What we see when we watch football: how replays and close-ups reflect society

The camera angles and photos used in football coverage – pictures that zoom in on individuals – mirror our view of the world

By Shirsho Dasgupta for In Bed With Maradona, of the Guardian Sport Network

In 1972, four half-hour episodes on the BBC attempted to change how we approached visual culture and how we saw the world around us. John Berger’s Ways of Seeing was a landmark in the history of arts broadcasting and education. Berger, an art critic, playwright and Booker Prize-winning novelist, who fought against injustice and wrote articles and essays on society and politics, passed away in January this year. This piece is not an obituary or analysis of his works; it is about football, or as Berger would perhaps have put it, what we see when we watch football.

On 13 June 2014, Holland handed defending world champions Spain a humiliating 5-1 defeat. In the days that followed, the image dominating newspapers, social media and TV channels was that of Robin van Persie suspended mid-flight, right after heading the ball that would beat Iker Casillas and open the Dutch scoring spree. It was a magnificent feat of athleticism resulting in one of the most spectacular goals in World Cup history. But what do we make of the image?

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