So I’m watching a football match. A normal football match. A Bundesliga match. But I’m not in favour of either team. I am a “neutral spectator”. I want to watch the game because of the beauty of the game, because of the tension in the game, and because of the feats presented to me in the game that I once dreamed of being able to perform as a child. I watch the game because football is simply the game par excellence. All over the world. Football is the simplest game. Football is the game. I also do without the Hollywood film running parallel, the circus performance in the other programme and Thomas Gottschalk. Sure I do. After all, I am a fan. A real, thoroughbred football fan. That’s who watches football. This kind of fan is not a fan of a team. This fan wants to see an honest, fair, exciting game, great sport, and if possible with a few goals. Or should I do without?
The game begins. The reporter explains to me that the first 10 minutes of this top match are “a feeling-out period”. No one dares to take risks yet.” After 20 minutes, he begins to explain to me that it is once again “a top match that, as so often, doesn’t live up to expectations.” After 25 minutes he speaks for the first time of “a very weak game.” And after 30 minutes, I hear a really great saying that you remember from the boring Erdkäse lesson at school when you whispered to your neighbour: “Half an hour through”.
Oh man, what luck, it’s not long then?
After 35 minutes, he says, “we’ve just seen the first real chance at goal.” Still I haven’t had a single situation where I had to hold my breath. “The game lives on tension,” he says. Aha, I learn. One is curious to know if there will ever be a goal? And “quality” he would probably like to rename “agony act”.
Of course, I wonder a little what the man means by “very weak play”. I go through in my mind what could distinguish good teams. And I come to the conclusion that they certainly have a strong offensive. Of course. They have both scored goals, even many goals, more than the league average, I read in the table. It makes sense to me that these are, after all, top teams, and logically they are only at the top if they score more goals than others. At the same time, when I look at the table, I notice that both teams have also conceded fewer goals than the average of the teams. What does that mean? They have a better offence, both of them. And those two better offenses meet two better defenses. So what can I expect? What did the announcer expect?
I can think of one answer, what can I expect. The teams neutralise each other. It is thus a completely normal game. Neither more nor fewer goals than in any other game can I expect. Neither more nor less successful attacking actions can I expect. A good team not only has the better attackers, but also the better defenders. And these better defenders are able to stop the better attacking actions that still promise success from the better attacking side against weaker defenders.
Otto Rehhagel comes to mind. He was Werder coach once (well, quite often, but I mean THIS ONE TIME) in Munich and had to play Bayern there with his squad. The game ended 1-1 and the reporters agreed that it was “a very weak top game”, as usual. And bombarded the coaches with annoying questions, demanding the missing quality. Rehhagel answered in a tortured, annoyed, indignant manner at some point: “The football you want to see doesn’t exist at all.” How right he is…
The game is a ripple. In a Hollywood film running at the same time, I would have laughed at least four times and cried once. With the circus, my mouth would have remained open more than once and I would have applauded inwardly. And with Tommy, I’m sure I’ve already missed the second bet, plus a couple of certainly attractive and articulate ladies he invited. Oh well, football is THE game. MY game. Still waiting. There, an excitement. Because: A striker alone in front of the goalkeeper. The announcer lets me share in the tension he also feels with the monotonous sequence: “No offside, …, but offside. But the flag went up late.” How he captured that. Brilliant. The man is always on the ball, always focused on the essential. He’s so tense, he draws me into the action. Funny. My eyes are closing. The ears don’t want to either…
The whole thing happens three times. The flag always goes up, long before my pulse increases.
Half-time. 0:0. Who’s surprised? The announcer makes the first really positive remark, only he says: “If you want to put it positively: the teams have neutralised each other.” But only if one is really of good will. Otherwise the previous judgement remains, increased by one “quite”: “A very, very weak game.”
I use the half-time break to empty my bladder and fill it further by going to the fridge. There’s still a cold one in there…
I remain calm and patient, but the beer just won’t taste right. In the second half of the half-time break comes a summary of the first half. The yellow card, the three wrongly indicated offside decisions, as the cameras reveal, but all of which were “very, very close and really difficult for the assistant to see”, and the two missed goal chances (did I withhold one? Oh dear!), plus the nasty foul for which there “really should have been a red”, but which the referee “obviously couldn’t see properly from his position”, show me how dramatic a football match really is. On a scale of 0 to 10, about … -1.
Well, the second half begins. The fans celebrate and rejoice. The reporter, too, takes note in wonder, no, admiration: “Amazing, the patience of the fans.” I philosophise to myself that perhaps the fans are enjoying the action after all? That maybe they realise, no, sense, that this is what football is like nowadays? That they go there because they expect this kind of action and nothing else? Perhaps it would appear to be an exciting game if the speaker did not criticise every action? According to his assessment of the fans’ patience, they should probably leave the stadium out of indignation at the weak performance? Because the score is 0-0? Although he really pesters me with further defeatism, along the lines of: “Now it should be quick, there would be space, no, there he takes the pace out again…” or “the thirteenth cross in front of the goal, no trouble for the defence. Yes, the last precision is missing, the last pass doesn’t arrive” or also “again and again through the middle, they should occupy the outer areas” or also “too many mistakes in the build-up of the game”, “he overlooks the one who is running with him…”, “he has to play faster” ad infinitum. According to his imagination and the correct execution of an attack, he would have to score a goal? But if it happened that way, then it would be the defence’s fault?
Oh, there’s an attack, a pass, on the outside, another body feint, the cross, an attacker actually gets to it, the ball goes in! 1:0! I want to jump out of my chair. I’m expecting a storm of enthusiasm from the announcer, finally they’ve done everything the way he always said they would, finally they’ve got it right? Wrong! I thought: this time they have. Really, on the outside, won one on one, precision in the cross, right on the head, the goalkeeper powerless. A true work of art! But what escapes this man? He comments in a sober tone: “He’s got too much space out there, it’s far too easy… everyone in the middle is just watching, no one has him in their sights, where was the opponent? And we also have to partly blame the goalkeeper. He should have come out. And it wasn’t unstoppable either.” The worst is yet to come: “Let’s have another look. Yes, on a good day you can stop one of those.” Him and his goalkeeper colleagues. Just “you and me”. In his playing days, back then, with Hans Tilkowski and Wofgang Fahrian, before he went to Real Madrid, the speaker, we remember? He picked them in series. That’s how it was!
So I was just about to jump out of my chair with joy when I heard these explanations. All right, I thought, that was a good move, wanted to rejoice. No way, “Way too easy.” “Everyone is watching” and “collective deep sleep” led to the goal. I briefly remember Otto Rehhagel. What did my commentator actually want to see?
So it’s now 1-0. Well, 63rd minute, almost half an hour to go. At first, the commentator tells me that the goal only came about with the “active help of the defence”, but on the other hand, he also tells me that it’s “the goal the game needed. But the very next attack he tells me again that “it’s not going to work out that way. In addition, I suddenly hear something that surprises me. He says that “the lead is deserved, no question about it.” Only I ask: Why is he only telling me this now, after the goal? Aha, that’s what I think: true prophets wait for events to unfold.
The team in the lead immediately begins to shift the game to the back. My assessment of this behaviour: “Now it’s 1:0. We’ve as good as won,” you think to yourself, and that’s what the coach ordered.
How fondly I remember times when the declared goal in football was to score goals. Today there are new goals: “We have to win, no matter how.” And you know: “Nobody asked how later” and instead of “we need a goal” the team plays like: “We need the final whistle now.” Before the 1:0, it was the away team that was longing for that one, — 0:0 at the rivals? A success! — after 1-0, it’s the home team. And the leading team, according to my beloved spokesman, “shifts to counterattack tactics.” How I love the game! At first nothing happens for an hour(s), you’re supposed to be curious, but when the goal is scored, then you also know who has won. Great, just great!
When, by some strange coincidence, another player of the leading team lies on the ground, I’m enlightened again: “You’re trying to interrupt the flow of the game now, of course.” Aha, so I learn. All legal. You go down at the slightest touch and send for the physio. The opponents wouldn’t do it any differently, that’s for sure. Football is purely a results sport, that’s what I’ve been hearing a lot lately. The injured player soon plays on, alive and kicking. With my kids, I think I would find measures if they wanted to fuck me over…. …me. But they are children too…
Another player through free, that must be the equaliser, now it happens, in! But there is no real jubilation. The players are outraged. Offside again? No? What could it have been then? In any case, the assistant has his flag up. No offside, nothing to see. The announcer: “I don’t know what he saw. But it must have been something. Maybe the plucking here?” By now I almost don’t care. I’m sinking into agony. Or egony. Ego never watching football again.
Another situation: with all his might, a player from the trailing team tries to enter the penalty area, he manages it too, he is laid out, clear foul, I shout, almost indignant, fighting for justice! The referee also immediately rushes to the scene. He saw that. Yes, thank you, it’s justified. He heads straight for the penalty spot, everyone holds their breath, stops short of the lying player and shows him the yellow card to the cheers of the fans! The fact that the slow-motion later proves the action to be a “clear foul” and the announcer says “but they were lucky” can no longer shock me.
The leading team has wasted so much time in the meantime – for me it feels like hours, because nothing is happening and seconds turn into minutes and minutes into hours – that the final whistle is very close. The injury time is displayed. A great idea, that! “Two more minutes on top”, says the announcer, as a sort of “icing on the cake”. I adjust my chair once more. Was it supposed to be…?
The first official act of the leading team in injury time: substitution. The announcer: “A tactical change, of course.” What does he mean? From offensive to defensive? No? I suspect: They want to get a few more seconds out of it! Yes, as I said, with my children… No, me and strict? The wrong back number is held up. No, not the 14, the 11 has to go down, yes, you, back there, far left wing. The substituted player only understands the world again when he realises how far it is to the changing bench. It feels like 70 metres. No, not just felt, man, that’s 70 metres. Yes, a minute ago I would have made it in 10 seconds, sure, but now the battery is empty, it takes 40. On the way he claps to the audience in all directions, that’s how it should be. It’s like a lap of honour, it has to be there.
But all of a sudden, the trailing team has exposed the defence, a counterattack by the leading team! The player standing in an easy outside position has a free run! I don’t believe it now! He also takes advantage of all the free space in front of him and dribbles … straight towards the corner flag.
Once there, he puts one foot on the ball. Football, I love you! A nervous defender tries to get the ball. He manages it too. Throw-in. Nobody feels responsible for the throw-in. Isn’t that what our throw-in specialist, the right-back, is for? Another 70 metres, er 25 seconds go by. I am fascinated. Will this “counterattack” lead to a goal? The specialist throws the ball over 3 metres 50. The player with the ball then goes straight back to the corner flag. And puts his foot on it. The defender is already a bit more annoyed and pushes from behind. “I just want to play (football)!” No way, the attacker throws himself forward theatrically immediately after the perceived touch. Everyone is outraged. Not like that! The referee also has a duty to stop such rude actions. He rushes to the offender and first gives him a yellow card, then, after checking his book, a red card. He already had a yellow card. The speaker, and how I needed him now: “A stupidity, a lack of restraint, he simply has to know that the referee has no choice here…”. I need another punching ball for my hobby cellar… with a reporter’s face.
The miracle happens, the trailing team gets possession of the ball again. 1:54 Overtime expires. The ball is wildly pushed forward. Perhaps a miracle? The ball crosses the halfway line, the ref blows the whistle. Pure drama. The six seconds? Who cares, who’s asking? How?
Next week I already know what I’m doing. And if they took away all my TV programmes and I only had the football channel, I’d rather go to the torture room. Thumbscrews must just be more pleasant than that….