From The Wall Street Journal ( WSJ.com ):
THE SATURDAY ESSAY
JULY 10, 2010
A Modest Proposal for Improving a Dull Game
Use your hands, dummies. Also, add body slams, get rid of useless nil-nil ties and play on an extremely steep slope. With a few modifications, soccer could become hugely popular world-wide.
By P.J. O'ROURKE
Dear International Soccer Officials, Participants and Fans,
Congratulations on a terrific World Dish or World Platter or whatever you've been having. It's very interesting, compared to curling. There's lots of falling down and a ball that's big enough for me to see on my old analog TV with converter box (which makes golf look like weed trimming and hockey appear to be two gangs of overfed, angry figure skaters).
You've got the makings of a great sport with this soccer or, as I believe you call it, "foosball." With a few modifications it could become highly popular globally.
I have one suggestion: Use your hands, dummies. Is this something that you simply forget to do? I recall from being beaten up in the schoolyard that sometimes the bully gets so involved in kicking that he fails to remember to punch too. Or is using your hands something that hasn't occurred to you? In the sport of "kick-the-can," for instance, there's no particular reason for the winning player not to run in and toss the can instead of giving it the boot. True, kicking something generally makes a more satisfying sound than throwing it (the shot put excepted). But is it worth ruining a whole athletic contest for the sake of a sound effect?
In case you hadn't noticed, the goalies on your teams use their hands all the time. Hardly anybody ever scores a goal in soccer so obviously this works. And Uruguay's Luis Suarez, who plays the position of "thwacker" or "slacker" or something, used his hands to defeat Ghana and was carried off the field in triumph. (Why a triumph over Ghana was a cause for celebration I'm not sure. Poor Ghana has been triumphed over by British, Portuguese, German, Dutch and Danish colonialists, the Kwame Nkrumah regime, a CIA-sponsored coup and at least four other coups just since the 1900s. But I guess this is a separate question from why people don't use their hands in soccer.)
Your fingers don't seem to be otherwise engaged while you're playing. I could understand the hands-off business if you were carrying an egg in a spoon down the field or if, like me when I play soccer with my kids in the backyard, you were holding a beer and a cigar. Maybe, being foreigners, you need both hands free at all times to gesticulate wildly at referees or, if you're French, at your coach. Take a tip from American basketball players and learn some dirty words.
I've also been told that in soccer it is actually against the rules to slam into an opposing player for the deliberate purpose of doing him bodily harm. Why? Anyone who's spent an hour with Dr. Freud (a hands-on fellow himself) can tell you that sport is a sublimation of fighting. That's how we got into sports, with the ancient Greek Olympic games. Every four years the Greeks would take time out from fighting to wrestle. True, soccer isn't the only sport where bodily contact is prohibited. There's croquet, tennis, most track and field events and the aforementioned golf. But think how much more lively all these sports would be if they involved late hits, full nelsons and round-house rights. Picture, if you will, contact pole-vaulting. On the other hand, imagine the deadly dullness of Nascar if no car ever crashed.
And let's talk about soccer scores. There are a few things that people all around the world need to admit to themselves. Trade restraints slow economic growth, the euro is not a reserve currency and scoreless sports ties are boring. What if there were a World Series where no team got a run? What if, during March Madness, Indiana were able to advance to the Final Four without making a basket? (Although this idea might find some support at IU lately.)
"Nil-nil" is not a sports score, "nil-nil" is a foreign policy. Judging by the many successes of the United Nations, it's a foreign policy favored by the majority of the world's foreign countries. Of course nil-nil is not an American foreign policy, or wasn't until we got a president with a suspiciously foreign name. Americans like to win. And, come on global sports fans, you like to win too. In this one respect you're all Americans at heart. So knock it off with the whole "everybody's a loser" soccer thing.
Personally, I think it has to do with World War I. Nobody could decide who had really won and everybody had to have another whole World War to figure it out. What with millions of dead and all, winning got a bad name. The Europeans, especially, just gave up on winning. I'll bet that before World War I there were soccer matches with scores of 105 to 97 or, anyway, 8 to 3. Get over it. It's just soccer. No fire bombing of Dresden is involved. Go ahead and kick (or throw) that ball into the net and win big. Hitler won't get re-elected to the Reichstag if Germany loses.
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm a soccer booster, a soccer enthusiast. Soccer is becoming more and more popular in the United States because I—like most American parents—can't do a damn thing to stop it. I have three young children enrolled in a progressive school. I attend between four and eight soccer games a week. (Vodka in my Vitaminwater helps.) There's soccer season, indoor soccer, soccer clinic, soccer day camp, soccer sleep-away camp and midnight soccer to help children from the nearby big city avoid a life of crime.
Like it or not, I've come to appreciate soccer. Any kid can play, which fits with the inclusive agenda of progressive schools. Although the corollary to any kid can play is that every kid must play because there is an iron grip to the warm hug of progressive inclusionism. Hence the vodka in my Vitaminwater. But it's good that there's a sport where kids don't need to be freakishly tall or massively strong or gifted with triathlon masochism. It's particularly good for me because I want my kids to play sports. That is, I want them out of the house so I can have the computer back. But my children possess body types best suited to contract bridge and even after 10,000 hours of computer games their hand-eye coordination is barely up to operating a light switch.
Ah-hah! Maybe that's what soccer's manual abstention is about. Perhaps foot-eye coordination is more widely distributed among humans than hand-eye coordination. This seems entirely possible. I've seen my kids poke themselves in the eye with their own thumbs. I've never seen my kids poke themselves in the eye with their toes.
Anyway, they all play soccer. I enjoy watching them run around like maniacs. It raises hope for a compliant bedtime. And I enjoy watching foreigners run around like maniacs in the World Cup and Saucer. I specifically enjoy watching the Europeans run around. Being happily married it's not that I'm hoping for any European bedtime compliance. But when I'm in Europe no one seems to be moving very fast. When I go to the Brasserie Lipp the maitre d' most certainly doesn't run to find me a place to sit down and eat. And when I am seated the waiter doesn't exactly hustle with my food. I understand that Hillary Clinton is having some of the same trouble getting Iran sanctions on the table. It's nice to see that something can build a fire under Europeans.
Naturally my children play a much more fascinating game of soccer than the Europeans and other foreigners do. For one thing my children give me someone in the game to yell at. Having once been a foreign correspondent I've given up on yelling at foreigners. They pretend not to understand. As an American I remain convinced that English, if spoken loudly enough, can be understood by anyone, but yelling doesn't affect foreigners. Yelling doesn't affect my children either, but at least I can take them home and yell at them some more in the comfort of my own kitchen, which I can't do with foreigners. "It's a ball game! You play it with a ball, not with a finger up your nose!" (This advice did not, by the way, work with the French soccer team.)
There's a lot that international soccer could learn from watching American kid soccer. If somebody's really bad at the game they get extra encouragement. So let North Korea win every so often. It might quit acting out in a plea for attention.
I wonder if international soccer coaches have considered instituting the "cluster kick." This is a popular play with my 6-year-old's team. Every player, regardless of the position that he or she is supposed to be playing, descends on the ball in a horde furiously attempting to get a leg in. It combines the most picturesque elements of rugby scrum, mosh pit and 2 a.m. brawl in an Irish pub. It is a crowd-pleaser. You never know where the ball is going to go. Frequently it goes into some distant neighbor's backyard. This would add an element of suspense to the Netherlands-Spain game.
Speaking of wayward soccer balls, have any international soccer teams tried playing indoors in a progressive school's small gym that also serves as the arts and crafts room and yoga studio? The 8-foot ceiling moves soccer into a third dimension. Parents often have to swat away for dear life with rolled-up yoga mats. And sometimes a student sculpture celebrating multicultural sustainability and made from glued-together biodegradable packaging of many nations is smashed to bits.
If the international soccer establishment is still intent, despite my warnings, on keeping scores down, it can do what our school does. When one team (invariably the visitors) gets too far ahead we quit keeping score. Usually this happens after the other side has made about 10 goals, so you could still get your score boards into double digits. A scoring moratorium keeps feelings from being hurt. And from what I've seen of your games over the past few weeks, hurt feelings abound.
There are many other ways that you could make soccer more attractive and engaging. For example, play it on an extremely steep slope. This did wonders for the luge. Remember how people were suddenly paying much more attention to luge events in the last Winter Olympics? And I know that international soccer is not at all averse to innovation. The vuvuzela is a brilliant stroke. One of my soccer-playing children is a 12-year-old girl. The sound of vuvuzelas is a huge improvement over the squeals of 12-year-old girls, let alone the Lady Gaga tunes leaking out of their ear buds.
There is, however, the possibility that the powers-that-be in international soccer have no interest in creating more excitement, that their entire aim and purpose is to increase the tedium in the sport. In that case I suggest you encourage your players to do as my daughter and her teammates do and wear their iPods throughout the game.
But I don't believe this is what you want for soccer. The purpose of sports—even foreign sports—is not to bore people. Boredom can be so easily obtained. Hunger, exhaustion from making a living and authoritarian governments that ban the fun parts of the Internet provide it free in most of the world. And here in America we just have kids and send them to progressive schools.
Soccer matches should be something special, something people eagerly look forward to, something that brightens life. You're almost there. Just use your hands, introduce some full-body blocking, expand the goal area, break up the game a little so that people have time to go to the bathroom between plays and maybe change the shape of the ball slightly so it's easier to carry. Now you've got a sport.