This celebratory yell has been called the Siren Song of football, the world’s most popular sport. It originated in the early days of radio broadcast in Brazil. There, it was known as ‘pelegrin de gol,’ meaning ‘danger of a goal.’ A warning call to listeners who may have strayed from the set. Today on television, goals around the world share the unmissable celebration. Apart from Britain- is this our so-called reserve, not evident on the terraces.
An article in the New York Times captured its essence. “The cry of “goooool” is the exclamation point that captures a story’s heart-pumping passage, the announcer’s voice rising and falling harmoniously, and continuously whenever any team scores. If turned into a drawing, it would look like an arch. If it were a person, it would be the biggest guy in the room.”
It takes skill and lungs. To succeed, soccer broadcasters must know how to scream their own version of the long drawn-out ‘gooool’, often for over 30 seconds. Some practice, in much the same way that opera singers do, rehearsing before they go on stage. One famous Brazilian broadcaster compared the cry to a tenor’s high C and said, “there’s a big dose of artistry involved.” Another claimed, “It’s your crowning achievement, or your moment of defeat.”
Andres Cantor, perhaps today’s outstanding exponent, said: “I think we all have the same feel for the game, the same passion, the same love and we call it pretty much the same way.”
This shared feeling and passion is true of all good live broadcasters, across all sports. There may be no ‘siren song,’ but each sport will demand of their broadcaster levels of passion and deep understanding. In the early days of live television, when a few channels held a monopoly of viewers, Dan Maskell (“oh I say!”) was known as the ‘voice of tennis’, Sid Waddell for bringing darts to middle England (“They’ve got Shakespeare on Radio 2, but you can’t beat this!”) All knew David Colman, as the voice of BBC sport, his voice lending an extraordinary sense of occasion to any event, including major News bulletins.
In today’s multi-channel, multi-platform world, it is harder to stand out, but the good broadcaster can still be the voice to many. To achieve this, their own authentic voice, they need study, practice, and rehearsal.
Stuart Storey, a former voice of BBC Television athletics, learning his craft covering ten Olympics, has this advice for would be commentators. “On preparation, you can cut no corners. For example, you need to know all there is to know about each athlete on the starting line, (you will have less than 8 seconds talk for each as they wait for the starter’s pistol.) The commentator must decide which of the huge amount of information provided by the statisticians is relevant to each round of each event in a major Championship in particular.”
In team sports the commentator should learn all available data on the players of each team, as well as the substitutes who may come on to play a vital tactical role, even scoring a last-minute goal. “Expect the unexpected.” It’s what makes sport compelling and it’s what challenges the spontaneity of live commentary. It carries over to the venue. Be ready to ‘fill in’ when the lighting fails or the television picture all of a sudden in the commentary position is no longer available. “Knowing how to switch from Television commentary to Radio is important as they are different skills. From letting the picture tell the story to describing every detail to create a picture in the mind of the listener is an art form.”
For the live commentator, Stuart’s overarching advice is this: “Say what the picture does not say” and do this with a few well-chosen words. And, when you talk, “use voice intonation and intensity, along with pace of delivery, to create atmosphere. The voice alone can let the viewer know how important a particular moment is.” His final advice is the dramatic use of … SILENCE. Know when to pause … to let the action, do the talking.
In an interview in the Guardian, Laura Woods, one of the only women who covered the 2022 World Cup, said broadcasting might look simple but it’s not. “It’s ‘brutally’ competitive.” She started out by making You Tube videos in her garage, ‘such brilliant practice… and confidence comes with practice, it really does.’ Her final words in the interview were eloquent and perceptive.
“The one thing I learned is that a listener or a viewer can all smell any inauthenticity, and I figured that out really quickly. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying to be me; it was that I was struggling with the confidence bit. But eventually I kept doing it over, and over again and I got much more comfortable in my own skin. And that is the only thing you have got that no one else has, your own personality, your own way of doing things. It sounds like a cliche – just be yourself- but you really have to do that.”
She was not, however, called on to cry “Gooooooooool!