By Our Mystery Correspondent P.Dantic.
You may find yourself commenting on a football match
And you may find yourself judging a referee’s decision
And you may ask yourself ‘Was he right? Was he wrong?’
And you may say to your friend ‘Well, I’ve seen them given’
(almost courtesy of David Byrne and Talking Heads)
This is one of the ‘gateway’ phrases that football fans can easily try, casually adopt, frequently repeat, and then rapidly find themselves addicted to thinking, talking, and tweeting using ‘commentator-mouth’.
Here’s how it works. The commentators will use these four simple words when one team has made a claim for a penalty. Now, not even a commentator would be so dumb as to say ‘I’ve seen them given’ when a penalty has just been given. He could try saying ‘I’ve seen them not given’. Or he could say ‘There you are, that’s one of the ones that I sometimes say that I’ve seen given’. They’re not saying those though.
What we’ve got is a referee who has just said ‘no’ to the penalty claim, and the commentators are saying they’re not so certain about the referee’s certainty. We can see with our own eyes there may, have been a foul or a handball, and it could’ve possibly, perhaps, might’ve been a penalty. It could’ve gone either way. It’s not clear cut. It’s not open and shut. It’s clear uncut. It’s open and open.
The commentators save saying ‘I’ve seen them given’ until they’ve watched the replays from all the different angles, and attempt to quell 99% of all known doubts. But their left eye is still saying ‘Give it’ and their right eye is still saying ‘No’. Near appears far. Large seems small. Yes looks like no.
They have looked at it again and again and they’re still right eye, left eye.
Right eye’s saying ‘Yes, it seems hypothetical, but it’s just not attainable. No way is it 50/50.’
Left eye’s saying ‘Sure, it looks improbable, but it’s not impossible. No chance is it 0/100.’
Right’s saying ‘Of course, it’s plausible, but it’s not viable. No hope it’s 60/40.’
Left’s ‘Ok, it’s ungettable, but not unimaginable. Never 10/90.’
Right’s ‘It’s believable, but it’s questionable. Forget 70/30’.
Left’s ‘Unfeasible, but ready willing and able. 20/80?’
If they felt the inclination, the commentators could go on discussing this until the crowds go home. Only trouble is, gee whizz, referees don’t have all day. What they do have is a decision to make one way or the other, and everybody’s waiting for them.
The commentator’s not saying ‘I’ve seen penalties given’. Of course he has. Who hasn’t? That would be like saying ‘I’ve seen a ball kicked’. No, he’s saying that he’s seen ‘them’ given. When they talk about ‘them’, it’s the heap of past penalty claims of all descriptions that the commentator has in their memory, and they’ve labelled that whole bundle ‘them’. If all the ‘them’s in that pile were given, a ‘them’ would be the same as a ‘given’. That would be two names for one thing. This phrase would then be either ‘I’ve seen givens given’ or ‘I’ve seen thems them’.
So the commentator has two piles of ‘them’s. There’s the ‘them’s he’s seen ‘given’ and the ‘them’s he’s seen ‘not given’. Right now the commentator’s saying he’s seen some referees, in the past, in other games, who would have put this ‘them’ that we’re talking about here, today, in this game, in this moment, into the ‘given’ pile.
Is ‘I’ve seen them given’ really a way of using four words to say ‘This referee was wrong’, but without using those four words? Are they saying that this referee has just gone and put this ‘them’ in the wrong pile? Or are they saying that those other referees in the past, who he says he saw do the givening, are the ones who got it wrong? If that was the case, shouldn’t the commentators say ‘I’ve seen other referees get those wrong’? Shouldn’t they be making that clear?
Or are the commentators saying that if he was the one deciding which pile this ‘them’ goes in, he’d put it in the ‘given’ pile? Is he saying ‘I’ve seen at least one penalty claim that was very similar to this one’ and, while nobody would be crazy enough to suggest any two ‘them’s are totally identical, he believes these two have enough overlapness for this ‘them’ to join that ‘them’ in that pile of ‘given’s right there?
What we can say is that he’s telling us that somebody here is getting it wrong. It may be this referee. That is possible. It could be the other referees. That too is possible. Or it might be the commentator who, let’s not forget, is only claiming that he’s got a collection of ‘seen them given’s in his memory. He never shares with us what he believes this ‘them’ has in common with other previous ‘them’s that were, according to him, given. We only have his word that he is correctly matching up like-for-like comparable ‘them’s.
Nobody’s had the guts to stand up in a game and say ‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?’ How come the commentators never get asked to share an example or few from their ‘seen them given’ archives, if it’s not too much trouble? If he doesn’t tell us which occasions in his memory he’s thinking of, we’re left asking a) what is he comparing this ‘them’ to? b) is that a fair comparison? or c) is he just making this shit up?
It could be that it’s actually the commentator whose making the mistake of putting this ‘them’ in the ‘given’ pile because his matching skills are sub-competent and, being unaware of this, he doesn’t realise that by saying ‘I’ve seen them given’ he is broadcasting his incompetence. How often in any given game could we say ‘I’ve seen commentators talking bullshit’. And it makes no difference how sincerely the commentator believes they’re not bullshitting, it’s still bullshit.
Same as it ever was.
Same as it ever was.
Without those examples, we’re just left with a commentator telling us ‘I believe I’m sure I can remember something similar, at least once, sometime, once’? Without that detail we can’t tell if the ‘them’ that he’s seen ‘given’ was just an outlier, or even if he’s just an out and out liar.
What we’re left with is a commentator saying ‘The referee may not be wrong, but he can’t be certain he was right, so….. Just saying’. He’s missing the point here. The referee’s allowed to be unsure. We all are. And on planet Ref, if you’re not sure what you saw, it can’t go on the ‘given’ pile. The commentators either don’t realise, or repeatedly forget, that it’s not about what actually really did truly happen or actually didn’t truly really happen. It’s about what the referee can tell himself he believes he saw. For referees ‘Don’t know’ equals ‘No’ (unless it’s Jon Moss, who gives the penalty in those circumstances – Ed). Hardly a head scratcher, is it?
I know you can say this about most of what the commentators say, but why are they telling us any of this? Can they hear themselves? I don’t see what they think ‘I’ve seen them given’ brings to the conversation. What made them think it’s OK to introduce a little bit of ‘Yeah, but….’? Are they putting out the ‘not sure’s to undermine the authority of the referee? Are they letting you know there’s a dash of doubt in town to tease you about how close you were to having a penalty? Do they want you to think that the referee could just as easily have given it, that you’ve been robbed, and now you’re thinking about how different things could, no would, no should, have been?
What does that leave you with? What do the commentators imagine you’ll do with all this regret, frustration, anger, and distrust of authority that they’ve chosen to create because of their unsubstantiated claims? All those fabricated feeling of injustice, impotence and intolerance have got to go somewhere.
You may ask yourself ‘Was he right? Was he wrong?’
And you may say to yourself ‘My God, what have I done?’