The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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Tiny Squares of Life

No one has written more acutely than Fredorrarci on what could be called the YouTube effect—the decontextualization of football that takes place in an internet culture that makes brilliant goals available as short, individual Flash videos on demand. His best post yet on the subject is on Sport Is a TV Show today, and it’s well worth a read for anyone interested in the distinction between knowledge and feeling in football, and how the hasty acquisition of the former can freeze the latter out:

In feeling the significance of a goal, it helps to know what impact it had on the game. If you’re just watching a clip, you might know what the score was, when the goal was scored and perhaps the flow of the game until that point. Even if you don’t know all this, any kind of experience watching football will tell you that it probably means something. But all you can do from this is piece together a replica. It is only an approximation of what the goal would have meant if you had seen everything leading up to it.

In my experience, one of the practical consequences of the proliferation of goal videos on the internet is that goals which actually aren’t all that great are elevated over tremendous passages of play that don’t make for natural YouTube clips. David Beckham’s counterintuitively dull 70-yard strike becomes an internet sensation, while Celtic’s utterly thrilling last-ditch defending against Manchester United last week goes virtually ignored because it wasn’t 40 seconds long and didn’t conclude with a scissor kick.

Now, I like goal videos, in part because I think the beauty of soccer lends itself to both short- and long-form appreciation: if a great lyric poem appeared in the middle of a novel, you could love the poem without reading the novel, even if you might love it more, or in a different way, if you had. But I agree that, en masse and over time, highlight clips have the power to alter your perception of the game, making anything exaggerated or unusual seem important while the basic flow of play, even in a really good match, becomes frustrating and incoherent. It’s useful to be reminded that every separable moment in soccer is part of a larger whole, that excitement doesn’t always come in 40-second blocks, and that no amount of sped-up surfing through 101 Great Goals can replace the vital context of watching a whole game. We’re watching for chapters, not just for sentences.

Anyway, read the post.

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Tiny Squares of Life

by Brian Phillips · November 8, 2008

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