The history of radio and sports have always been intertwined, especially since the 1920s when radios began broadcasting live sports matches. This marked a shift from phoning-in results and opened up possibilities for reaching wider audiences by introducing regular listeners to sport, especially football enthusiasts, through live commentary. While football commentary usually blurs the boundaries between entertainment and journalistic discourse, some commentators have pushed this further, using the tools of literary narration to add depth and poetry to their analysis, thereby immortalizing specific moments in football history. These commentators use language to vividly describe the unfolding events of the match, employing literary techniques in a similar way to oral storytelling, creating a dynamic and immersive experience that conveys the excitement, drama, and nuances of the game. 

In his essay ‘The Poetry of Soccer Commentary’, James Yékú bemoans the decline of the use of literary techniques in contemporary football commentary and highlights what it can achieve in the hands of commentators such as Ernest Okonkwo and Peter Drury, when he writes: 

If Nigeria’s Okonkwo was famous for his tendency to name players based on their field attributes—for example, ‘Slow Poison’ (Idowu Otubusen), ‘Elastic’ (Elahor), ‘Tallest’ (Emmanuel Okala), Chairman (Christian Chukwu), ‘Caterpillar’ (Kelechi Emetole), and ‘Quicksilver’ (Sylvanus Okpala)—Drury is the master of analogical nomenclatures. A time there was when Pep Guardiola substituted Gabriel Jesus for David Silva in an EPL game and Drury went: ‘Jesus for Silva, a move Judas Iscariot will be proud of.’ Or when in another game Peter Czech saved a penalty from Gabriel Jesus and Drury commented: ‘Peter denies Jesus again.’ While he is clearly drawing on Christian imagery and Biblical narratives to metaphorize proceedings on the field of play, it is the immediate relevance of these words in sculpting game play that resonates most with fans.[1]

Within the framework of Ballet of the Masses, Pitch Poetics: Football Commentary as Literature is an audio installation that uses archival football commentary as an entry point to explore the medium as a form of oral literature. The installation is an exploration of instances where commentary soars beyond the factual description of a football match. These poetic breakthroughs usually transform crucial sporting moments into memorable episodes in collective memory, such as Thierry Gilardi’s emotional speech, when he exclaimed: ‘Oh Zinédine, oh Zinédine, pas ça, pas ça, pas ça Zinédine ! Oh non pas ça, pas aujourd’hui, pas maintenant, pas après tout ce que tu as fait !’ in response to when Zinédine Zidane headbutted Marco Materazzi during the 2006 Men’s World Cup final. By leveraging archival audio material across different languages, this installation also seeks to explore the multiple forms that football commentary assumes.

With archival material by Herbert Zimmermann (German), Ernest Okonkwo (English), Suo Chapele (Pidgin English), Mladen Delić (Croatian) and Zachary Nkwo (English) and a spatial-sonic installation facilitated by Yara Mekawei based on additional research by Comfort Mussa, Stella Nduka and Peter Okotor.

[1] James Yeku, 'The Poetry of Soccer Commentary', Olongo Africa (27 January 2023),