Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Hi everyone,
Today's topic is football.

As a life long football fan, it never ceases to amaze me that there are people in certain places around the world that refer to my beloved sport as ‘soccer’. The reason that they do this, is always because they have their own version of football which, mostly, has very little resemblance to football. Now before you start pointing across the Atlantic, it’s not just in the USA where they call football soccer, there are other places across the world where the noble sport of football is referred to by the wrong name, and we will start this tour of mistranslation right here on my own doorstep in Croke Park, Dublin. 

The Game: 
Gaelic Football is a game where 2 teams consisting of 15 players each try to score by kicking or punching  a round ball that looks closely like a volleyball through the goal posts, and by kicking the shit out of each other. The game is most often described as a cross between football and rugby and the goal is also a cross between a football goal and a rugby goal.

                                                       As you can see here

Points are scored when the ball is kicked or punched through the goal posts, with a ball above the bar worth 1 point and a ball in the goal worth 3 points.  A game consists of two 35 minute halves. 

Where is it popular?
Ireland. And in places with large numbers of Irish migrants, but the only country where it is played at a high level is Ireland.  County Kerry is the record champion with 36 titles, followed by Dublin with 23 Championships.
Excitement level: 70%

A top level Gaelic football match is generally very good stuff to watch. It is fast, technical and there's a lot of scoring. Oh yeah, fights regularly break out on the pitch during matches.
If you're ever in Ireland during the season, go watch a game at Croke Park, it's a great experience.

How FOOTBALL is it?

50%. While most points scored from distance are kicked over the bar, the majority of passing is done by hand and a lot of points scored from close to the goal are also punched in, rather than kicked.


The Game:

Rugby is a game where 30 men with the build of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the mindset of a troop of Uruk-Hai run into each other while stamping on the opposing team with spikey boots. Perhaps not surprisingly, it's very popular in Australia.

The game as we know it now, as legend has it, was invented in 1823 when a guy named William Webb Ellis, who was playing football for a school in the town of Rugby in England, East of Birmingham decided that the rules of football were too complicated and decided to pick up the ball with his hands and transport it into the goal that way. Whenever this story pops up, officials from the International Rugby Union fall over each other to say that this is not true because their game is much older than that and in any case, Webb Ellis had nothing to do with it. It is perhaps interesting to note that those same officials, when they had to come up with a name for the Rugby World Cup, decided to name it the William Webb Ellis Cup.
In rugby, the aim of the game is to run the ball into the opponents goal area and then touch it down on the ground. This is called a Try and is worth 5 points. After scoring a try, you also get a kick at goal (the conversion) which is worth an additional 2 points. What is also interesting to know is that, in the early days of the game, a try was not worth any points. The reason for attempting to score a try was that you would then get an attempt (a try if you will) to kick at goal for a point. That's why a try is called a try.

Where is it popular?
The British Isles, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Excitement level: 75%. Rugby is a tough game for hard men. A well executed try is a joy to watch and both teams will generally keep battling until the very end. The main point of criticism that you will hear from people who aren't into rugby is that too much time is spent in human octopus situations, when up to a dozen players are on top of the ball, trying to push the other team out of the way.

How FOOTBALL is it?
30%. There are basically 3 scenarios in rugby where the ball is kicked:
- You just scored a try and are attempting a conversion
- You find yourself in an unenviable position deep in your own half, with the opposing team charging at you. There is no player from your own team nearby that you can offload the ball to so your only option is to kick the ball as far away as possible and hope it bounces out of play in the opponents' half so you can restart play from there.
- You are running out of options to play on for a try and decide to take a dropkick at goal. You won’t score a try but, hey, 3 points is better than no points.

Actually, there is a fourth scenario where kicking is involved: You are the English rugby team during the first decade of the 21st century and you play a particularly chicken dick style of rugby wherein your game plan is not even to score a try, but simply to keep the opponents at bay and play to your miracle kicker Johnny Wilkinson so he can score 3 points from a dropgoal. Who needs a try when you can have Johnny boy kick 7 or 8 dropgoals each game? 


The Game:
In American Football, two teams of 11 players play on a pitch that is about as long as a normal football pitch, but slightly narrower. The aim of the game is for the attacking team to advance an oval bar 10 yards in 4 attempts (‘downs’). If the attacking team succeeds, they are rewarded another set of 4 downs to advance 10 yards, and so on. The goal of the defending team is to shove the attacking team so far under the surface that they can tell them what the weather is like in China by the time they are dug up again. When the team in offense manage to get the ball to the end zone of the defending team, a Touch Down is scored, worth 6 points. The scoring team then gets an attempt to kick the ball between the goal posts for another point. In rare situations, teams can choose not to take the kick, but to try and score another touchdown from their last position, which is then worth 2 points. This play is commonly known as the ‘2 point conversion’ (No shit) and is generally only played if the clock is running out and the team that just scored a touchdown needs 2 extra points to tie or win the game.  The game originally evolved from rugby in the colonial days, with the major distinction that the rugby rule of ‘Thou shalt not go forward’ was so against American nature that they eliminated it very soon.  The game moved on from there.

Critics of the game always point out the start-stop nature of the game and the fact that a 60 minute game takes over 3 hours to finish. While this is undoubdtedly true, this is simply the nature of the game. American Football is a very tactical game, that requires tweaking of the combat plan after every play.
The NFL (National Football League) is the most popular league in America and the season’s final (The Superbowl) is one of the best watched sporting events on the calendar, world wide.

Where is it popular?
The USA, though interest is on the rise in Europe, especially in Ireland, Great Britain and Germany.  Rumors suggest that the NFL is considering starting or relocating a franchise in London or Frankfurt but, believe me, this will not happen. (I’ll explain why in a later story, so hold that thought).

Excitement level:  90%. American Football is spectacular in every facet of the game.
If you can’t get your head around the tactical start-stop nature of the game, you may not share this opinion.

How FOOTBALL is it?
20%.  Like in rugby, kicking only happens after a scoring play, or if a team finds themselves caught in a corner with no obvious way out. Or, ofcourse, if you need 3 points with only a couple of seconds remaining in the game.

The Game:
The funny thing here is that the only game that has the term ‘Rules’ in the name, seemingly has no rules in any meaningful sense of the word. 2 teams of 18 players try to remove possession of an oval ball from the opposing team. If the opponent does not comply, they will normally punch them in the face, pull their ears or nose or simply kick them. But preferrably punch them in the face. Games are played on cricket pitches, which may seem odd, until you realise that the game was developed in Australia’s colonial days to keep cricket players in shape during the off-season. The cricket origins of the game still show in the trait of players wanting to hit anything that comes at them. Players can move the ball by hand-passing it, kicking it to a team mate, or by punching an opponent in the face.
That’s pretty much it, as far as the rules go. 

Oh, wait, the scoring system! 
As you can see here:

a goal consists of 2 tall goal posts and 2 slightly shorter ones on the outside. If you manage to kick the ball in between the 2 tall posts without somebody punching you in the face, that is called a goal and worth 6 points. If your shot ends up between a tall post and a shorter one, arguably because your aim was off as a result of one of your opponents punching you in the face,  that is called a behind and worth 1 point.  In the early days of the game, additional points were awarded for punching an opponent in the face, but when the sports regulatory body realised that this would necessitate 5 digit score boards, the idea was dropped. [Citation needed]

Where is it popular?
Australia. And places were a lot of Australian people live, which basically means London.

Excitement level: 
80%. Australian Rules Football is a very energetic game, with lots of scoring and played at a murderous pace.
90% if you’re into mixed martial arts.
100% if you’re from Melbourne.

How FOOTBALL is it?
60%. Perhaps because of the huge pitches, transfer of the ball happens mostly through kicking. Points from distance are always kicked, as are most scores from closer to the goal. Still, a lot of handpassing goes on when approaching the goal posts, to create fast-paced ball movement to confuse the defending team, and avoid a punch in the face.

So, while all of these games are great to watch, none of them deserve the name football as football does. Football is the only game where ball movement and scoring is only allowed by using your feet (okay, and your head).  Fans of the games mentioned above often have 2 main points of criticism towards football:
-       -    Football is boring because very few goals are scored.

While it is true that in a lot of football games only 3 or less goals are scored during a game, there are some obvious reasons for this. First of all, football is the only one of these games where there is only one way of scoring points.  All the other games have at least 2 ways of scoring. Then on top of that, football goals are small. Sure, a gaelic football goal is the same size, but then you have the goal posts that you can kick between from 30 or 40 yards out and there is not a goal keeper that can do anything about it if the ball is 15 feet up in the air. The same thing goes for Aussie Rules, rugby and American football- you can take pot shots at goal from half way up the pitch and there’s not a thing anything anybody can do about it, guaranteeing that you can rack up points from distance. You can put Shaquille O’Neal in front of the goal posts, but even he would need a considerably tall stepladder to have any chance of blocking the high shots. Then, ofcourse,  in American Football and rugby, the entire width of the pitch is the goal, which makes it easier to get a point in. 

-          - Football games always end in a draw.
It is true that draws occur often in football. And again, there are reasons why that doesn’t happen as often, or even at all, in the other games. First, all American sports simply play overtime until there is a winner, thus eliminating even the possibility of a draw. I watched a hockey game just last week, and instead of the normal 3x20 minutes game, it turned into a triple overtime spectacle that lasted until 5.50 in the morning. With the 3 overtime periods, the teams had effectively played 2 entire games in a row. Eventually, some player will lose focus and let in a goal.  Baseball games, too, regularly have 3 or 4 extra innings, and they will simply play on until one of the teams end an inning with a higher points total than the opponent.  Apart from that, all the other games have different value scoring opportunities. In Aussie rules, you can score 1 or 6 points on each attempt. In gaelic football, you can score 1 or 3 points. American football gives you the opportunity to score 6, 1, 2 or 3 points at the various scoring scenarios. In football, no matter how you score, it is always worth 1 point. You can make the goal of the season, score an overhead bicycle kick from the 18 yard line, after doing 2 cartwheels while jumping through a burning hoop, you will still only get 1 point. It is obvious that in such a set up, a draw is much more likely to happen than in a game where every way of scoring gives you a different number of points.
Finally, the criticism on diving football players is justified. Every football supporter I know hates it. Nearly every football fan I know is in favour of video refs to decide on divers, off-side goals and other things that are hard to catch during the game. However, unlike in pretty much every other major sport, the powers that be keep delaying decisions on this matter. 
In the end, you can simply kill off all criticism on our sport with one simple reply:

1 comment:

  1. Too right, football is football, not gridiron, rugby, or ovalball.
    The 2014 World Cup is on now. That's the FOOTBALL World Cup by the way.