“There’s been a last minute goal at Pittodrie!” cried Jeff Stelling, in his typically shrill Hartlepool accent. A pretty common occurrence on the Gillette Soccer Special on a Saturday afternoon. (Jeff Stelling shrieking – not Aberdeen scoring!) I attempt to regurgitate his syntax as is my wont as a Live Subtitler.
I look down and realise I am standing – my chair thrust a yard behind me. My headphones are hanging half off my head like a rapper’s trousers and I have knocked my microphone off its stand. Enunciation has definitely made way for exuberance.
For me, subtitling football is a privilege. Having followed the game and my club, Aberdeen, since my first ever match in 1988 at Love Street, I have consumed the beautiful game with voraciousness and find myself in the privileged position of combining passion and profession. The corner of your mouth curls into a half smile when you see your allocated work contains a live football match. So much so that you are waiting for on a tap on your shoulder to indicate you have been found out as you are not supposed to have so much fun at work.
But subtitling your own team is a different matter. It’s a quasi-religious experience. Your support for your club is based on hope and faith with some people bordering on the fanatical. When your team is chosen (aged 7 because I liked the colour red) then you are stuck for life. You can be like Zsa Zsa Gabor and have nine spouses, but you can only ever have one team. May you be condemned for infinity by for performing a Tim Lovejoy and switching your support from Watford to Chelsea.
Indubitably, the prospect of subtitling your own side is nauseating. First you have to get past the question of hitherto, are you a jinx? Has your side lost ever when you have subtitled? A staple of the nervous football fan. You then realise that you can’t fully enjoy the occasion as you do have to be professional and can’t engage in typical referee-based profanity lest it horrifically appear on air. Thankfully, subtitling your own side is not too common an occurrence as a few subtitlers have season tickets and plan ahead. But the very nature that the match is live on television means you may have been allocated a game that has been rearranged at short notice or a cup replay during midweek that you could not plan for.
The frustration now comes from the fact you are a born pedant – able to correct grammar at 40 paces with one eye tied behind your back. So the prospect of producing an inaccurate subtitle for the team you love fills you with dread. Any wrong words coming out on air is a dagger into the heart of the bond you have created over a lifetime. Couple that with the nail-biting dread that usually accompanies any football fan during match day and it is not a pleasant experience.
But the reach of subtitling football stretches beyond the day of the game. I am in the Scotland Supporters Club and am at nearly every home match, merrily emblazoned in the uniform and customs of the Tartan Army. I plan ahead and take leave if need be to make sure I can attend – which is ever more tricky thanks to Uefa’s bewildering decision to play internationals on Monday nights. It is an ironically sobering experience following Scotland especially after being dumped out of yet another tournament. The result is by the time you awake the next morning, you have forgotten the misery and the shame, compartmentalised the pain to the darkest recesses of your prefrontal cortex. Only to sit down at 7am for a shift of Sky Sports News and relive the entire ordeal over again, usually in slow motion. And again, and again…
For those who wish to extend their sporting whimsy then even more difficulty can await. I am a massive fan of the NFL and as some games don’t finish till 4am, then they are recorded with the sensuous expectation of being able to watch them later. An early shift means there is no chance to select the replay and take in the game “as live”, and you have to try to avoid the score until your shift ends. Not possible if you are covering Sky Sports News who are ramping up their NFL coverage and the experience is duly ruined within half an hour of going on air. You can’t put your hands over your ears so you don’t hear the score, as then no one who needs subtitles finds out what has happened.
By Ian Steven, Subtitling Team Leader, Glasgow