WARNING: This is not one of my regular blogs, amigos!

What it is, is a serious appeal for help; a plea for help addressed to my soccer-loving acquaintances in particular, and to anyone else who understands the game of soccer in general.

For well over sixty years, I have managed to avoid all things related to soccer. This was with one notable exception when a teenager who went on to play in goal for England for many years, and also for some northern soccer club, was in the school team I “coached”.

David James. I taught him everything he knows … about rugby

But now I need help to understand the game. Not, of course, the game… because the rules of the game could be explained to a retarded alien in under three nanoseconds. What I need help with, dear soccer aficionado, is an understanding of the culture of the game.  

I know… I know, I should call it “football’ so as not to offend the political correctness of those who love the game, but I would point out the soccer is officially known as Association Football, and consequently is but one variant of games within the “football family”.

When William Webb Ellis finally saw the pointlessness of kicking a bag of air around a muddy field at Rugby school, and picked the thing up and ran with it, he gave birth to a sensible variant, and the one I prefer.

It matters not, because now I have been coerced into watching Barcelona play at least once a week as my wife appears to be in love with Robert Lewandowski.

And that’s not a bad thing – she could be in love with one of the other overpaid morons who roll around the pitch, blubbing and hugging their tattoos while telling the referee that his daughter will be kidnapped and sold into slavery by their minders if he doesn’t award a free kick against the thug who knocked their Alice band off.

I happen to like Robert Lewandowski; he seems like a thoroughly nice chap.

And he’s certainly worked out how to make a decent income from minimal effort because he wanders around a small area of the pitch, doing virtually nothing other than whistling a Polish folk song for 88 minutes. And during the other two minutes, the ball arrives at his feet or at his head, and he directs into the opposition goal. And the best thing about it is that he doesn’t celebrate with a somersault or by diving on top of his teammates, or by taking off his shirt; he just glances at the camera with a self-deprecating, bemused look as if to say, “did I just do that?”

Roberto… a gentleman on the field and off it.

I like him almost as much as I liked George Best, but for very different reasons, so I consider it perfectly reasonable for my wife to be in love with him.

I digress.

Let’s get back to what I need to know about soccer.

Question No1: why do the crowd whistle all the time? I know that this is part of the cultural battery-chicken mentality that accompanies watching soccer… but seriously, why do they do it?

Besides which, even I can work out that all he’s telling his players to do is to score more goals because that way he will not get sacked and they will get more money.

Question No2: I understand that the manager, or coach or whatever he’s called, is allowed to patrol an area by the side of the pitch and shout at his players. But does anyone – other than the television cameras – take the slightest notice of what he’s instructing his players to do? During my fairly brief (but stellar) rugby career, the last thing I would focus on was some suited moron on the touchline yelling instructions at me. Besides which, even I can work out that all he’s telling his players to do is to score more goals because that way he will not get sacked and they will get more money.

“Go that way… I’ll get more money!”

Question No3: Why does soccer need an offside law? This, to be fair, was a question my wife asked, because she has a better understanding of the offside law than I have. But she has a point: retract the offside rule and Robert Lewandowski can spend 88 minutes chatting to the opposition goalkeeper, which will vastly improve his Spanish, before guiding the ball to the back of the net.

So those are my key questions; there are others, of course, but as the culture of rugby is threatening to morph into soccer – which all began, in my opinion, when someone referred to a changing room as a “dressing room” – I won’t even touch on the subject of tattoos and ridiculous hair styles.

Finally, I do, however, have a few suggestions as to how the game of soccer might be improved.

No1: Elevate the yellow card to the same status as in rugby. If a player fails to call the referee “sir” – let alone question one of his decisions, he should be sent to the sin bin for ten minutes. And because being reduced to ten players would create greater inconvenience than bring reduced to fourteen, soccer players might learn not to dive, blubber in the referee’s face, and follow him around the pitch, gesticulating and threatening him. They might even learn something that used to be called “manners”.

No2: A rule should be introduced to prevent players passing the ball back into their own half. This would speed up the game immeasurably and make it much more entertaining.

No3: Other than in the case of an injury confirmed by a doctor, get rid of substitutes – I would apply this to rugby as well.

No4: Remove the manager, coach or whatever he’s called from the touchline. If he wants to yell things about money to his players, let him do it from the stand, like everyone else. And because he won’t attract the attention of the television cameras, there will be no need for him to wear a suit.

No4: There should be no draws. After 90 minutes has elapsed, one player from each team should be removed from the contest every five minutes until one team scores. Spain is arguably the country in which soccer has the greatest following, and you’ll never find a draw in a bull fight, will you?

I could go on, but as some of my other suggestions might be considered to lack the gravitas of the above, I’ll leave it there.

So… answers to questions 1,2 and 3 on a postcard please, or leave a comment at the end of this blog.

Hasta pronto, chic@s!

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  1. malcolm fitter says:

    I am afraid amigo you musing on the beautiful game is akin to Malcolm Hall auditioning for the Bolshoi Ballet. You can try but the result is ugly. I could answer your questions but I am of the belief that your egg shaped brain would be unable to cope with the pure bounce of the ball and i would respectfully suggest that you continue to watch with your wife who no doubt will educate you as the rules laws and nuances of the greatest sport ever invented by human beings

    • Richard Grainger says:

      I thought Malcolm Hall was quite good at ballet … oh no … that was punching people. I think my uncharacteristic love affair with the overpaid game will be a short one.

  2. David says:

    11 years now you have been doing this blog.
    Fairplay, that is consistency and stamina!

  3. Cec says:

    Hola, you know me mate, can’t resist dipping my toe in the water. Have to actually agree with you on a few of your points. Whistling, they are expressing their displeasure at what they see on the field, it’s a relative of booing. Agree on managers on the sidelines and abuse of refs. A yellow card like rugby won’t work as teams will simply shut up shop for 10 minutes, especially if they are winning. I won’t waste time explaining why no offside will not work. It’s pretty obvious. The suggestion about not being able to pass back won’t work either. The no-draw suggestion had me rolling in the aisles. The one thing they should do is have an independent timekeeper with the clock stopping for an injury a la rugby. That’s a must for me. Salud.

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