Sunday, 21 August 2016

Congratulations to Brazil for winning the gold medal in men's soccer. I guess.

--Soccer is all kinds of crap, a risible Theatre of the Absurd that stretches over an interminable hour and half, plus impenetrable ‘ínjury time’. Except that now the ‘strategy’ is not to play for that 90 minutes, no, now the highest expression of this slow-motion debacle of a sport is to not play and ‘draw’, and to not play for the additional ‘extra time’ also, until the standstill can stand no more and we go to penalties, when I’m told it’s high drama to see which will be the idiot who misses the broad side of a barn with the ball and loses the game for his team with this unconscionable gaffe.

Which really stumps me, because Ma Tante Gertrude could score on a penalty kick, and she’s passed away ten years ago. The net is the size of a shipping container, and you’re like ten feet away. And the goalie isn’t even supposed to move until the shooter touches the ball.

Of course, because this is soccer, the goalies do move before they should, but it’s tolerated, because soccer is an unending charade of cheating and lying and twisting the rules and faking and pretending that we don’t know that everyone is exaggerating and cheating and lying, and if a player isn’t diving and grabassing and hystrionicing he’s not trying to win hard enough. Or rather, not trying to nil-nil to extra time hard enough.

--I’m watching Poland play Germany at handball right now. When two players were involved in a collision, over and above what is allowable in the normal course of play, one of them was given a yellow card and removed from the surface of play for two minutes, like in hockey, and his team had to play one man short.

And because the other player stayed on the court for a few moments, and had to be attended to by the team’s medical staff, he also had to leave the playing surface. The play-by-play man told the home audience that since the player stayed down, and caused a delay in the game’s resumption, he had to sit out three attacks, or three possessions of his team.

Kind of like how Brendan Gallagher explained how, when he was a kid, he might have laid it on a little thick once during a game, when struck by an opponent, to draw a penalty in his team’s favour. He retreated to his bench haltingly, the coaches/trainers jumped out to assist him. Once things were sorted out by the refs, he tried to jump on the ice to take part in the powerplay.

Except his coach grabbed the back of his jersey and held him back, had him sit out three shifts while he ‘recuperated’. Brendan knew of this rule, it was an internal checks-and-balances thing they had, a Don Cherry-certified policy to Brad Marchand-proof a team, ensure it plays the right way, like good Canadian kids.  So he had to sit and stew and wait, and vow he'd never do that again.  And grow up to tell the tale as a never-quit professional hockey player.

So it appears that the biggest difference between soccer and handball isn’t merely the proscription of the use of hands in one sport, it’s the fact that in handball the first thing to occur at the start of a match isn’t for everyone, the players, the refs, the fans, the hangers-on, the press, the broadcasters, to stick their heads up their own and each other’s rectums.

--In handball, when a team’s players pass the ball to each other a few too many times, when they hold the ball too long without truly making an attack, the ref signals a ‘passive play’ infraction.
Passive Play: It is illegal to keep the ball in a team’s possession without making a recognizable attempt to attack and to try to score. In other words, a team cannot stall (free-throw awarded to the other team).
There you go. An easy fix to one of the top twenty-five most egregiously wrong things to do with soccer.

--I learned a lot of what I know of soccer as a kid, watching our new team in the North American Soccer League, le Manic de Montréal.  They were shiny and new and exciting, and like the repulsive little joiner that I was, I adopted the team and watched them on TV and read everything I could about them in La Presse and begged my father to take me to see them play at the Olympic Stadium, who'd noncommittally snort a "We'll see" at me in response.

I remember a few things, Gordon Hill, Thompson Usiyan.  I remember the latter having his mind blown at his first sight of snow, making a snowball with a huge grin on his face, pictured on the front page of La Presse's sports section.

One of the things I absorbed was how teams played different styles, different systems, and how that was reflected most obviously in how they are distributed on the field.  Most teams played a 3-4-3, with three forwards, four midfielders and three defenders.  Some exciting teams out there, and I hoped Le Manic would be one of them, played a 4-3-3.  That's what Les Canadiens would do, isn't it?  Send Richard and Lafleur and Béliveau and Geoffrion out there to swarm the opposition net, and the job of the Robinsons and Lapointes and Savards would be to get the ball upfield quickly and feed them the puck ball?  And sure enough, there were some boring teams out there who played a 3-3-4, and their rosters were probably filled with Mike Houghs and Tiger Williamses.

So armed with this ancient knowledge, and since the feed popped up on my screen without the remote in my hand, thumb ready to hit 'Previous Channel', and because I'm nothing if not open-minded, I started to watch one of the elimination games of the Women's tournament.  It was the kickoff of the 'extra time', the teams were tied.  "Overtime," I thought, "should be exciting."  I'm one of those idiots who hopes for the best.

On my screen, one team, I'm not sure which one, it might have even been the Canadian team in one of their games, was arrayed in a 1-5-4.  With the score tied, in OT of a game that led to a medal game.  The five midfielders were rigidly in line, as if they were impaled on a foosball rod, they shifted as a unit, with the exact distance between each other maintained, the line as straight as if it were maintained by laser guide.  They were of course well well back from the opposite team and the ball, which was being listlessly tapped back and forth, from side to side.  The one forward trotted back and forth, back and forth from side to side, with a metronomic and futile fastidiousness.

I didn't watch more than a minute of this putrid pantomime before I found my remote and some track and field on another channel.

--Having said that, it was great to see Brazil win the gold medal, the outpouring of emotion in the stands after this baffling non-spectacle ended in the favour of the local fans was great to see. That mom kissing her son in a sea of yellow just tugged at the heart strings. If they felt half as good as we did when Sydney scored the golden goal in Vancouver in 2010, it will be an unforgettable memory for all of Brazil, and a win for everyone, not just the moneyed élites.


--Men’s volleyball gold medal game going on right now, between sentimental favourites Brazil and Italy, on TSN 2.

You know, both teams are trying and playing hard, they’re sweating, they’re working with desperation and determination, and their concern isn’t on their coiffures. They’re working as a team, they’re exhorting each other and congratulating themselves, even if they lose a point, instead of bickering and gesticulating at each other and fighting among themselves.

The game is a spectacular display of skill and power, no one is trotting around at half speed.

When the ball goes out of bounds, there’s no kabuki about who’ll take the corner or throw in the ball, and no grade-school pushing and whining about who gets to stand where, with open-palmed overemotional appeals to the ref.

When a close call occurs, one team will appeal the ruling, without surrounding the referee and hyping themselves into a telenovela of demonstration and vendetta. Instead, they resort to a video replay, there’s an objective result in less than a minute, and play resumes.

Each team gets a turn defending, and if they’re successful, they immediately go on the attack and the other team defends furiously, back and forth.

Everyone should give it a watch.


  1. Un Canadien Errant here, you sound both envious and racist.
    I never expected that from you.

  2. How do you figure?