Seeing Is Perceiving

20 Mar

The Rose Bowl, California. July 17th 1994. As the sun beats down onto the field of play after over two hours of tussling deadlock, the talismanic, pony-tailed figure of Roberto Baggio steps up to take the penalty which seconds later will become the defining memory of the USA’s World Cup. We all know what follows. Baggio, hands on hips. Looking down at the ground. Serene and tranquil in the acceptance of the painful fate that has been dealt him. I was sixteen years old at the time and the side-on image has lived with me ever since, resonating beyond the emotion and celebration experienced by Brazil’s triumphant squad.

My perception of Baggio’s loneliness was challenged this week by the first post in a series entitled ‘Postcards From A Beautiful Game’ on the excellent Five In Midfield. Somehow the picture of Brazilians punching the air and jumping for joy in jubilation had eluded me for the seventeen years since that match. It may be stating the obvious, but it widened the perspective of an image beyond the definitive limitations of iconography and selective memory. Almost immediately, I was forced to re-assess that specific moment in time from a different perspective and as a result my perception of that event is now forever altered.

Why is it that we can bear witness to the same incident but take from it contradictory outcomes? I was at White Hart Lane yesterday for the local derby with West Ham. Sat in the second row, at pitchside level and virtually adjacent to the corner flag that meets the south and east stands, I witnessed a match in which for all the pretty passing movements from Spurs, was defined by a chronic reluctance by the home team to take a shot at goal with any kind of spontaneity. There were t-shirts outside the ground proclaiming Spurs to be ‘London’s Barcelona Branch’ but this slavish commitment to the Spanish ‘death by passing’ of tika taka had others around me groaning in frustration as West Ham waited and broke up passages of play with great discipline and a clear objective to park the proverbial bus. Inevitably, a goalless draw was the outcome of this and there was a sense of anticlimax with the whole affair amongst the Spurs faithful while the East Londoners celebrated the draw with the enthusiasm that befits a team struggling for every point it can get.

Fast-forward a few hours to Match Of The Day and there’s Gary Lineker proclaiming, “one of the great 0-0 draws of our time” and Harry Redknapp crowing. “I like the way we played, I love the way we moved the ball”. And then there were the cold, hard statistics: thirty-three shots, suggesting that the game was a veritable entertainment-fest and the editing process certainly made that out to be the case. Suddenly, I started to question what I saw. Perhaps the bombardment of ‘superior’ knowledge and expertise from professionals, married with the inalienable facts of the statistician created a sense of doubt in my befuddled mind. Soon enough, I was tempted to believe that I had witnessed perhaps not the tense and hesitant display from my team that I thought I had but a game of thrust and imagination. I know what I saw though. And so do the others around me judging from the expletives and howls of frustration with every breaking down of play by The Hammers.

How we perceive an event is of course influenced by disparate and diverse reasons. Cultural and social class creates in us a certain worldview. Furthermore, our senses choose to transmit to the brain information that we form into ideas and thoughts. But when we only see an image from one angle, our sense of reality and truth is somewhat fixed and skewed.

Take for instance, the famous Super-8 footage as captured by Abraham Zapruder on 22nd November 1963 in Dallas, Texas. Zapruder left his house that morning to witness the motorcade carrying John F. Kennedy and the First Lady driving through his hometown. He was halfway to Dealey Plaza when he realised that he had forgotten his camera. That split second decision to return home to collect it, one could say changed the course of history. Had he not done so, the world would never have borne witness to the true horrors of the wounds and subsequent death of President Kennedy. Those twenty-six seconds of unedited footage were consequently used by many theorists to disclaim the theory that the assassination was carried out by a lone gunman. Whether one chooses to believe this or not is not the issue. It is the idea that if it had not been for Zapruder’s film, the world would have accepted one perception of events unquestioningly. However distressing it may be to watch, Zapruder’s film documented an event that is to this very day open to debate and challenges received wisdom.

Everything is seen from varied angles these days. We don’t just have the side-views of Baggio or the grainy footage of the Super-8 to challenge our perceptions. With that though, comes the danger of overload. If Sky bombard the viewer with the latest technological wizardry in whatever form that may come in (whether that be ‘footcam’ in which we see a game from the perspective of a player’s boot) or if Gary Lineker ‘dazzles’ us with another statistic about the amount of time it’s taken Birmingham City players to leave the tunnel this year, then we run the chance of being saturated with too much information. If you’re bamboozled enough, you might as well accept what’s being sold to you because it’s too much of an effort to think for yourself, right?

I did see an average game of football yesterday. I also saw a sweaty, portly West Ham fan in the distance in a pink polo top ‘having a disco’. And a huge American from Austin, Texas who was sat next to me and had paid £225 for his ticket having flown over the night before for the game. And I saw Benoit Assou-Ekotto swear in French. So, now you know.

As for Baggio, he’s still in my thoughts. Being as he is a Buddhist, the Divine Ponytail himself, would have appreciated the duality of the image I saw this week. It’s taken a while but I’ve finally realised that that scorching day in Pasadena seventeen years ago can be viewed in more ways than that of the heartbroken individual we’ve grown used to seeing. I’m sure the great man would agree.

Dispatches has had the honour of being nominated for the EPL Talk Blog of the Season. If you would like to vote for it, click here thanks.

Further Reading:

Five In Midfield: Postcards From A Beautiful Game – Part 1

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

One Response to “Seeing Is Perceiving”

  1. SpursSimon March 20, 2011 at 13:53 #

    It is always interesting how the views of people at game vary from those watching on TV, and how a highlights package can really skew peoples views of games / players. Like many things in life, what we see on news / sports shows really changes opinions and what they have actually “seen”.
    Great as always Greg – sorry the game didn’t deliver the 5-0 that it so easily could have.

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