Friday, April 2, 2010

Conversation With a Soccer Fan

(The following discussion took place between myself and a soccer fan several times over several years. It has occurred in bars, coffee shops, classrooms, sporting fields, gymnasiums, and once in the parking lot of a 7-11 during the World Cup. Enjoy.)

Me: Where should we begin?

Soccer Fan: Well, let me ask you a question? Why do you hate football?

I don't hate football. Football is my favorite sport. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the best!

No, no, no. You are talking about American football. I am talking about football.

You mean soccer?

Everyone else in the world calls it football. 


Never mind. It's your blog, so we can call it soccer.

Good. Glad we agree.

So why do you hate soccer?

Do you have a couple days? 

Name one thing.

David Beckham.

Come on. Be serious. David Beckham can not be the main reason you hate soccer.

He's not the main reason, but he is a reason. 

You're just jealous of him.

Excuse me, but I am not jealous of him in the least. 

He's a sports star, has a beautiful and famous wife, is attractive and rich. Of course you are jealous of him.

First of all, we would have to place soccer in the "sport" category to call him a sports star, so let's put that aside for now. Secondly, Victoria Posh was the least attractive Spice Girl. I prefer to not mistake my women for coat racks. Third and fourth, so what if he is attractive and rich? Have you ever heard the man speak? It is excruciating. You can almost hear the vacuum in his head trying to spit out something coherent. I would have to say that he is quite possibly the stupidest person on the planet. Every syllable he utters just sounds so dumb! And he is one of soccer's biggest stars.

Not all athletes are rocket scientists, you know.

I am not saying he has to know how to split an atom. But I think he should be able to tie his shoes. Or at least spell shoes.

Ok, ok... Let's forget about Becks...

And what kind of stupid nickname is that? I guess Lugnut was taken.

Ok, whatever. What else do you hate about soccer?

How about the terminology?

What about the terminology? 

The pitch? Seriously? It's a fucking field. It is a level surface with grass. That is a field. A sports field. You play sports on a field. You pitch a baseball or an idea. And the scoring... What the fuck is up with that? I know scoring for tennis is crazy by using the word "love" for zero, but soccer uses "nil." I know it is a word, I know what it means, but you can't say it without sounding like a pompous ass. "The score on the pitch is nil-nil." God, I want to kick my own ass for just saying that out loud.

But it sounds so cool when said with a British accent.

Don't get me started on British wording. But since you brought it up, let me just tell you about the British. The word "soccer" was originated in England in the 1880s. You used to call soccer Association Football. But soccer was a slang abbreviation of the word association. Um, how the hell is that an abbreviation? You took three letters out of a 11 letter word and then added three more to it that were never there in the first place! What kind of fucked up British logic sense does that make? Answer me that!

I can't answer that. But you need to calm down a bit.

Oh, I'm just getting started... 

Let me stop you for a second. I think you should know that soccer has the highest global television audience in all of sport. The entire world can't be wrong, can they?

The entire world used to think the world was flat. The entire world used to think the sun and other planets revolved around us. The entire world used to think Friends was a funny television show. So there are quite a few precedents to the entire world being wrong. 

Point taken. What else? 

Well, here is a doozy... Your goalies have to wear different shirts than the rest of your players. Why do they need to be singled out like that? It's like you are saying, "Look at the goalie! Look! He's wearing a different colored shirt! He is either cool or deserving of mockery!"

I don't think it says that at all.

Then why does he need to wear a funny shirt? Goalies in hockey wear extra padding and a different helmet, but the same jersey.

The referees need to be able to differentiate them from everyone else.

But why?

Because they can use their hands.

Oh, you shouldn't have said that... But I will get back to it... They can only use their hands in the penalty area in front of their goal, right? So wouldn't it be easy for a referee to look at a guy grabbing the ball in his hands and running around with it near his goal as the goalie. And soccer players aren't wearing masks or anything, so the goalies should be able to be identified by such things as, I don't know, facial features or something. Or maybe a number on his shirt. 

But think about the people at the top of the stadium filled with 100,000 fans. How will they be able to tell that person is the goalie?

Well, if they haven't discovered the magic of binoculars, how are they really going to see anything from that height? Even so, why not try something different? Put a collar on the goalie and install that electric fencing for pets on the penalty area lines. That way, he can't go anywhere holding the ball.

But the goalie can play in the pitch if he wants.

Well, if the goalie wants to play in the field, then make the collars into wristbands. Then he will not be able to use his hands. Problem solved. 

That's asinine.

Asinine? What's asinine is trying to watch a soccer game at a sports bar if you don't know the teams. Do you know how hard it is to cheer "Go Blue and that one guy who's wearing Fuschia!" while other people are chanting "Go White and that one bloke who is wearing ... what is that ... Burnt Orange?"

Ok, ok... What is your issue with the goalie being able to use his hands?

Oh, I have no problem with that. It's the fact that the rest of the players are not allowed to use their hands. I believe that may be "handism." I might have to seek legal counsel and begin a class action lawsuit. 

Very funny.

Thank you. I am not sure your sarcasm came across completely, so I will take it as a compliment. If I may continue... Can you think of any other sport where you do not use two of your appendages? Football? Basketball? Baseball? Hockey? Hell, even curling uses your legs and arms!

You can use your hands on throw-ins.

Oh Lord! That is your argument? Throw-ins? The person throwing in the ball is putting it back in play. I am sure that he is aiming his pass towards one of his teammates, but it is not really an integral part of the game, is it? The same thing can be accomplished by kicking the ball. Just like corner kicks, right?

Ok, I accept that. But we can use our heads in soccer. That sort of makes up for not using our hands, right?

You can use your head in other sports too, but normally they choose not to, because, you know, the brain lives there. (Now would be a good time to refresh the argument on David Beckham, but I will move forward.) But let's talk about heading the ball in soccer for a minute. I will use an example from my own family.
In America, the kids who normally start playing soccer are the ones who don't meet the age cut-off for Little League baseball. Soccer doesn't have such stringent age limits, I guess. My brother was one of these unfortunate children who was born a month too late to start playing baseball with everyone else in his class. So he signed up for soccer, since there was nothing else to do. Now, even though young, my brother was very tall. In fact, he was taller and more athletic than anyone else his age. Of course he dominated in these soccer games, often scoring 7-10 goals a game, at least. But there was one instance late in the season that stands out. My brother took a pass from his goalie right near the penalty area. Realizing the insanity of this "sport," he kicked the ball into the air and started running down the field. He kept heading the ball all the way down the field. Since he was taller than everyone else and since no one was allowed to hit him (another GREAT rule in soccer, by the way. Very competitive), he simply dribbled the ball all the way down the field on his head, dropped it and kicked it past the opposing goalie. Let me tell you, from the sidelines, it was one of the most surreal things I have ever seen. Just so you know, my brother stopped playing soccer as soon as he was allowed to play baseball.

That sounds like it was a great play.

It was a dumb play. It never should have happened. If he tried something like that in football, he would have been tackled so hard they would have had to pick him off the turf with tweezers.

But still...

But nothing. Trust me, it was stupid. Yes, it was fun to watch, but that doesn't make it good. But just to finalize my point about the no-arms rule in soccer, I want to show you a picture of someone who could be the greatest soccer player of all time: 

As you can see, Soccer Star Stickman fulfills all the necessary conditions to be a star soccer player. He has two legs to run and kick the ball. He has an abnormally sized head so he ram it into the ball. And he has a confused look on his face which seems to say, "I am conflicted. I have no arms, but I still want all the fame and glory of being a sports star. I know, I'll play soccer!"

Anything else?

Oh yea, get comfortable... I mentioned the rules about not hitting anyone. I won't bother ranting about how lame the rules are in soccer. I'm too worked up to even delve into that detail. But let me point out how such rule violations are disciplined. Often times, possession changes to the other team. Sometimes, the other team will get a penalty kick or a free kick (which are amazingly similar to what their names suggest). But for the most egregious of soccer sins, the referee will run up to you and hold up a yellow playing card! Not only that, but he will write your name in a little notebook he carries around! (And why can't he write down the name of the goalie and avoid that whole fashion disaster? But I digress...) For even worse infractions, the referee will run up to you and show you a RED playing card! Then he will politely ask you to leave. And if you happen to get two yellow playing cards in the same game, you will then be given a red card! Because in soccer school, yellow + yellow = red. I don't know what is more troublesome, the math or aesthetics.
I know soccer is not alone in its strange penal system. Hockey sends its players to a penalty box for specified times so they can think about what they've done. Basketball gives you a certain number of offenses and then they throw you out, but they don't color code them. Football is more pragmatic, as it makes the penalized player's team have to travel further to score. So what's with the playing cards in the pockets of soccer referees? Do soccer referees have hidden gambling problems and bust out games of blackjack after the game's end? 
A lot of people have tried to tell me that yellow cards and red cards are similar to technical fouls in basketball. I accept that. Even though there are rules about what a foul is in soccer, the rules are very broad. I wouldn't think that a sport would need a Supreme Court to figure out if a rule is Constitutional.
But mostly, it is the flash cards the referees use. They just make the whole enterprise appear to be silly and inconsequential. 

Those rules are important. Do you know how hard it is to score in soccer?

How hard it is to score in soccer... Well, that is another issue I have with the game. The object of soccer is to score more points/goals than your opponent. Pretty normal. However, this is a game where scoring a goal involves putting a spherical ball about the size of a human head into a goal that appears to be roughly the size of an airplane hanger!! But it's not that easy. There is a human with a different colored shirt in the way! He is taking up roughly 2.6% of the goal area. Maybe people who play soccer are just really bad at it... 
I don't really know for sure, but it would seem that you ought to be able to score 20, maybe 30, goals a game, at least. But yet, so many games end in nil-nil scores. In fact, it is so common that they made a joke about it on the Aaron Sorkin-penned sitcom "Sports Night." While introducing their highlight driven sports show, one of the hosts says, "We'll bring you the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and because we've got soccer highlights, the sheer pointlessness of a zero-zero tie." Funny? Yes. But it also speaks volumes of the disdain for soccer that we have. And the things I am talking about are the reason why.

That is your opinion.

That may be true, but that doesn't mean it is wrong. And to prove my point, let me talk to you about the single most insane thing in all of sports. Of course it occurs in soccer.

Of course it does.

In most sports, there is a time limit for the competition. Soccer has two 45 minute halves. That is a 90 minute game time. Simple enough. Most people can relate to that. Outscore your opponent in the time allotted. True competition. One team against another. Battling each other on a field (fine... a pitch), albeit without using their hands, for 90 minutes and then everyone can stop and check the scoreboard to see who won. I mean, "scoreboard" is even used as a taunt by fans at basketball games. It is universal. 
But the first time I watched a soccer match, I found myself confused. That is not something you want to experience while watching a sporting event, let me tell you. Why was I confused? No, not because of the offsides rule. I understand offsides pretty well. No, I was confused because the teams played the first 45 minutes and then went to halftime. The second half started and I settled in to watch 45 more minutes. However, 45 minutes later, the match was continuing. I thought maybe my watch was wrong, so I looked at the scoreboard. No, I was right, the time had run out. There were zeroes on the clock. Why were they still playing?

The added time? 

Yes, the added time. Stoppage time. Injury time. Whatever you want to call it. Apparently, in soccer no one knows exactly when the game will end. So you just play until someone taps you on the shoulder and tells you to go home. I would think that would make it difficult to game plan. 
So, unknown to me, the time ran out but the players were still playing. The referee had been keep close track of all the time that nothing was happening on the pitch and added it onto the end of the game (one could argue that if the referee truly did this, there would be another 89 minutes to be played). But, and here is the BEST part of it, the referee decides not to tell ANYBODY how much time remains! No one knows but the referee! The players don't know! The coaches don't know! The fans don't know! Everyone just sort of keeps going, like a bunch of Energizer Bunnies. Now, please answer me this, HOW IN THE FUCKING HELL IS THIS CONSIDERED TO BE NORMAL FOR ANY SPORT?????!!!!!!!!!! It's like watching "Titanic." You know it's over. You know the ship is going down. But the movie just keeps going on and on and on. It's torture. 
Why would a sport decide to do such a thing? Why torture EVERYONE involved? Apparently this was the sport's response to a player in 1891 being smart enough to just kick the ball out of the stadium, thus running out the clock. So they came up with this solution. Instead of deciding to, you know, stop and start the clock during the game to make sure all 90 minutes are played, they decided to FUCK WITH EVERYONE!!! 

Are you ok?

I'm pretty worked up, actually. And I am sober. Unlike most soccer fans. But I will leave that alone. I believe I made my points. Perhaps another time we can discuss the thuggery of soccer fans. Or the strategy of just sending small children out to swarm around the ball wherever it is. Or the emergence of soccer moms and minivans on our landscape. Or the players, in a sport played in many places in the world where machismo is the expectation, act like they've been shot whenever anyone brushes against them, only to jump back up seconds later. Or why they call soccer games "friendlies." Oh, I could go on and on and on... 

I see that.

But there is really no need, is there? You understand where I am coming from now, don't you?

Yes, I understand. You made yourself very clear.

Good. Now never speak to me of soccer again. Away with you before I show you a red card! I want to watch the World's Strongest Man competition.

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