Wanja talks to his children, today about…
These rounds of conversations happened again and again. The children were somewhere fascinated and at the same time alienated. But they also wanted to understand the history of their own planet and its founding ideas. A kind of “Heimatkunde” of the highly modern kind. Of course, they also talked about it when they themselves were lucky enough to catch a few tickets for a game, which actually had to be raffled off in Putoia because of the great interest. It was sometimes lucky to get a ticket at all for the huge areas around the stadiums, from which one had a clear view of … only the giant screens on which the game was being broadcast. Without commentary, but always at ball level. Both had their appeal, but the real stadium atmosphere was still preferable, most agreed, although it was more likely that mine could not experience an exciting scene from the seats as up close as in front of the stadium, on the screens.
So if at any time there was a match scene in the stadium that reminded Vanya of earlier times — for example, actually a foul play, as rare as that was? –, he couldn’t help himself. “In the old days, on earth…”… and he continued, even if the children often already knew the wording, but nevertheless, Wanja always had a surprise ready, so he had his listeners for sure, “do you know how many foul plays there were per game?” and the children might not have known that detail yet. “So, Dad, how often were there those stoppages of play that nobody here wants to see?” “I made a statistic once and was rather surprised that there were not as many foul plays as I had suspected. It was only between twenty and thirty per game.” “But that’s an enormous amount? Here there are at most two or three per game, aren’t there?” “I only meant that it felt like more. But that was certainly because there were many more of them, but absolutely not every one was whistled. But also otherwise it felt like somehow there was a stoppage all the time, that’s true. It’s nicer when the ball is rolling. And all you have to do is follow the rules.”
“So you say, Dad, about twenty to thirty fouls per game. That’s a lot, we think, isn’t it?” Agreement from the siblings, with energetic nods. “But then why did the players harm their team so often? Surely no one here would do that, for good reasons, because a foul is not only ugly, you could hurt yourself or your opponent, no one likes to see it, but for that there is logically a penalty that hurts the team and the player himself?” “Yes, for you here it is natural. That’s why I put you over my knee once a week for all the things I didn’t catch you doing, because punishment has to be…” “… Dad, you’re not going to put us over your knee? What are you talking about? “…hmm, no? But then I guess I should get it on urgently?”. He continued, much more seriously, “Yes, as I told you before but as it is readily understood by everyone really: any game you play only works properly if you play by the rules.” “That’s exactly how we learned it. And – yes, Dad, we know — that also applies to road traffic, for example.” “I see you listen to me well.”
“So you don’t need it explained to you that foul play is a violation of the rules and not, as we often used to hear, ‘part of the game’.” “Yeah, right. And further, how was it now in the past, on earth? Why did they hurt their team so often now? Or are you saying they didn’t at all?” “That’s exactly what it boils down to. In the first rules for the game, there weren’t that many of them. There weren’t eleven men per team, but let’s say they played something like this: both with an equal number of players, one ball, two goals, ball may be played with all parts of the body except the upper extremities – that is, arm and hand. A goal is scored when the ball has crossed the goal line with its full circumference. Play is restarted with the kick-off. If the ball goes out at the touch line, there is a throw-in – exceptionally to be taken with the hand –, if it goes out on the baseline, there is a kick-off or corner kick, depending on who played the ball last. And one more rule: each team has one player who is allowed to guard the goal and to use ALL parts of his body within a delimited space – the penalty area. That’s all there really was.”
“Alright, so how were there any problems with breaking the rules?” “Well, one liked to play and played better and better, only gradually that came into play which perhaps somehow distinguishes people after all: one wanted to be better than the other. Let’s call it ‘ambition’, you should know and be familiar with that.” Consent. “And if a player overdid it a bit with his ambition, then it could sometimes happen that he resorted to unfair means….” “… and tripped up the opponent, for example?” “Something like that. Now that wasn’t proper and the opponent was certainly incensed, but you had to play on somehow. In the beginning, it might even have been declared unintentional, things like that happen, so there’s a free kick and the game goes on. In the early days, nobody really thought about whether a spectator would want to see that or whether it would bring advantages or disadvantages. You just play on, the team of the fouled player remains in possession of the ball, if you got close to goal you could even shoot the ball directly at goal because it was lying there and it was written into the rules that the opposing players had to be at least ten yards away. That was quite a lot of space, wasn’t it?” “Well here in Putoia it’s eleven yards. And that’s more than ten yards, isn’t it?” “Yes, here I was also involved, only on earth it was so that it was written down once and then just never changed again. No one bothered with whether or how useful this rule, recorded in about 1861, would be. Ten yards, written down once, done. You can’t do anything about it. But we’ll talk about that another time. Today I wanted to talk more about following the rules, didn’t I?” “Ok, just go on. Apparently it was just that you didn’t really do any damage with a foul play?”
“That’s exactly how it was. The players fought the duels with more and more commitment. The defenders learned: we often get the ball if we push a little, pull a little, shove a little, block a little, extend our backsides or briefly touch the jersey with our hands, but really only very briefly and only a little bit, so that you really can’t whistle for it, and the striker can’t get any further. But the crowning glory was this: if the whistle was blown, then there was a free kick. And a free kick did not result in a personal penalty and the game situation that resulted from the free kick was in no way more favourable than the one that would have existed if the foul had not taken place at all.” “So you just fouled and either recovered the ball or, the worst that could happen was a free kick against you, but from which the opponent could not take any advantage at all? That’s totally unfair!” “That was exactly the problem. It all crept in little by little. The defenders realised more and more how they could foul so cleverly that it wasn’t even punished, only when it happened it wasn’t even a problem. It was pure paradise for defenders.” “No, why don’t you show us a record from the old days, we can’t imagine. Didn’t anyone notice anything?” “No, that was never an issue.”
“That wasn’t even the only advantage the defenders had. You have to imagine a striker trying to steal the ball from a defender.” “Well, then he had the better side, didn’t he? Now he finally had a chance to benefit from the defender’s bonus, now he could poke or hook or whatever with impunity, couldn’t he?” “No, that’s exactly what he couldn’t do. If an attacker even started to struggle for the ball, then the defender leading the ball knew exactly: ‘if I lose the ball now, I’ll simply fall down. Then I ALWAYS get a free kick.'” “And why should that have been? No, we don’t believe that, you just can’t imagine that.” “Yes, it was exactly like that. We’ll watch a game or at least a few scenes from an earthly football match? What do you think?” “Scary-beautiful!”