Soccer is now a soft ball game for sissies

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By : Bikram Vohra

It is unlikely that many children actually plan to be football referees when they grow up. Nor is it a parental ambition when grand-dad tickles the baby’s tummy and says, this one will be a World Cup ref, I can see it on his face.

I think they just happen by default or have a severely developed sense of masochism to opt for this career. Not for them the lofty perch of a tennis umpire who simply ignores the mini-tantrums of usually placid champions following a wrong call. Nor the tuxedo clad anonymity of boxing judges and the ref in a bow tie.
No one takes them on. Even hockey umpires have it good and pay no attention to passing resistance. Cricket umpires are celebs in themselves and are not even fined for making cracking poor decisions. Just a forgiving mention in the media even if their decisions wreck a match. They just look impassive and the glaring error slips into history. No one has ever fought with a badminton referee or a scorer in squash and even the happily orchestrated ref in that world wrestling circus has more command. You, name it, rugger, baseball, golf, basketball, volleyball, seen them all, the ref or umpire are like Ceasar’s wife, largely above reproach.

But a soccer ref is fair game. He can do nothing right. Almost every decision is met by a mob attack and the players are really aggressive. And with there being no fine line now (more a blur) between a genuinely foul tackle and a deliberate ‘falling down and writhing’ act, the ref is in an impossible position. He has to go by the rules (hear that Pepe) and award penalty kicks for a little pat on the back. That element of rolling over like a Ringling Brothers clown has been so pervasive in the first week of the World Cup that it is almost funny if it wasn’t for the fact that it fractures the flow of the game, ruins the pattern of play and reduces the game to a series of whistle blasts.They even fight amongst themselves like Caeroon’s Alex Song.

I cannot help but visualize a scenario in which a bunch of rugby players are watching a football game on the telly.

The conversation would go something like this when you consider the current quote doing the rounds; football is a game where players spend ninety minutes pretending they are hurt. Rugby is a game where players spend ninety minutes pretending they are not.

Why is he falling about like that, is that part of soccer?

The other guy’s ankle grazed his foot.

Look, he’s been shot, he’s holding his gut.

Not really, they just bumped each other.

And the guy dying in the corner there?

He took a dive before he could be touched.

Hmmm, interesting, and we have a ton of muscle on top of us every five yards, there he goes again, I think one guy’s hand touched the other guy’s shoulder.

That’s why he’s squirming in pain.

So much for contact sport.

The soccer fan can tar and feather me for saying this but ‘taking a dive’ is now surely an intrinsic part of training. Between long distance runs and push-ups there would probably be a class on ‘falls.’ Along with the game they teach you the grimace, the contorted face, the five rolls imitating a car going down a cliff, the sudden loss of desire in chasing the ball and going into those throes instead. After a while it is just tedious.

I have tried very hard to dredge for excitement and enthusiasm these past seven days but it is all so stodgy like rice pudding, no one is playing out of his skin. Most of them pirouette around the field making prima donnas look as helpful as the Union Co-op. The players are tentative, not prepared to take any risk, there is no flair in the matches, even the commentators seem to be at a loss for something to grasp.
Except for the sinking of the Spanish Armada and Mexico showing the courage to hold Brazil the other games remind one of the NYT review of the Marx brothers new show. It said, “The Marx Brothers ran round and the round the stage but no one knows why.”

Of course, goals will be scored. By the sheer law of averages the ball will fall loose at some stage and someone will pounce upon it and knock it into the net. But that isn’t breathtaking strategy on display, it is a loose ball, that’s all.

Hopefully, next week will be better, how much synthetic ‘this is going to be a great match, let’s stay awake’ convincing can anyone take?

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