All You All Wanted To Know About Soccer

cartoon: wide goal
Soccer goalies are chosen for the lengths of their arms.

But Only Mike Harmon Thought To Ask

eMail from Mike Harmon, via the Internet:
Dear Ric,

Monday, 8. June:- Here's the question of the year for you: explain how soccer works to 'us' and why it's so important to so many people. I think that you, as a transplant in France, have excellent qualifications to explain why so many people in Europe and elsewhere like it so much. I think some of us out in the States need a little more inside soccer infodata on the subject. Why is it so interesting and what should we look for?

Mike

Mike Harmon©1998

All I Know About Soccer Would Fit In a Bottle Cap

Bonjour Mike,

Paris:- Sunday, 14. June 1998:- European-style football or soccer is an old game developed thousands of years ago by Europeans because they are cheapskates or poor. Greeks probably played soccer at the first Olympic games, long before Cristoforo Colombo discovered America by accident.

Cortez probably found Mayans or Aztecs playing soccer too, so it is possible that it is an American game as well - because it does not take a lot of brains to dream up.

Soccer requires only some idle people, a ball and someplace to play. Europe is full of idle people, balls are widely available, but places to play are getting rare as real estate speculators drive up land prices. This is the reason the French built the 80,000-seat Stade de France just outside Paris in Saint-Denis. Saint-Denis is a low-rent high-rise area full of red commies and people who are disgusted, where land is much cheaper than in nearby Paris.

To play soccer, one does not use the upper body except for the head, which is occasionally used as a battering ram. This is because European peasants never developed supple arm movements on account of not being big-wheel swordsmen; most Europeans only had spear-carrier roles, which were in conformity with the usual pick and hoe jobs they had if they weren't unemployed or being raped and pillaged by swordsmen.

One player on a team is allowed to use hands and this is the goal-keeper. Traditionally goal-keepers were recruited from the ranks of barroom bouncers, because they had a certain experience in warding off tossed tankards and pitching drunks outside. When you see both of these gestures in an average soccer game today, remember that they have a long tradition.

In case there are 'traditional' serious disputes, there is also a 'referee' who is not supposed to be a member of either team; who decides who is right and who is wrong - so that 'games' do not turnphoto: 1st day at trocadero into traditional European brawls which are silly because of the underdeveloped arms.

The actual first game of this year's World Cup - Brazilian kids play against some Scottish ones. Both sides lose their shirts.

Soccer also has built up over many centuries a major library of rules, such as 'offside.' Nobody understands these, but the referee decides what is right and wrong and the referee is always right, although soccer fans often do not think so. Some referees require police protection after matches are finished.

The referee signals his displeasure by blowing a whistle similar to one dog owners have, and for the same reason that dog owners have them. When the referee is forced to blow his whistle, play stops and the players are allowed to have fierce arguments; but they are not allowed to call the referee bad names when he makes his decisions known.

A typical soccer field is 100 metres long by 50 metres wide. Europeans use a lot of even numbers because they are not so good at odd numbers and fractions. Goalposts are placed at each end of the rectangle and the middle of the field is in the middle and there is a line showing where it is.

The purpose of the game is to put the ball between the other team's goalposts, or it is to prevent the other team from doing so. Doing it is 'offense' and not doing it is 'defense.' Each of the two teams can do it either way, or both ways. If, by unlucky chance, both teams have a 'defense' strategy for the game, no goals might be scored, and this is known as 'wimpy' soccer. This is extremely boring and is not the point of the game at all.

Each team has eleven players. One is the goalkeeper so that really leaves ten active players on the field, and ten is an even number. At the beginning of a game, some players are positioned near the middle line on the field, to face the opposite team's front line; and other players are left in the rear to help the goalkeeper defend the goal.

The two team captains flip a coin to decide who gets to kick the ball first. This can happen so fast you may not even notice it. The coin belongs to the referee, so he watches it very carefully.

The ball is placed in the centre of the field, on the middle line, for the first kick - called 'the kickoff.' The winner does this kick- the-ball when the referee blows a little peep on his whistle. Watch closely, because this first kick may be towards his own goal!

The game commences with the ball being kicked around somewhat aimlessly, with each team trying to get 'control' of it in order to move it towards the opponent's goal. Often there is a lot of incomprehensible running around and the ball may be kicked any old way, but may occasionally be kicked towards the opponent's goal.

If this happens, the goalkeeper often runs out as much as a quarter of the length of the field, and tosses or kicks the ball as far away as he can. When this happens all the players have to stop what they are doing and run to the other end of the field to resume play.

Sometimes the goalkeeper will boot the ball so far down the field that the other goalkeeper gets it. Then he lobs it back. All the players turn around again and run the other way, after the ball. It can be pretty silly; a bit like large-scale ping-pong.

The game is officially 60 minutes long - an uneven number! - and this time is divided into quarters - fractions! - which are pretty meaningless, and half-time - another fraction! - which is serious because the game stops in order for the teams to exchange field halves - yet more fractions!

This is done in order to reduce any advantage one team may have had due to sun shining in the opposing team's eyes. The 'changing of the ends' is a brief and sometimes colorfully chivalrous ceremony which does not last long.

Between the end of the first half of the game's time and the beginning of the second half of the game's time, there is a period of time called 'halftime.' This is when everybody in the stadium goes to the toilet. If there is no stadium and no toilet, then everybody just goes. All of Europe is sort of a public toilet.

The second half of the game, called 'the second period,' is similar to the first half of the game, which is called 'the first half.' Or it is the other way around. The only way you can tell the difference is if you are really alert and note the colors of the player's costumes and note which is where when the second half kickoff takes place. It does not matter too much if you miss this detail, possibly by having forgotten which was where in the first half.

For the second half of play, see above, about the first half.

At the end of the game, after the 'regulation time' is finished, if one team has scored more goals than the other, then it is the winner. It is pretty clear. This is the 'odd-score' rule.

But there are other possibilities too, such as the score being even; something like one to one. When it is even like this, even no scores at all count as being even: the 'zero-zero,' or as the French call it, 'match nul,' which roughly translates as 'no match at all' or pretty crummy. That said, I must admit that the French 'march nul' also applies to other even scores, such as 43 to 43. However you will never see a score like this because it would indicate a game played entirely by offensive tactics, and although it may have been exciting to fans, nobody in the world of soccer has the nerve to try it.

I don't know the details of the rules for what happens after an even score is the result after the 'regulation time' of a game. Sometimes a half or a quarter is added to the time; to let the teams try and get an 'odd-score' or winning goal.

One game I saw had two whole quarters added to it and at the end of this extra time, it was still 'match nul.' This particularphoto: the official ball game had to have a outright winner for some reason, so after all the extra time was played a 'sudden-death' shootout was added.

This is what an 'official' World Cup football looks like after some kids have kicked it around a bit.

This is a very simple procedure. Both teams assemble in one half of the field. The ball is set up an exact distance from the goal and some players are allowed to take straight, clear, no tricks, shots at the goal. Maybe each team does a series of five, at the opposing goalkeeper. Then they switch teams and goalkeepers. If after this, it is still even, another five players take their shots. Good goalkeepers can stop all these shots.

In this deal, it is the first scored goal that counts. The team of the player who kicks it, wins.

Although this does give a clear and outright winner, most fans do not like it because it seems like gambling or coin-flipping. This only happens after a full game and all the overtime periods have been played, and regardless of how well the game was played, its outcome is decided by a crapshot.

I mention this possibility because, even though I'm not a SportsFan, I saw a game like this once. It was in a World Cup semi-final, with France facing Germany. Where I saw it was in a French campsite in July, where about a third of the campers were German.

A French camper had turned his caravan sideways on his plot and had a giant TV sitting in an open side window. Everybody was sitting and watching the game - the whole, two and a half-hour long game - on this guy's plot. By the end, around 23:30, the air temperature was still over 40 degrees. We were soaked with sweat, eaten by mosquitos and pinwheel-eyed.

After about ten straight - breathstopping - misses, the player who popped in the first ball, played for the German team.

The next day, formerly warm relations were frosty. That year, I think Spain shut out Germany to get the golden, but really ugly, trophy.

This is about it. This is European football, or soccer, in a bottlecap.

Regards, Ric

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