Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Moment of Silence

This evening I was watching (via tape delay) the beginning of an English Premier League soccer (sorry – football) match between Liverpool and Sunderland. To be honest, I’m not even sure which was the home team; or whether those home fans were especially fine individuals, or if most every group of soccer (sorry – football) spectators acted the way they did.

You are perhaps familiar with the stereotypical English soccer (sorry – football) hooligan? Can’t wait to get wrecked, go to the match, yell a lot, cause a little havoc, possibly a riot, generally make other Englishmen a touch ashamed of their English heritage?

Apparently, that was true in the 1980s and thanks to a number of policies laid down by the English soccer (sorry – football) establishment, that stereotype has been largely dealt with. Oh, certainly there is still the element of “getting wrecked”, as well as going to the match and yelling a lot; but according to a terrific book I read this summer, “Bloody Confused!: A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer” by Chuck Culpepper, the over-the-top bad behavior has been quelled, mostly. The songs (and shouted commentary) in the stands are anywhere from super-supportive of one’s own team to scatologically abusive of the opposition. But then, we Sox fans are still given to comment on how the New York Yankees tend to drink using straws; or some such. So, a touch hypocritical to rush to judgment.

Well, as kickoff neared, and the teams gathered at the center of the pitch (see? I read that book carefully!) to determine who would defend what goal, or whatever it is they decide at the center of the English football field, the television announcers hinted that there would be a moment of silence observed shortly, in honor and memory of those who have lost their lives amidst the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Thereafter, the stadium public address announcer announced the same. (At least, I presume it was the same. The stadium’s reverb, combined with the announcer’s predictably thick middle-lower-class accent and the refreshing fact that the stadium PA was not routed directly to the broadcaster’s audio mix, made it hard to tell.)

At the referee’s whistle, the crowd settled quickly into a moment of silence.

And I mean, silence.

At an American sporting event, I would estimate that a “moment of silence” is about 80 percent of the way from standard mid-game crowd-noise to dead silent. It’s a great idea, but we can never seem to achieve it completely. There’s usually a low-level murmur, and the occasional raised voice, usually from a well-lubricated onlooker who is still under the assumption that everyone has quieted down so that his home-team rooting cry can be better understood. (Or, as I have sometimes suspected, thinking that he’s The Show.)

This moment? Silent.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard, live or on TV, a moment of silence executed this well, at least if you don’t count Sunday morning church. As the cameras panned across the bleachers (sorry – viewing stands), only occasionally did a spectator’s head so much as bob or look around. Silence, accompanied by an almost unnerving physical stillness.

I wondered if I would hear a well-lubricated “let’s go, whomever!”

Sure enough, I did.

I wondered if I was going to be disappointed that they were so much like your average American sporting event crowd.


The approximately three-word shout from a single spectator brought on a cascade of “ssshhhhhhhhh!” from the rest of the stadium’s occupants. And there wasn’t another single sound for the rest of the moment of silence. Not a cough, not a mutter, certainly not one of those predictable retorts that might come from the three-word shouter, who in America might have expressed offense (sorry – offence) that his First Amendment right to make an ass of himself was somehow being restricted.

The referee’s whistle sounded again. And as if someone had turned on a faucet suddenly, “A Mighty Roar went Up from the Crowd”.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not being anti-American here. American sports fans aren’t uniformly “ugly Americans”. We do have our own particular protocol, which more than occasionally is rooted more in snark and bluster than in anything else, certainly anything polite.

But in this country at least, we’re bombarded by sound all the time, and so we’re trained to think that silence is weird; that silence should be filled. I know that some of my music students are spooked when they encounter more than a beat or two of rest. (See my friend Joe Wright’s recent blog post about that!)

So this particular moment, at least through the magic of television and satellite techology, made me think: at least one thing’s for sure – those English know how to do silence.


March 21, 2011 - Posted by | football, sports | , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. It was moving. American’s, as to be expected, FAILED and disappointed when it came time for them to observe a moment of silence for Japan before the US/Argentina friendly. There was loud murmur, and an idiot shouting “USA” so as to let anyone who wasn’t sure which nation is full of [expletive deleted] morons know that it is, indeed, USA USA USA!
    On a side note, English fans are far far more rooted in snark and sarcasm than Americans.

    Comment by alington | March 27, 2011 | Reply

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