While sports photography may be too functional to be considered art the way that Gursky’s soccer photos are art has me realizing how much of why I like soccer is due to its abstract beauty. With most sports—as in photography—zooming in, getting close, and cropping out a lot of the distractions allows you to better appreciate the correct details.
Soccer is almost the exact opposite. Only after zooming out until I can barely make out the players do I end up seeing the details which excite me. The details which are key to most sports are distractions in soccer. Individual skills are impressive. But the movement of players, space, and the ball are beautiful and, when executed well, are the kinds of things that take my breath away.
Which is why I can watch and rewatch Richard Swarbrick’s Gareth Bale video over and over again. It removes all the details and leaves just space and movement. It’s much easier to watch the rest of the field instead of being distracted by the location of the ball. While it’s about a specific event, it’s generic enough to evoke the best of any soccer game.
Brian Phillips’s tongue-in-cheek column about embracing soccer’s boredom also gets at this point. It’s the dance of movement where “nothing” happens which is boring yet at the same time, much of that nothingness is actually seeing ideas form and watching how teams develop their strategies on the fly. I appreciate the clever ball which fails to find a runner or the brilliant run which doesn’t receive a pass and enjoy seeing how those first attempts pay off down the road as teams figure out what’s working and what’s not.
Are there truly boring times? Absolutely. But we never know when they’ll occur or when they’ll end.
The rest of the time is all potential. We watch how the tactics develop and see how the players match up. When something exciting happens, the excitement is as much due to the seeing-everything-come-together aspect as it is the fact that goals are rare and special things.
Yes, I know this makes me a sports purist.