Right now, all around the world, there’s a hum, a buzz, an undercurrent if you will. And what is the cause of this intense excitement, you might well ask. It’s World Cup Soccer. Yes, the so-called “beautiful game.” And while I like soccer to a certain extent, and have a history with it (which I’ll get to in a minute), I have to admit that watching professional international soccer can be about as exciting as watching a guy getting a haircut, if the guy getting the haircut kept falling out of the chair and crying because the air from the blowdryer was hurting his hair. But here are some of the problems with professional soccer:
1) Soccer Has An Identity Crisis
Person 1: Oh, boy! I’m going to a soccer game!
Person 2: Who’s playing?
Person 1: The Toronto Football Club against the New York Football Club.
Person 2: I thought you said you were going to a soccer game.
Person 1: Right!
This sport doesn’t even know what it is. Is it football? Because that’s what everyone outside of North America calls it. But here in North America, the soccer teams are called “football clubs” as in, you PLAY soccer FOR a football club, which is super-confusing. Apparently, the word “soccer” comes from 1800s English slang for “association football”. So if the English invented the term, why don’t THEY use it? Personally, I think it was just the Brits taking revenge on the Americans for saying Zee instead of Zed. As was the invention of American football in a tavern somewhere long ago:
1800s American Dude: So what is this football of which you speak?
1800s English Dude: Ah yes, “football”. You will need full body armour like ye knights of olde, an oval ball made from the skin of a pig slaughtered under the full moon, the mathematical skills of Pythagoras in order to understand the rules, and the ability to dance a merry jig in the “end zone”.
1800s American Dude: Cool. We’re on it.
1800s English Dude: *pounds back flagon of ale and snickers*
2) Soccer Is Very Time-Consuming
Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not a soccer-hater. I just find that “major league” soccer has turned into a game where the object is to play keep-away with a ball for 90 minutes (plus penalty time for all the guys who were writhing in agony because someone brushed against them), and you end up with a score of “nobody to f*ck-all”. It’s incredibly time-wasting. In fact, I know people who PVR soccer games, then just play them on fast forward. This is a great idea when you think about it, because then everyone is running really fast, the ball is being passed like crazy, and the whole game takes less than twenty minutes . That’s a game I can get behind. Oh wait—I’m already behind THAT game. It’s called Rugby Sevens, which is an even faster-paced version of the already phenomenal game of rugby.
3) Soccer Is So Dramatic!
The main reason I like rugby is because of the tackling. The legal kind, not the sucky, sneaky, slide-y soccer kind which doesn’t really hurt but which prompts some pretty outrageous responses . I’m sorry, but if you go down on the field crying and holding your leg and rolling around like you’re dying, you should NOT get to run back on said field 30 seconds later. You SHOULD get an Oscar. Although I recognize that faking injuries happens in rugby too, most of the time if a rugby player goes down on the field screaming and crying, he’s going straight to the hospital and might never play again. But I’ve actually seen soccer games where play is delayed while a player is carried off on a stretcher, only to have him leap up on the sidelines and run back in moments later.
By now, if you’re a true devotee of the game, you’re probably grumbling and saying to yourself, “What the hell does a middle-aged, secret agency worker know about soccer, anyway? Well, quite a bit, as it turns out, having coached it for several years. Let me tell you, there’s a big difference in the enjoyment level of any game when you have a stake in it, even if you’re staking your enjoyment on the capacity of 4 and 5 year olds to figure out how to pass a ball without tripping. Here’s how that particular phase of my life occurred: When T was 4, he wanted to play soccer. We took him to the local park for registration, and the convenor announced that there was no coach for the Super-Mini-PeeWee team, and if some parents didn’t step up and volunteer, they would have to cancel that age level. All the other parents hung their heads or started finding amazing things in the clouds, and there was T with his little face all excited, so Ken and I offered to coach the team. I hadn’t played soccer since I was a kid myself, and we had to get all the rule books and manuals and cram so that we were ready. Which, as it turns out, if you’ve ever watched 4 year-olds play soccer, was completely unnecessary. If you show a group of 4 year-olds a soccer ball, they will chase it in a large clump like a swarm of bees chasing Winnie the Pooh with his honey jar. And they will do it until they drop, despite your best efforts to come up with plays, or teach them to pass, or coerce them to stay in their position with promises of ice cream after the game. (We always bought them ice cream anyway. They were four years old—they were trying their best, dammit.)
Another thing about four year-olds, and if you know any, you’ll agree with this wholeheartedly, is that they have the attention spans of gerbils. For example, this was our team cheer:
Me: Are you ready?!
Me: 1, 2, —wait, where are you all going? No, don’t run on the field yet! You don’t know your positions! We haven’t even finished our cheer!
And if I had a dollar for every time one of my players stopped dead, bent down, picked a dandelion and ran over to give it to me, I could have bought a new whistle. But they WERE adorable little people, so I’d just tuck the dandelion behind my ear, smile and say, “Awesome! Now get back out there and kick that ball!” And if it wasn’t dandelions, it was “Look at this cool bug, Coach!” or “Can I have a Freezie yet?”
But of course the hardest part was when they would randomly start to cry, because they were little and easily forgot the point of what they were doing:
Me: Why are you crying? What happened?
Little Boy: I-I-I had-had the ball-ball, and that guy took it away from me. I NEVER get to keep the balllll! It’s not fair!
Me: Never mind, sweetie. Here, take this one. It’s ORANGE.
And then it would be MY fault that there was more than one ball on the field, but it didn’t really matter because we never actually kept score, being as there never WAS a score. In fact, if someone miraculously happened to get the ball in the net, it was a bit of a disaster, with no one being quite sure how it got in there, and the goalie crying. But as T got older, Ken and I graduated to older and older teams, until eventually we were coaching 13 year-olds who understood how the game was played, and cared about the score. And even then, it was fun, and exciting too, to see the same little girl who was plucking grass just a few years before now manoeuvering the ball to rival Beckham.
And maybe that’s the whole point. I love a game when I’m actively involved and I’m working with a group of kids who are super-enthusiastic despite their varying skill levels, but I just find sitting and watching grown men falling down and pretending to be hurt for millions of dollars a little obnoxious, which is why I prefer rugby. And what the hell do you know about rugby anyway, mydangblog? Well, once again, I coached rugby for many years, both Girls’ Varsity and Senior Boys. It was one of the true joys of my life, and it’s the one thing I absolutely miss about being a classroom teacher, aside from actually being in the classroom, which I also loved. Here are my two favourite rugby memories:
1) Holding a tackle bag during practice and having one of my huge new props come running at me, hit me hard, and knock me ass over teakettle. I lay on the ground, in pain but laughing hysterically as she rushed over almost in tears.
“Oh my god, Coach! I’m so sorry!” she said.
“No worries,” I answered. “Just do THAT on the field.”
2) At the end of my last season with the Senior Boys’, we lost the quarter final game. My captain started to cry. Not because we’d lost, but because he was graduating, and the team had been like family to him. Then more boys started crying, then I started crying because I was so proud of them for being such wonderful human beings. And they call soccer the beautiful game.
Of course, there were awkward or stressful moments, like having a referee look around totally perplexed then ask me, “So where’s the coach?” because I was the only female Senior Boys’ coach at the time, or having to take my hooker (don’t laugh—it’s a legitimate position) to the med tent to get her chin stitched up after a terrible collision in a tournament that left her with a fractured jaw. And then having to call her mother and explain what was going on. And there were funny random moments too, like having to request that the boys use the porta-a-potties, NOT the trees, or reminding players that ALL piercings, visible or otherwise, had to be removed before a game.
So, yes, I’ve done both soccer and rugby; I’ve stood on many a pitch in the pouring rain, sleet, hail, bitter winds, and gorgeous spring days alike. I’ve wiped tears, handed out lollipops, carried equipment bags, bandaged raked shins, and done concussion protocol checks. And I f*cking miss it. So we come full circle, around to where I started. I still don’t like major league soccer, but when I wake up on a Saturday morning and hear the screams of excited laughter and cheering from kids at the soccer park a block away, I smile. And then I put on TSN and watch rugby.
(Happy Anniversary, Ken–you’re the best husband a girl could ask for!)