Comic Strips

There has always been a case – indeed, a need – for a change of strip for football teams, in the event of a clash of colours.  When there was a chance of confusion the away team would change to a second outfit, and that was the end of it.

With the modern need to flog replica kit at every opportunity teams now wear “away” strips simply to encourage a second form of income, but I’m not sure the psychology is right.  I recall a match last season in which Arsenal were beaten in an away game in Europe and in which they wore their blue strip when there was not the slightest hint of a clash with the home team.  This seems to me to be an immediate risk to results, for the simple reason that one is reinforcing the idea of being away from home.

In football, as in various other sports, there has always been a home advantage.  Sports psychologists and statisticians have long debated the reasons for this, but whatever reasons they come up with the statistical effect is obvious.  It may be less pronounced these days in the higher leagues of football, thanks to such things as standardised pitches and more comfortable travel before games, but the bias is still there.

The other thing that has evolved in recent years is the stress on small details, and marginal improvements in sporting performance.  Whether in terms of physical training or nutrition, or analysis of opponents, the small percentages count.  And it’s in that context that I don’t understand why clubs are willing to overlook the small but significant element of home advantage when choosing kit.

If you are going to be playing away, why reinforce that with the strip?  Surely Arsenal would have felt more at home (in all senses) wearing red and white in Germany.  And I am convinced that my own team, Swansea City, would have made a better fist of a lousy 0-3 defeat at Newcastle last year if they had stuck with their all-white instead of that naff green-and-black hooped outfit that looked more like a lower-order rugby team, and which actually blended so well with the green grass and massive dark shadows at St James’ Park that they seemed camouflaged and unable to see one another.

Of course, at the other extreme it’s possible to run into trouble with more lurid colours as well, as this little clip will illustrate.  That’ll teach ’em…



Logic, Grammar and Sports Reports

Exploring my new laptop the other night, I looked up the sports app to find out more details of my team’s performance on Sunday.  It looked like this:

ImageNow, depending on where you are in the world you will find the headline either totally natural or very strange.

“Swansea wins…”  Yes, ok, it’s a singular noun and therefore a singular verb, but for anyone in the UK it will jar.  Here we say “Swansea [or whoever] win”.  And it is odd to see the phrase “Swansea doubled its lead”, as opposed to “their”.  The idea is that we are talking about the team, as represented by eleven players – in other words, people).  The same oddity is seen in this report with “Sunderland, which only [recently] secured its place in the top flight…”: despite the accurate idiom of the final phrase, the “which” here is particularly odd, as it removes the idea of people altogether – British people would be bound to say “who”.  One could imagine a sentence like “Sunderland, which has the most beautiful beaches in Europe” (ok, a slight exaggeration), but that clearly refers to the city and geographical entity that is Sunderland.

Obviously (from the use of the phrase “soccer match”) this is an American site.  That is not a criticism – I know that in Australia too they take this extremely grammatical approach to sports reports.  So the Australian press will report that “England collapses”, which to us here looks more like a political headline from wartime than a cricket headline. Saying this reminds me that the final straw in making me give up umpiring squash was a new rule, instigated by Australia, that the opposite of “No let” was no longer to be “Let” or “Let ball” but “Yes let”.

This grammatical logic also appears in other languages like French, where there is a strict need to make words agree in terms of number – so they would say “La France a gagné”, using the singular.  It would be impossible to use the plural form of the verb, parallel to the UK English method. In my blog on the French language I stress how important this is in French (or Italian, etc). In other words, I’m very much aware that the British way of expressing this is actually very much in a minority – even though I think it is the natural and sensible way to do things. To quote a headline I read two minutes ago: “Italy take a chance on Cassani, but France say ‘non’ to Nasri”. And I guess this shows why we do it this way: if it were a politician being elected it might be “Italy takes a chance…”, but here there is a kind of code that the (strictly) ungrammatical form indicates that we are not dealing with the country, but with a small group of sportsmen who represent the country.

Anyway, I was glad of the Bing update, and shall no doubt continue to use the site.  But here’s the odd thing: there is such a massive strangeness about the grammar that it really gets in the way of the content. That is, you are immediately aware that it’s being produced far away, in language that is a little strange, that you feel an emotional distance from the report, too.  And if there’s one thing you need in sports reports, it’s emotional closeness!