Football is the world’s most popular and ancient sport. While the World Cup only goes back to 1930 ( and thus follows the 1893 Stanley Cup and 1903 World series but not the SuperBowl ), the sport itself dates back to prehistory. It began over 25 000 years ago as the Neanderthals weaned into extinction. Modern Cro-Magnons ( our ancestors ) took to the practice of gathering them, tying their hands for safety, and letting them kick a skull around under promise of a cup of broth as they watched. The game was called feet skull then since arms were not used the plural form giving way to the singular as the ball made its apparition. When Neanderthals disappeared totally, the Cro-Magnons were hooked and began using the dumbest of their own instead. As the Bronze Age opened however the game entered a long period of decline, especially at the time of the Roman Circus games.

During the long hiatus in popularity that ran until its re-emergence in Great-Britain circa 1800, football was played in small localities, all inventing their own rules which explains how complex these are. Important markers of that period are the invention of the ball’s design in the Middle Ages by sorcerers and alchemists evidenced by the pentagrams and hexagons that make it and the use of a rectangular flat field dating back to the pre-Renaissance jousting component of chivalry’s tournaments. The rebirth of the sport in England is as easily explained by the no hands rule, which allowed the gentlemen to drink tea as they played. In 1863, the association of schools that played football met at the Freemasons’ tavern in London and drew the modern rule book. In typical free gentlemen fashion, they simply aggregated all the existing rules from every where which also explains their complexity. But football remains an essentially simple game.


On the field above, we find :

– the Central ring, each half of which is forbidden to opposing players when a team gets a kickstart;

– the small rectangle around the goal that protects the goalkeeper as the crease does in hockey,

– the bigger rectangle around the goal within which a fault awards a penalty kick to an attacker except in South America where the culprit is immediately shot which explains why those folks learn to play defense so well;

-and the circle section atop of it which is purely decorative.


Ball rules are as simple, it should always move somewhat and players are not allowed to eat it. Movement rules are not much more complicated, no attacking player is allowed to catch the ball behind the next to last defender, a ball going out of bonds is handed ( truly handed as thrown back in by hands ) to the team other than that of the player to last touch it and the corner kick, if the ball goes behind the baseline, goes to the attacking squad.

As for fouls, the rule states that players are allowed to play the ball only. Whether a player stomps his opponent or tramples him to death in an attempt to play ball or not is left to the judgment of the referee which can award a minor penalty ( yellow card ) or a major one. The former is added over games and may change color while the latter results in immediate expulsion, the player not being supplemented or replaced! This would be simple if not for another strange rule.
Probably concerned that their gentlemanship had induced too much fairplay, the original Brits made it compulsory for football referees to have no common sense whatsoever. The players quickly took to this and, understanding that such nincompoops could easily be swayed from yellow to red, developed acting abilities that put the best Broadway or Shakespearian troops to shame. It is also rumoured that in order to alleviate cheating and referees being bought, any important decision is actually taken by a judge located in a different country than the one where the match is being held and forbidden from watching the match nor having any inkling of what football is about.   Thus, if the neophyte American sports fan is dismayed by decisions on the field during the World Cup, may they rest assured that even the most knowledgeable experts of football are just as non-plussed as they are!


Finally, there are essential cultural components to football. The German fans yell less than the rest because, being full of beer to their eyebrows, they’d spill it if they did. The Italians rarely win save by cheating but are always the best dressed team. The French always lose because the field is too narrow, heavy or green, regardless of the fact that the same goes for their rivals. The Brits do their best never to claim the Cup ( save that mishap in 1966 at home ) in return for having ( re) invented the sport and when in doubt over who’s the best or in case of a draw, the Cup is awarded to Brazil.

Also, the habit of yelling endlessly when a goal is scored, that is at the source of a well-known American boxing presenter’s ( Michael Buffer not to name him ) famous call, is to be understood in respect to a game that routinely ends in 0-0 or 0-1 scores. Of course when a Super bowl by comparison ends 45 to 41, each point is not so punctuated or the half time would be entirely dedicated to giving the score. And it is NOT called soccer! I am very sorry but there are 209 entities in FIFA as in Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Compare that to 193 UN members or the 195 independent countries recognized by the US State Department and understand that for once you are hopelessly outweighed. Only Canada and America now use the soccer moniker, the rest of the world specifying Canadian, American ( as well as Australian or Gaëlic ) football for local sports. This still allows us to conclude on the game itself as the fields are similar but not the same : a football field is between 100 and 130 yards long compared to the 120 yards, goal zones included, of the American Football one but 50 to 100 yards wide ( to 53,3 yds ). So that in the next days, if you watch the Brazil 2014 World Cup, try to think of the athletic abilities of the players by imagining a fat line backer running twice the surface of the gridiron continuously for two 45 minutes periods and not 12 seconds plays with rests in between. Even without the equipment, that’s football for you!

There are also fewer chances for the USA to win a World Cup in the next decades ( considering that only 9 countries, out of nearly 80 participants qualified over the years, won the world’s most difficult tourney in 19 competitions not counting this one ) than for a snowball to reach the ground in hell.


Good luck and viewing, Tay.

4 thoughts on “World Cup of football ( not soccer ) explained to Americans.

  1. Pingback: 2014 Last day, news and review. | Definitive Lapse of Reason

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