Wanja talks to his children, today about…
Now we have known Vanya for quite a while and quite well. His children continued to grow up and they asked questions. But even without them doing so, he would have liked to tell – and did. He usually started with Adam and Eve, something like this: “You know, children, first of all the ball was invented, …”. Or even “You have to imagine, in former times, on earth, it was like this…”. And although they now knew that it could be a long story, every single one, he still knew how to keep them amused with his certain narrative art. They didn’t have to ask much in between, because, as they already knew, everything around was explained sooner or later. But they enjoyed it and listened to him with pleasure. Also because so many of his stories sounded so incomprehensible. You can imagine it in a similar way when parents from the post-war generation told their children something about the war. These stories were also somehow eerily beautiful and one was transported back to that time – depending on the storytelling skills – and at the same time was grateful to be allowed to live in a world that was so far “healed”.
Now one day at the dinner table the question came up: “Dad, what did the earthlings mean by the term ‘time play’? I can’t imagine anything about it.”
“You know, children, back on Earth, it was like this…” And he began the story with one of those introductions long familiar to the children, that in the old days it was all about the result and that the term “fair play” was an empty phrase and that the spectators were always just fans of a team who railed about permanent injustice anyway, but who before that, by professing to be supporters of a team, were at the same time incapacitated and no longer allowed to complain about injustices, because as fans of a team they were biased in their alleged “judgement” and forgot anyway that the same injustices they were complaining about had previously been used by their teams in their favour and that football had “always been like this”.
Well, the children said, but what does all this have to do with ‘time play’? Where does the term come from and what was its meaning? “Well,” Wanja continued, “the term already contains a contradiction in itself.” “How, what, you’ll have to explain.” “I’m about to. Not so impatient. In those days, when people spoke of ‘time play’, it was a matter of having reached a favourable intermediate result, and from the moment that favourable result was reached, they no longer endeavoured to score but merely to advance the hands of the clock.” “How, how are we to imagine that? What was it all about, how did you do it, what was the goal and how was it even possible?”
“Well, as I said before, the term, the introduction of the term is already paradoxical in a way and not conceivable for local conditions, but that’s why I always say: you have to try to put yourself in it. A defeat often meant the end for the coach or for the players that they were no longer used, for the club that it was relegated and for the region that it no longer had a football club and that the whole economy suffered from it and also all the other employees in the club and even that often whole clubs went bankrupt, dissolved, had to declare insolvency because they had overstretched themselves and because they were so sure that they would achieve the ambitious goals.” “So that means that at that time the means to achieve a favourable result did not matter?” “Yes, very well put. Any means, however shabby, however disgraceful, met with its approval. I suppose that was the way it was.”
“Tell us more about it: how did time play work, how did the players, the coaches do it, how did the reporters comment on it, how did the spectators take it or maybe sometimes not take it?”
Wanja responded again, and when he got into a flow, he couldn’t be stopped: “I’m with you. So one team had somehow managed to score a goal. And that was hard enough, you already know that. At that time there were just three goals per game, when it came up you had to wait a long time for a goal. Sometimes the first goal came in the 63rd minute, for example. Now everyone knew that this could almost be decisive. 63 minutes for the 1:0, yes, how long do you think it would take the opponent to make it 1:1 without us adding one more? The 1:0 was half the battle, so to speak. If the home team had scored it, then it was a little bit easier, because they simply celebrated through without paying attention to the game, because most of the so-called ‘real fans’ were already drunk or just bawling along with the crowd anyway. That is to say: they were even less hindered by the referee in their endeavour to ‘get the score over time’, as it was called at the time.
They were awarded a throw-in, for example, and no one bothered to go to the ball to take it. The ball was there, but no one bothered to pick it up and put it into play. That brought many, many seconds, apart from the fact that, suitable as a provocation, it made the opposing team restless, agitated, which then again became unfavourable for achieving the equaliser, rather that then once an opposing player became angry, indicated the obvious time play to the referee, but earned himself a yellow card for it, for undermining authority.” As it seemed, the children could now follow along effortlessly. They were able to put themselves in the situation better and better with each story.
“But since you always seem to like little anecdotes to further illuminate events, I’ll tell you this little story: PSV Eindhoven once scored a goal in the second leg of a European Cup match to advance to the next round. Now, however, the opponent tried, as usual, to prevent PSV from scoring that one more goal by all means allowed and not allowed. The most popular of these means was, of course, time play, which also included provocation. Once again the opponent’s keeper had picked up the ball and for the umpteenth time he took too much time to put the ball back into play. There was a rule at the time: six seconds, at the latest then the ball had to be kicked or knocked down. But curiously, this was hardly ever whistled as an offence. The goalkeeper seemed to have a lot of special rights back then, but that really doesn’t belong here. So the keeper held the ball in his hands and didn’t go on. It was often the case that he picked up the ball while lying on the ground – for example, he intercepted a cross and then, while intercepting the ball, went down, unnecessarily, and then lay there for a few more seconds without being ‘credited’ with these additional seconds. As one of PSV’s attackers had now been made aware of this several times and had drawn attention to it, without his behaviour making any impression on the referee, he now began to count the seconds with his fingers, stretching up one more finger per second, in a very healthy beat, until he soon needed both hands and had long since passed the six seconds. Now the referee had identified a real offender: it was this striker he had on his mind. So what was the consequence of the striker’s insolence? He was forcefully shown the yellow card, told to watch out, and that he was the referee who was in charge here and who would be aware of any irregularity – or not. But he would not let anything be imposed on him. The result was: another minute in favour of the team leading in the overall score, a yellow card, a lot of angry spectators – and another terrific success of the time game and one heard that the goalkeeper was celebrated as a hero by the guests, who had stopped the opponent from scoring with all his available strength and means.”
“Yes, but didn’t anyone say anything about it? That was just unfair, wasn’t it? How were such scenes commented on? Didn’t the announcers notice anything? Were they not interested in justice, in goals, in beautiful games, in dramatic developments in which a few goals might have changed the score soon this way, soon the other way?”
“Very good question, kids, that’s exactly why we came here and why we wanted to do something different, here in Putoia. Somehow everyone stuck together and apparently didn’t want to believe this huge hoax, the cheating of the spectator, the anger triggered all around, by almost everyone involved, affected and so on, and talked themselves into something. For example, the commentator always said during such scenes: ‘That’s all quite normal, the others wouldn’t have done it any differently. Why are they getting so upset? It doesn’t have to be like that.'”
“Apparently they didn’t know about your credo, Dad, which is – and I quote verbatim: ‘you can’t set one injustice against another’.”
“Good listening, my child. And then do I still add…?” … “that afterwards, instead of justice being done, BOTH are unhappy.”
“Exactly so. If an injustice is done to one, and the same injustice is done to the other, how should BOTH be satisfied afterwards? Besides, the statement that the others wouldn’t do it any other way logically implies the realisation that unfair means are involved.” “… and unfair means must be dealt with by rules in such a way that one does NOT gain any advantage by using them. Right?” “Right!”
“I can still tell you how it was with injury time and substitutions. Do you want to?” “It’s just like you say: scary-nice. Go on.”
“All right. In the very old days, you weren’t allowed to substitute at all” “Yes, we know that. And if a player was injured by an opponent, i.e. by foul play, then the team had to continue playing with ten men, even though the opponent would have had to. That was unfair. Go on.”
“It’s nice how well you listen. So substitutions were allowed, first two players, later three. But only if a player was injured, that’s what they said at the beginning. Since it was very soon realised – and this knowledge and insight could be used very well in other places, only again this doesn’t belong here — that this could not be checked, it was dispensed with and substitutions were allowed, which gave the coach more flexibility and which could also be used as a tactical tool.” “Yes, yes, and initially only in the sense that you could change the formation or bring in a fresh player or substitute a player who didn’t perform as desired, had a bad day or just couldn’t cope with his opponent, we already know.”
“Super. Later, however, the tactical tool was also used in such a way that one or two substitutions were simply saved until injury time.” “Aha, with what idea then?” “Yes, listen carefully, it started with the injury time being displayed – which, as I’ll be happy to explain to you elsewhere, brought no advantages at all but only disadvantages, yet they were so proud of their idea – and, as one of the consequences of this, a clever coach waited for this display and, as soon as the board went up with the obligatory three minutes, this coach immediately displayed his substitution option, whereupon the game, at the next opportunity, was interrupted and the substitution carried out. Presumably he was still surprised by the extent to which the indicated injury time would now be drawn out, since the substitution took some time. And now, children, I ask you: what did he find?”
“He found that it was NOT extended at all?” “That’s right, obviously you already know your way around the planet of injustice very well. Not only was this injury time not extended, but when it was, a protest was lodged against the score when another crucial goal was scored in the extra time. And, if you should ask or suspect, the protest was NOT upheld, the result stood.”
“Still, isn’t that totally unfair? A substitution always takes at least 20 seconds, doesn’t it?” “It might only take 10 seconds if the trailing team does it, maybe because they have to or because they substitute the last offensive option. But the leading team? I’ve re-timed it quite a few times: They managed to extend this time, sometimes to more than 45 seconds, in that the player who was to be substituted was initially surprised, and moreover was ‘really purely by chance’ standing at the opposite corner flag, but gradually, after he had registered that it was actually supposed to affect him, yes, him of all people, who had given such a strong performance, now gradually came to understand the reason for this substitution and realised at that very moment that the bones, muscles, muscles, tendons, his entire body had absolutely no juice left in it, that he had to drag himself all the way to the substitution, but still had enough strength to wave and clap to every single teammate in every corner of the stadium, and of course – a fool who thinks ill of it – had to put on the captain’s armband to the farthest teammate, and then, on the pitch, hug the substitute and the coach. ” “And, the speaker, the fans?” “As I said, they all seemed to agree: there’s nothing you can do about it, that’s just the way football is.”
“But there would never be anything like that here, would there?” “You said it, my child. It was a bit like when you were in kindergarten. If there were no punishments for misbehaviour, then the little ones just repeated it. You really don’t have to wonder about that.”
“Dad, please tell us another example. It must have been really adventurous. A bit like the war, it seems to me? Although we only know about that from your stories about how your father and uncles experienced it. But please still: another story.”
“All right. The little story is quite simple to tell: I offered bets for fun back then, really only for fun, but nevertheless with the mathematically necessary prerequisites, as you can surely imagine. So: the permanent betting offer, which anyone willing to bet could have accepted, was as follows: there are still ten or fewer minutes to play. Now there is a player lying injured on the ground who obviously (?!?!) needs treatment, could not get up on his own, leave the pitch or continue playing. So far clear?” “Yes, we understand. There’s an injured player on the ground with less than ten minutes left to play, what’s the problem with that scene?” “Well, a problem not exactly, only you can bet on the jersey colour with me at this moment. And not only that, I’ll pay you ten times the money if you let me tell you the colour of the jersey.” “Huh? What do you mean? Red or green or yellow or what? Are you psychic?” “No, well the betting offer is like this: there is a player lying and I guess which team he is from. You get ten times the money if I guess it wrong. Deal?” “No other conditions?” “Well, yes, so I just need to know the score.”
“I think I’m beginning to see what you mean. The player IS not injured at all. He’s faking. His team is in the lead. You know that with more than 90% certainty, which is why you’re paying odds of 10.” “Clever boy. What’s the saying? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. You guessed it.”
“And that’s what the players kept doing and the spectators, the referees, the media people, the reporters, the coaches, all went along with this lazy game?” “Yes, that’s exactly how it was. They had no resources. It wasn’t just that this player was rolling on the ground injured, no, when it suited him he jumped back up and the next moment used the space to score, he was as fresh as he had ever been and in a way he didn’t care about the embarrassment. What should he be embarrassed about if his team had won and he, in this and in that ‘legalised’ way, had contributed to it? And there was even something else: if a player lost the ball in attack, then of course this often threatened a dangerous counterattack. So he did everything to avoid this loss of the ball, or, after it had happened, to keep the disaster within bounds. So: he pursued energetically, did everything to save the lost ball, even gladly a foul, only if he still didn’t succeed, then he went down, simulating a foul on himself – otherwise he wouldn’t have lost the ball, would he? –, went to the ground and didn’t move any more. If the opponent still wanted to play out the counterattack – this could have happened both with favourable and neutral scores – then at some point the opponents complained and the fans also began to grumble or whistle and the referee was also made aware or became aware himself and, so to speak, gradually forced to interrupt the game. Now the player who was so badly injured continued to simulate for a while that he had really been hit by something, the medical team was also called onto the pitch, yet shortly afterwards the player was hopping around the pitch again like a young deer.”
“And no one said or did anything to stop the unspeakable goings-on?” “No, nobody did. It went on for years, even decades, and the means used became more and more outrageous. Simply because the players realised what they could get away with without ever being prosecuted.”
“But,” continued Vanya after a short pause for reflection, which he allowed the children, “you couldn’t blame the players. They did everything that was recognised and approved in this way to fulfil the media brief, which was…”
“All that matters is the result. Nothing else matters. Especially HOW to achieve the favourable result. The choice of means is up to you, the main thing is to get away with it. Neutral spectators, fans, justice, beauty of the game, entertainment value, fun, excitement : all subordinate. It’s all about getting the best possible result.”
“That’s exactly how it WAS, I’d like to point out. But we can drop in on Earth when we get a chance, how is it going there now? Maybe still like this or even increased? Perhaps football has long since ceased to exist? It has run itself into the ground?”