With the World Cup underway in South Africa, and under constant badgering from an English “mate”, I have conceded and decided to watch soccer. It has been very educational.
Soccer enjoys a tremendous following worldwide. I am beginning to understand why. Most of the world is made up of countries that couldn’t defend their Grandmother from a stiff wind. Soccer exploits this weakness.
Soccer is the ultimate equalizer. Not through competitive play. Not because a tiny nation of two million can compete with a nation of three hundred million and earn a draw. Not because politics is kept off the pitch (What the hell is a pitch anyway? Is the vacant lot where kids play soccer covered in tar?) No. Soccer is the great equalizer because the referees can make any arbitrary call they like with impunity.
First, the time keeping is a travesty. In 1884, Leon Breitling began manufacturing stopwatches in Switzerland. There is no excuse for any soccer match played from 1885 on not utilizing them. This “mystery” time added to the end of the match is so easily contrived by the officials, as to leave every match decided in that period questionable. What’s worse is how the players have learned to manipulate the refs. This arbitrary "mystery" time is responsible for the lamest tactic in any sport -- the flop. Players do this to con the referee into falsely calling a foul (another very arbitrary event in soccer based on today’s match of USA and Slovenia) and cajole extra “mystery” time into the game.
Soccer fans pay close attention. When you see a player rolling around with his hands over his face, this in not because he is in pain. He is hiding an ear-to-ear grin. He dare not risk exposing his Cheshire mug, lest the deception is revealed. What’s worse is that this practice has been exported. As more European players show up in the NBA, their youth soccer training permeates the hardwood just as it did the pitch. Thank you Vladi Divacs for bringing the soccer flop to the USA.
I understand that for many Europeans this behavior is normal and expected both on and off the pitch. In France, they deployed the soccer flop successfully on a national scale in World Wars I and II. The Germans bitch slapped Froggy to the ground. The French proceeded to roll around in the dirt until we came and ran the Germans out. Since the referees allow this in soccer and the USA indulged the flop in two wars, it is understandable that the practice goes on. We must make a stand now and say no to the flop. The NBA is considering making it a foul. PLEASE DO. And soccer follow suit.
My first exposure to “mystery” time should have been my last. Back in the EuroCup, England was beating the French one to zero (not nill, but zero which is the actual number of goals the team has). When the officials added “mystery” time, suddenly the French had a two to one win. That should have been the last soccer match I watched. But my English “mate” is very convincing. A stopwatch would have ended that game in regulation time rather than in the vortex provided by flops and fools.
Adding a stopwatch to the game opens a number of other very successful measures to prevent poor and downright corrupt officials from plying their trade.
When the clock stops, there is time to review goals like the one disallowed in today’s match between the US and Slovenia. This has been tested and proved reliable in the NHL. Soccer should take a good hard look at the NHL. This is basically the same game played by men. If these men can handle a short stoppage to make sure the calls are correct, the whiney floppers of the pitch should be able to handle it as well. Why this goal was waved off may be one of the greatest mysteries in sports history (if we can call soccer a sport).
Soccer should borrow the concept of protecting the goalie from the NHL as well. There is an English striker that should have been beaten to a bloody mess after kicking Howard last Saturday.
Critics of stopping the clock contend that it will slow down the game. The game slows down the game. Just let the referees pick a winner upfront. This will save us from watching men run around aimlessly on the pitch until the “mystery” time is sufficient for the ref’s chosen team to have taken the lead.
But my favorite game fixing technique is the whole card system. Having watched a fair share of matches, and having been a sports fan and participant my entire life, I still see no reasoning behind the cards. Sometimes a yellow is awarded when everyone thinks it should be a red. Sometimes a red when it should be a yellow. Or cards of both varieties issued when a player flops at just the right Hollywood stuntman angle in relation to the ref. And other times no card is issued at all. Consistency would be a great target here.
Unless soccer does something to remedy these deficiencies, it won’t matter how the game evolves in the USA. The officials still basically decide the matches. Perhaps Tim Donaghy should move over to FIFA. At least I can mirror his bets and make a little money on the world’s game. I mean fix.