"Wow! The body of a bull and the feet of a ballet dancer!" That's how the match commentator described Paul Gascoigne as he ran through the opposition defence to score a beauty for Rangers in the Champions League. After the humour me and a friend derived from the picture our imaginations so comically created subsided, I started to think about football clichés and their use (or abuse).
The job of a commentator is not easy. The game is played at a furious pace these days, and they are forced to not only keep up, and accurately, but to inform, entertain, and opine. The average fan watching the game at home will likely have a friend or two over, and in this case the commentator will act as a guideline to the events many miles away. He is the statistician, the expert, the person who brings the game to our level, deciphering formations, refereeing decisions and doing all of this on the go. This is a difficult job, and so they resort to clichés.
And what fun they can be- these oft repeated, generic phrases that can be used to describe any situation. I remember the first time I heard the old adage "It was a game of two halves". I initially was puzzled, because did that mean that the game is designed to have three or four? Then over time I discovered that phrase meant the game consisted of distinctly different halves of football, where perhaps team A dominated in the first half and team B dominated in the second- for whatever reason. But that got me thinking. Isn't that the nature of sport? I mean, if the team that scored first or played better first won then it wouldn't really be sport, would it? We love to see a team scramble and scratch their way back into a game, a game which may have looked beyond them.
Some clichés are less well thought out. I have always love it when Brazil or Holland are playing, and the commentator, mid-way through a dull match involving one of the two teams, goes something like so "This is a team that likes to play football. They like to put the ball down and pass it about, and have players capable of getting past a man, which leads to goals, and as you know, goals win games." I do not mean to be a skeptic, but does that mean every other soccer team on the planet prefers to play basketball, plays football in the clouds and uses telepathy and dark forces to get the ball to the other players (thus taking passing it out of the equation completely) and uses said dark forces to get the ball past the defender and wins without scoring goals?
This sounds suspiciously like a diatribe, but it is not. Clichés have a crucial role to play in football commentary. They can sum up entire situations; they are like verbal pictures (worth a thousand words) and can be pretty funny sometimes. During the World Cup in South Africa I heard this gem for the first time "he hit that ball, and it just stayed hit!” I am told it has been used many times before thus qualifying as a cliché, but I was tickled beyond measure, and awed as well. I mean, when a ball is hit, can it stop halfway and say it doesn't want to be hit any more? Hilarious.
Sport is a quirky thing. Fans have shrines for players; people have killed themselves because their beloved team lost to the old rival. We absolutely adore it, and unquestioningly so. Clichés are a major part of sport, just as in life. After all, laughter is the best medicine, and who knows, maybe if your team is looking for a new striker, forget Drogba, Rooney, or Eto'o. Just go to a nearby farm, get a grade A bull, and fit it with a pair of tutus. You never know, it might just get past the bus parked in front of goal, and have the opposite manager saying they won because "they scored more goals than us".