That is the telly-time question!
For those of us who are armchair sports fans, and let’s face it, during the pandemic at least, that’s been most of us sports fans, there is a continuing and not easily answered conundrum – whether to watch our televised sport with or without dubbed crowd sounds? Of course, there’s nothing quite like being there for real, but even on television, the excited roar of a massive crowd: the chants and boos, the groans and moans, the cheers and jeers, the oooohs and aaaahs, they’re all a huge part of the thrill and excitement of watching top-level sport, especially when it’s live top-level sport. A brilliantly constructed and executed goal scored, a cunning try touched-down in the corner, a mighty six lofted high into the Lord’s Pavilion, a delicate lob or backhand drive down the line on Centre Court; they lift the thousands fortunate enough to be there close to fever pitch.
They can easily do the same for us at home, frequently resulting in scattered crisps all over the coffee table and the accompanying spilt glass of something special soaking into the carpet. But despite those potential slight downsides, watching great sport on telly is worth it because it makes us part of it all as we sing and chant and point and gesture; and as none but our nearest and dearest are watching we can be even more outrageous than the stadium fans if we choose to.
And on top of that there are even bonuses for the stay-at-home, televisual sports supporter: we get close-ups of the best action throughout the match, we get the big-moment replays in much better quality than those on the massive stadium screens, we don’t have to risk uncertain travel arrangements or brave inclement weather, we get all that expert opinion and punditry…. Oh yes, there is that “expert” opinion and punditry; well, I never said it was all good.
Anyway, since the arrival of coronavirus and the consequent exclusion of supporters from our stadiums, almost all of us have had to access our top-flight sport through television. And with no live crowd to boost the atmosphere, we can usually watch with or without a dubbed “crowd” soundtrack, although viewers aren’t always offered a choice. Assuming, though, that we are offered that choice, what then is the best option? Like I said, it’s a conundrum. The producers are trying their hardest under difficult and unprecedented circumstances, but the dubbed “crowd” noises somehow always seem rather token. They clearly don’t and can’t match the action precisely, and for this viewer anyway, do little to add to the atmosphere.
On the other hand, without the dubbed “crowd”, we do get to hear the shouted comments and instructions of the teams’ managers, trainers and substitutes, including their rich assortment of ripe expletives, for which the commentators are constantly having to apologise. It can be mildly amusing for a while but soon
becomes boring. There is, of course, the third option of watching with the sound switched off completely but somehow that doesn’t look or sound quite right.
As Covid restrictions ease things are gradually changing, with supporters being permitted to return to stadiums in controlled numbers. After chopping and changing its mind, the Government eventually approved an experimental plan to permit a few thousand supporters to be at Wembley for April’s EFL Cup Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. Real cheers and the simple presence of live supporters was a boost for all, television viewers included, and particularly for the players, no doubt. This month’s FA Cup final had a bigger crowd, but the UK Government and governments and sporting governing bodies worldwide agree that there is a long and cautious way to go before we return to anywhere near those days of capacity crowds and unrestricted access to all areas of the grounds. So for the time being at least, for most sports fans it will remain a matter of turning on the telly and deciding whether or not to go for dubbed sound.
But then again, they just might get those pitch-side managers and coaching staff to shout their instructions and complaints with expletives deleted. Yeah, right, and then England will win the football world cups (men’s and women’s), crowd favourite Tim Henman will come out of retirement and at last claim that elusive Wimbledon crown, beating Andy Murray in the final, who will have the consolation of winning the Men’s Doubles with brother Jamie, and finally those fabled sporting porkers will take to the air and we’ll all be there to watch them glide gracefully by.
Sometimes in sport, as in every aspect of life, an event occurs that isn’t just for the moment or for the year or season, but is so significant that it rings down the decades and attains legendary or almost mythical status. Roger Bannister running the first sub-four minute mile, England winning the 1966 football World Cup Final (without Jimmy Greaves – a travesty!), Virginia Wade finally triumphing at Wimbledon in 1977, after sixteen years of trying and in the tournament’s centenary year. We may have been too young to actually witness such magic moments, or not even born, but these extra special events live on by word of mouth, in iconic photographs and in grainy, frequently black and white, television footage.
One such special event occurred last month when Rachael Blackmore, on Minella Times, became the first female to win the Grand National, the world’s most famous and most watched steeplechase. It’s forty-four years since Charlotte Brew was the first woman to ride in the iconic race and since then there have been eighteen other female riders, with Katie Walsh, on Seabass, coming closest to winning, finishing third on Seabass back in 2012.
Now Blackmore has actually done it. Her victory was well reported in the national and racing press, but usually, after such a ground-breaking triumph, there is massive press follow up, both to salute and acknowledge the new sporting superstar and to discover a little more about them, you know, the “human interest” angle, hardly vital but interesting information we all enjoy. “What do you do in your spare time?”, “What’s your favourite colour?”, “Do you have lucky boots, or socks, or a lucky charm?”, “What did you have for breakfast before the big race?”.
But not this time. Maybe it’s partly down to there being no massive crowd at Aintree to cheer the champ to victory and share the joy of the moment. Maybe it’s another small but significant example of the changed, harder world we are now living in. Or maybe it’s because horse racing still retains patriarchal attitudes. So for the record, we here at Perspective salute and acknowledge your magnificent first, Rachael. And by the way, what did you have for breakfast before the big race?
Rigby’s Sports Shorts
Box to box player!
In last month’s article on the infuriating confusion sparked by constant tinkering with the rules of football, I mentioned that goalkeepers weren’t really footballers. I take it all back. In a recent Portuguese second division match between Varzim and Mafra, the home side’s keeper, Ricardo Nunes, not only kept a clean sheet in his side’s 2-0 victory, but also scored a spectacular goal. From his own box Nunes launched a massive punt skywards, it hurtled virtually into space, came down to bounce once on the edge of the Mafra penalty area, sailed over the advancing and bewildered opposition keeper, bounced again on the goal line and finally nestled comfortably into the net. Now that’s what I call a goalkeeper – and a striker!
Veteran long distance runner, Chris Thompson, 39, surged to a surprise victory in the Great Britain Olympic marathon trials and, with his lifetime-best winning time of 10 minutes 50 seconds a full 40 seconds inside the qualifying time, gained a place in the delayed Tokyo 2020 games. Stephanie Davis, who ran her first marathon just three years ago, won the women’s event. Her winning time of 2:27:16, also a personal best, means she too will be on the plane to Tokyo.
In off and out!
Two more sporting veterans, snooker greats Stephen Hendry, 52, and Jimmy White, 59, fared less well in attempting to reach the pinnacle event of their sport. In the World Championship qualifying tournament, seven-times world champ, Hendry, having beaten old rival White in the first round, lost heavily in the second to Xu Si. At the age of 23, Xu, was born eight years after Hendry won his first world title back in 1990.
Robert Rigby is a journalist, author and scriptwriter. His sport-themed fiction includes the novelisations of the “Goal!” movies and the four official London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics novels for children