Wanja talks to his children, today about…
“So,” Wanja began today’s round of talks, “we were talking about the penalty kick the other day. Let’s summarise again what the main problem was with earthly football?”
The children answer, taking turns to complement each other : “The problem was that the penalty for most foul actions in the penalty area would have meant too high an enhancement of the goal-scoring opportunity. And although, according to the rules, a penalty should have been given or even had to be given for a foul in the penalty area, the situation was assessed differently here, people always feared or accused the striker of only wanting the penalty or were lenient, even in the case of quite clear foul actions, and found more and more justifications for the defenders that it wasn’t so bad here and that you can’t give a penalty for that and in the situation it would also be a bit too harsh. In addition, the defenders always fouled just a little, although even a minor obstruction was often enough to prevent a successful goal. So there was a lot of fouling and almost always in such a way that it was ‘difficult to judge’, the finishing actions were adversely affected by it, but penalties were very, very rarely given for it. Few goals were scored as a result, so that the referee was even more reluctant to decide a game with this single whistle. And that was exactly how the spectators felt. There was a consensus, so to speak, that when it came to penalties, one would have to be very, very sure that this was also a clear foul play and more and more situations were thereby judged to the disadvantage of the strikers, i.e. as a foul not sufficient for a penalty kick. Psychologically, you even have to half understand the referees firstly and secondly come to their defence. A decision for a penalty kick was emotionally like ‘I decide on goal’, and that in a game situation where a goal was far away. The importance of a goal was so high, the influence on the outcome of the game of almost paramount importance, so you couldn’t ‘just decide on goal’?”
Vanya was already mighty proud of his understanding children. There was little to add to that, even if some loss of authenticity in the transmission of the speech is conceivable. In terms of content: flawless. There was always this or that possibility to express what was actually quite obvious but seemed so inaccessible to the earthlings. Would they have had the chance to listen to such a conversation? Perhaps they had, but they still remained trapped in their own world.
The strikers couldn’t really help it that the rules, which had been in place since 1891 with a few modifications, gave them this advantage in terms of a mostly gigantic increase in goal-scoring chances that would have existed in the event of a penalty whistle. Of course, in the first version of the rules and the then common way of playing the game in general without the viciousness, permanent breaches of the rules, unsportsmanlike conduct, foul play with injury consequences, accepted by the attacking team, that was actually intended as a quid pro quo for the goal-scoring opportunity that had been prevented, but certainly there was no intention whatsoever to give the defending team an advantage with a ‘penalty kick’ containing the word ‘penalty’. Why should they? They have committed an unsporting act, a breach of the rules, a foul, surely they don’t care if it puts them at a disadvantage? On the contrary, it may even have been welcome. Why should sinners be rewarded or do well? In this respect, then: a penalty kick was intended for infringements of the rules in the penalty area, which, however, often enough also, due to the proximity to the goal, posed the highest danger of scoring in earlier times. But even if it had been to the strikers’ advantage, this would not have been recognised as a problem.
Moreover, however, a) there were more goals, so that a single one did not in any way decide the game, but b) did people not mind at all if there were more goals? That was fun and entertainment, in general, for the spectators, who were by no means only divided into fan camps? “Wow, there are penalties, I want to see that!”
Wanja took over: “By the way, there was a kind of saying about the strikers. The particularly good ones were said to ‘go where it hurts’. Exactly. It hurt. It even hurt enormously. The physical pain wasn’t even the worst. It was the souls that were hurt. Only no one realised that. You could sum up the situation the frontline attacking players were in something like this : a) you get fouled all the time, b) if you fall, you get a yellow or sometimes no yellow; forget it, don’t even think about getting a penalty; c) if you fall, it never becomes a goal, if you stay on your feet, the chance of scoring is much less than it would be without the foul; d) if you try to score a goal anyway, because of the smaller chance, you are said ‘he should have fallen, then he would have got it’ and in addition you have given the signal to the referee not to blow the whistle any more, because you didn’t even want to get it; e) you are charged with unsuccessful and goalless minutes and next week you are on the bench because you ‘lack assertiveness’; f) once, in return, you yourself should take a deep breath and the opponent goes down from the draught; then YOU are the one who fouled and there is, without any discussion, striker’s foul – and no slow-motion replay and no discussion about what the whistle was for, no video evidence, no analysis, simple whistle, that’s it; g) let’s imagine a running duel, to make it illustrative, in which your opponent starts rowing with his arms because he is slower and cannot keep up; If you leave his rowing unanswered, he chases the ball away from you because he catches up with you and overtakes you; if you also use your arms in response, it’s ‘they both fouled; playing on was the right decision’; the obstruction influences the action decisively to your disadvantage; so forget it: you will not score a goal. “
“I feel for the strikers,” said one of the boys, “and I just can’t understand how no one noticed or could object. Those were universe-shattering injustices. I don’t know how you stood it, Dad, because you say football was a big part of your life.”
“You can think of it sort of like the story ‘the emperor’s new clothes’. There, everyone had to marvel at the emperor’s new clothes, even though the emperor had NOTHING on. But nobody dared to draw attention to this fact. Everyone was amazed and thought they were the only ones who would see it?
It was unbearable. And many people I knew, blessed with some sense, simply turned away from the game. They couldn’t stand it, but they didn’t think that much further about where the dislike and rejection came from. And once they had turned away and turned to other things instead, such as fairer sports: what reason would they now have had to concern themselves with all that was wrong with football and how beautiful it could be if it were made fairer, more equitable, more attractive, more entertaining?”
“Yes, that makes sense. But wasn’t the headline actually ‘Handelfmeter’?”
“How thoughtful, yes, right, but there’s no harm in recapping now and then, and besides, foul penalties and handball penalties are closely connected. So: there is none for foul play and accordingly not for handball either.”
“Here, the rule is quite simple and there is hardly ever any discussion. If you play the ball with your hand, you get a free kick. If it’s in the penalty area, there are other penalties, although there is still a little differentiation here. But I don’t have to tell you that. Now tell me, what was it like in earthly football days, probably to this day?”
“It actually started quite harmlessly. Just like you said: if it was a handball, it was a free kick, if it was in the penalty area, it was a penalty. I don’t need to mention again that in most cases the penalty meant a considerable increase in the chance of scoring and that a single goal often had a game-deciding character and that in this respect people somehow intuitively resisted it, as referees but also the less reflective and hardly present neutral spectators. The so-called ‘fans’ of this or that team were considered biased anyway and nothing was given on their statements ‘that was a penalty’ or ‘that was never, ever a penalty’, even if they were right now and then, but then rather by chance.”
“No, you do NOT have to mention that again, but you did at that moment.” “Yes, I know, you users of inexorable logic. You just have to understand that at that time I had to fight windmill wings and talked my mouth off as well as wrote my fingers to the bone, but was not quite heard. In that respect, I have to tell this over and over again to my understanding children.”
“Yes, we understand,” chimed in almost in unison.
“There was at some point in the rules something like protective hand or also shot hand. Accordingly, there were discussions in these cases in much earlier times. But the protective hand was abolished, although the ball was already flying at great speed and a reflex could almost be responsible, but nevertheless this was no longer valid, the person who wanted to invoke it was considered a ‘wimp’. Well, you can let that pass, although I myself always had a certain respect for the hard projectiles and at least didn’t go in with my head. But holding my hands in front of my head to avoid injury wasn’t that much better than pulling my head in: both a bit embarrassing. So in that respect: protective hand abolished, that was already ok. Of course, ‘being shot at’ would always have been justifiable as a counter-argument, but it was hardly possible to prove it. So: a player who had his arms somewhere in the way and got the ball against them had to ask himself, in my opinion, if he wanted to plead ‘not guilty’, whether they were really there by chance or whether he had not anticipated a possible shot in that direction and therefore left his arm and hand out for safety’s sake?
“Well, here with us it is and remains quite simple and that’s the way I think it should be,” said the youngest. “A hand is a hand. No matter for what reason the hand is there. It can also be just bad luck that the ball goes against? Only that is not a problem. Other situations are also dependent on luck or bad luck and apart from that, there are not the problems you mentioned with the penalty. There are goals here and almost everyone enjoys them – except for the relatively few supporters of the team in question, but even they don’t mind much because, firstly, there are enough goals that you wouldn’t have any reason to despair if you were behind because of them, but secondly also because you know that you could benefit just as much from such a lucky situation the other way round. Apart from that, the penalty here is an appropriate one in all cases, i.e. one is not disadvantaged by such a decision. Even if you really couldn’t have done anything about playing a ball with your hand: it doesn’t decide a game, it was bad luck, it happens and there is an appropriate ‘penalty’, even if the word doesn’t even fit in that case.”
“You said that beautifully, though. Here it just fits. On earth, however, it was never understood and perhaps still isn’t.”
“The arguments with which the defenders were defended took on ludicrous forms. There were more and more pointless arguments, which were strung together in a haphazard manner or could be exchanged for each other, without ever getting to the heart of the matter, let alone getting the slightest step closer to justice and, for example, reducing the discussions and, least of all, the many so-called ‘contentious situations’. On the contrary, there was more and more nonsensical discussion, and the video assistant referee, who was soon introduced, only contributed to even more discussion, especially since he could not prove anything, but instead introduced another new position during the game. How pointless it was to ask the referee to look at the scene again and what a total delusion to hope to put the discussions to rest.”
“Now give some examples of arguments. We’d really be interested in them.”
“So protective hand and shot were never mentioned again and questionable why they were not remembered more. Especially in the sense that one could always raise the question: where did all this come from, how was it originally and how was it originally planned? That could have helped a little. But that’s only in passing. For example, one argument was ‘body broadening’.”
“So to me that’s like, the body is inevitably widened by a hand game, isn’t it?” “Yes, that is, from a purely logical point of view, absolutely correct. The argument was used something like this: if it was NOT a widening of the body, then it was not a hand game. Contrary to your perfectly coherent logic that it ALWAYS is. Caveat: that only applied to handball in the penalty area. In the field, in front of the penalty area, what it far less dramatic. “
“Had I said earlier how it is here: if the ball goes against the arm, then it can be unfortunate from time to time, but there’s just no problem with it. Handball, what else? Apart from the fact that this kind of interpretation also puts the defender in the position of having to keep his arms close to his body, then you’ll be lucky and won’t have any disadvantages. If you don’t keep them there, collisions can occur and, as a result, appropriate ‘penalties’. You will be at a disadvantage, so don’t do it. In all cases: follow the rules and everything will be fine. If you don’t: it can happen, but it’s not to your advantage. So simple.”
“Right again, yes. But we are far from finished: one argument was: ‘unnatural posture’, to which one can immediately add the ‘unnatural arm posture’ and also the ‘unnatural movement’. However the hand games came about, and however little the players may have been able to do for it, which caused the disputed scenes: can you think of a sensible question with which one could have opened the eyes of the rules officials?”
“Of course I know one,” the middle one agreed. The question could be, “Have hand games increased or decreased over time, thanks to the additional rule interpretation options?” The eldest added another: “Have there been more or less discussions over the developments of handball, especially in the penalty area?”
“Perfect. I notice you guys are always on point and have identified the core issue. But I have to compliment those heard in interviews or Q&A sessions to that extent: they actually noticed it at some point. At least there were more and longer and more controversial discussions. That was noticeable and that gradually got on everyone’s nerves, so that uniformity was asked for.”
“And, what could that uniformity have looked like, what were the suggestions?”
“The curious thing was that more and more ex-players spoke out, and also in discussion rounds, at least in Germany, more and more arguments were made to protect the defenders. More and more people said: ‘Yes, according to the rules that was a penalty, but from our point of view it was never a penalty; he couldn’t have done anything about it’, and they laughed themselves silly about what nonsense the officials had come up with again, that something like that should be considered a handball? So it went more and more in the direction of ‘that’s not one and that’s not one’. And that’s how it was argued and interpreted.”
“Strange and hard to imagine for us here. But we can watch a game together from the past? Surely you have a few examples ready?”
“Sure, we will, in each game there were usually even several examples. But first I’d like to complete the list of arguments that stood in the way of a penalty being awarded. In addition to this widening of the body or unnatural posture or movement, which was often judged not to have been given, there was also the argument ‘from that distance he can’t get away with his arm’. This argument was also short-sighted and stupid, why?”
“With us, this question doesn’t even come up. Apparently, though, he could have got the arm there. Now what do I care if he could have gotten it away? Keep it on the body – and all is well.”
“Again, 100 points. It was a nonsensical argument, but one that was uttered repeatedly, soon in almost every situation. And what was the consequence for the clever defenders?”
“Since you’ve already said ‘the clever defenders’, you’ve already partly given the answer: the clever defenders soon knew how to use this to their advantage too, precisely by bringing their arms into the way more and more often, knowing that afterwards, after the penalty had not been awarded, it would be proved to them by the referees and other experts that they could never, ever have got their hand or arms away from there and from that distance.”
“Exactly. The further consequence: defender’s arms follow through the penalty area to their heart’s content. If the ball flew against it, he or the striker who hadn’t aimed past it was to blame. But never, never the defender. There were endless discussions, but always with the same result: no penalty kick, he couldn’t help it as a final consequence. And if there was one, then the unequal treatment was brought up as the ultimate counter-argument. He didn’t take one there, so he’s not allowed to take one here either. No penalty here, none there. Basically, it was soon the case that the attacking team was no longer playing against a single football goalkeeper, but rather against a total of eleven handball goalkeepers, because practically all the players were shaking their hands around like handball goalkeepers. Could nothing happen to them if the striker or the ball was so stupid as not to get past all those arms?”
The children couldn’t believe it, but were still somehow fascinated by these stories. It was something like reading scary stories. You scare yourself, without any external prompting, so that you can enjoy the actual security even more afterwards.
But Dad still wasn’t finished. “Now surely you have seen the similarity between foul penalty and trading penalty?” “Yes, in both cases there was no such thing and it was always against the attackers and against the goals and no one ever noticed anything.”
“Right. Rather there was a horror scenario which was painted on the wall threateningly and ultimately every now and then, but the actual horror of it was never checked. This scenario was introduced with the following words – and each member of the audience was left to complete the sentence and experience the possible horror: ‘if you gave penalties for it, there would be ten or twenty penalties per game’.”
The children also had to act out this scenario first and imagine the horrific consequences. The middle one’s conclusion broke the silence: “Yeah, so? What’s the problem there? If the rule says there should be a penalty, then there is one. What is the other problem of the consequence of many penalties and thus many goals that is otherwise addressed or at least hinted at? Were people then afraid of running out of the stadiums in panic ‘for God’s sake, a 6:4, and no end in sight; that has nothing to do with football!’ or how did one anticipate a resulting horror?”
“The fact is that this sentence, once uttered, was already sufficient as a killer argument. Berti Vogts, once a national player AND later national coach, was, as far as I know, the first to put this idea into the world and reached quite a few followers with it. ‘Yes, he’s right about that. It’s unimaginable if there were penalties all the time’, they said, ‘there would be twenty penalties per game’ and then they laughed at this statement and the interviewee – usually the interviewer – joined in the laughter, along the lines of ‘no, that really wouldn’t work, everyone has to understand that’. Spoken, thought ‘no, huhä, that’s really not possible’ and finished. Just applied again and again and thus used as a metaphor for why you can’t give a penalty for this foul or handball either.”
“Silly, ridiculous, pointless, short-sighted and, strictly speaking, stupid.” “Yes, unfortunately, but that’s the way it was.”
Still, the round was not over. The children pushed a little, though, because they wanted to go out and have another round of kicking in their ideal world, it was almost developing into a ritual. “No, stay here,” said the father, who was not at all strict. Nevertheless, the children stayed, because they knew that the true horror on earth was not the horror scenario that had been drawn, but rather the father’s conclusion.
“First of all, we had now addressed the pain of the strikers, which they had to endure permanently, applied to the foul plays. What then was the ‘reversal function’ in handball?”
Silence. That really couldn’t be? The father nevertheless took the words out of his children’s mouths: “If a striker stopped the ball with his chest, but the upper arm played even the slightest part in it, what was the decision in that case?” “No, that can’t be. Handball?”
“Correct. And how many discussions, replays, slow-motion, comparisons with unpunished handball committed by defenders were there?”
“Hmm, probably none at all?” “That’s how it was. The whistle blew, play continued with a free kick for the defenders, no rooster crowed. Only the striker, sensing another injustice but not allowed to voice it, ran off shaking his head. Why should that have been handball?` But no one took his side. The counter-question addressed to him should, in all cases, have been something like: ‘What do you want here in front? Do you want to score a goal? There’s no such thing here! And that would have been the only correct interpretation of the situation – from beginning to end and applied to everything – but nobody thought of that. There was no scoring. A game is always 0-0 and if a goal is scored, then we know the winner.”
“Scary, pathetic. But now we really have to go and score some nice goals.”
“No, the last question: was Berti Vogts actually right with his horror scenario? What do you think?”
“Come on, Dad, we really have to go out.”
“The simple consequence, if you had applied the rules, would have been this: everyone knows what you’re allowed to do in the penalty area and what you’re not allowed to do. So neither foul play nor handball is allowed. If you stick to it, everything is fine. If you violate it, you get a penalty. So you don’t play a foul and you don’t use your hand. The horror changes its face: suddenly there are goal chances and goals. Oh dear! No one would run away either but many, many more would come.”
“What are you telling us? That’s just the way it is here, isn’t it?”