Wednesday, 14 July 2010


I was born in the age of the instant replay, but only just - if it was in fact in 1970 that they started using it, as I seem to recall having heard once. I wasn’t able to confirm that, and still wonder if Hurst’s goal of 1966 was available to the television audience for immediate review, however grainily. I know for a fact the games were broadcast in black and white back then, and that it was only cinemagoers who got to see the highlight packages in colour. At any rate, the first World Cup in my actual memory is the one of 1978 and at that stage you could watch the games live - still only in black and white in our household - and the replays of the goals during the games themselves, but that was it. No possibility to record the game, no Internet to get on to watch the highlights. You had to wait patiently for the news to watch some of the action again. And then the next day you bought the newspaper, in which the game would be described in words. Do journalists even bother to do that these days? Written play-by-play reportage - at least in the Italian papers - has shrunk considerably over the years, due in all likelihood to the saturation of video images, and the assumption that the readers would have seen the action for themselves many times over by then.

There was another thing in some of the papers when I was a child: artists’ renditions of key plays. I was fond in particular of Paolo Samarelli, the artist for La Repubblica, and I recall very vividly his drawing of a Bettega goal against England in the World Cup qualifier of 1976 that I was delighted to find on the Internet.

It’s with equal delight that I discovered that Samarelli still works for La Repubblica. Here’s his panel on the drawn game between Italy and New Zealand.

I say I’m delighted, but I also wonder who would bother with that. I mean you can just get on-line and watch the goals, right? They’re right there on the same Internet where that panel was posted. More puzzlingly, I see that La Gazzetta dello Sport ran a ‘3D theatre’ of all the goals of the tournament, whereby by clicking on each link you would get a stupid and categorically non-3D moving vignette with computer-generated figurines and nothing of Samarelli’s artistry, all for the same effort and the same bandwidth-sapping effect of going to YouTube or the Fifa website and watching the regular game highlights. So I ask myself what the fascination is with all the reinvention and the reinterpretation. And I go chasing for more of these remediations, and find the tournament played at Subbuteo by middle aged men, but also stop-start Lego animations of the games’ highlights, painstaking, near-obsessive labours of love and futility which yet produced one of my images of the World Cup, the despair of Robert Green captured in plastic brick form.

But remediations - as Bolter and Grusin tell us - go both ways. So for instance whilst you get e-books that replicate the aspect and pagination of print books, you also get books that mimic the form of the devices that are supposed to be replacing them. And so, true to their predictions, we find that the Fifa television coverage, the one that is supposed to pursue maximum transparency and transport you there, to the stadium, in the thick of it, does many other things besides. Most notably, it remediates football videogames

A scene from the classic arcade Kick-Off

Look, Mum, I control Kaka!


And… religious iconography?

David Villa is the King of Kings

To name but three things. And so it seems to me that the name of the media game is not innovation - for none of the old means of representation, including Samarelli’s drawings, have been abandoned - but rather multiplication, resulting in a hyper-saturation of imagery and images. We saw so much of this World Cup.

This was the first tournament since the widespread adoption of high definition outside of North America. The next one will likely be in actual 3D, at least in some households. (We’re still low-def. Heck, I still use a VCR, although I doubt it will be there in four years’ time.) The super slow-motion will be even slower. And we’ll still be discussing the quality of the football as if it existed outside of all these wrappings, as if it was an objective reality that takes place out there, on the field with the grass, where things happen unmediated.


  1. i also love the drawn representations of the game which, of course, remind me of comic books (Roy of the Rovers etc.) where the artists had to invent an entire repertoire of notational and labelling effects to denote speed, power, swerve etc and well as a disappointingly poor free kick. The lego recreations are great too but are a form or commentary, bathetic reductions of all that passion and national psychosis into some nobby bits of plastic....

  2. Gazzetta recently revisited the infamous South Korea v. Italy game of 2002, with interviews and commentary, and it was a perfectly straight piece except the game's highlights were done via Subbuteo. That's the extent in which these remediations have become part of the regular language, and I remain somewhat mystified by what they're supposed to be adding. The drawings, like you, I'll always be fond of.