Not all of you are totally as one with what football and the World Cup is all about. For those who could be accurately described as soccer ignoramuses to get the most out of their World Cup viewing, here is some sort of non-essential 10-point guide to what they call The Beautiful Game…
1. “Soccer” is really football. Well, this is what it is called in Britain, where the game originated, but that confused the Americans because they already had American football (grid-iron, that game they play while wearing spacesuits). So they renamed it “sarker” (ie soccer, which is an abbreviation of “Association Football”, the official British name given to distinguish football from Rugby Football which, as everyone at the Stanford Arms on a Saturday evening knows, is rugby, or “ruckby” in Afrikaans). It’s fine if you are confused… because we all are!
2. There is a saying, attributed to “a certain Chancellor of Cambridge University” and quoted in the Times of London on January 30, 1953, which goes… “Football (soccer) is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen”. This appears to be generally true although it perhaps should now be updated to “Football (soccer) is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen, apart from Bakkies Botha”. Rugby fans could also be forgiven for changing this to “Soccer is a wussy game played by sissies” due to the over-the-top rolling around in “extreme agony” executed by soccer players when they recognise the opportunity to get an opponent cautioned (yellow carded) or even sent off (red carded) after any decent tackle which is unlikely to even result in the tackled player receiving the slightest bruise.
3. OK. Time for some other basic rules. Football used to be played between two teams each consisting of 11 on-field players, a couple of substitutes (who replaced an on-field player if he died) and a manager who would do all the coaching of the players. It is now played by two teams consisting of 11 on-field players, at least five substitutes (who come on to replace a player if he is bleeding in any way or if he has picked up a bruise or if he is feeling tired and feels like a sip of Energade or if his hairstyle has been spoilt or if time needs to be wasted towards the end of the 90 minutes to ensure a draw or a win), a manager, several coaches (goalkeeping, defensive, attacking and general method acting), a psychotherapist, a specialist dietician and a small army of hairdressers. Plus a whole bunch of other hangers-on who I’m not going to bother telling you about.
4. Right. Now the whole point of a game is for one of the 10 out-field players (the goalkeeper, who wears a different colour jersey, generally stays in the goals to try to stop the other team from scoring) to whack the ball using any part of his body apart from his hands into the opposing team’s goal. This is called a goal. And you need to score more of them than the other team to win. If both teams score the same number of goals (eg. 1-1, 2-2 etc) after the “normal period” of 90 minutes, then the match, if is part of a knock-out competition such as the World Cup (apart from the group games), goes to extra-time (two halves of 15 minutes) and if, after that, it is still a draw, a penalty shoot-out ensues. This is a reasonably modern addition to the game to stop a replay having to take place and to indulge the modern fan’s predilection for instant gratification.
5. Fine. Still with me? Good! OK. Player formations. This was very simple back in the day. There was the goalkeeper (who wore No 1 on his back), two full-backs (No’s 2 and 3), a centre-back (No 5), two wing-halves (No’s 4 & 6) and, up front, there was a right-wing (7), inside-right (8), centre-forward (9), inside-left (10) and left-wing (11). Nice and simple, hey? Today, of course, we need it to be more complicated. The goalkeeper has stayed the same and generally wears No 1 on his back but coaches like to, depending on whether the team is playing at home or away and who they are playing against, use a variety of formations: 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers), 4-3-3, 5-3-2 or, in the case of Inter Milan’s semi-final second leg against Barcelona in this year’s Champions League (in which they were defending a 3-1 lead away from home) 9-0-1 (nine defenders and one very bored striker). With the amount of money at stake these days, it’s win at all costs, bru. Or get sacked.
6. Talking of money, which we know makes our greedy world go round and certainly makes the very professional round-ball game go round and round, we now get to the really important facts. Top-level players in the English Premier League get paid between 50 and 150 thousand pounds sterling a week. By their clubs. For playing football. Yes. That averages out at about R1.4 million a week. Can you imagine being 25, being of below average intelligence and coining it like that? That’s why many pro footballers get into trouble. After they’ve bought the mansion, the Aston Martin, the Lamborghini and the gold-plated Playstation, they often start spending the rest on naughty things, get caught out by a tabloid newspaper, have to explain their behaviour to their girlfriends and mummies and become even more famous. And then they carry on playing football, become even more famous and get paid more money. Nice work if you can get it, hey?
7. Because these players earn so much dosh for doing so little and become so famous, they usually only date topless models and then marry fully clothed models and dodgy pop singers. Yes, like Victoria Beckham (formerly Posh Spice). Even if you know nothing about football, you will know about this phenomenon. WAGs (or Wives And Girlfriends). Then famous footballer and famous wife “endorse” all sorts of washing-up products, shampoos and budgie cages and become even more wealthy and famous. And this is because many among us like to watch Gossip TV, read OK! Magazine and believe all the dross put out by agents and ad agencies who live similar lifestyles. I’m not at all jealous. No, really. But I digress… back to football.
8. By the time you read this, there will be less than two weeks to go before the World Cup opening ceremony at our magnificent Soccer City Stadium in Jo’burg. It’s a great shame that it is not called Nelson Mandela Stadium instead of being made to sound like a giant shopping mall selling only footballs. But there’s nothing you and I can do about that. What we can do is choose to embrace the 2010 World Cup being held in our beautiful country or not. It’s up to you. Unless you live here in Stanford, our tranquil oasis, and don’t buy newspapers or switch on the TV for a month. In which case life will continue pretty much as normal. But I urge you to take an interest in the most wonderful thing to ever happen to us. Buy a Bafana Bafana jersey (make sure it’s not a fake), blow a vuvuzela (but not after 10pm at night and certainly nowhere near the Arts Cafe where you’ll only upset the cappucino crowd) and at least attend the local soccer tournament being held on the village green on June 11. It’s going to be a lekker jol.
9. There will be 32 nations represented at this World Cup. They include Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina (who take turns to win it) and countries such as Honduras (somewhere in South America), Slovenia (which used to be part of another country and is somewhere in the Balkans) and the USA (which used to be restricted to North America but now seems to be everywhere). The 32 squads are split into eight groups of four. The top two teams in each group after the group games go through to the last 16 and start the knock-out phase until two teams are left to contest the final on July 11. I exhort you to be patriotic and support Bafana Bafana (which translates into “The Boys” in English) but you’d be delusional to expect them to make the final. But we live in hope. And we South Africans are better at living in hope than winning really important international soccer matches. So you never know.
10. OK. Please focus. This is the most important thing about the World Cup. I’m really sorry about all those locals who got really excited and turned their homes into guesthouses for one month of football in the hope of making a quick buck and becoming as rich as Wayne Rooney. It was never going to happen. And it won’t. Football fans the world over are generally working-class and won’t spend much on anything other than alcohol, take-aways and riotous visits to various brothels. They’d rather sleep on a park bench and have more cash to spend on beer the next day. No, the “Big Win” for South Africa will come in a couple of years’ time when those billions of wealthier people all over the planet, after watching South Africa show off it’s natural splendour and human warmth during the World Cup, might decide to take their holidays here. And bring aircraft carrier-loads of dosh to throw at game parks, hotels, wine estates, restaurants and fancy shops. So the real spin-offs will be felt in years to come. So much to look forward to. Be patient. Just as well we South Africans are good at doing that too, hey?
*This article was originally commissioned by Stanford River Talk, the excellent community newspaper for the ridiculously beautiful village of Stanford in the Western Cape, and appears in its June issue