Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Soccer noisemakers: a brief history

The current controversy over the vuvuzela at the Confederations Cup in South Africa is hardly the first debate about “artificial” noisemakers used by football fans. In different forms, their use has been common across the world for over a century.

So is the vuvuzela an organic instrument of South African football culture we should respect, or a commercialized nuisance that should be banned?

The Rattle

The first popular noisemaker in football — and one that made a sound to make even a vuvuzela wince — was the wooden rattle in Britain.

Though appearing as early as 1900, the rattle became the ubiquitous din to football matches in Britain after the world war. They had been popularised during the war as a way of warning people of gas attacks: their simple noise making capacity saved many lives. Holding the handle and spinning the rattle made a loud clacking noise, and this was soon transported to the terraces.

The Thunderstick

According to The Pitch Invasion, the thunderstick emerged in the 1990s in Korea, and quickly spread to North America at baseball, football and political rallies. The air chambers inside the inflated plastic baton amplifies the sound of the sticks clapped together, meaning even a child can create quite a racket. The advantage of thundersticks from a commercial standpoint is that, unlike rattles, they are large enough to feature a prominent company logo and can be produced cheap enough to mass distribute for free before games.

The Vuvuzela

And so we come to the vuvuzela. Originally made out of tin, they were mass produced in plastic in the last decade and have reached a new fame with the worldwide debate on their use prompted by the hum at every Confederations Cup game in South Africa. Many mistake the vuvuzela for the air horns used commonly around the world, but they have a different origin and use as an instrument in South Africa. BBC's Farayi Mungazi says in the defense of the instrument's use in the rainbow nation:

“That is what African and South Africa football is all about - noise, excitement, dancing, shouting and enjoyment,” said the most powerful man in world football.

"I could not have put it better myself. Banning the vuvuzela would take away the distinctiveness of a South African World Cup.

"It is a recognized sound of football in South Africa and is absolutely essential for an authentic South African footballing experience.

"After all, what would be the point of taking the World Cup to Africa, and then trying to give it a European feel?

"Let us all embrace the vuvuzela and whatever else a South African World Cup throws at us.

"The fact that some in Europe find it irritating is no reason to get rid of it."

So then, that is that.