Crikey



Countering Keane’s hissy fit: why soccer is great

There’s a World Cup going on. You may have heard. It has been a rare feast —  goal records shattered, stirring performances from unlikely sources, pantomime villainy, big names and bigger philosophies crashing and burning. And, like some insipid Newtonian ideal, there has been a backlash.

It’s a curious thing, this need to disparage soccer. The best explanation I’ve heard for why the various codes are called football is that they’re played on foot, instead of on horse; but instead of bonhomie, this shared DNA seems to cultivate the most spectacular sibling-oriented hissy fits since Cain rocked Abel’s world. Crikey recently hosted a fine example of the form via Bernard Keane. We shall sift through Keane’s vitriol for portents.

One of his main targets, the diving, or “simulation” in the queasy official parlance, is between annoying and amusing. There’s no defence here; it’s a part of the game, but a part of the game everyone would like to see greatly reduced. Which is why it’s been so refreshing in this World Cup (which finishes on Monday) to see referees waving for play to continue, and for the games to flow like champagne someone else is paying for — even if this has contributed to some remarkable demonstrations of on-field thuggery. There will be complaints no matter which way the pendulum swings. Let us move on.

Soccer is fundamentally and addictively silly in the way that all sports are. The only deadly serious thing about it is FIFA, its posturing at the grassroots level eternally at odds with its unwieldy perch atop piles of money. Have you heard of the inverted pyramid? It started life as a diagram of income distribution in soccer.

Indeed, there is precious little ignorance of the cauldron of ineptitude and illegality that is soccer’s international governing body; this “love-soccer-hate-FIFA” sentiment has been best articulated by the increasingly mighty John Oliver. FIFA is so bad that even Brazil, relentlessly (and mostly accurately) marketed as football’s spiritual home, saw the rise of a social movement grow around the slogan contra a copa  — against the cup. It this hadn’t already happened, you’d be forgiven for thinking it would be about as likely as Australia protesting against alcohol.

I watch because soccer is the great leveller. The best player in the world is built like a hobbit.”

It’s tempting, with FIFA, to explore the same Abbott-forced conundrum now faced by many Australians on either side of the political spectrum — the ensuing battle to prove that a country is not its government, that a sport is not its governing body. There is truth in this, but it’s complicated. If the situation in Brazil has taught us nothing else, it’s that corruption and appreciation go hand-in-hand. Still, I have been there, night after night, unable to tear myself away from the television. I cannot bring myself to boycott the World Cup. But why?

I watch because I have seen money bloat the club game to ludicrous proportions. Sums that would clothe, feed and educate the population of small nations are spent on players of various wattage, or on those with merely the potential to shine. But international soccer, ah, that is a different creature. Sure, there is a correlation between economic and footballing might, but somehow the field is more level — it’s why you see Cristiano Ronaldo struggling to inspire a team of mere mortals, or England unable to translate the popularity and quality of its league to the international stage.

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22 Responses

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  1. One advantage of other codes of football over soccer is the nature of the crowds the game attracts. At the World Cup Brazil fans turned ugly & destructive when their team lost & the soccer riots in the UK are legion.

    Even when Collingwood wins a grand final there is nothing like the spilling of bad blood associated with soccer. Or when NSW defeats Queensland in a State of Origin game even rabid Maroons fans manage to behave civilly.

    by zut alors on Jul 11, 2014 at 1:31 pm

  2. The way to stop simulation is to award a penalty every time a foul in the box is committed. Tripping and handball are policed quite ell but holding and pushing are not. If refs started this, the first few games would have about 20 penalties in them and this is of course why refs don’t call them.

    But you only need a couple of games like this for defenders to work out that holding an opposition shirt generates a penalty so they stop.

    Then the contact that enables simulation to occur would cease and refs could yellow card simulators.

    Never happen of course.

    by David Hand on Jul 11, 2014 at 1:39 pm

  3. Hissy fit? You ever heard of satire or irony? This response to Bernard is as much a taking of a dive and feigning injury as anything that goes on in the Greek Tragedy/Roman Farce (notwithstanding Greece and Italy are out) that is the World Cup. Get over yerself.

    by John Taylor on Jul 11, 2014 at 2:19 pm

  4. Soccer is a great game. Not as good to watch as most other football codes, but it is a great game. I did play at school & enjoyed it a lot, plus I just wasn’t coordinated enough for AFL or dumb enough for rugby. For heavens sake though, the scoring needs to be easier (bigger goals) and diving should be rewarded by being totally ignored. I watched a 70’s WC replay during the week and one actor/player was writhing on the ground for minutes whilst play went on. He eventually got up sheepishly to resume play. That’s the way to stop it. Also I think some of the crowd violence is due to frustrations remaining unvented in a game. You go 90 mins of back & forth with no result. Something has to blow….and penalty shootouts are the worst way to resolve a deadlock.

    by mikeb on Jul 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm

  5. Again with the pot shots! I love AFL, Union and most other sports played at the highest level.
    Why is it that some supporters (and some media) of other codes so vocal against the World Game?
    Is it just fear of something that they don’t really understand?

    by Parrellr on Jul 11, 2014 at 2:53 pm

  6. Make the field three miles long and ,say, one wide. Arm the players and tell them they’re in Gaza. Recruit the eedjits in various governments to officiate. Make the media the official broadcaster. Oh wait….

    by glazedham on Jul 11, 2014 at 3:04 pm

  7. By all means, consider making the goals a little wider and higher, but first do away with those wondrous Goalies’ Gloves.

    Give them gardening gloves and their reach will be reduced by a foot. That should see some goals flow.

    Plus, I like the idea of awarding a penalty for fouls inside the box (David Hand, above). Indeed, a few yellow and red cards for holding on, regardless of where on the field that this takes place, would do wonders for the flow of the game.

    by JohnB on Jul 11, 2014 at 4:11 pm

  8. I’m with Bernard.

    by Matthew Drayton on Jul 11, 2014 at 4:16 pm

  9. Soccer has been actively promoting itself in Australia for many decades. The most interesting feature of this campaign is the way soccer enthusiasts are miffed that Australian (real) football and the rugby codes are far more popular than soccer. Soccer claims to have the most participants, but I believe that basketball would have similar numbers. Measured by the number of people prepared to part with money to watch the sport, soccer and basketball are well behind real football and both forms of rugby. The TV stations are run to make profits, and they value football and rugby at a multiple of the value placed on soccer. Soccer apologists have been both patronising and insulting towards those who prefer other sports. Their dreams will remained unfulfilled for many generations.

    by michael dwyer on Jul 11, 2014 at 4:24 pm

  10. It’s the world game. Get over it

    by outside left on Jul 11, 2014 at 5:37 pm

  11. I don’t watch soccer because the low scoring means that one crooked ref’s decision is hard to overcome, and i am sick of the sooking and overacting. Matches are lost on acting skill. Look at Saurez pretending he was hurt after his bite. Look at the Dutch dives with triple pike. Humbug.

    by old greybeard on Jul 11, 2014 at 7:28 pm

  12. Ziut alores - what complete rubbish. What rioting has there been in Brazil due to their loss? What utter crap. There have been no riots in the UK related to soccer in decades. The hoolaganism that occurred in the 80s was a product of the social disorder that existed in Thatcher-era recession-ridden England. It may be a good idea to know what you’re talking about before criticising a sport you obviously know nothing about.

    by michael ruggiero on Jul 11, 2014 at 9:12 pm

  13. Michael R, so the Aljazeera report of 20 buses being set alight by angered soccer fans in Sao Paolo is wrong?

    by zut alors on Jul 11, 2014 at 9:36 pm

  14. Zut, reports I’ve read have been of as many as 20 buses parked in a garage being set alight, to the Daily Mail reporting 1 bus. The Guardian reported nothing happening at all. In any event, it wouldn’t surprise me. It happens. But it doesn’t only happen in soccer. Of course it’s used as an easy criticism of the game by those who are totally ignorant of it and don’t care for it in the first place.

    I have been following AFL for a few decades. I’ve been to literally hundreds of games. There have been fights there as well. I’ve seen violent clashes in car parks that were broken up by police that went totally unreported. But it only happens in soccer, eh?

    by michael ruggiero on Jul 11, 2014 at 10:14 pm

  15. None of you pussies have cried ‘PENALTY!!”. Says a lot

    by glazedham on Jul 12, 2014 at 1:47 am

  16. Soccer may be the world game, but just look at the countries that play it really seriously. The problem with soccer is that there is very little real violence on the field and it is extremely frustrating to watch. This leads to ugly spectator violence and unnecessary national rivalry.
    Rugby on the other hand brings people together. A few beers and a laugh after sticking your finger up a mates bottom just brings smiles and happiness.

    by The Old Bill on Jul 12, 2014 at 9:29 am

  17. Well, Bill,
    All the rugby playing nations except New Zealand have another dominant code for the riff raff to support.

    Hey! maybe a social science research team could study why NZ rugby doesn’t have a violent riff raff!

    Bigger goals etc. are ideas put forward by Americans and followers of other codes who don’t understand the tension and painful anticipation that soccer produces. Just look at what the fans are going through on the terraces in the last 15 minutes of a close world cup game.

    If you watched the Soceroo’s penalty shoot out against Uruguay to qualify for 2006, or watch the whole game against Japan in Germany, you’ll get a flavour of what I mean.

    In that Japan game, the Japanese went 1 up through a dubious goal where Schwartzer was obstructed and 9 out of 10 refs would have given Australia a free kick. We were winding down to the last 15 minutes when up popped Cahill for 2 and Aloisi for 1 and we won 3:1.

    Now to all you AFL League Union types. If you got up and watched the highlights package, rather than watch the whole game, you would not experience the gnawing stomach pain as the clock ticks away and the result looks gone. Then suddenly, a goal. Yes those rare events that MEAN SO MUCH. Then a second goal and OZ is headed for victory.

    Anyone who lived through that game has experienced the emotions that make soccer such an addictive sport. If you just watched the goals, well, you know nothing John Snow.

    by David Hand on Jul 12, 2014 at 8:33 pm

  18. The easiest way to fix the diving problem would be to have a video review of all fouls after the game and issue post-match yellow cards to the relevant players.

    The problem would be gone in half a season.

    (And I say that as someone who really doesn’t like video refereeing at all, but I’m even more sick of diving in soccer.)

    by drsmithy on Jul 12, 2014 at 9:08 pm

  19. Nah, the only way to stop diving is for the ref to kick the shit out of any player he suspects has dived. If he gets up and runs then set the linesmen (and their Rottweilers) onto him.

    That’ll fix it in half a season… Maybe less.

    by Wobbly on Jul 13, 2014 at 7:52 pm

  20. Who gives a pinch of the proverbial? When will the airwaves be cleansed of this cretinous carnival?

    by AR on Jul 13, 2014 at 8:26 pm

  21. Hockey solved the problem (not Joe…), get rid of the off-side rule. As it stands, soccer is a kind of sensory deprived, epic of boredom, fluctuated with micro moments of tid bits.

    by Itsarort on Jul 14, 2014 at 6:31 am

  22. The Old Bill:

    Rugby union will be a park game in Oz within 20 years.

    It’s current business model has sent it broke, and is unsustainable.

    It looks like a 19th century sporting contest, and plays like one….and draws crowds like one.

    The only positive thing in rugby’s long tortuous decline, is that it gave Australia the co-founder of AFL - Tom Wills, who was a former school captain of …wait for it… Rugby School in England.

    by Kevin Herbert on Jul 14, 2014 at 7:07 pm

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