Something peculiar happened in Britain this Thursday: a football match passed untelevised. Happens all the time at the weekend, of course, but this was a Europa League match, which are usually a godsend for television producers desperately trying to fill up their schedules. But no, Tottenham vs. AEL wasn't on anywhere. It wasn't even on ITV's website. We can only assume that sending a commentator to Cyprus just didn't make any sense.
Less official streams were available, of course, but for anybody unwilling or unable to track one down, ITV were good enough to lay on a text commentary service. Nothing complicated, no emails or audience interaction. Just the facts. Like the BBC's own similar service for league games, it's weirdly compelling, despite being almost entirely stripped down.
At times the commentary can, by virtue of its very simplicity, seem to carry a certain weight. Here, for example, is Andros Townsend in two sentences.
And here is Roberto Soldado in two sentences.
"And no more need be said," it says. Except it doesn't, obviously, because no more need be said. Still, if Soldado's Spurs career finds itself in need of an epitaph.
Other times, what's missing is even more mysterious. What, for example, happened, in these two minutes? Presumably some football, yet football of such little consequence that it would have been of no more note had both teams stood still and watched Ben Davies' throw in roll slowly across the pitch and out of play on the other side.
At some point, somebody working for ITV misplaced the 's' from Paulinho's full name, and as a result Tottenham's midfielder spent the entire game sounding like the lost Brazilian Walton.
Here's the first goal. Observe the simplicity, even banality, that lies behind those delirious, near-orgasmic moments.
All those unanswered questions -- was he marked? did Hugo Lloris charge out like a buffoon? did Michael Dawson fall over? -- go unasked; unnecessary. There has been a goal. It started 12 yards out and it finished in the right low. Whatever that is. Was Michael Dawson even playing? Nice shade of blue, mind.
Halftime entertainment is at a premium.
This is not to mock ITV or similar services, who are after all providing a valuable service to those corners of the Internet that can't or won't get a decent stream going. Nor is it to poke fun at those responsible for the actual words appearing; they've done a sterling job. It's better to know that "Ben Davies sends in a cross" than not, after all, and the human imagination is a wonderful thing that needs exercising every now and then.
Here, for example, are three solid minutes of Tottenham. Look at them, (possibly) streaming forward, (maybe) pegging back their opponents, who are in turn (perhaps) frantically scrambling the ball to safety.
Oh, what a relief for the Cypriots, they've got it away.
At other times, it seems that Spurs are simply failing to make any headway against their (theoretically) obdurate foes.
It's good to mix the language up from time to time. Don't want things getting stale. Eventually, though, Spurs nicked an equalizer.
It may not sound like much, but thanks to the wonders of saying not much, Roberto Soldado's family can, on reading this, assure themselves that while it may only have been six yards, it was also an upside-down back-flipped reverse-spinning head-volley lob, a shot so difficult and unlikely that it cannot actually be caught on film.
Then came the winner. Deep inside the penalty box sounds quite a lot like six yards, doesn't it?
Ultimately, there's something weirdly disquieting about seeing a football match boiled down to just those moves that matter, and nothing else. It stands as a clipped, terse reminder of exactly how much of our lives we're all wasting (or wasting further, if you like, seeing as actually watching Tottenham play a Europa League qualifier at 5 in the afternoon would barely qualify as work even for Tottenham employees).
It drives home precisely how little of what happens on a football pitch is actually of any import, and as such forces the reader to come to terms with the fact that even when football is happening, not much is happening. This is what the game is: a throw in, and then another throw in. A bleak thought, but perhaps a necessary one; from time to time, it does a body good to contemplate its own futility. Even if you're Roberto Soldado.