Thursday, December 1, 2022

The beautiful game? Or the boring game?

 Stanley - Thursday

Fans all around the world are watching what is called the beautiful game at the Football World Cup currently being held in Qatar.  Frankly, I think it would be more accurate to call it the boring game. 

First, here are a few trivia associated with the game.

In most of the world the game is called football. In the USA and Australasia, it usually known as soccer. The etymology. of the word football is obvious. However, the origin of the word soccer is quite old, dating back about 200 years to Britain when the game and its rules were becoming organised. It is short for association football - a specific form of the game at that time. Until mid-Twentieth Century, football and soccer were used interchangeably in the UK. The story goes that when the Brits realised that Americans were using the word soccer, they decided they couldn't possibly use the same word and opted for football.

Football (soccer) is the world's most popular game, with hundreds of millions playing it. Part of its popularity is due to its simplicity. All you need is a ball and two goals. The latter can be defined by goal posts, or two rocks on the ground, or marks in the sand. Although there are rules about the official size of the playing field, it can be played on a field of any size.

The game at international level has two halves, each of 45 minutes, plus additional time for injuries. In most important games, if the game is tied at full time, the winner is decided by a penalty shootout. I think the game would graduate from boring to bearable if each half was only five minutes.

The game itself is simple. One player passes the ball to another, who passes it back. Sometimes the ball goes to a third player, who passes it back. The ball goes sideways more than forward, often going way back to the side's own goal keeper. After this continues for a while, someone falls asleep and the other side gets the ball.  They then pass the ball to one another, sideways more than forward, often going way back to the side's own goal keeper.

The game is the embodiment of a well-known psychological phenomenon called intermittent reinforcement. Specifically people are attracted to things (games, for example) where success occurs occasionally and unpredictably. Good examples of this are golf, gambling and, of course football. If a golfer hit good shots every time, or if a gambler hit the jackpot with each pull of the lever, or if scoring a goal was simple in football, no one would play and no one would watch.

In football, excitement and success are so uncommon that millions of people participate or watch in the hope that they'll witness a goal. And on the rare occasion a goal is scored, the excitement is so intense that people come back hoping for another intense moment.

In reality, the game is so boring that even the players have devised ways to inject excitement into the proceedings while waiting for the moment of intensity. Specifically, the mildest of bumps between two players has turned a nothing-moment into an opportunity to show off great acting ability. 

Brazilian star Neymar is a star amongst stars.

Neymar again.

Christiano Renaldo

Not to be content with histrionics during play, players (and even sometimes managers) have found other ways to show their talents as this short video shows. 

Not be be left out of the action, fans on and off the pitch have also found ways to enliven the tedium of the game. Football hooliganism has become widespread as a way to inject excitement into the sport. Last week, for examples, Belgian football fans got their thrills by trashing parts of Brussels.

In fact, the incidence of fans creating some excitement is so great that Wikipedia devotes a huge amount of space to it. If you're suffering from insomnia and watching a football game doesn't help, I suggest start reading the Wikipedia article.

To be fair, as Michael would say, occasionally something happens that is worth watching. For example, Brazilian player Richarlison's second goal against Serbia startled me out of my reverie. What talent; what beauty. Watch it here. Talk about intermittent reinforcement! One moment of excitement from the 42 games played so far!

The game is so boring, even the referees get excited when the game is over. This must have been a particular soporific game!

So, thank you for the Football World Cup 2022, but no thank you. I'm off to watch some cricket.


  1. Was it as good as Archie Gemmell's famous goal against the Dutch in the 1978 World Cup? Just google it. It's so good, it was translated to ballet. I kid you not.

    1. Gemmell's goal was fabulous, but different. He ran and danced his way through many defenders; Richjarlison's was sublime ball control and ball skill.

  2. And football here is tribal. I was astounded when at Bouchercon and there was an important match on. Fans of the rival teams could stay in the same hotel, drink in the same bar and walk down the same street without having to be kept apart by some very handy alsations. Amazing!