Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tick, Tock: A (Mostly) English Soccer Primer

As the resident soccer expert here (cough!), I can empathize with little brother and his state of perplexity regarding the World's Game, i.e. soccer, nee football, aka footie, aka futbol.

I, too, was once a heathen unbeliever. I had the same experience that Robert T had regarding The Beautiful Game. We played it exactly once in high school gym class, knowing only that we could not pick it up unless we were the goalie (we think!). We did not know that you could actually pick the ball up for a throw-in after it went out-of-bounds, mainly because we were not given any out-of-bounds indicators.

We believed soccer was what those stupid Europeans did because they did not know how to play "real" football, aka "pointyball" to the soccer snobs. Little did we know that the South americans, Africans, Asians, and virtually every other country also played this game!

I started to become more aware of it through my children, as each one wanted to play since all their friends did. They started at the rec level, and progressed through to the club/travel teams. Also along the way they played indoor soccer, sort of hockey without sticks and skates, but with much more scoring than outdoor soccer. And hockey.

A professional soccer match is 90 minutes, more but not less, with each half being 45 minutes or thereabouts. Robert T's main concern is the "untimed" nature of the game, as he sees it. That quirk only exists at the professional level. At all other levels the clock is stopped for injuries, goals, and disciplinary actions (red or yellow cards). The game then resumes upon the official's signal, "and away we go", to quote Jackie Gleason (research project for MegaByte).

At the professional level, all power resides in the center official (referee) to determine not only what calls are to be made (fouls, out-of-bounds, etc.) but also what calls are not to be made (attempts to draw a foul by flopping, or overruling a call by the referee's assistant (formerly: linesman).

The center official is the sole determiner of how much, if any, stoppage time is added to the end of each playing period. Stoppage time (aka extra time, but not overtime) is given for things that normally would stop the clock, such as goals, disciplinary actions, warnings about time-wasting, penalty kicks, and the like. Instead of stopping the clock the match official wears two watches in most cases. One watch keeps the running time of each period; the other is actually stopped and started by the referee as deemed necessary, which is how he determines how much time should be added. You should know that if your team is behind, the added time is never enough, and is always way too much if your team is ahead.

As to why the clock is not stopped, it does not say in the rules, excuse me, the laws of the game, as they are officially known.

If there are further delays in stoppage time, the referee may add additional time to the announced stoppage time; this is known as Added Extra Time (AET in the box score if a goal is scored or a card is given out).

If a goal is scored in stoppage time, it may be recorded in various ways in the box score, depending upon who is doing the write-up: (in the example below, Handsome Son scores a goal in stoppage time):

Handsome Son (90)


Handsome Son (93)


Handsome Son (90+3)


Handsome Son (93 AET)

The number designates the minute in which the goal was scored. If a goal comes moments before the referee is set to blow his whistle to end the match, it is reported by those wonderful wordsmiths, the British) as "Handsome Son scored a goal at the death as Arsenal shocked Manchester United 1-nil at the Emirates on Saturday."

The Emirates is the new stadium wherein Arsenal F.C. play their home matches, after many years at Highbury, a mile or so away, which is now an office and condo development.

"Nil" is the proper soccer term for a team not scoring a goal in a match; a 0-0 score is a nil-draw; a 1-1 match is a score-draw.

Various terms it is handy to know in order to make others think you know what you are about when it comes to soccer:

Draw - what we call a tie game, not to be confused with a "tie", meaning a match still to be played (Arsenal have a mouth-watering tie at Liverpool Saturday next (a week from Saturday)

Result - a win or draw ("We played hard and got a result, which is what we hoped for on the road.")

Training - soccer players do not practice, they train

Pitch - what we call the playing field

Match - what we call a game

Striker - what we call a forward, the main job of which is to score the goals

Boot - a soccer shoe, also what the Brits call the trunk of a car

Onion bag - slang term for the net, used quite often by ESPN's Tommy Smythe

Manager - what we call a coach

Chanting/singing - what the soccer fan does instead of having the type of cheerleader-directed organized cheering we are familiar with at football and basketball games; they may be directed both for an against an individual player, or toward the team as a whole. many are very, shall we say, colorful, in nature. Liverpool fans, at all matches home or away, pledge their support by singing "You'll Never Walk Alone", written by Liverpool fan Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers fame (another MegaByte research project). It is truly an amazing scene, very moving, as the entire crowd stand and sing the song. It gives me chills when I hear it, and I am not a Liverpool supporter.

The Beautiful Game - what soccer is when it is played as a free-flowing game, with skilled passing and defending and wondrous goals being scored. It is also known as being "on song" when a team does it for long periods of a match.

Cynical - a description of an outmanned team whose game plan is to bunker in on defense in an effort to contain a superior team's offense by purposeful fouling, clogging the passing lanes, and making almost no attempt to run an offense of their own. Cynical teams play for a draw and hope to get a lucky break to score and take away a 1-0 win. Scoring a goal in such a manner is called "against the run of play".

Howler - a horrendous gaffe, usually made by a goalie (keeper) that results in an opponent scoring a goal, when by all rights the keeper should have made an easy stop. Witness England's Robert Green gifting the USA an easy goal in their recent World Cup match, for which he was (rightly) excoriated by the British sporting press.

Table - the league table is what we call the standings

The Prem - the Premiership, aka the English Premier League, the top level of soccer in England, and one of the top leagues in the world

Promotion/Relegation - something virtually unknown/unexperienced by the average american sports fan: a team finishing in the top spot (or two, depending on the league) at the end of the regular season automatically qualifies to go up to the next level for the following season, as well as the winner of a playoff between the third through sixth place teams (again, depending on the league). They are thus "promoted". A team finishing at the bottom (last one to four places, depending on the league) are relegated (sent down) to the next lower division, making way for the promoted teams. At the highest level, promotion and relegation are worth millions of dollars (well, pounds sterling, to be truthful) to each team.

Fixtures - what we call the schedule

F.C. (or FC) - literally, Football Club, as in Arsenal F.C.

If you ever decide to follow an English team, the Arsenal should be your choice!

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