Taylor’s guide to the mayhem and beauty of the world’s game

Been watching the beautiful game a lot on the telly lately.

It’s World Cup time once again and it’s always a feast for football fans. It’s the only time you get to use words like telly, match and nil-nil in North America. And football properly.

That’s “football,” as in a game in which a leather ball is propelled down a grass playing field with the foot as opposed to “football,” a game in which an inflated leather oval is propelled down a playing field with the hands (?). Football is also more commonly known in a couple of countries as soccer, as in, a game in which a ball is propelled down a playing field with your socks.

Okay, no, that’s not where the term soccer comes from.

It supposedly comes from “Association Football” which is the name that emerged from various forms of the game into the sport as it is presently constituted – i.e., 11 players on each side with only the goalkeeper allowed to handle the ball – all the rest have to use the feet. Now, this handling of the ball is an important part of the game because it forces a referee to have to decide whether or not the player intended to handle the ball deliberately. And this may be where the term association comes in because such an action causes the players on the field and the thousands in the stands to engage in an impassioned discussion about what just exactly happened when the ball struck the hand.

At that time, the players around the player struck in the hand by the ball must immediately hold up their unstruck hands and look imploringly at the referee. Upon perceiving no foul forthcoming from the referee, those players must impose aggressively on the personal space of the referee and question his intelligence.

This then inspires the players on the other team to join in on the imposition on personal space and push and shove the players from the bereaved team, questioning their social and moral values and often their biological ancestry.

If at any time a player on either team is actually touched even so lightly as a feather, the assaulted player must immediately drop to the field as if shot from the proverbial grassy knoll by a high-powered rifle. This is then usually accompanied by the player doing the allegedly-unintentional initial contacting to also drop to the field as though the encounter was initiated by the first dropper and, indeed, has injured the second party even more grievously than the first.

The players’ teammates then hold their heads in their hands or outstretch them beseechingly to the audience who by now are as enraged as the players and are making similar gestures and adding in verbal utterances that indicate their displeasure with the actions of the opposing team and even more so with the actions of the referee(s).

Mediating all this chaos is a trio of officiating staff who are armed only with two playing cards – one yellow and one red in colour. Seemingly innocuous weapons, certainly, but the activation of which seems to cause much pain and anguish as it generates another opportunity to escalate the bedlam and cacophany.

Once these intense moments of game action are completed, attempts are made in football to score. Scoring in football is done by the propelling of the ball into a very large “net” which if made with a finer mesh could easily double as a device with which to catch fish on a commercial scale. The goal, or net, is so vast in size that the goaltender has to run and jump at a full stretch to get to the other side in order to catch the ball and prevent it from going into the net. The size of the net is intended to, seemingly, ensure the team on the offense can’t miss it. However, missing does frequently happen and explains why soccer is generally a low-scoring game.

It may be aided by the fact that scoring opportunities are forsaken for a chance to display acting talents. For instance, when an offensive player approaches the net and misses it because of the presence of a defending player, the offensive player will fling himself to the ground, clutch some convenient part of his anatomy and lay on the ground writhing in agony as if shot from the…well, you know. Subsequent to this Oscar-worthy acting performance, the shooting player – even though he’s missed the equivalent of the broad side of a barn door – is given a second, unopposed chance at shooting the ball into the vast expanse that constitutes the goal, a.k.a., the net.

Now, for some reason, the shooter’s accuracy suddenly and surprisingly returns and couldn’t miss if he tried. The only challenge facing the shooter is how to embarrass the goaltender as much as possible by making him guess so inaccurately which part of the goal acreage the shooter is going to pound the ball into that the ‘keeper (as his position is often abbreviated) leaps in the opposite direction.

It leaves those unfamiliar with the game wondering what the point of the goaltender is in those situations. But, aha, believe it or not, sometimes the goaltender guesses right and actually moves quickly enough and jumps far enough to get a hand on the ball. The goaltender is then much ballyhooed for his heroic and acrobatic actions. For this successful effort he is allowed to smirk and look incredulously at the shooter as if to say, “How could you miss with all this space to shoot at, you idiot?”

Yes, football is a combination of running, kicking, jumping, leaping, acting, pain management, miraculous recovery, vehement discussion and general bedlam both on the field and in the spectator seating. The “beautiful game,” indeed.

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