“A little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God” — Argentine striker Maradona, June 22, 1986. Argentina 2, England 1.
Has it only been four years since Germany triumphed in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil and eight years since the vuvuzela established itself as the world’s most annoying sound in South Africa?
Indeed. The “group stage” is well underway in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where the Russians set a new bar for bribery to host the most viewed sporting event on planet Earth and at least three others in the solar system. Automobiles throughout the Greater Toronto Area are festooned with the flags of participating nations, cafes and bars are open early in the morning to welcome the fans, and some people steadfastly refuse to engage in the fun.
This column is meant for the obstinate — the soccer-hating rabble who despise the game simply because they were dateless on prom night in high school.
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I was born to immigrants from Northern Ireland, so as a young Canadian guy, I was the only kid on the block who couldn’t skate because I wasn’t involved in minor hockey.
Growing up, I was a huge hockey fan, but my parents weren’t pressured to get me in the game like today’s parents are. So I played soccer. It was relatively inexpensive and the strategy was simple: get the ball up the field and stop it from coming your way.
I was a “centre-half,” a position I believe doesn’t exist anymore since the great Soccer Reformation of 1975, when my familiarity with five up front, three in the middle, two in the back and the goalie was replaced with … um, 10 in the back and one insanely paid and very photogenic striker up front.
So based on my obviously vast experience on “the pitch,” I submit these bullet points to explain the “beautiful game” to the recalcitrant.
Soccer is entertainment — entertainment so boring that needs songs. Like a Broadway musical. In Toronto, sports fans are used to chants. “The sushi is stale!” is popular at Leaf games. “What’s a fly ball?” is common among the bandwagon jumpers at a Jays game. “Where is everybody?” is common when the Argos take the field.
In soccer it is common to welcome the other team’s fans to your stadium with cheerful songs of threatened violence, implied violence or you just skip the singing and invade the visitor’s section with whatever weapon you can fit in your hand.
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This is one of the least understood concepts since Fermat’s Last Theorem. Offside in soccer usually means one of the on-field officials has been handsomely compensated by a team to instinctively raise a flag and nullify a goal.
Since there have been only about 16 goals scored in the history of soccer, an offside will lead to lively debate over decades and has been known to start regional wars.
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Another universal mystery. Only the referee knows how much added time there is to each 45 minute half. Like a Vegas casino, there are no clocks in soccer stadiums.
All watches (and outside food) are seized from spectators. The path of the sun in the stadium is obscured. When your team is ahead and you hear the final whistle, you’ll likely to collapse in relief, wondering why you put up with this arbitrary timekeeping.
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The late Danny Gallivan was likely the greatest hockey play-by-play guy in history (A Savardian Spin-O-Rama! A scintillating shot! Man, do the Leafs suck!) but he couldn’t hold a candle to English soccer announcers.
A routine pass that doesn’t connect is “a golden moment betrayed.” A corner kick is “a set piece that could rip cosmic fabric.” A missed penalty kick is “an embolism in the circulatory system of life.”
WATCH BELOW: This commentator’s 22-second Gooooooooal! is one for the ages
I could go on, but I think you get my drift. No, I don’t follow any of the world leagues, and my “team” is always the one up against what seems to be the favourite of everyone else in the room, but there’s no reason to post your contrarian views on social media just to start a flame war. Soccer fans don’t care what you think.
For a one-month period every four years, grown men and women weep at the wins and losses like children.
And heck, it’s only four months until the puck drops.