beeline for the clip when I got broadband, this was one goal I definitely have watched on video many, many times. And Jack van Gelder's reaction, while probably deeply unprofessional, tut tut, is the essence of ecstacy. It reminds you that, even though in the cold light of day it may seem unreasonable, this sport stuff can be pretty damn powerful. I don't know if you've ever heard the famous Norwegian commentary on their win over England in 1981 (I think), the "your boys took a hell of a beating" spiel - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqZTP8-8wIs - this illustartes the same point, I think.

Steve 7/7/08 3:47 PM  

I didn't know Norwegians were capable of such in-your-face emotion. You're right that football can be powerful enough to make even the sober-minded among us lose all sense of decorum.

Since I was at the youtube site anyway, and the next video in the queue was called something like "Crazy Dutch announcer's call: Bergkamp vs. Argentina," I had to treat myself again. Maybe it was your description verifying how special it was that prompted an even bigger reaction this time, but I had a brief stutter breathing in as I beheld its b-word. It's not often you can claim something literally takes your breath away.

fredorrarci 7/7/08 11:07 PM  

Similar to the point I made elsewhere about Torres' foul on Lahm, consider this: Bergkamp should never have played against Argentina. He stamped on an opponent in the previous match vs. Yugoslavia, an offence for which Zidane got a two-game ban earlier in the tournament (the ref failed to see Beegkamp's assault).

Proof that football is indeed a funny old game: after that piece of genius (the goal, not the stamp)Bergkamp did a bit of a CR7-85 in the semi against Brazil, as I recall.

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