161220 fiveaside - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

This is where I was five hundred days ago: August 8, 2015. Watching a soccer game.

To say this is unusual for me is an understatement – this is the only sporting event I've paid my own money to attend in at least a decade, if not ever. It's also the only time I've ever watched a complete soccer game, in person or on television, that didn't have one of my nieces on the field. I'm not a sporting guy. But this was a good day, and I'm glad that I went.

The gave is Five-A-Side soccer/football, and it's being played on an artificial field near my home that I watched being built for the Panam/Parapan games. Designed for field hockey at the University of Toronto, there was plenty of room for the smaller five-a-side playing field even with he stands wrapped around three sides.

As the name suggests, five-a-side teams have a goalkeeper plus four players on the field. For the Parapan games, the goalkeeper is sighted but the other players out on the field all have low vision, and wear eye covers to ensure that the game is entirely played by sound and by feel. And the game sounds amazing.

The ball has a rattle inside, which lets the players keep track of it. There's also the coach who can call instructions, and a guide behind the net of the opposing team. Whenever there was a penalty kick the guide would tap a metal bar along the goalposts to sound out its position; if the ball stopped in play the ref could duck in and shake it a couple of times. It was tough for the players when the ball was coming directly at them while they were stationary, since the sound wouldn't give directional cues, and whenever the ball was airborne it moved silently. This was used to good advantage whenever the goalkeeper threw the ball back into play, because it would only sound after it hit the boards and bounced back across the field.

And yes, boards. As with the various variants of indoor soccer, there are boards on the sides of the field that keep the ball in play. Combined with the smaller field this makes the game fairly fast, and dare I say it, slightly hockey-esque. 

One great thing about Toronto: here everyone is from everywhere. No matter what country a team is from they will have a home crowd. But out of deference to the players the crowd is asked to be silent during play, and for the most part was. So we'd be quiet and attentive until we had the all-clear, at which point the crowd could act up for a few moments. And this quietude is something else that I'm told Toronto sports fans are particularly good at, as so many like to just wait until the game is over and then honk their horns.

The games were at least as interesting to listen to as they were to watch, so it was nice to be at a sporting event that didn't need to be a non-stop noisertainment festival. I've been to professional baseball and basketball games, but they seem to aspire to being political rallies or concerts instead of athletic competitions. I'm not saying that I'd watch five-a-side, or its indoor soccer cousins, if they were televised, but the odds that I'd be interested in the competition between teams is vastly greater. But that's just me, and I know I'm an outlier in this.

Naturally, I did create some audio recordings while I was at these games. Perhaps some day I'll complete my planned project about them, or even just polish a few clips enough for another blog post. If and when that happens, this text will become a link.


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