By John Sloop (@NCAMookie), staff writer.
"One of the uncomfortable but fundamental truths about soccer is this: the fact that it is often so unfair is one of the reasons it is so endlessly absorbing."--Laurent Dubois, The Language of the Game, p. 213.
In his wonderful cultural and historical exploration of the sport, The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer, Laurent Dubois considers multiple facets of soccer, including the reasons why fans worldwide become so fixated on it to the degree that they often find soccer to be a crucial part of their lives. While I hope to have Dubois on the Speedway Soccer podcast as a guest in the upcoming weeks, today I want to focus on the claim he makes in the epigraph of this article. If we stretch the definition of “fair” far enough, he is clearly onto something. And I think it explains why many of us are both addicted to, and ultimately in pain because of, soccer.
Let’s face it: soccer sucks.
In what ways is soccer unfair? Well, in some games, it’s technically unfair (that is, a ref technically makes bad decisions that are unfair one way or another). Further, and I want to stress this: while in some games, soccer may in fact BE technically unfair, in almost ALL games, we sense that it had been technically unfair. And that sucks.
Even with the “great savior” VAR, referees still blow calls, and sometimes they blow calls when a goal is at stake. Even if they don’t, we think they do. In a game where so few points are scored, such a mistake is huge. They get paid to do one thing. When we feel like they’ve blown it, we feel cheated in an end-of-the-world kinda way.
But even when one cannot point to something that drastic, the referee in soccer is so important to the flow and outcome of the game--and has to make so many calls on plays that require interpretation rather than scientific application--it is almost certain that viewers (who have their own biases) will in general see the referee as working against their team. Ultimately, it matters less whether the officiating is fair or unfair so much as it almost inevitably feels unfair. So, on the odd occasion when no obvious blunders are made, each sides fans are still likely to see the remainder of the officiating as biased against them.
It’s unfair, and there is NOTHING you can do about it. It sucks.
But putting aside the technical ways in which soccer may be unfair in a specific game, Dubois’ point is more that soccer is unfair ontologically, as a way of being . . . by definition. That is, because there are so few goals scored in any given game, and because the scoring of a goal (or a mistake that leads to it not being scored) can be a matter of inches, almost every game feels (is?) left up to the whims of the spin a ball takes or of an errant leg. Who knows? Something strange is always happening. You count on the overall skill level of a team meaning that the better team wins. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Even when the better team plays the better game on a particular day, it doesn’t mean they’ll win.
Who here hasn’t watched their team outplay the opposition for 89 minutes but miss 5 close opportunities to score, only to watch the opposition score a goal on a bizarre ricochet off someone’s leg? It freaking sucks. And feels so unfair.
Who feels comfortable with a one goal lead, even when all the stats are going their way? No one, that’s who. Because anything can happen and lead to a goal.
The game crushes us with a sense of injustice and heartache.
Your team can be up 4-0 in the 81st minute and, if the opposition scores, you suddenly get that feeling of panic and nausea, thinking that perhaps it would have been better to never get this far ahead, if it only means the other team pushes you into an epic collapse.
It’s unlikely, sure, but it MIGHT HAPPEN. And how awful would that be.
And why are we worried? Because we have seen the game torture so many people so may times. It’s cruel. It’s mean. It sucks.
Even when you win, you rarely feel a sense of triumph, unless it is the final of a cup or the game that wins the league. Other than that, it’s a feeling of relief that you escape the freaking whims of the gods.
It’s horrible, cruel, and endlessly absorbing.
It’s a nasty world of anger and rage. It sucks.
And I’m absolutely in in love with it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The above is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Speedway Soccer as a whole.