Wanja talks to his children, today about…
So the family often sat together in smaller or larger groups. Of course, they could still watch football matches at home. There were almost always broadcasts, of smaller, medium, larger games, not only because one was on the planet where football was played and there would have been some kind of obligation in that respect, but precisely because playing or watching football – although, as the children had long since understood, there was a universe-wide difference between the two – was simply fun.
Just to mention this difference – which was never mentioned in Earth times and apparently no one had ever thought about it – for once: when you play football yourself (and this applies to other sports as well), you are not primarily interested in whether there is an attractive, beautiful, high-scoring game or the opposite. And this is not just because as a player you perhaps put your own interests and even success above all other considerations, but it is simply because each individual has his or her task and wants to do it as best he or she can. The tasks include, for example, if one has the ball, passing it on to the next best teammate or, if a teammate has the ball, putting oneself in as good a position as possible to call for the ball or also holding one’s position and, if the ball is just on the other side of the field, waiting patiently, until it perhaps comes back to your side of the field, where you would then have to process it further, but it remains important – even in the event of a team losing the ball – that you do not allow a superior number of opponents to appear where you are and create a goal-scoring opportunity (as attractive as this might have been for the spectators! ).
Likewise, if your team is not in possession of the ball, you would have the task of preventing any goal-scoring opportunities that might arise – quite contrary to the interest of the spectators – and blocking your defensive side or simply winning the ball by skilful tackling. As a goalkeeper, the most obvious task would be to prohibit the spectator from the main purpose of his visit to the stadium (or wherever he might be looking) by preventing the balls, which could so wonderfully rush into the net, from doing exactly that. It should be mentioned here that in Putoia, due to the general fairness on the pitch and otherwise in dealing with each other, but also because a successful way of preventing a goal-scoring chance, within the framework of the rules, of course, could certainly be considered worthy of recognition – i.e. worthy of applause – and attractive, which logically also included a great save.
As one may emphasise again and again, the supporters of this or that team were by no means in the clear majority in Putioa, but rather neutral spectators – also in front of the screens – turned up in even greater frequency, who were watching out of pure enjoyment of the game – the game of football, but also the specific game in progress. Even those who were clearly identifiable by their “fan ID” (which was obviously displayed at least by the scarf they wore or the jersey they wore) often had an appreciative applause ready for successful actions of the opposing team, even though the action they were watching and praising in this way ran counter to their fundamental interests.
And Wanja took great pleasure in it, because after all, he was partly responsible for the fact that things were so civilised here and everyone did their bit to make it generally enjoyable. Whistles were seldom heard, but when they were, one could assume that they had a good reason and that someone had probably tried to gain an advantage in an unsportsmanlike way. This was not appreciated, even if it could be assumed that the sinner would be easily found out and would fail in his attempt (in contrast to how things used to be on earth!).
So today he simply took up the subject and asked the group: “You know what a swallow is?” “Of course. A player drops down even though he hasn’t been fouled. It still happens today, but only very rarely. The other day, in a school game, my opponent dropped even though I didn’t touch him. Didn’t you see that?” “Yes, sure, I remember. Otherwise, that’s true in essence, only there was a special kind of swallow on Earth, which only referred to the possible forcing of a penalty.” “Ok, tell!”
Vanya always lurked at this prompt, but apparently people enjoyed his stories and explanations. Friends, neighbours, now and then, of course, people of his generation who could still remember well, but perhaps had different views about it at the time.
So Vanya continued: “The problem of the swallows was basically related to the other problems. Name a few which come to your mind and which we have discussed many times and at length?” “Penalties were the wrong punishment for many foul actions in the penalty area, strikers and defenders were not treated equally but there were different assessments of their foul actions, to the detriment of the strikers and thus the scoring of goals, in general there were too many rule violations and the rules were not designed to prevent a reoccurrence of an offence as much as possible, there were too few goals, so that a single goal often decided a game and in this respect people somehow struggled to recognise a goal.”
“Wow,” Wanja marvelled, “that works out great with you guys. That’s exactly how it was. But there is always a history of how it could develop in individual cases. And in the case of the Swallows, it was like this: purely intuitively, everyone seemed to sense that it was getting harder and harder to score a goal and that it was always a bit too much of a reward to get a penalty kick for any foul in the penalty area – according to the apparently untouchable rule. So the strikers began to fall down here and there, even when they were very lightly touched. Everyone – including the referee who had to judge the scene – sensed that the attacking party would love to exchange this action for a penalty kick. In the early days, there were no referee observers and no multitude of cameras and, moreover, it was much more often the home team that was on the attack and wanted to force the decisive goal, while the visiting team was content with the draw. So the crowd, together with the falling player, would whistle for a penalty, which the referee would often award, unprotected by external pressure (he was alone against everyone, without the observers and without the cameras), even if here and there only at the second or third attempt.”
Vanya let these words sink in for a moment. Yes, he remembered, that was exactly how it was. And you would often read in the newspaper – when there were no cameras at all, as was usual at many games, but only a reporter in the stadium – that the penalty kick that resulted in the winning goal was a dubious decision. You couldn’t judge it for yourself, but somehow everyone knew: that way the home team always had a little extra advantage and this or that penalty was guaranteed to be a “battered” one. But he could see from the faces that his words fell on fertile ground. Somehow his reasoning always made sense, although the comprehensibility of the other acting persons remained low and one always had to ask oneself this one question: “Didn’t anyone notice anything?”
So he continued, for, understandable as it had been so far, one still missed a punchline to the affair. “The attention was getting higher. There were more cameras, more games broadcast and the referee could no longer hide. The players were also watched more closely, through better cameras and slow motion from all possible angles. Fingers were pointed at sinners thus caught and referees also had to face awkward questions.”
“Well, we’re still coming along that far. But the fact is that penalties really were flayed and that it was better if this did not happen soon? That’s when you got closer to the justice you so often talk about, not further away from it, right?”
“That’s true on the face of it, but it didn’t stop there. It was virtually assumed by every striker that he wanted the penalty as soon as he made a move to pounce. The defenders also learned that it was not THEY who were the sinners but more and more the strikers with their ‘contrived acting’ who came into focus. The basis was and remained, of course, that intuition told every observer that a penalty was practically always too much of a reward and that the hitherto tiny goal chance was given an enormous boost by the penalty kick. Only no one ever mentioned this in an argument. In discussions, it was really only about: was there contact or was there none, was it a penalty or not?
That was far from enough: the defenders now knew that the strikers were the defendants. This not only meant that they could enter the duels more and more energetically, and that this was almost never classified as a foul worthy of a penalty, no, they were even allowed – and used this to good effect – after they had once again committed a light, medium or heavy foul of their own, whereupon the striker went down, They were allowed to run straight at the striker and give him a good talking to about what he was trying to get out of it with this display – and often enough the referee fell for this display by the defender, and he went straight to the striker and rubbed the yellow card in his face. “
“It’s all getting silly now.”
“Well, it was all silly. It was ridiculous. The commentators also went on and on in their ‘striker hunt’, because they too felt that although there was always fouling in the penalty area, there was rarely a penalty for it, only they didn’t doubt the rules but kept pushing the argument against the penalties higher and higher. First it was said, in the commentary, ‘that’s not enough for a penalty’. Later they even said, without ever thinking about it, ‘this foul is not enough for a penalty’. With the first formulation, they could still have justified it if you asked WHAT was actually not enough? That which was not, or was something? No’, would be the answer, ‘it wasn’t a foul, you don’t get a penalty like that, that’s not enough, even though the striker would have liked it that way’. Only with the second answer does the reporter who speaks in this way run out of arguments, since he has already indicated with the formulation ‘this foul is not enough’ that something has taken place, and indeed a foul. Only it was a foul not sufficient for a penalty, because of the millions of precedents where there had also been no penalty for such a foul.”
“So were there swallows or were there not?” “Well, the strikers also felt that they were somehow wronged, only they had no voice for it and lacked the lobby and the language. They simply went with the flow. And even though it hurt a thousand times and they were once again victims of an injustice, they just carried on. The commentary on the later scenes was often: ‘He wanted it too much’ or, if a striker didn’t fall but kept playing, ‘If he had fallen there, he would have got a penalty’. That the speaker was actually mistaken in both cases – i.e. if one fell, then this was often the result of foul play, and not the stalling of a penalty kick, as he would never have dared to do so, knowing that it would only have detrimental consequences and would be interpreted negatively against him, including the assured yellow card; and if he did not fall, then he was mistaken in that the claim that he would have got it if he had fallen was not true and the striker even knew this. In consequence, it meant for the striker: if you fall, you don’t get it because you fell, if you keep playing, you don’t get it because you kept playing. Summa summarum: you never get one, so just keep playing and let them have a go.”
“As unfair as this was obviously.” “You’ve got the point.”
“Still,” his boy objected, “it was all very well so far, because at least there were no more swallows now? At least this should have been abolished, surely? Because before it wasn’t exactly funny either: penalties for nothing because the ref fell for it?”
“No, not quite. The real point of the story is the reversal of the situation. You’re thinking: there were no more penalties. That’s right. The strikers didn’t dare anymore. The only thing that has worked here is that you want to eradicate a violation of the rules, you set a high penalty that does not fail to have a deterrent effect. It doesn’t happen any more. But the defenders have learned much more: they have learned that it is not THEY, the referees, the spectators, the media, who are the sinners, but it is the strikers who are the focus of attention again and again. So when a touch was allegedly not enough for a penalty, there was only and immediately a discussion about yellow or not yellow. And mostly with the result: ‘he should have got a yellow’ or at least ‘he was lucky that it wasn’t interpreted as a swallow’. In this way, the reporters cleared their own consciences, which told them all along that there was actually a lot wrong here, but if you emphasise the importance of a single scene – namely such a penalty – then you create a sufficient counterweight for five other cases that ended up the other way round. In other words, a scene which, in retrospect, would have been assessed as a penalty kick, which was not given.” Short, reverent silence. You had to let that sink in for a moment.
“No, but the real punchline was this: the defenders increasingly took advantage of this one-sided interpretation in their favour. So when a striker took the ball from them and threatened to create a great goal-scoring opportunity, they would simply let themselves down. One of them might have just tried it and, perhaps to his own surprise, got a free kick for it. The next one followed suit. And so this planted itself in no time at all. The strikers were the sinners and the guilty ones. First they ALWAYS want a penalty in the penalty area, but then they also foul themselves, chase the ball away from the defender, and in this disgraceful way want to score a goal in such a roundabout way? No, the simple remedy is for the defender to lie on his nose. The referee then probably thinks: ‘well, if he falls, then something MUST have happened, otherwise he wouldn’t do it and would rather chase the ball and the opponent’. So blow the whistle, striker’s foul. Apart from the fact that a single goal, as you know, was almost always a decisive one in those days, with an average of barely three goals per game, and that you always kind of got a scare before one fell: was everything above board here too?”
“Ah, I see: it’s long been the defenders themselves who do the swallowing – and always get a free kick instead of a yellow for it?”
“That’s exactly what it looked like. There were still swallows – maybe until today, we’d have to pay the earth a short visit? – only the real sinners were never caught. They fall, the whistle blows, the striker is indignant, holds his hands in front of his face, shakes his head, because not only does he say ‘what have I done now?’, but at the same time he says – purely intuitively, without being able to pronounce it exactly like that – ‘don’t you remember how HE tackled ME in the penalty area earlier, and that was NOT a foul? And that was definitely more than the nothing I just did’, there is also never a slow-motion replay, but if there is, the announcer also says ‘I didn’t really see anything, he could have let it go’, but no one crows about it any more and the striker never gets justice and the real sinner – the defender – is never prosecuted either.”
“An all-round unjust world. No, these earthlings. Are we actually earthlings too?” “No, you are earthlings of the second generation. From the third, that is, from your children on, you don’t even mention it any more.