Sunday, December 14, 2014
There’s always interesting stories about soccer that I come across occasionally. I shared a few with you a couple years back. Here’s a new story. When the Slovenia National team came to play against the England National team, they stayed at a hotel approximately 164 feet from the Wembley Stadium entrance. The plan was to walk to the match, however UEFA insisted that the team take a bus to the event so they wouldn’t be late. There’s so much wrong with this ruling. First of all, how does riding a bus ensure timeliness by the team? If they are tardy walking to the stadium less than a soccer field away doesn’t it make sense that they would be late to the bus as well? Then there’s the factor of traffic. A huge bus cannot maneuver around obstructions on the roadway to the stadium which would most likely have started to clog with fan arrivals. I could understand insisting upon a bus if the issue were safety. UEFA might be concerned that the Slovenians would be targets of hooligans, but a line of thirty fit soccer players should be able to comfortably walk to the stadium or jog or run if late. This is an example of overthinking by officials who have abandoned common sense for adherence to rules which might seem reasonable on paper, but in the face of reality are simply ridiculous. There are plenty of examples of unusual, curious and frustrating situations in soccer. These are a few I’ve gathered recently.
At the recent World Cup in Brazil, the participating teams had some peculiar requests on behalf of their players. France insisted on liquid soap in every room rather than bar soap because apparently the French don’t use bar soap and officials were afraid players would have a problem knowing how to use the bars. This attitude belies the theory that soccer players are generally the most intelligent of athletes. Uruguay insisted that all rooms have completely silent air conditioners. I’m guessing they were provided with large buckets of ice to place in their suites. Chile required that all rooms have new TVs and new beds. Perhaps someone had gotten bed bugs during the last World Cup. Japan demanded a Jacuzzi in every room. Ecuador asked for fresh baskets of bananas in every room every day and those bananas had to come from Ecuador. Switzerland had FIFA build a beach studio from which they could broadcast interviews and recaps. This seems an odd request considering that Brazil ranks ninth in the world for the longest coastline. It would seem more reasonable to find an exterior location with a real beach and real waves crashing in the background.
Ian Wright, one of the 90s strongest strikers for Arsenal, Crystal Palace and West Ham is a Star Wars aficionado. So it made sense that when there was an open casting call for stormtroopers in the new trilogy Ian turned out. Sadly he was rejected because, as Princess Leia said in A New Hope, he was “a little short for a stormtrooper.” At 5’ 9” he was a perfect height for a player but fell two inches below the trooper requirement. To rub salt in the wound, two of his friends who accompanied him got parts. Maybe if there was a pick-up soccer game written into the film where off-duty troopers challenge one another they might want Wright on their squad. For now, he’ll have to settle for his weekly live radio show to feed his media dreams.
I’m not sure how I feel about this tidbit. Real Madrid has a genuine star in James Rodriguez who has been a tremendous shot in the arm for the franchise energizing the team both on and off the field since being signed last summer. The young pro became the most expensive Colombian player when Madrid acquired him for an 80 million euro transfer fee which was the fourth highest ever recorded. When he signed, he did so with his wife at his side. Daniela Ospina is the sister of Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina, and has been around the game since birth. Rodriguez obviously loves her for her understanding of his profession, her intelligence, her wit and her beauty. Unfortunately following the publication of photos of her at the signing, Madrid fans went on social media to call her ugly among other vile taunts. In response she underwent cosmetic surgery despite her protest that she was sorry she didn’t meet their expectations. “My priority is to meet mine.” I think it’s a sad commentary on our world that public taunting overrode the opinion of the one person she should most trust and respect. I’ve seen many women who would not fit any media ideal of beauty who is absolutely worshipped by her husband and sees herself through his eyes. We seem to be more willing to accept a dowdy, overweight balding man as the spouse of a vivacious, curvaceous, Helen of Troy woman than the other way around. I’m sorry that Ospina was so affected by the remarks of jealous, uneducated people that she willing took the risk of surgery to try to win their favor. I’m hoping Rodriguez didn’t encourage her to do this but also reinforced with her how special and beautiful she was to him both before and after the surgery.
British frustration with American sports vernacular begins with the term soccer but extends far further. When American sportscasters announce Premier League games there is often a deep schism as commentary regards descriptive phrases. For example, at Old Trafford they watch a match not a game played on a pitch not a field. For Chelsea fans it’s not uniform, it’s kit, and that kit includes boots (not cleats). The British refer to American football as gridiron which of course in the US is how we designate the field. No player in Britain takes a PK; it’s always a penalty kick. We talk about speed and across the pond they speak of pace. Skill translates to quality of play in the UK. We tend to use the sports vernacular that we have for other sports in America, so we say shut out (clean sheet), out of bounds (out of play), steal (tackle) and zero-zero (nil-nil). Upper 90s are top corner in the EPL, and match ups are man markers. In the US the home team is always listed second, while in Britain it’s the visitors. While we say “on frame” for a clean strike to the goal, Brits get confused because the frame consists of the uprights and cross bar. So on frame would be hitting the bar. Winningest absolutely clinks on the ears of an English fan who uses the grammatically correct “most successful.” With a red card Wayne Rooney is sent off not ejected. No British footballer would abbreviate locations with terms like “the six,” “the 18,” or “flags” instead of corner markers. Fouls aren’t “on” an offending player but “by” which probably creates the most confusion when English fans listen to American commentary. However, in America we risk being considered soccer snobs if we use too many of the British terms. After all we’d be totally misunderstood if we offered a brolly against the rain, asked where the lift to the office was located and use the term crisps to mean chips. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t understand my order at the McDonald’s drive-through if I asked for chips with that, although they usually don’t understand my order. Given the number of American sports that share terminology, it’s not surprising we have found our own comfortable, familiar jargon for this international sport.
Let’s end on some quick quips. A match between Spanish 1st division teams Recreativo Linense and Saladillo de Algeciras resulted in 19 red cards. Recreativo was winning 1-0 when one of their players was sent off with a red card. A brawl ensued so bad it caused the referee to flee the field for the dressing rooms where he ended up sending off nine players on each team resulting in the total of 19, a record I’m sure will stand for many years. If the match had continued it would have been two against one.
In the 1930 World Cup game between the US and Argentina, the American trainer ran on to the pitch to argue with the referee. In his anger he threw his medical bag down on the ground breaking a bottle which released the chloroform it held, rendering him unconscious. In 2011 Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli, who is one of the bad boys of the EPL, had an interesting reaction to a young fan asking for his autograph after a weekday training exercise. Balotelli challenged the boy why he wasn’t in school when he should have been, and the boy admitted that he was scared to go because he was bullied. Without hesitation, Balotelli marched the boy to school, informed the headmaster, and mediated the conflict between the lad and his aggressor.
In 2002 the highest scoring soccer game was “played” resulting in a 149-0 tally. I put played in quotations for a reason. Stade Olympique de L’emyrne felt they had unfairly lost a game due to a questionable foul in the box resulting in a successful penalty kick. So the next match whenever they received the ball they shot on their own goal in protest, racking up 149 goals for their opposition. Fans weren’t very happy and stormed ticket booths to demand their money back.
Finally file this under “out of touch.” Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, was asked in 2004 what might help invigorate women’s soccer. He responded without hesitation that players should wear more feminine clothing including briefer and tighter shorts. I’m surprised he didn’t suggest foregoing jerseys for sports bras only as well. I’m hoping the ensuing decade has brought Blatter into the 21st century, but his words and actions suggest otherwise. In Greece during a 2008 match between Astreas Tripolis and Panathinaikos, a streaker began a run across the pitch. Adrian Bastia, a midfielder with Astreas, tripped the man so he could be apprehended and then was rewarded for his actions by being sent off for violent behavior. Such is the odd and occasionally amusing world of soccer.