It requires extremes of timing to drown out PA systems but nothing beats those roof-rattling, full-throated roars forced out by penalty box drama
7 October ~ Watching Tottenham lose their Champions League opener to Monaco on BT Sport last month, my only disappointment was that their solitary goal came at 2-0 down. Using Wembley allowed Spurs to break the record home attendance for an English club, and I wanted to hear 85,000 celebrating wildly in a huge modern arena with plenty of sustain. Toby Alderweireld’s goal on half time produced a loud, hopeful roar but it didn’t raise any neck hairs. Only particular circumstances elicit proper, microphone-shaking roars.
Real Madrid’s winner against Sporting that night was no shock, but arriving in the 95th minute induced a thunderous reception. The previous evening a similarly explosive cheer met Edinson Cavani’s goal for Paris Saint-Germain against Arsenal after just 44 seconds, before pre-match confidence and booze had worn off among the home fans.
Real’s Bernabéu and PSG’s Parc des Princes are iconic brutalist stadiums which carry sound like gargantuan concrete speakers. But it requires such extremes of timing to overpower PA systems blasting music samples and bellowing the scorer’s name, commentators screaming their bons mots, or someone watching the same telly as you emitting an inconsiderate ooh, aah or ooft.
Whenever the ball rattles the woodwork, bulges the net or crawls over the goalline I only want to hear those who paid in to the ground. I want to hear noise which starts with the low rumble of suddenly vacated bucket seats, hits violently and tails off slowly. In short, I want to hear passion deep enough to sustain the sport.
Thirty-two years after polite old England sealed it in London to a noise which almost drowned out Kenneth Wolstenholme, France secured the 1998 World Cup to their commentators almost drowning out the Parisian crowd. I’ve worried since that the post-millennial proliferation of both middle-class fans and outlets for personal expression is diluting the importance of goals. No cacophony means fewer people care.
I discovered sound travelled slower than light when Alex McLeish equalised in the 1982 Scottish Cup final and I saw 15,000 Aberdeen fans leap about the vast expanse of Hampden’s east terrace in a colossal mime act. For an interminable split-second all I could hear was stifled groans of Rangers fans around me, before the Aberdonian roar hit my 12-year-old eardrums on the west end of the old open bowl. After extra time Aberdeen won 4-1 and I knew something Albert Einstein didn’t; opposition fans don’t need to hurl missiles or insults – the sound of their goal celebrations hits painfully enough.
Yet by the 1986 World Cup I was more thrilled by 114,000 home fans shaking Mexico’s Azteca Stadium than Manuel Negrete’s spectacular goal for the hosts against Bulgaria. The noise of ecstasy titillates as much as the sight and is one arena in which my country was truly world class. Songs and poems have been written about the “Hampden Roar”. When our national stadium could hold six-figure crowds, Scottish noise rivalled anything a Brazilian goal could produce at the Maracaña.
Community singing tingles the spine but is ultimately a choice, requiring basic concentration. Nothing beats those roof-rattling, full-throated roars forced out of us by penalty box drama. When your team scores you only hear your own head-rush – but everyone else indulges in aural voyeurism. Approaching my 20s, an exotic video confirmed foreplay can be deafening. In a compilation of 1988-89 Serie A goals, featuring Diego Maradona, Roberto Baggio and Marco van Basten, a Rudi Völler miss produced the greatest single noise I’ve ever heard on my television.
Völler hitting the post for Roma only features because it initiates a counter-attacking Juventus goal (which itself produces a great example of another aural phenomenon, mass stunned silence). But as Roma probe upfield, the anticipation around a throbbing Stadio Olimpico is visceral, almost tactile. When the woodwork’s struck it doesn’t produce excitable frustration – more a guttural explosion. The crackling microphone gives the golden stamp of authenticity.
When sound equipment can’t cope with the passion it’s recording – when even TV can’t hear itself think – it’s a football crowd worth hearing. Near the end of that 110 Goals Italia Style video, a Lothar Matthäus strike secures Inter’s first Serie A title in nine years. Eighty thousand ecstatic Nerrazzurri explode and there’s that man – though sometimes it’s a woman or child – that fan stuck next to an outside broadcast mic at every game on the planet, making that noise which pitches itself just above the baseline and sticks in your subconscious forever more.
After the initial San Siro roar, which refuses to subside, you can hear a lone punter deliriously screaming “Eeenter Eeenter!”. Inter didn’t win the title for another 17 years, but his bellowing was evidence of a love which would endure infinitely longer. Alex Anderson