where the writers are
World Cup Football - What's Going On?


To the very casual soccer fan like me, who watches out of curiosity more than anything else, and then only once every four years when the World Cup competition coalesces in some country far away, the game is peculiar.  

The rest of the world calls it football, so right away Americans become puzzled.  Just like translating centimeters to inches a la the metric system, the football that Europe enjoys is vaguely similar to American football.  The relationship is so vague that you'd really better squint your eyes almost shut after drinking a tall cold one before making the direct comparison.  

I like both games pretty well, but both are confusing.  American football is fun because randomly the ball actually moves to another part of the field and there is a lot of leaping, and bodies sometimes go flying through the air.  That's fun.  I have watched games now and again for years and still get terms confused:  Blindside, offside, downside, onside, kickback, touchback, lots of backs.  The game stops and holds still almost all the time.  Big men line up and crash into each other time after time for hours.  Fans paint their faces and sit in the stadium and scream, even if nothing is going on down on the field.  Eventually, after one guy who is called the quarterback, although I have no idea why, and who has just been grabbing his teammate's crotch each time they line up, throws the little pointed ball to another teammate who is lucky to be alive after he catches it. A score is made and everyone screams and then you get to watch a commercial break for 10 minutes.  The scores are 6 for catching, 1 for kicking and 3 for something else that is mysterious.  Other men in striped shirts throw flags up in the air and wave their hands around, so they create a diversion I guess for the fans when the game stops, which it does almost constantly.  

World Cup football is similar in that a lot of fans paint their faces wild colors and scream while two teams play the game on a big grassy field.  There are a similar number of men on each team and there is a ball and there are goal areas.  In WC football, however, the game is played by kicking at or near the ball or the other guy with the ball, all the while everyone runs and runs and runs.  Bodies fly through the air and every player experiences near-death agonies when another player kicks or comes close to kicking him.  There is intense writhing and grimacing, but players don't score points for this, although it is very dramatic.  

One player from each team wears really big Mickey Mouse gloves and tries to stop the ball from getting into the net area. If he stops the ball, everyone screams and the players run around in circles.  Some of them fall on the ground and hold their heads or some other body part and they all seem to die a thousand deaths.  WC football is filled with alarming emotional outbursts.  

The players in WC football are thin and they run all the time.  They sometimes try to kick the ball when it goes over their heads, and they do this by doing somersaults in midair and kicking their feet like they're riding a bicycle upside down, which is very entertaining.  If a player scores by kicking the ball past Mickey Mouse into the net, there is a frantic amount of screaming and running by every player and then they all make a pile and crush the guy who just kicked the ball in.  For the simple reason that players wish to avoid being killed in one of these giant pileups, the scores are very low.  A game can have a final score of 0-0, which is safest because no one has ended up at the bottom of a heap of sweating players screaming in a foreign language.  Ironically, the players all urge one another to kick the ball past Mickey so they can pile on, but they don't want to be the one to be crushed.  

In American football, there are also large piles of men, but much more often.  This is concerning because these men are so large.  There was one player who was called Refrigerator; he must have been very cold to have earned a name like that. He was also much larger than most of the other men.  He often would be sic'd on men from the other team and did one-man pile-ups, crushing little running backs all by himself.  

The World Cup is a competition that is going to be going on for a few more weeks until at least every player has been crushed in a pile-up and has had a chance to show off his writhing and screaming act.  I was watching a game for a few minutes the other day and one player was so dramatic that he fell down in a show of intense pain after no one touched him and the ball was long gone.  It looked like he was deeply depressed that he'd missed a chance to kick it when it had been closer by.  

I say watch the games to see all the antics and emotion.  Fans go to great lengths to look like their teams' jerseys, having bought buckets of colorful paint to achieve that look.  Often, that's the only way you can tell who's screaming for whom as they are all screaming in foreign languages.  It will be nearly impossible to follow the action as the play goes back and forth and all around for a long time and no one scores, but it's colorful and somehow you get caught up in it.  Further, if you watch a Spanish-language channel, you'll have even less idea of what's going on and you probably can make up your own rules.  


3 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Many tongues and tribes

I laughed out loud. Thank you. The only time I was interested in soccer was when my son played as a child. I used to be thoroughly emersed in football until I turned 35. I dont'know what took it's place.

Delightful description. I always appreciate your "view point".


Comment Bubble Tip

What about that vuvuzela

What about that vuvuzela Christine! Apparently it is driving people mad at the World Cup. I enjoyed your piece although American football seems a lot more like Rugby to me and my boys play that game without helmets and often come home limping, bruised and filthy!!!

Comment Bubble Tip

Rugby's pretty crazy for

Rugby's pretty crazy for sure, although I haven't seen much of it. I saw Invictus (movie) which had a lot of slow-motion accompanied by low gurgling and grunting (sound was also slowed). The vuvuzela sound is also low and sounds like really big bees in slow motion; you've heard it right?. I think it would probably be intensely awful to listen to if I were a player or ref.