Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

How Vine changed how we watch football

Soccer highlights are getting more and more condensed.

Thu, May 8, 2014, 16:15


Within a year and a half, the default football highlights tool has become a simple Vine.

Twitter probably never thought that one of its main uses would be for communal-live-commentary-television-show-watching, but TV x Twitter has become a big deal for broadcasters, networks and advertisers alike. So when Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov, and Colin Kroll came up with Vine, and Twitter purchased it a few months later, they probably didn’t think their six second video clip software, which can run uninterrupted or jump cut almost stop motion-like, would be perfect for one thing a hell of a lot of people like watching: goals.

The idea of waiting all day and evening until Match of the Day comes around to see balls hit the back of nets is as archaic as watching a television show as it airs on a TV schedule instead of gorging on Netflix or torrents or shared hard drives. It’s as old-fashioned as sitting down in front of MTV and waiting for a music video you like to come on in rotation instead of just hitting up YouTube. It’s becoming as extinct as sending your friend a letter.

When I was a kid, my livestream of Premier League matches involved sitting in front of Teletext on Saturdays (we didn’t have Sky), and updating my catalogue of leather-bound reporter’s notebooks my Mum got free in work with the scores as they came in. I know, total weirdo. Then you’d wait for Match of the Day, a programme so omnipresent that one year I bought my Dad’s Christmas present in Boots: socks with a little plastic football that played the theme tune when you pressed it. “Foreign” goals were the preserve of one of the greatest soccer programmes ever, Channel 4′s Football Italia presented by the brilliant James Richardson, or some commentary-less Eurosport highlights, or occasionally the excellent Trans World Sport.

Now, when multiple matches are being played simultaneously – especially in the Premier League and the Champions League – the commentary in my Twitter stream is coloured with Vines of goals from a match I’m not focussed on, but definitely want to see that Ronaldo back heel, or some cracker of a Bale goal, or Messi tearing a defender or two apart, or some player I’ve barely heard of scoring a scorcher. It’s instant, it’s cool, it’s shareable, it’s quick.

Vine is perfect for goals. The crucial build up and completion of a goal is rarely more than six seconds long; a corner, a free kick, a run by a striker, a pass and volley. And you can’t watch every match at once – you’re certainly not going to slog through 90 minutes of a match that’s not a priority – but you want to see the goals.

Social media updates are typified by instantaneousness, how shareable something is and disposability. Vine is all of these things. And goals are a quick hit, instantly gratifying. The popularity of goal Vines satisfies fans in the same way the early producers of skateboard videos knew that what viewers really wanted to see were bails as well as tricks being landed. Now you don’t have to wait, you just have to click on a Vine recorded off some dude’s television screen in his living room somewhere in the world within a few minutes or less of it happening. Going to YouTube to view footage of a goal almost feels clunky, sluggish and time-consuming now.

And while there’s still plenty of room for long reads on single goals like this fantastic piece on Bergkamp’s strike against Argentina during the 1998 World Cup, sports websites, blogs, news websites and online match reports fill their “stories” with Vines. Goals become the story because they’re easy to illustrate with a six-second clip. They play on a loop, almost hypnotically, so there’s no annoying YouTube streaming or reloading.

Vine is second nature to football fans now, like Tinder is to single people.¬†Clubs are even getting in trouble for mean Vines about Gerrard. I got on to football journalist Miguel Delaney¬†(ESPN, Independent on Sunday, Irish Examiner) about his thoughts on the Vine goalfest, “I’d wonder what Sky and the BBC make of it but Vine has definitely changed things,” Miguel said, “Straight away, I’m thinking of two weeks ago, when Jonjo Shelvey scored from the halfway line against Aston Villa. I remember looking at Twitter and one of the Match of the Day team writing ‘wait until you see that goal tonight.’ That was a phrase you heard for years, particularly on the likes of Five Live, and it would create a certain anticipation about watching highlights. Here, literally within seconds, there was a vine of Shelvey’s goal. With something that talked about, and that immediate, it’s hard not to click on it. The nature of Vine also lends itself very well to watching goals because it’s so short. Although, on the flipside, there was that vine going around of Ross Barkley’s long-range run a few weeks ago. It had to be cropped because whoever did it couldn’t get the entirety of the run onto the Vine – which made for strange viewing. In that sense, you can’t beat watching it properly, but it has still created a greater immediacy about how we watch football.”

So does the proliferation of watching football via Vine mean anything more than an easier way to capture and view the quick hit of a satisfying goal? Like most things that have migrated online, Vine does of course decontextualise goals in the same way that single mp3s decontextualised songs from albums, and WhatsApp messages to your mates replaced longer emails. We live in a world of condensed information where velocity, simplicity, and instantaneousness is crucial or else the tech just won’t fly. But when something matches as perfectly as Vine and goals, it simply takes off.