soccer

UNSOLICITED ADVICE

HOLDING THE BALL

Everyone who has ever been to watch a match of Australian Rules football knows the phenomenon. A player is tackled; the crowd roars: 'BALL!' What has happened, the casual spectator asks the expert? Through spat-out pie pastry and beer froth, the expert gives his ruling. 'He got tackled and he didn't get ridda the ball'! Well, maybe. There's a bit more to it than that.

It's the rule everyone thinks they know. In every sport there's one like it. In soccer it's the offside rule, spatially explained so well in Bend It Like Beckham with sauce bottles and pepper shakers. In cricket, LBW provides the context for endless discussion of whether the ball was on track to hit the stumps, shins, thigh or testicles. Rugby league has plenty, from obstruction, to 'playing' at the ball, to the number of players allowed to be in a tackle, and rugby union is a lawyer's feast of a game that you need at least a graduate certificate in law and a sound understanding of torts to be allowed to watch. 

The real problem with the holding the ball rule in AFL and what sets it apart from its equivalents is that it's a rule in the subjunctive mood. It requires the umpire to go through a number of hypotheticals in her or his head, at each and every tackle. It's a 'could', 'would', 'should' of a rule. A sensitive grammar of contingency applies.

The short story is, if a player has an opportunity to get rid of the ball, they have to get rid of it—by handballing or kicking it—before they're tackled. If they don't, free kick, and well done the tackling player. The long story, thought, is that there are some other factors to consider. 

What if the player didn't have "prior opportunity", or was tackled as soon as the ball fell into their hands? Well, then it's not holding, as long as they "demonstrate" that they made a genuine attempt at it. What if the player got rid of the ball but didn't make a "legal disposal", missing the kick, for instance, dropping it, or throwing it? Well, then it depends on whether the player had "prior opportunity". What if the player was tackled and fell on the ball in a big heap? Then it's a question of whether they dived on it, or were wrapped up without prior opportunity. And all of these questions have to be answered quickly by the sucker with the whistle, a version of Geoffrey Robertson's Hypotheticals played while running. 

There's room for partisanship here. We're allowed to be one-eyed, there's nothing wrong with that. But with a rule so nuanced and interesting, we have a responsibility to know about it, and be sensitive to its intricacies. As AFL fans and spectators, we need to give a bit more thought and consideration to when we shout 'HOLDING' or 'BALL'. 

LIAM HOGAN, SYDNEY

PS. The AFL has a remarkably good Rules site which explains this and other rules with video examples.

BALLLLLL  (Wood engraving by George Rossi Ashton, published 18 June 1881 in  The Australasian Sketcher . State Library of Victoria, A/S18/06/81/193).

BALLLLLL  (Wood engraving by George Rossi Ashton, published 18 June 1881 in The Australasian Sketcher. State Library of Victoria, A/S18/06/81/193).

HOLDING ah ya one-eyed ref BALL BALL BALLLLLL (wood engraving, published 13 July 1874 in  The Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers . State Library of Victoria, IAN13/07/74/113).

HOLDING ah ya one-eyed ref BALL BALL BALLLLLL (wood engraving, published 13 July 1874 in The Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers. State Library of Victoria, IAN13/07/74/113).

BALLLLLL wait wtf (wood engraving, published 10 September 1881 in  The Australasian Sketcher . Members of the theatrical profession in Melbourne taking part in a charity match on behalf of the family of the late Marcus Clarke; held on the East Melbourne Cricket Club ground; opera house employees against the remaining theatres; all the players are in theatrical costumes. State Library of Victoria, A/S10/09/81/289).

BALLLLLL wait wtf (wood engraving, published 10 September 1881 in The Australasian Sketcher. Members of the theatrical profession in Melbourne taking part in a charity match on behalf of the family of the late Marcus Clarke; held on the East Melbourne Cricket Club ground; opera house employees against the remaining theatres; all the players are in theatrical costumes. State Library of Victoria, A/S10/09/81/289).

BOOOOO BOOOOO BOOOOO GET HIM OFF (Wood engraving. Shows Melbourne football player named Longden as he is kicked in the head by Carlton Imperial player.  Police News , 5 August 1876. State Library of Victoria, PN05/08/76/00).

BOOOOO BOOOOO BOOOOO GET HIM OFF (Wood engraving. Shows Melbourne football player named Longden as he is kicked in the head by Carlton Imperial player. Police News, 5 August 1876. State Library of Victoria, PN05/08/76/00).

REPROACH

The "SOCCER DRAGON": AN INSULT TO SOCCER AND DRAGONS

Think of the word “dragon”. What other words spring to mind? Scaly, perhaps, or sinewy. Powerful. Terrible and awesome. Cunning. Sleek, stocky, supple, gnarled. A dragon is an ancient thing of cunning and strength. Like a cat, its movements embody both poetry and danger. 

Now think of the words “soccer player”. (Or “football player” for anyone anywhere other than Australia and the US). What other words spring to mind? Possibly some very similar ones—sleek, supple, sinewy, powerful. Maybe not scaly or gnarled (they use too much product for that), but there is definitely some overlap. Like a cat, a soccer player’s movements embody both poetry and danger.

There exists in this world a game called Dragon City. You may have received pleading emails from Facebook friends, “inviting” you to join. Do not succumb! It is highly addictive, particularly for those of us who feel strong compulsions to complete sets, or to collect one of every kind of thing. Even I, a cheapskate, have spent $4 on in-game purchases. Those who tend to fail the Delayed Gratification Marshmallow Test would spend much, much more. Wannabe app-billionaires would do well to study the structure of Dragon City and how it feeds addiction.

In this game, you breed and hatch and collect dragons—all sorts of dragons. There’s the Flame dragon, the Jade dragon, the Burning dragon and the Star dragon. There are also some frankly ridiculous dragons—the Mojito dragon, the Gummy dragon, the Icecube dragon (I mean COME ON) and so forth. But one dragon offends above the rest.

The Soccer dragon.

Now, I like dragons. I also quite like soccer. But the Soccer dragon is an offense to both. If I was a real dragon, I would swoop down on the creator(s) of the Soccer dragon and tear out their guts. Then I would steal their huge piles of Dragon City gold and burrow into it to sleep, or swim about in it like a dragony Scrooge McDuck. If I was a real soccer player I would be more constrained by legalities but I would want to do the same.

Let us look at a picture of the Soccer dragon. What words spring to mind? Does it conform in any way to your mental image of either dragons or soccer players?

The "soccer" "dragon" in Dragon City.

The "soccer" "dragon" in Dragon City.

Of course it doesn’t. This dragon is clearly a buffoon, a hooligan. It’s wearing CLOTHES. (Dragons shouldn’t wear clothes). He has HAIR—and terrible hair, at that. (Maybe Neymar could get away with it). There is no way this dragon could lay waste to a city or devour an entire hillside of sheep. When it attacks, it kicks a stupid football at you! Ooh, scary. Far from inspiring awe and terror, this dragon inspires contempt. I take great pleasure in crushing every Soccer dragon that comes my way with my Elements dragon, Bunny, who I have trained in the Magma Attack, to which Soccer dragons are fortunately susceptible. 

The Soccer dragon is clearly popular with other Dragon City players, given the frequency with which I encounter it in battles. Each time I see it I am confounded—as to the tastes of my opponents, and the nature of people who purport to like dragons and/or soccer and yet do not see this concept as a blot upon both dragonkind and the beautiful game. Even worse, the makers of Dragon City have recently brought out MORE soccer-themed dragons for the World Cup. Being eaten is too good for them.

But here’s the rub - because I am a collector, I must possess the Soccer dragon to complete my collection. I am complicit. I hate myself as much as I hate them.

ALICE CANNON, MELBOURNE