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A Small Minority of Idiots

Andy Carroll and the Art of the Skill Vid

The West Ham striker's endearingly shit videos show us how the world of football vines, mad skills and tekkers is warping our expectations of the game.


Over the course of this summer, West Ham United striker Andy Carroll shared a series of short videos with his Twitter followers. They were filmed from a camera mounted about 20ft in the air above his club's Chadwell Heath training facility, and showed the six-foot-four target man running through a series of fairly basic training drills as he gradually worked his way back to fitness after a serious knee injury. The footage is silent, so he chose to soundtrack some of the clips with a remix of the song Cheerleader by Jamaican singer OMI, a track which features the refrain "Do you need me? Do you think I'm pretty?" which aside from being either very knowing or very ironic – Carroll himself looks like the muscular, ponytailed saxophone player in Lost Boys – only added to the surreal, dreamlike quality of the clips.


These videos had a profound effect on me for a couple of reasons. There was a fortnight or so during which I was absolutely obsessed with them, and found myself watching them again and again and again. To begin with, they just made me laugh. So there is one clip of Carroll having the ball gently thrown to him and then heading it into a net from about three yards out before walking off with his fist clenched in sweet satisfaction, like a primary school kid who scored seconds after "next goal wins" was declared. He is happy to have headed the ball into the net from very close range and wanted to share the moment with his 300k Twitter followers. Totally fair enough. You're the one with the GoPro attached to a 20ft poll. Go nuts.

POWER — Andy Carroll (@AndyTCarroll)July 23, 2015

The clip then fades to footage of Carroll and a West Ham trainer running side by side, initially in real time before seguing into slow-motion. I guess the running is to demonstrate that his knee is now totally fine, although maybe someone should have suggested to Carroll that if you want to show the world that you're back to your electric best, maybe don't film yourself doing stuff in slow-motion. It's possible that he realised this, as he posts the exact same video a second time that same day, only with this time with the caption "POWER". This, presumably, is to emphasise the fact that even though he's running in slow motion and scoring piss easy close-range goals, there's actually a fuckload of POWER going on too, it's just invisible or something. While all this is happening, the Cheerleader remix continues to play in the background. The whole thing quickly becomes odd and hypnotic, like something you'd find projected inside a dark room at the Tate Modern.


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Another video features Carroll and the trainer just knocking a ball about. Nothing fancy. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. It looks like quite a nice day and you wouldn't be totally surprised to notice a few bottles of Kopparberg and a disposable barbecue on the grass beside them while they casually debate whether to buy some weed. The final clip Carroll chose to share with his followers involves him engaged in some more light running – this time to a remix of Blackstreet's No Diggity – before doing a few keepie-uppies and then, for the grand finale, booting the ball into a totally open net. There's a good chance that you yourself know what it feels like to boot a ball into a totally open net. It feels nice, right? Just because Carroll is a professional footballer with a combined £50m worth of transfer fees behind him doesn't mean he can't enjoy the sensation too. If the video came with sound, I bet we'd be able to hear him mutter "bosh!". There's something unquestionably cathartic about watching it. Which I did. Loads.

It took me a while to realise why I couldn't help myself coming back to Carroll's weird little Turner Prize submissions, but once I twigged, it seemed so obvious: they represent the polar opposite of the online "skill vids" which have become endemic over the last 12 months. If you like football and if you also use the Internet, you will know exactly what I'm talking about, the fact that every third tweet you come across is now a short clip of a footballer executing magnetic close control or mental 40-yard volleys. Often as not, these skill clips are accompanied by a particular form of excitable CAPS-LOCK footy dialect, which always seems to have the tone of a 13-year-old girl trying to banter with Rodney Marsh on WhatsApp. Amazing goals are posted with the words "Utter filth!", "Unreal!", "Take a bow son!". We see "worldies" scored with clockwork regularity. Vine loops show wingers sending their fullbacks "for a hotdog", "humiliating" them or, if they manage to nutmeg them, "ending their career".


Individually, case-by-case, there's nothing wrong with these clips. The beef I have – and the beef you should have too – is that, thanks to a gradual drip effect, the internet is now home to a weird fantasy world where tekkers rules supreme and where once-a-season moments of magic are now common currency. It's a flashy and frenetic place that leaves you wanting to bulk-buy Ritalin and where individual skill is not so much celebrated as fetishised in a way that doesn't seem entirely wholesome. What online porn is to actual sex, this is to actual football. Expectations are raised. Realities are warped. Teenage boys end up trying to do things they are simply not capable of, but then lie about having done it anyway.

"Hey Ben," some of you may well be thinking at this point. "Why are you being such a miserable fucking dickhead about this? It's just a bit of fun. Why don't you just fuck off if you don't like it."

To which I would respond, look, nobody enjoys fun more than me. Or footy. I mean, I'm only human. If you prick me, do I not bleed? If you show me a clip of Juan Román Riquelme back-heeling the ball between his marker's legs, do I not puff my cheeks out and go "Shit…"? My problem isn't even that there is an embarrassment of these riches. If anything, it's just that so much of the content that gets recycled isn't even particularly impressive. A case in point is the fool's gold of wondergoals scored by players during training sessions. Now, I don't give a shit if Wesley Sneijder scores an acrobatic volley during a knock about in which he is unmarked and under zero psychological or circumstantial pressure. Don't try and shill me that. At least if he does it during an actual competitive game I know I'm not just seeing the millionth time he's attempted it. That's another one of the beautiful things about Carroll's videos. He doesn't do a single thing he couldn't have done hundreds of time in a row with his eyes closed. He doesn't do a single thing most of us couldn't do with our eyes closed.


And yet the more exposed you are to this shrill, attention-seeking content, the odder it becomes. "These guys know how to take a free kick," promises the caption to one video which then shows a montage of people – not actual professional footballers – knuckleballing free kicks into empty nets at their local astro pitches. Literally, a bunch of nerds filming themselves copying a Cristiano Ronaldo set piece, only without a goalkeeper spoiling their fun. Your abiding sensation is that you've just seen someone having a wank in public. And yet, if I posted a video clip of myself doing some canny defending, using my body to shield a ball from an imaginary opponent in order to let it run out of play for a goal kick, I would be considered total weirdo. But how is it any different? It's bullshit. Same deal when these Footy Vine accounts try and sneak bits of futsal into the mix. Come on. Who actually gives a shit about futsal? It's creepy. They might as well show the bits in Crufts where the dogs push balls around with their noses or whatever.

These guys just know how to take a free-kick. — Football Super Tips (@FootySuperTips)August 26, 2015

I blame Ronaldo. I blame the sugar-rush of three minutes each way on FIFA or Pro Evo. I blame Sepp Blatter and the fact that the sport has been marketed so relentlessly for so long that there are now millions of self-professed football fans that don't actually like football all that much. Not really. Not when it comes to it, and they have to commit to dicey risk/reward prospect of 90 minutes worth of low-scoring caginess. Safer, surely, to fall back on the comforting buzz of nutmegs and worldies, of mad tekkers and filthy skills.


And it's a fantasy from which no one is immune. Not even Andy Carroll. Earlier this week, I was initially delighted to find that he had posted more footage of himself in training. This time, he was playing a 5-a-side game and rattled in a few goals. "How's your back after picking all them out the back of the net!" he tweeted West Ham goalkeeper Adrián San Miguel, which I have to say is pretty cocky for a man who last giving it the big I am about the fact he could run. The Spanish keeper, though, sent Carroll straight to the burns unit.

One man is gutted to see me back!! — Andy Carroll (@AndyTCarroll)September 1, 2015

"Bla bla bla…," he tweeted in reply. "You just show your 4-5 goals on hundred shoots, where is my 95 saves?"

It's a good fucking question Adrián. Profound, too, because you know the truth of it. Skill vids and highlight reels are all vanities. Smoke and mirrors. Something to entertain the children. Personally, I would now quite like to see those 95 saves. Most of them are probably pretty boring but that's life. That's football. It probably doesn't hurt to remember that.


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