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Soccer for Dummies

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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.

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About James Wynne

  • sal m

    aside from the “king of the hill” episode that poked fun at soccer and closed with hank hill basically saying he’d rather have his son be a bench warmer on a football team than the star of a soccer team, this is the best/funniest thing i’ve seen on soccer.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    I lol’d.

    I thought a Determined Croatian was some kind of mixed drink.

  • Shawn

    Are you kidding me? Explain to me what is funny about this article. Please… I’ll wait here for 45 minutes—or—HAAHJAHAHAHAHAJAAHA—get this: 2-3 days (the length of a soccer game)!!!

    Wow! I swear Mr. Wynne, you are honestly the re-incarnation of Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, and Bob Newhart (I know he’s not dead, but AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA isn’t that funny that I made such an odd reference?

    You want to talk about games that last for more than a few days? How long does a standard baseball game last? And answer me this… at which time do the players run more: during an entire baseball game or to and from the dugout between innings?

    Yeah, and what’s with those crazy goalies who wear the different colored jerseys? Isn’t that so bizarre?! Speaking of which… what’s with those crazy hockey goaltenders who wear that “mask”? And what about that “libero” on the volleyball court… is that player even aware that they’re wearing a different color than the rest of their team?

    And you’re right, Mr. Wynne… those darned 70 soccer “players” on the field (not 22 total like American “football”) run around so “willy-nilly” up and down the field so aimlessly because they’re not involved in every play that happens. This is true. I concede this fact. Unlike those American “football” players who run pass routes when the quarterback clearly hands the ball off to the fullback… those guys clearly have a purpose.

    And isn’t it bizarre to call that tournament that happens every four years the “world cup”? Wouldn’t that imply that every country in the world tries to qualify for the final 32 teams and therefore the winner is the best soccer team in the world? Thank heavens we have a much simpler system here in the U.S. If we win the playoffs in a domestic league that only we play in (Canada counts) we’re the “World Champions” (just don’t mention the World Baseball Classic or the disgraceful men’s basketball team at the Olympics)!

    And those fans! Those… those HOOLIGANS!!! Those crazy people who start fires and riot in the streets when their teams win the championship (just don’t mention those Maryland women’s basketball fans who felt the need to celebrate with bonfires).

    Frankly Mr. Wynne, I don’t even care that your article is offensive to anyone with a clue who respects soccer. What offends me the most is that this article isn’t even clever in its humor. If you want to make fun of soccer make fun of the fact that players play for 45 minutes straight without a break… or that they don’t get 5 timeouts during the last minute of a game to make sure they get that final shot off… or that if you fail at scoring when you’re on offense, you get to take a break while 11 new people come on the field to play defense—oh wait… these are all things that make soccer players great.

    I can just imagine your next article already: I watched a Spanish soap opera for about 8 minutes the other day… I swear, those people are speaking a different language or something!

  • http://jswynne.typepad.com/gropes/ JIm Wynne

    Shawn:

    May I assume that you didn’t care for the piece?

  • Jeff

    Man, that was one of the WORST attempts to make soccer funny that I have ever read in my entire life. How long did it take you to come up with this drivel? If you had actually watched 10 minutes of a game I would have expected something better than that. Can I have my minute and a half back?

  • http://wisdomandmurder.blogspot.com Lisa McKay

    Jim, apparently soccer fans have no sense of humor. Very funny piece!

  • http://www.worldcupblog.org Bob

    Soccer for Dummies is an appropriate title for this entry. Only dummies would find it amusing. It did make me hungry for some meatballs, though.

  • http://jswynne.typepad.com/gropes/ Jim Wynne

    Jeff:
    I said nearly ten minutes. It might have been more like six.

    Lisa:
    Thank you.

    Bob:
    Not amusing? I think it was Clever Beyond Measure

    And thank you all for taking the time to read and comment.

  • Andrew

    Wow, that was so amazingly witty I don’t think I’ll ever be able to experience the sensation of humor again, having burnt myself out of funniness. You really showed soccer playing pansies how stupid they are with that incredible, in depth, well researched article. My one piece of constructive criticism is that you probably could have made this shorter. I think the entire article, actually, could have been said in one sentence: “Soccer is teh ghey.” I can’t wait until your next article, entitled “Asian People Smell Funny.”

  • dmolsen

    Interesting “view” of soccer. It was actually delivered in a slightly original, creative way instead of just the normal run out of “soccer suks” cliches. So kudos for that.

  • mario

    i’ve been playing and following soccer for many, many years. as a player and admirer of the sport, i thought the article was actually pretty funny. as a native spaniard, i still think the article is pretty funny. i really liked the part about the uncle’s blue car. i’m still laughing about that. seriously. anyway, muy funny.

  • V.

    I thought the article was not all that funny, I don’t really understand much about soccer, but it is part of my culture and I find your article just plain disrespectful… not funny. When you make fun of soccer you have to be a little bit more witty than that. Not to mention that making fun of football is ten times easier than making fun of soccer.

  • Kris

    VIVA FUTBOL!!!!!
    At least you wont be taking up space in the stadium!!

  • http://jswynne.typepad.com/gropes/ Jim Wynne

    At least you wont be taking up space in the stadium!!

    Don’t be so sure. In the US, a soccer stadium is a great place to go when you want to be alone.

  • Kris

    Football (Soccer) in the US sucks anyways!! you go be alone in that place and just dream about what its like to be playing a real sport, Football, that is glorious around the world!!

  • S.T.M

    Yes Kris, great game: 22 over-paid bogans booting a bag of wind up and down a field in the vain hope that one might actually kick the ball into the net – although often they don’t. It’s as boring as batshit, and most people around the world who follow it just don’t know any better.

    Rugby, that other English game, and a genuine civilising influence on the world, is much better. And you don’t need a shocking haircut and a handbag to play it.

  • Kris

    i know great game at the end of the day i would love to be one of those 22 over-paid bogans booting a bag of win and getting millions for it and yes we dont know better but no one said you did either, step off ur high throne and be cultured for one second. the game has been around long before you were crapping in ur pants and no one had a problem with it then! so if you like rugby that much…go play rugby with a dull haircut and without your handbag…just dont get kicked in the nuts!! thank you :) have a good one!

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    You have to forgive STM cos he’s an Aussie and they’re just not very good at football…

  • S.T.M

    We don’t appear to be that good at cricket today either. Ah well, perhaps the Wallabies will be able to win one or two games over the next 12 months, although I’m not holding my breath on that one either ….

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    I was trying to be nice and not mention that…

    Here’s hoping England win this Test match, not just ‘cos I’m biased but to keep the rest of the series interesting too.

  • S.T.M

    Yes, I agree and that’s been the attitude of most people here this week believe it or not. Despite our reputation for being poor losers and bad winners (pretty right, I suspect), most Aussies were glad (if not happy) to see the Poms get up last year. It just has to go back to what it was. If it’s not a bloody contest, what’s the point?

    Anyway, I’m watching the highlights … and it’s so bloody hot here tonight, you wouldn’t believe it. A really good night for 500 cold ones followed by a supervised limp fall into the pool.

  • disappointed

    wow, I didn’t find this article funny at all, it was actually insulting to my intelligence. If you’re going to poke fun at something, actually learn something about it first. I wouldn’t have minded a stab at soccer if the author knew about the subject instead of resorting to an uninformed, childlike criticism that holds no water whatsoever. It would be like me ripping on Romanian politics (no offense any Romainians out there), which I know nothing about. It would be unfounded and, just like this article, not funny.

    better luck next time

  • Kenson

    NOthing makes americans as insecure as “soccer”. THats why they get so emotional and hateful when soccer is mentioned.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Either that, or they pretend any sport they’re not the best at doesn’t exist.

  • STM

    Or they play a “world series” between two clubs – from the United States.

    I know that some Americans don’t know much about what goes on outside their own borders (ask an American to name five capital cities of countries in Europe or Asia as a test. Most fail). And really, there’s no real excuse for that …

    But actually, by not liking soccer, Americans are unknowingly doing the world a favour (and they could do just as much good by exporting their dislike of the game).

    The last thing the world needs is another bunch of soccer-obsessed lunatics who don’t know any better going crazy over 22 over-paid egomaniacs with ear studs trying to kick a bag of wind into a net – and ones with access to guns too. I shudder to think.

    One of the great English con jobs that … turning soccer into a world game and making people believe that it’s a great game.

    All I can say is, people who love it must have very high thresholds for boredom :)

    Even cricket gets a result more often than not, and it never has to be decided by a penalty shootout.

    My idea for soccer: dispense with the game, and just decide each match by penalty shootout, thus cutting out at least an hour and a half (and nearly two hours sometimes) of total snore-a-thon.

  • http://www.my-virtual-income.com Christopher Rose

    STM – and your attitude to football has nothing to do with the fact that Australia are rubbish?

  • jelle565

    I live in Europe, in Belgium, and I don’t even know if there’s a professional rugby league or baseball league in my country. 95 % of the sports on tv is football (soccer). But I can understand why Americans don’t like soccer, the soccer teams in the USA are really bad. If you wanna see how beautifull football really is just go searching for European football on youtube and you’ll see it’s not only the most popular, but just the greatest sport in the world.

  • King

    NOthing makes americans as insecure as “soccer”. THats why they get so emotional and hateful when soccer is mentioned.