10:47:41 pm on
Thursday 20 Jun 2024

Lament of a Soccer Nut
David Simmonds

I was born and raised as a soccer nut. I am a grateful beneficiary of the enhanced television coverage of European soccer, in Canada, for the past ten years, but I was shocked the other day. So shocked, I stood up and announced, “This is ridiculous.”

Game won on single penalty shot.

It was at the conclusion of another one-nil victory by some team or other at the women’s world cup of soccer tournament. The goal scored by way of a penalty kick, awarded for a handball and decided after lengthy consultation with the video assistant referees. This is not how soccer should play out; goals are special.

One-nil, in fact, is the most common score in A-level soccer, according to my first two internet search results. A goal, in soccer, is something to cherish, which, in turn, is why the leagues allow post-goal celebration pileups. Yet, a referee may wave off a goal if he decides the attacking team was offside.

A penalty kick can also result in a goal. A referee may award a penalty kick for a foul, such as a handball, if the foul takes place in the penalty area. Seventy-one per cent of the time, a penalty kick results in a goal. Thus, roughly seven of ten times a penalty kick means a goal, which, in turn, is likely to determine the outcome of the match, as one-nil is the most common final score in soccer.

The officials, it seems, can have a role equal to or, perhaps, larger than do in the players. Soccer rules are complex and complexity doesn’t improve judgment calls. The limits of human error are unknown.

Even with video-assisted refereeing, the decision that a defender has touched the ball with his hand is subjective. The offside rule, defined as two defensive players between the ball and goal when you are in your opponent’s half of the field, is almost impossible for a human being to get right every time. Should video assist help identify errant players?

I might add how it also drives me crazy to see seven potential substitute players sitting on the bench, fully dressed, knowing four of them will never get in the game, as the rules allow only three substitutions. The job of four players have is to sit and pout throughout the game, knowing they needn’t have bothered putting on their uniforms; knowing as well that they can make a quick getaway after the game because they won’t have to shower afterwards. It would make much more sense if soccer, as ice hockey, say, were to allow the full squad can go on and off the ice umpteen times, as long as they stick to the on-field maximum number.

More suggested rule changes.

I’d do away with headed balls or, say, that only the attacking side can head the ball in the defending team’s half of the field. The existing rules inexorably permit at least a couple of serious head collisions per game. I’d also do away with the offside rule completely or at least simplify it, so that it is like the National Hockey League (NHL) rule that requires the puck to go over the blue line first and that’s it. I’d also move the penalty kick spot back to a point at which your chance of scoring is only about 30 per cent, not 70 per cent.

I know there are purists that believe soccer is a traditional game, with traditional flaws. Purists argue that anything interrupting the flow, of the game, is negative; for example, video assistance to determine if a ball has crossed the goal line. I do agree video assistance is not the answer to the flow problem.

Still video may be part of the answer to the bigger question of how to make the outcome of so many games less dependent on the judgment of a referee and more the result of skill and teamwork. I’m not suggesting referees are biased or poorly trained; the fault lies in the rules they enforce. If soccer wants to retain its status as the people’s sport of the world, while basketball nips at its heels, it must have a major rethink of what’s good about the game and what is not working.

Who can blame Kawhi?

Speaking of basketball, does anyone really blame Kawhi Leonard for bailing on Toronto and choosing Los Angeles instead? Following a perfect season, public expectations of him were so sky high he had nowhere to go but downwards unless lightning struck twice and he somehow repeated the feat of winning it all. Better to set a different challenge. That’s enough of my ranting, for now.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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