Soccer versus football and how to fall over properly in the World Cup

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Who’s enjoying the FIFA World Cup? I find the games oddly relaxing. The field is green, the crowd is sonorous and the flow of action is soothing to watch. It’s an ocean of play that ebbs and flows and crashes with occasional excitement against the goal posts.

Just to clear this up from the start, I use the words soccer and football interchangeably. I know some people get a bit snooty about it, as though the difference really matters, but I grew up playing soccer and I turned out fine.

The word soccer originated in England back in the 19th century when rugby and soccer were called rugby football and association football. The nicknames for each became “rugger” and “soccer”, soccer being derived from the awkwardly shortened “assoc football”.

Rugger and soccer. One name stuck, the other didn’t. Probably a good thing because rugger sounds less like a sport and more like something uncomfortable. Either way, soccer is a legitimate nickname for the most popular sport in the world.

My 8 year old started soccer this year. He loves it. For several years I tried to hide the existence of Saturday morning sport from him because, well, it’s Saturday and I’d rather read a book or go surfing. But it’s worth the effort to watch those little shin-pad-clad legs scampering gleefully after the ball each week.

The FIFA World Cup is timely for our family. We’re learning a lot of good lessons about how proper football should be played. Like, whenever you trip over it’s very important to look aggrieved.

There’s apparently quite an art to falling over in football. You need to make it appear that the most egregious crime in the history of gentlemanly sport has been committed against you. If someone trips you, either accidentally or on purpose, be sure to punish them by having a grizzle on the grass for at least a minute.

The off side rule has confused us a few times because in my son’s junior soccer rules there are no off sides. Junior soccer is five-a-side with no goalies.

For the record, I was the most feared goalie in the Taupo under-12s. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. A friend once told me that his team used to say “oh no, Marcel’s in goal” whenever they faced us at Saturday morning games.

It’s quite hilarious to think that anyone was ever in awe of my junior goal-keeping skills because at that age I was not much bigger than the ball, let alone those giant wooden goal posts.

I only recall saving two goals. One I saved entirely by accident with my face and went off crying with a bleeding nose. The other was a real cracker, a heroic dive to the left, my arm outstretched, just managing to tap the ball out for a corner. It was the greatest save I had ever seen in real life. Enough to give me a proper reputation for a little while. Hey, I’ll take it.

I stopped playing soccer when I reached the grade where they let you head the ball. I was very small for my age and heading the ball struck me as an unnecessarily painful part of the game.

It’s great to watch though. That header by van Persie where Netherlands beat Spain. Wow. At that point in the match I decided I was cheering for Netherlands.

I’m not particularly invested in any one team so part of the fun is deciding who to support by the end of each match. It’s a relaxing way to enjoy the thrills of world cup soccer. Or football. Whatever. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s that fabulous FIFA thing. Watch, enjoy, and if you play it make sure you fall over in style.


First published in Bay of Plenty Times 20 June 2014. Reproduced with permission.