‘Gooool’: The story behind football’s battle cries

The life of a football commentator and how viewers’ expectations need to be met on the mic.

Issam Chaouali football commentator
Chaouali is an Arabic football commentator for whom a match is a rapid-fire, mile-a-minute rollercoaster [Twitter]

Follow Al Jazeera’s coverage of the World Cup 2018 here.

From cheeky backheels to long distance piledrivers, World Cup 2018 has seen its fair share of spectacular goals.

But each time a moment of magic is conjured in the stadiums in Russia, somewhere high up in the stands, commentators from Central and Latin America to the Middle East are filling their lungs with air.

For commentators from Latin America, the pinnacle of the narration is the trademark cry of “goooool”.

Across the Arab world, commentators like the Tunisian Issam Chaouali, are so emotionally invested that almost every moment of the 90 minutes, or longer, is a rapid-fire, mile-a-minute rollercoaster, peppered with facts, jokes and melodrama.

When a set of players approach the opposition’s goal, Chaouali’s commentary builds in an enormous crescendo with peaks of syllables as the ball hits the back of the net, the scorer’s name being repeatedly elongated for a minute or more.

This is all in stark contrast to the comparatively restrained commentary found in Europe.

For the commentators, it is the listeners’ demand that excites them.

“When you work in these countries, you have to understand that on the other side, there are a lot of people celebrating that goal and they want to hear your passion,” Mexican radio commentator Diego Pena told Al Jazeera.

“The goal should be a special moment for you, too.”

In Latin America, the commentator’s cry of “goooool” is so well known that countries squabble over who did it first and who now does it best.

Brazilians insist it began on local radio stations during the 1940s while Uruguayans claim their radio commentators started the trend at the inaugural World Cup in 1930.

“The Brazilians claim their commentators are more passionate when they scream, while the Argentines insist theirs last longer,” said Chilean commentator Luis Omar Tapia.

“I think the best are the Colombians. They are so powerful. They can crush a radio with their voices.”

At each World Cup, recordings of Arab and Latin American commentators regularly go viral on YouTube, with streams drawing in fans across the world to the spectacles.

Whether it’s delivering a frenetic play-by-play for 90 minutes like Chaouali, or screaming “goooool” until your lungs fail like the Latin Americans, the trends are so deeply embedded with their respective footballing culture that there’s no future in the field for those who cannot live up to the demands.

That’s why they work at it, taking measures ranging from adapting their breathing technique to daily exercises which strengthen their vocal cords, just like an opera singer preparing for a particularly long and arduous aria.

“Calling a match is very heavy on the voice,” said Pena.

“It can be 120 minutes, plus penalties. But you have to be strong. If you lose your voice, someone else will replace you and do the games instead.”

For Latin American commentators, professional singers are often hired to coach them to make their “goooool” cry as long as possible.

“You can always tell the ones who haven’t had singing training as theirs is shorter or they run out of breath very quickly,” said Tapia.

The key is in the breathing. At the start of his career, Tapia spent years honing his breathing to ensure that it came from the diaphragm, rather than the lungs.

“I’ve been doing it for years now, so it’s natural. But I had to work for some time on the techniques,” he said. “It makes a difference. You can last a lot longer.”

But, along with the primal screams come a litany of mishaps for commentators aiming to deliver a particularly epic “goooool” cry.

Brazilian radio commentator Gabriel Andrezo was once overcome by a coughing fit midway through, while the veteran Jose Araujo suffered an ill-timed attack of the hiccups.

Tapia vividly remembers his own disaster during the 2014 UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. He completely lost his voice after Sergio Ramos equalised in the third minute of stoppage time.

“I yelled probably the longest ‘goooool’ I’ve ever done,” he said.

“I did it with all the strength in my throat and all the air in my stomach. My voice just completely went for about a minute and a half. My vocal cords just wouldn’t open up. Fortunately, the producers extended the replay of the goal for about two minutes until my voice returned.”

Mindful of the vocal challenges, many Arabic and Latin American commentators have a variety of prematch rituals.

You have to be strong. If you lose your voice, someone else will replace you and do the games instead

by Mexican radio commentator Diego Pena

Some hum and vibrate their lips, while others eat apples to moisten the throat. Many avoid alcohol or caffeine leading up to the game and drink copious amounts of hot tea and honey.

“I become a singer an hour before the game,” said Tapias.

“I’m in love with salsa music and so I put myself in Marc Anthony’s shoes or Pitbull, and try to sing like they do, and do all the high notes, low notes. It is great for warming the voice up.”

But while they’re mindful of what’s expected of them, for the best Arabic and Latin American commentators, their performance is not something that should be manufactured.

It should come straight from the heart – or the diaphragm – driven by the audacity or skill of the goal or particularly dramatic moments such as Germany’s last-minute winner to sink Sweden.

“Normally, I just yell ‘goooool’ for 10 to 15 seconds,” said Tapia.

“But for moments like that, if I could last two minutes, I would.”

Source: Al Jazeera