Dialogue between two football fans
The other day I had the opportunity to listen in on a conversation between two real football fans. Since I was bored myself and just wanted to enjoy my beer at the end of the day, I had the fun of listening to the conversation. And not only that, I even memorised it and wrote it down. And to be quite honest, it also made me think a little. One was the do-gooder, the idealist, but also the eternal complainer. The other was more a representative of the Franz Beckenbauer mentality. After all, the emperor’s word is valid here and always: “Let’s leave the footballs as they are. In return, the latter, friend Kalle — quite rightly, of course — could claim to “know everything about football”, to “have what it takes to be a national coach himself” (thus hardly distinguishable from about 20 million other German citizens) and, on top of that, to be a stadium-goer and real enthusiast. He has his ear to the ground, so to speak. Everything the media throws at him every day is greedily devoured, hotly discussed, of course with “his very own view”, as he puts it, and forgotten again the next week because the next topic is set and he doesn’t want to have to starve, so he eats again. His name is Kalle and he knows them all, what’s more, he “just knows his way around”, you can tell immediately.
I was just in time to hear how the do-gooder came up with such a thesis: “I want to make football more exciting, more attractive and fairer.” Quite banal, I thought, and I almost went back to my own tabloid. After all, I had to find out what Hertha’s chances of winning the title really were. But I still listened to Kalle’s answer, which didn’t surprise me at all: “What, isn’t it exciting for you? Everyone’s talking about the ‘most exciting championship ever’, the stadiums are overflowing, the media are full of reports, there’s a live match almost every day, the Champions League is exciting, Ballack is there, and there are always a few million people watching. It doesn’t get any better than that. And you don’t find the game interesting? Well, then I feel sorry for you. And everything’s just as it should be. What would we talk about all week if we didn’t make a little mistake here and there? The players make mistakes, the referees too, it’s normal.”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t exciting. It is exciting, it is attractive. But it could be even better. When I give a woman a compliment, I don’t just say ‘You look great today’, I say ‘You look even better than yesterday’, do you understand? She could still get the idea of taking the first compliment as an insult. Like: ‘Why is he saying that today of all days? Or is he just noticing it now? What was wrong with me yesterday?’. The stadiums are full, that’s true. But who knows how full they could be? Or how big they could be filled once they were built? Football is booming, I know that too. But who knows how many more fans you could win? Now let’s go through it point by point. Do you agree?” Kalle: “Well, if you give me one, I’ll listen to all of it.” “Okay, then, two beers please.” to the waitress and “Well, let’s go through them one by one.” to Kalle.
Then he continues: “No one can say anything against the idea of making it more exciting and attractive, can they?” Kalle: “No, not that. But who tells you that if you change something that’s going on, you don’t make it worse? Well, first of all, don’t mind. How is it supposed to become more ‘attractive’? I’m curious about that.” Our idealist: “Well, first of all, you can say that there is a connection between ‘attractiveness’ and ‘number of goals’, right? More goals, more excitement. Is that true or not true?”
First come the beers. “Well, if you buy me a few more beers, I’ll say ‘it’s true’ for all of them. But I haven’t got that far yet. Football is only exciting because there aren’t so many goals. If you want to see a lot, go to ice hockey or handball. I think it’s fine the way it is. Basta and cheers.” The dreamer joins in the drinking, but doesn’t let up. “All right, then I’ll ask you which games you remember best. Say, like, off the top of my head, a game.” Kalle seems mollified, probably by the beer, and relents. “Well, the first one that comes to mind was Germany against Italy in the World Cup in ’70. I was still small then and cried afterwards, I think I’ll remember now.” “Okay,” says the theorist, “but just to remind myself, how did the game actually end? But you don’t have to say anything. I saw it too and never forgot it. Italy won 4:3 after extra time.” Kalle, a little quieter: “Well, there were seven goals, so there’s that. But I think I only remembered it as a child because it was the first time, such a drama.” Our idealist dares to raise a small objection: “And it has nothing to do with the number of goals, does it?” “No, all right, I don’t know. But it was just that, because first the ones in front, then the others and then the others again, they equalised again, and then the others again, then equalised again, again behind, and then it was over, that’s why it was so dramatic.” Somehow I felt the little dreamer slowly gaining the upper hand. And even I could follow the argument playfully when he said, “Yes, but first one in front, then the others in front, then equalised again and then the firsts again, equalised again, firsts again, that only works if seven goals are scored. Right?” I’m sure I missed it when he said, “You’re right in a way.”
To be honest, I almost forgot the following little interlude, but somehow it was about a second, great game, one from the Bundesliga, and one of them remembered that it was the game Stuttgart – Werder, season 2003/2004 after all, if it wasn’t Schalke – Leverkusen, season 2005/2006. The results of the two? Well, I really had to look in my archives now. But one ended 4:4, the other 7:4. Kalle bridged the gap by ordering a beer. But I remembered them too. And you just had to remember the tension and drama. Was it really just because something like that happens so rarely? Yes, that seemed logical to me.
“Well,” was the first thing I heard Kalle say again, “but how are there going to be more goals? Now don’t start with ‘we’ll make the goals bigger’ or ‘offside has to go’ or any of that nonsense. The Americans tried that too, but it won’t work. Vajiss et.” “No, I really didn’t want it that way. Even if I respect the Americans very much, they make every sport exciting, and they would do the same with football. But these ideas are both really no good. Converting all the football goals in the world? No one will go along with that. And offside has to be there, too, as has already been seen in tests. At the very least, the change would be far more than ‘minimal’ and the effects unforeseeable. All the tactics developed over 130 years would have to be thrown overboard, the game would almost have to be relearned. All the players who are already big now and have had a long education would also run up a storm. No, that’s not what I mean. I don’t like it either.” Kalle gets impatient: “Well then, let’s get started. What do you want to do now?” The do-gooder: “No, actually my intervention is relatively small. For me, it would be enough to apply the existing rules for the time being.”
This argument also “sat” with me somehow. Kalle also had to collect himself for an answer. “What do you mean? What do you mean now? The rules are applied, what else?” The rules expert was now in his element: “Yes, you think so. I’m just asking you to think about the term ‘foul worthy of a penalty’ for a moment.” Kalle took another audible breath. “Oh, now I know what you mean. Haha, others have already said that. You’re the kind of guy who wants to take a penalty for every little push. No, that won’t work. There are twenty penalties per game, so there’s nothing exciting about it. The rule-fox continues. “Sure, I know that already, but I took the liberty of thinking about it a bit more. And there are two points I would like to examine. One is that — and it wouldn’t be clear to me whether the rules have changed there yet — if there is foul play in the penalty area, according to the rule, there should be a penalty kick. The fact that one speaks of a ‘foul not worthy of a penalty’ can only be due to the fact that one does recognise it as a foul, but for such a minor offence one cannot award the ‘maximum penalty’ penalty. So one thing is clear: one knows that a foul has been committed. But the only possible penalty — and I’ll say it right away: the only penalty that can be imposed at the moment — is a penalty kick, and this penalty seems very harsh for such a minor offence. So you don’t pronounce it, although you would be obliged to do so according to the rule.” Kalle becomes more thoughtful again. He covers it up with thirst and another beer order. Only: this time he picks up the bill and that too voluntarily. My thought on this: The point goes to the rules expert, even Kalle understands that.
The theorist then takes the floor again, Kalle is quieted for the moment: “So if you were to apply the existing rules — purely hypothetically — then first of all it is clear that with the current interpretation of the rules there are certain breaches of the rules that are recognised but not punished. The seriousness of the offence is not sufficient for a penalty. This suggests another consideration: there are offences that take place in the penalty area that deserve a penalty other than a penalty. If I were on the Rules Commission, I personally would be absolutely uninterested in traditions or assessments like ‘it’s always been that way’. I would actually dare to ask the experts whether they could imagine that an alternative penalty could be provided for minor offences by the defender against the striker that are not ‘worthy of a penalty’. If I could just name two spontaneous ideas, as in the brainstorming: a short corner or a free shot from 16 metres instead of the previous 11…”. Now Kalle is thawing out again. He doesn’t let it get him down that quickly. Besides, when you’re cornered, sometimes you grasp at the thinnest straw. So Kalle says: “Hey, one minute you’re telling me you don’t want to change any rules, the next minute you’re coming up with a suggestion about what you should change. You probably don’t know what you want.”
This time, the do-gooder uses the beer he has brought to toast and the pause in the conversation to give his words even more weight: “No, look: as a precaution, I spoke of two points that would have to be examined, knowing full well that at this point you would immediately start looking for errors. I spoke of using the existing rules as a sufficient change to make the game more attractive. You could agree with me to the extent that there are minor offences that one – i.e. also the referee — recognises as a foul, but ignores because of the fact that there is only one possible punishment — namely the penalty, and that seems too harsh. This led me to think — and this is the promised point two — what would happen if they were punished, and punished fairly? The rule provides for penalties, the referee decides according to the rule and gives the penalty. No one could complain, complain or complain. The referee says, in the interview after the game: ‘I saw the slight obstruction as foul play. As a rule, if it’s a foul, it’s a penalty. So I gave a penalty.’ This interview is not over either: ‘Do you understand the voices that spoke of a too harsh decision?’ Answer of the whistle blower: ‘Of course the penalty is harsh. The attacker who was fouled was not directly in a shooting position and the foul did not prevent a goal-scoring opportunity of the magnitude of a penalty. But I am not in charge of how the rules are made and what the rules are, I am there to apply the existing rules and nothing else. That’s what I did.’ This questioner is also condemned to silence by this skilful choice of words.
Now, for my sake, the rules commissions – as described above – could take action. But I am still asking for your personal assessment. And the task is not much more difficult than the question about the 1 plus 1: What, dear Kalle, would be the dramatic consequence that makes us all shudder if the referee were to decide on a penalty kick even for minor fouls not worthy of a penalty kick, as the rule provides?” Kalle first took a big sip from his glass to gain some time. But then came the astonishing answer: “At first I thought that twenty penalties would be normal, as Berti Vogts had already said. But now I’ve really thought it over. I think they’d be careful, the Vateidija, that they don’t cause any penalties.”
I, too, was almost ready to go along with this result. I quickly put 1 and 1 together again and realised that there was something to it. It’s like the burnt child and the fire. You’ve pulled on the jersey once, jostled the striker once without any great need, pushed the opponent down once in a header duel, and put your body between them once illegally. Experience teaches you very quickly: Ouch, we conceded a penalty, we conceded a goal, we lost. Next time, please be more careful in the duel, stay away rather than attacking. The consequence I imagined: more chances to score. Maybe even more goals? Possibly more than two games that I can remember in five years? Should that be possible? How did Hertha actually play against HSV last season? Oh yes, 0:0, my ass, hehe, I remember that well. First I was stuck in a traffic jam, then I was late, and then there was that awful match. Back there was another traffic jam and I missed half the sports show. As if you only remember high-scoring games…
And I almost felt as if I had already thought further ahead myself. What about the handball? I was already thinking about a hundred past “annoyances” that not only I but also the beloved reporters had “uncovered” on the Sportschau and where it was said again and again: “Here he should have simply decided on a penalty kick.” Everyone had seen it, certainly also the referee. But he still didn’t give a penalty. I even remembered that I had heard the expression “a courageous decision to give a penalty” in this context. And when the phrase was used repeatedly, I began to think about it. Why do people actually talk about courageous decisions? Why is it courageous to give a penalty? Aha, I concluded, it is courageous to give it. So it’s cowardly not to give one? I also know what else I thought: “Courageous” can only be called because there is a danger that the cameras will reveal that it wasn’t one. And then one would have decided the game by such a mistake. You would be guilty, the scapegoat. And nobody wants that.
Even the rule-fox had an example ready that I could remember well myself: “Did you see, at the weekend, in Hannover – Frankfurt, two clear penalties not given. But I don’t even want to talk about the first one. I don’t care whether he allegedly ‘didn’t see the action’ or just ‘didn’t judge the action correctly’. He doesn’t give a penalty and has nothing to fear. But in the second action, when the foul play clearly took place about half a metre inside the penalty area and he decided on a free kick outside the penalty area, you have to be allowed to talk about that.” Kalle said: “Yes, I saw that too. But it should have been a penalty, right?” “Yes, of course, you said it, I said it, the reporters said it, even the referee himself, if you asked him, would say it was inside. But he didn’t give a penalty, he gave a free kick, outside. The problem here, obviously: when you see a chance, you ‘move’ the place of the offence outside, even when it’s as clear as there. And do you know what the consequence is?” “No, what do you mean by consequence?” Regelfuchs: “Well, I’ll just tell you: He gets a referee mark of 4, with the reason ‘once he should have given a penalty’. And next week he whistles again.” The poor man has to put up with such a poor mark as a 4. I almost felt sorry for him for a moment. Surely they could have been lenient?
But Kalle takes up the ball again: “So what, what else? We only have a few referees. You do the job and they’ll all pick on you. Or do you think you should just have the whistle blown for a small mistake? Look at this. The game ended in a draw. And that didn’t hurt either of them.” I began to grow fond of the little expert. He had an answer for everything. And here, too. “No, I didn’t mean that he should be banned. I’m just telling you the reason why he didn’t give the penalty. And it wasn’t because he thought the foul had happened outside. He doesn’t give a penalty because nothing can happen to him. The penalty he gets is a 4. He can live with that, it won’t cost him his job anyway. He makes a decision that, as you rightly say, ‘everyone can live with’. But he’s not making the decision that the rule provides for. Nor does he make the decision according to how he saw the situation. He makes the decision ‘of least resistance’. No one is angry with him, a 4 on his report card, transfer not in jeopardy, next week I’ll do it again like that, simple as that.”
Now Kalle became bolder again: “Well then, what’s there to complain about? No one says anything, everyone’s happy, but you’ve got something to grumble about again.” But the theory fanatic can’t be shamed either. He replies: “I have made an observation and repeated it. Then I thought about it and finally I expressed my thoughts. So far, no direct damage can have been done. Whether grumbling or not. But I’ll tell you another little example of what happened in England last season.” Kalle: “Well, I’m listening.” “It was Liverpool against Chelsea. Liverpool were leading 1-0, and deserved it. Then there was an unclear situation in the Liverpool penalty area. A Chelsea man fell down. The referee gave a penalty.” Kalle has really travelled a lot and is actually interested in English football? I was amazed (I remembered the reason: of course it was Chelsea, Ballack plays for Chelsea, Ballack is German, even the German media report on it), but he added: “Yes, I’ve seen that too. Elfa was Jeschenk. That’s who it really was.” Friend rule expert: “Exactly. That was no one. They had already figured that out after the third slow motion. But it was given. The penalty was in, the game ended 1-1, and do you know what happened to the referee?” Kalle: “No, I didn’t hear anything.” The do-gooder: “There was a huge scandal and the man was banned for two months.” Kalle shakes his head, looking thoughtful. His colleague continues: “You see what happens when you do it the other way round. Giving a penalty that wasn’t one.”
Kalle leans back and ponders, you wouldn’t believe it. I too had a few thoughts in my head about what the do-gooder was trying to say. And as much as I resisted the thought, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Kalle ordered another round, this time even for me, because he had noticed that I was listening so attentively. And took over again, but somehow changed: “I don’t know, but I didn’t know that he was suspended. The penalty wasn’t allowed, no question. Liverpool were also robbed of two points. But when Bayern didn’t take a penalty, as was reported in the BILD last week, they also stole two points. They investigated exactly who got how many, and Bayern warned them all together. I can see that. It was also too harsh a punishment to suspend him.” The idealist was now really on his game: “Yes,” he said, “but not only that the penalty against a referee for a penalty that was given and demonstrably not justified is a suspension. Think about how a) the other referees whistled the week after and how b) the man carried on after his ‘reprieve’. It’s second nature to everyone. You can blow the whistle on anything or let anything pass, whatever and wherever you want. There’s only one thing you must never, ever, under any circumstances do: give a goal if it wasn’t one, correspondingly don’t give a penalty if it wasn’t one.”
After the beer had come and I was also “included in the merry circle”, friend Regelfuchs continued again: “Who still remembers the Werder – Dortmund game, last season?” Well, and although Kalle really knows everything now, it didn’t occur to him. I wasn’t the right person to be questioned anyway. But when the theorist continued: “Well, the game and the result started a discussion about the rules for a certain reason,” Kalle was able to pick up the ball again: “Oh, now I know, Werder scored a goal that wasn’t there, right? As it gradually dawned on me that there had been ‘something’, he continued: “Yes, that’s right. Werder had scored a goal that was clearly identified as offside. And not only was the unfortunate mishap shamelessly ‘revealed’ in the subsequent sports programme, no, a particular sensation was caused by the fact that the replay of the goal was shown on the video screen after the goal, which was forbidden. Everyone, spectators and others involved, saw this, even the referee himself was publicly ‘duped’. Mr. Merk, our top man, had a few remarkable words to say afterwards. He even took this as an opportunity to submit a 30-page paper to the DFB in which he vehemently demanded video evidence, with a right of veto for both sides plus the referee himself, which would then immediately be judged by an independent committee.”
And Kalle chimed in, now as a real expert again: “Well, that’s nonsense, now I know. Video evidence and all that nonsense is no good. Others have already suggested it. And I know why it can’t work. That’s why football is so good, because it’s so simple and because everyone can play with the same rules. In the amateurs and the professionals. And it has to stay that way. Otherwise there will soon be a divide and two associations, like in boxing, where no one can see who is the world champion and who is in. No, you can’t be serious now, such nonsense.” But our do-gooder, as usual, had the right answer ready: “Well, have I already said what I think is right and what I would do? And Kalle, foaming at the mouth with beer, had to admit: “No, you didn’t. Now tell me, what do you mean?” And the rules expert continued: “Well, first of all it’s remarkable that Mr Merk writes such a long paper after he has recognised a goal that wasn’t one. I had seen so many scenes over the weeks, months and years where the cameras had clearly shown ‘handball’, ‘no offside’ or even ‘clear penalty’. Each of these actions would most likely have led to a goal, if it wasn’t already a sure goal, as is often the case with offside, which was disallowed. But after such recurring scenes and mistakes, no one has a 30-page paper, nor a one-page paper. No paper was written at all. It just goes through. Everyone agrees: it was a penalty, it wasn’t given, it was a goal, it should have counted, then comes the next scene and the same statement. And then ‘no one crows about it any more’. Everyone excuses the tomato referees later with ‘well, it was hard to see’ and so on. But when, as happened, a goal counts that shouldn’t have, or a penalty is given that wasn’t one, as in Chelsea – Liverpool,…”
I gradually realised what he was getting at and spoke up myself: “Oh, now I understand. You mean, a goal that isn’t given doesn’t cause a stir, one that is given even though it shouldn’t have counted causes even our top referee to call for a rule change. After the game, hadn’t Mr Merk even spoken of his ‘worst mistake in the last 10 years’?” Our expert was really surprised that I remembered something like that. But that had bothered me at the time, too. “Yes,” he continued, “and that’s what I was actually trying to say with that example. It was the worst mistake I’ve made in the last 10 years. Sure, I understand that it had hurt him especially that everyone, including himself, could see it on the video screen. You have to count that. But still: the top man talks about this ‘worst mistake’. And also there the question about the consequence: how do you think the referees decided in the week after, when it came to an unclear scene?”
Kalle was somehow lost in himself. I painstakingly tried to add up 1 and 1 one more time. I came up with something like 1.9, because I had spilled a bit of my beer, so I hadn’t quite drunk two. But I still had a suggestion, I even put myself in the referee’s shoes: “Yes, if I were a referee, I would simply call offside, not a goal and not a penalty in an unclear situation. I’m in the clear. Otherwise you have to fear the worst. A ban or Germany-wide disgrace and shouts of defamation. And then write 30 pages about it. It’ll be a bit long. No goal, no foul, no penalty, but offside, I’m in! Everybody does it, I see.”
The rule fox seemed to have us where he wanted us. We were practically eating out of his hand. He had further explanations ready, “Do you know it has something to do with psychology, yes?” We were willing and nodded in agreement. So he continued, “Well, you are also familiar with ‘the path of least resistance’, I suppose?” Further agreement. “Ok,” he continued, “then you have already accepted the first part of the explanation. The referee whistles in such a way that he gets as little opposition as possible, the decision is to be made where he gets the least scolding, the decision that everyone can still live with, the one where he doesn’t get hanged straight away. And it’s obviously the one that doesn’t allow a goal.”
Yes, indeed, we could no longer resist, nodding, approval all round.
Now there was no stopping him: “Okay, an offside decision where you can say afterwards ‘yes, it wasn’t offside, he was wrong here, but it was really close and difficult to see, no reproach to the assistant’ is completely d’accord. One where the flag is left down, the goal is scored and afterwards it is proven that he should have indicated it, it was offside, just as close, but this time ‘off'” — here he quickly explained to us that in English there is the rule “offside” for offside, but that they have an opposite word for it, unlike in German, which is “onside” – to continue: “then his head is ripped off. He has decided the game with this mistake, such mistakes simply must not happen and new rules are immediately worked out, apart from the fact that he has to fear for his job because of such a catastrophic decision. So he remembers one thing: if there is even the slightest possibility that a player could have been offside, then raise the flag. Nothing happens to me, that’s for sure.”
Strangely enough, we were both suddenly able to follow playfully. But he “wasn’t done yet”: “The same goes for penalty decisions. If you, as a referee, have the slightest doubt that an action that would actually be recognised everywhere as foul play this time, because it takes place in the penalty area, could not be a foul, then don’t give a penalty. Nothing will happen to you, except that you might get a four.” Yes, yes, yes, so on: “There’s a second justification there too, which you make even without thinking about it, intuitively, but whoever thought about it once still makes it like that. And this justification is like this: ‘he wanted the penalty’. It is also the truth. The penalty is pretty much the biggest possible scoring chance. So as a striker, you’d love to swap virtually any situation for the penalty. Even if you’re running all alone towards the goalkeeper and you get knocked down from behind, you get the penalty, but even then you’ve usually ‘made a good deal’. The penalty chance is the top chance in football. Only a field player who takes a hand on the line has prevented an even greater chance. But according to the rules, he should also ‘march’. Unless his name is Christian Wörns, he plays for Germany in a World Cup quarter-final against the USA and Germany would be out with the goal against. In that case, the referee can leave both tomatoes in his eyes and squeeze them both shut. But that really doesn’t belong here. So if there’s the slightest doubt, don’t give a penalty and don’t give a goal.”
For me at least, a very slight depression crept in. I had somehow followed football normally for many years, was eagerly awaiting the Sportschau every Saturday, and always dutifully joined in the discussion when it was about “king of the swallows” and “emergency brakes”, dismissals of coaches or the brutalisation of morals on the pitch (by the way, it’s a scandal that Tim Wiese shouts into the microphone: “Sch… HSV”, isn’t it?), I was there and had also “really loved” the “dearest child” quite nicely and quite like an average citizen. But now it seemed to me that I wasn’t allowed to do it any more, something was wrong, or I had missed something and that made me so sad. Or how was I supposed to watch the sports show on Saturday with the same joy? Kalle had also become very silent. Was it the same for him?
It continued to bubble out of the man who had long since ceased to be a mere theoretician: “There are two other reasons why the referees whistle the way they do. Another psychological reason, which is actually obvious if you think about it carefully. One is that in today’s football a goal has a very big influence on the distribution of chances for the game. So if you concede a goal for 1:0, which gives even the slightest cause for doubt, then you have, emotionally, already ‘almost decided the whole game’. It’s 1:0, they’re standing in the back, only one half left to play, they’ll be fine. That makes them even more reluctant to concede a goal, to give a penalty. Christoph Daum recently said a disastrous, much ridiculed but therefore no less true sentence: ‘the referees are increasingly becoming match deciders’. He’s right, but he gets booed. Of course: his Cologne team had been disallowed the correct 2:2. In this respect, he is considered biased here, the statement worthless, shifting the blame as an attempt to justify a defeat. Nevertheless, what he says is true.
One goal makes all the difference. If you give one, you’ve decided the game that way, if you give the penalty on the other side, you’ve decided it the other way. A tiny tenth of a second, a spontaneous decision, the whole game is over. And then you think of the possibility that it was a wrong decision.”
Now I had found at least a small starting point for a doubt in his observations: “Yes, but if you don’t give a goal, which should have counted, then you have also decided the game, haven’t you?” Well, I should have saved that. His chain of reasoning was seamless and it seemed to me as if he had already been waiting for the question: “Well, that’s what you think, on the surface. But it’s not like that, at least not psychologically. If you were to look at the diagram – and I’ve made one for myself — how the chances are shifted by a goal — there are really huge jags in the diagram by a goal that is scored. So I’ll put it in figures: if a game is 0-0 after 60 minutes, then the favourite, let’s say any game, Dortmund – Hannover, only has a 30% chance of winning the game. But if they now score a goal and take a 1:0 lead, then this chance skyrockets to 85%. The game is hardly winnable beforehand and afterwards it’s almost won. Do you understand?”
Kalle also had time for a little intermezzo: “What are you talking about percentages? They score the goal or they don’t score any more. There are no percentages there.” Well, you don’t have to comment on every remark. Our expert continued: “In any case, if a goal is disallowed, everything remains the same, so to speak. There is no shift in the distribution of chances. As a referee, you can always say to yourself: ‘Well, they still have enough time to score a goal. It’s a tendency, a tendency that people, including ourselves, are afraid of such big changes, so to speak. It’s better to keep everything as it is, you prefer it that way.”
As daring as his theories were, they seemed firstly well thought out and secondly, on reflection, somehow sensible. “Everything remains as it is” is somehow a natural predisposition of man. You settle into a state, get used to it, can plan and deal with it. Making a change, taking a new direction, making a new plan takes strength. There was something to what he said. Even if you stole a goal from a team, as later proved to be the case, at least you didn’t bring about this big change. If you do, by conceding a goal that may later be proven to be irregular, then you have caused a shift that should not have happened. One mistake causes an unlawful shift in the odds, the other causes the odds to remain unlawfully the same. Which mistake do you prefer to make? Had I studied psychology without knowing about it?
On the way home, inspired by what I had heard, I concluded further : If referees would more often make the so-called “courageous decision” and decide on penalties in case of a foul or hand in the penalty area, there would either be more penalties or more goal chances. Rather just, at least after a short period of acclimatisation, more goal chances. More goal chances is fun for everyone (except perhaps the fans of the team allowing the goal chance), everyone wants to see the positive action, the finish or, ultimately, the goal. More goals, more exciting games. It would be the same with offside: Leave the flag down for a change, most people (except the few fans again) will thank you for it. The striker runs alone towards the goal, that’s drama, high tension, and not again and again, accompanied by the reporter’s slogan, the anticlimax: “Don’t get excited. The flag is already up, offside indicated,” only to say half the time, after watching the slow motion, “Oh, he was wrong here. Shouldn’t that work? The old “wildfire propagation wisdom”: one goal – another goal – many goals. That would be kind of … great?
And I thought even further. If you had this greater number of goal-scoring opportunities, then perhaps at some point the significance of a single goal conceded or disallowed would no longer be so great, so significant. When a goal is conceded, today you might think: “Oh, 0:1, that’s it” and later you think: “Oh, 0:1, now it’s getting really exciting”, because you can simply count on more goals. And 0:1 is perhaps still harmless, but after a 0:2 I’m told often enough today, even at the beginning of the second half, “That was the decision. The lid is on” and other similar rubbish that I don’t want to hear. I want excitement, I want excitement — not chants. More goals guarantee that, don’t they?
Somehow the depression gradually gave way to downright euphoria. It could soon be real fun and I could once again watch a game not out of the age-old attachment to the game but out of genuine anticipation, of exciting scenes, great goals, players running free who are not waved back – with the mostly insipid feeling that it was done wrongly – and defenders who are not constantly in the penalty area with their hands, arms, legs, feet on the opponents, on the jerseys, the trousers?
But you’d have to write it all down, wouldn’t you? And if this were done: who actually reads this nonsense?