This is the year of the World Cup. The quadrennial world championship of soccer is a huge event all over the world except for the United States. Aficionados of the game, when asked to explain why it isn’t more popular in this country, usually answer that Americans have not taken the time to learn its “nuances.” In answer to this contention, and in the interest of educating the public, I have taken considerable time to familiarize myself with the game. In fact, I recently watched nearly 10 minutes of a game on the Spanish-language cable channel.
While watching the game was an edifying experience in itself, I was delighted to hear one of the announcers use what sounded like the Spanish word albondigas, which means “meatballs.” It is the only word I remember from my high school Spanish class other than the word for “washroom,” which I remember only because the teacher wouldn’t let you go there unless you asked in Spanish. One of the slower students had the misfortune of experiencing sudden-onset intestinal distress during Spanish class one day and caused a memorable commotion when he desperately and unsuccessfully tried to remember the word for “washroom” and wound up in tears asking in Spanish if he could go immediately to his uncle’s blue car.
I can’t imagine what the context might have been in which the announcer referred to meatballs during a soccer game. I suppose it’s possible that what the announcer said was something that just sounded like “albondigas,” but I don’t think so. At any rate, for the benefit of readers who lack the type of comprehensive knowledge of the game that I now have, I will explain a few of the “nuances.”
As far as American professional teams go, there are three positions: midfielder, Fiery Spaniard and Determined Croatian. The other 70 “players” on the field at any given time are not really players at all; they are hyperactive people who run helter-skelter up and down and back and forth across the field in order to create the illusion of purposeful action. The intended verisimilitude is not achieved, however, as it is soon apparent that these “players” are running around aimlessly.
And the term “professional” is a little misleading. Due to the lack of popularity of the sport in this country, few tickets are sold. If you call the ticket office of an American professional team and ask what time the game starts, they ask you what time you can be there. So “players,” instead of being paid actual salaries, are compensated with Chuck E. Cheese tokens.
Goalkeepers wear unique uniforms because they are not members of either team. Their job is to protect the basic integrity of the game by making sure that there is never any scoring beyond the one-goal limit. (By rule, the final score of all soccer games is either 1-0 or a scoreless tie.) They are armed with pistols and after a goal has been scored they are empowered to shoot anyone who looks like he might be trying to score another. This explains why “players” are often seen frantically impelling the ball away from the goal with their heads.
In soccer the game clock runs backwards. That is, it shows the elapsed time rather than the time remaining, which means that it is necessary for spectators, players and officials to do a small mental calculation in order to determine how much time is left in the game. Because soccer fans are generally incapable of such mental activity, no one really knows when the game is supposed to end, so they sometimes go on for several days.
Other than “players” running willy-nilly up and down the field, there is no meaningful action whatsoever in soccer games, unless one team’s Fiery Spaniard trips the opposing team’s Determined Croatian, or vice-versa. When this happens, one of the officials on the field will pull a colored card out of his shirt pocket and show it to the crowd. In most of the world, this is a signal for spectators to begin throwing things on the field, randomly beating the snot out of one another and dismantling the stadium. It doesn’t happen in this country because the spectators generally lapse into a coma-like stupor shortly after the game begins and don’t wake up until halftime, which is usually two or three days later.
Given a bit more time I could explain a few more of the fine points, but I think the average reader who didn’t understand soccer before reading this post will now be able to watch at least five or six minutes of a game before losing consciousness. And you can be sure that upon waking up the next morning that you can start watching the game again without having missed anything.Powered by Sidelines