Over the last decade or so, there has been an absolute explosion in the amount of writing and talking about association football, to such an extent that it’s possible to believe that the “market” for such media has long since passed the sign marking the city limits for a city called Saturation. A considerable amount of it, though, continues to fall some way short of the expectations that those amongst us who prefer their sports coverage to contain words of more than one syllable.

None of this, however, is to say that it isn’t possible to write or talk about football with wit, intelligence and originality, and fresh perspective upon the game can turn up in unusual corners. Radiolab is a radio program produced by a public radion station in New York, which broadcast on public radio stations in the United States, as well as in the form of an extremely popular podcast. Normally, Radiolab will focus on such matters as science and philosophy, but on a couple of occasions it has turned its attention in the direction of sport, with fascinating results.

The first of the two broadcasts that I’m linking to here this evening is entitled The Loneliness Of The Goalkeeper. This focusses on the weird otherness of the one player in a football team who can easily lose a team a match but seldom ever wins it, a unique position in a team game. For British listeners, the name of Bob Wilson is an extremely familiar one, and it is worth, perhaps, dwelling upon how much more erudite the former Arsenal goalkeeper is in this interview, far from the cameras of the BBC or ITV. He interviews with considerable candour and charm.

The second broadcast is entitled Games, and is about sports in a general sense, although there can be little question that the themes contained therein apply as much to soccer as they do to any others. Of particular interest is the lengthy story told by the journalist Stephen Dubner – co-author of the now-legendary book Freakonomics – about how American football taught him extraordinary lessons about life, a section about the nature of chess tactics, statistics and infinite possibilities, and a piece about the joys of supporting he underdog. Both of these broadcasts are available to listen to free of charge, and I guarantee that both will make you think very long and very hard about the nature of football, and the nature of football fandom.

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