Wanja talks to his children, today about…
the successful action
“When would we call an action ‘successful’ here?” asked Wanja to the group that had gathered again today. A perplexing question, it seemed. Surely the answer was obvious? What would there be to think about, in the end even to philosophise about? One of the boys ventured the simple proposition: “I play a pass, a teammate takes the ball. Successful all round, isn’t it?”
“Yes, there’s a lot of truth in that,” agreed Vanya. “If I raise the question, surely you suspect there is more to it? Do you have another idea?” No one dared to make another advance. They had known their father long enough. It usually turned out that he had given it some thought and that it would be interesting. “So, out with the language?” he was prompted.
“Well, I myself noticed the problem when I was a kid going to the stadium. And it’s this: when the spectators give free rein to their joy at a successful action, they applaud. There’s no other way, unless you’re at a very small game with very few spectators and you can hear a shout. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. So the spectators applaud and, curious as it may sound, but even at the age of nine I wondered how the players were supposed to know who or what was meant? Now, of course, simply applauding wouldn’t hurt either way and would be seen as positive feedback, would have motivated the players and, as simple as it may sound, my conclusion was nevertheless: presumably it would primarily be the home team that would feel addressed, cheered on? This can be seen as a problem: if you actually, even as a home spectator, like one of the actions of the visitors, how would you make it clear that you liked exactly this action?
To explain it with a simple example: the home team attacks, the attack becomes dangerous, the ball enters the penalty area, a goal is scored, even a good and dangerous one, but the goalkeeper saves, for example, even necessary for the good shot, with an excellent save. Now there is a burst of applause. How would this be taken?”
“Well here I experience this every day, in every game and even many times. It’s not a problem. People applaud because they love football, because it’s a beautiful game, because everyone on the pitch contributes and because these are the actions we all want to see. It is fun for the players because they are not only prevented from playing, as it probably was on earth, but at the same time protected by rules and referees who do not allow unsportsmanlike conduct, so that very often actions as a whole ‘succeed’, even if by no means every one of them results in a goal, which of course would not be asked for in any case. So: if there is applause, then it expresses recognition for the performance of all players, whether of the opponent or of one’s own team. People liked it, that’s why they applaud. It’s as simple as that. What problem are you trying to construct out of that?”
This clever answer, however, did not put Vanya off his stride at all. He experienced the football here himself in this way, it had worked out, his plan, the planetary foundation bore its fruit and no wonder then that he received one. Often enough, however, he had made it clear that he was concerned that the children should be reminded of these roots again and again and at the same time recognise and appreciate this difference between earthly football and football here, which goes back to history. The school subject “Local History” was complemented by the subject “The History of Football on Earth”. The two were closely intertwined.
“On earth, the only goal of the game, as set by the media and regrettably not questioned, let alone undermined, by anyone afterwards — for example, by alternative goals being proclaimed by individuals other than myself — was to win. How victory came about? According to the reports, and thus made a reality by those who said so, no one asked any more how a victory would have come about. The period of time in which the enquiries were supposedly extinguished was shortened more and more. At first it was said that in a year no one would ask, later it was said that in a few weeks, then it was said that in a few days no one would ask and at the very end it was said that tomorrow no one would ask. The only ones who would have allowed a question were the media themselves – and they simply didn’t do it. Victory was victory, finished. So it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tomorrow no one asks any more, I am the one who asks questions, I don’t ask them, so it is true that tomorrow no one will ask. Even if I am not telling this for the first time today: Repetition of statements helps knowledge and understanding to settle. One day it becomes flesh and blood. The connections become more logical, each piece of the puzzle has found its neighbours, a complete picture emerges from individual pieces.”
The pauses were not just so that such sometimes banal or repetitive realisations would settle, they were not always just pauses for thought. They were occasionally also drinking pauses. Because after such long rants, one had to occasionally moisten one’s tongue, which dried out in the process. But there was no contradiction either, one waited patiently for a continuation.
“Victory was the only goal proclaimed and recognised. A good performance in the game, a single bad decision, an inside post shot here and the ball not in, a deflected shot to the inside post shot there and the ball trundles in, which determined the winner at 1-0? All no criteria. There was no sympathy for the loser, no appreciation for him, no thanks to him for a good, fair entertaining, exciting game, just a ‘you were bad, you lost, no matter what way’. The consequences are simple: the spectators had also lost all interest in applauding a winner if it was not their own team. Psychological warfare was also practised from the stands. Fair play was the furthest thing from the game. A penalty for the opponent? No matter how justified it was, a concert of whistles accompanied the shooter. It was out of the question to applaud just because something was good. Especially not the opponent. That was out of the question. In this respect, the question arose as to which action was being applauded.
Here one was actually allowed to think for a moment. But you could put yourself in the shoes of any spectator: he had decided in favour of this club, this was his club. His interest was manipulated by the media and predetermined in the sense that only a victory counts. So his interest was highly one-sided and his view was already transfigured in advance. The many wrong decisions, which were definitely also against his team, also contributed to the fact that he could not be objective. Sometimes this is wrong and sometimes that is wrong: emotionally, this does not balance out. He feels disadvantaged. So he blows his whistle against the opponent for all he’s worth and, if he ever applauds at all, only gives some to his team. And basically he likes to make this clear.
“As a child, I made a joke of it by appearing as a very short-lived ‘Hertha-_Fan’, from about the age of eight to the age of twelve, and always accompanied my applause with the words ‘the shot is meant, not the parry’, if Hertha were in the attacking position, and with ‘the parry is meant, not the shot’, if Hertha were the team successfully defending an attack. It was impossible for me to guess at that time that I was probably the only one in the stadium who was at all concerned with such thoughts, insofar as even then something was already brewing in the direction which I later took and which found its fulfilment here on Putoia.”
“But actually, dear children, this was only an introduction to sensitise you to the subject. It is by no means trivial what a successful action is and likewise what applause for such an action means, even if here on Putoia, as correctly recognised by you, it is a matter of course and there is no problem with it: Applause is applause, the audience liked it. No matter which part of the action was in the foreground. It’s just that there were other times. But, as I said, it was only meant as an introduction. The real problem I wanted to address today is this: what does a successful action look like in the eyes of a sports commentator, which he, with his ingenuity and his eloquence, conveys to the audience listening to him in rapt attention?”
“The way you put it here, it can only be sarcasm: there was no spellbound audience, nor ingenuity, nor eloquence, let alone a successful action. I have seen through you, but I don’t want to slow down your flow of speech. Keep talking.”
“Yes, right, and thank you. But it didn’t always not exist either. It developed in one direction, and more and more in the one mentioned. There were less and less successful actions that were mentioned to us as spectators, which the currently acutely acting speaker had recognised as such and thus gave her approval. There are an infinite number of examples, and they became more and more every day. In this respect, I would have to keep it general and describe any scene, but one that is constantly repeated in this or that way, which would have the potential for this – and which, according to the speaker, has not called up the potential, involving the acting persons, i.e. the players.”
“Ok, take one such random scene and describe it as a commentator would have done.”
“Ok. So let’s say the ball is rolling. It’s in play. It’s not one of those so numerous and often persistent stoppages of play. Now player A plays to player B. Let’s assume that both players are from the team that is trailing 0:1. If by chance the announcer had his eye on the game — which was quite rare, because if you trusted his words, it was a rather uneventful game, so there was no need to go into individual scenes — he would have commented on this pass with the words ‘no space gain’ or ‘they don’t get into the dangerous zone’. What would you say to that?”
“A pass reaches the teammate, maybe something develops from it. It’s a commonplace scene. Comment or leave it, mention the names of the players, maybe put something in the voice that signals a little tension brewing, something might come up soon. Said comment is inappropriate and, if anything, negative.”
“Yes, out of you speaks a born sports reporter. Aren’t you toying with the idea? But there is still something lacking in your brilliant observation and description.”
“What is missing is that the realisation of the lack of space gain was merely derived from the intermediate score. So if the leading team had made the exact same pass, then the comment could have been ‘they don’t give the impression of necessarily going for the second goal’. That would still be negative, but would still have acknowledged, approved of the action, so to speak. They’re holding the ball without being out for a goal, something like that.”
“Yes, you can hear that out. But where do we go from here?”
“Ok, I’ll spin the scene a bit further. This pass arrives, the next pass arrives, they are on the wing. No right space for the cross, a pass back. Now the comment on that: ‘they don’t dare to go one on one. An alternative continued attack could go through the middle with a couple of quick passes but not finish. The comment then: ‘they should try it from the outside, everything is tight in the middle’. If, however, the attack continues on the outside and a cross actually enters the penalty area, but – neither surprisingly nor a rarity – is intercepted by one of the larger defenders or the goalkeeper, who are outnumbered and also have certain special rights, then you would hear this comment: ‘the crosses are too inaccurate’. If the attack continues through the middle, a pass is made to the striker, but he is either half a step in front, so that the flag goes up, or he is not half a step in front, but the defender is at eye level with him and therefore first to the ball, then ‘the last precision in the pass is missing’. It doesn’t matter for what reason the attack fails: it will be assigned negative attributes, which are to be relentlessly revealed by the expert at the microphone.”
Here, indeed, the short pause for thought was appropriate, which Wanja nevertheless used to moisten his mouth with a sip of water.
“If the opponent were to perform one of these actions that went the same way, the only difference being the score, the commentary would not be positive, but it would still be somewhat different. Maybe something like: ‘they can’t really get a grip on him’, referring to the outfield player who had created space for himself to cross but couldn’t find a taker. Or ‘they let him go again’, when the pass was made but not received. Also very popular would be ‘they give him too much space but he doesn’t use it’ when the one on one was broken up.”
“One concludes: the comment was not tailored to the action, but to the score?”
“Well spotted. Now, of course, you don’t have to believe what I say. Any announcer would have to refer to the specific action and would then take a stand and justify himself: ‘for the specific scene the comment was right. Just look!’
Since I had to prepare myself for this reaction and at that time had been carrying myself for many years with the hope that one day I would be heard, I thought up a scenario that would put the oh-so-competent and omniscient speakers to the test. It was quite an exciting thought experiment.”
“So what did you come up with, Dad?” asked one of the all-curious boys.”
“My plan was this: there will be a Bundesliga match day. A couple of commentators will be excluded from the events for that period, they won’t get access, neither to intermediate scores nor to game scenes.”
“Yes, and then?”
“After the games, they cut together in a flash. The games already remain unchanged for most of the time, so for almost 90 minutes.”
“Ah, I see,” one of the boys interrupted him, “they just cut out the goals and the kick-off that follows. A sort of goal-stop game where you have to guess whether the ball was in or not. You see the scene until the end, but then you don’t see whether the game continues with a kick-off or a breakaway. You see almost everything – except the goals and the few seconds after play resumes.”
“Very good guess, yes, that’s what I thought. There are tiny implementation problems, of course, as you can imagine. So, for example, a shot is blocked by the goalkeeper, the subsequent corner again brings a goalmouth scramble. How do you hide the fact that the shot before that was blocked? So let’s leave it at the term ‘thought experiment’, which, if carried out as a real experiment, would also lack participants, since none of the speakers would dare to do it and would not get involved. Nevertheless, I kept pushing the idea and found it fascinating. Once you have this idea, you can’t get rid of it and think of it almost in every scene and with every comment you hear. The thought that takes root is this: ‘you’re only saying that because it’s 1-0.’ If it was 0:1, I can imagine what you would say. If you didn’t know the score at all, it would just become a stammer, because they would pull the foundation, the solid ground on which you seem to believe yourself to be, out from under your feet. You would lie helplessly whimpering on the floor and no longer be able to utter a word. All the cleverness with which you bombard us here is only due to the knowledge of the result. Without it you are a helpless nothing and a nobody.'”
The children had hardly ever known their father to be so lively and almost malicious. A sensitive spot had obviously been hit. “Dad, pull yourself together, back off, that doesn’t sound nice, that’s not nice of you.”
Vanya had also composed himself a short moment later.
“Ok, you guys are right. The important thing was just that you can’t get rid of the thought and think with every comment that the speaker only says it like that anyway because of the score. Only, either way, this wouldn’t even be the very biggest annoyance…”
“…which would be…?”
“…that the speakers didn’t just orient it according to the score and their sentences were in constant exchange. Another would be, of course, the listlessness and the inability, in front of so much cleverness, ever to carry away an audience, to captivate, to draw them into the action, to be surprised even once, to get out of the armchair, to radiate entertainment, excitement, enthusiasm, to expose oneself to not having known or foreseen something for once, no, it wasn’t all that and we’ll discuss that part again at another point anyway.”
“So, don’t keep us in suspense any longer. What was it that bothered you the most, what was the biggest annoyance?”
“It’s alright. I’m almost getting to the point. The commentators had good advice at hand all the time. Depending on the score, this usually concerned the team that was behind, whereas at 0-0 it should basically have been both of them listening, if they could or even had to listen. As long as the score was 0-0, both teams were affected; as soon as one team was leading 1-0, only the other, trailing team, was affected. But that did not mean that the leading team was good as a result. It only meant that from 1:0 onwards only one team was in the crossfire of his criticism, whereas before both teams were. From 1:1 onwards – if it ever came to that – one was told that ‘both teams are not solid at the back’, which by no means translated into ‘positive’. As a spectator, you could ask yourself at that moment whether ‘solid’ was what you wanted? If only both sides were finally solid and no more goals were ever scored? No, it doesn’t sound tempting.
I’m rambling again. I’m sorry, I’m rambling again.
I mentioned the good advice, which had a lot of variety. And, remember, we are on the subject of ‘the successful action’, but I say that more as a reminder to myself. So: a good advice could be called – and now take paper and pencil and write down, like in school, because it will be a long list –,
1) ‘more on the outside’
2) ‘try the one on one’.
3) ‘it has to be quicker’.
4) ‘he overlooks the better-positioned player…’.
5) ‘he should have tried it alone’.
6) ‘here the pass would have been the better option’.
7) ‘too much through the middle
8) ‘crosses are not the right thing to do with tall centre-backs, they have to realise that sometime’.
9) ‘they should try it from a distance’.
10) ‘that was a kind of desperate shot, they have to try to get closer to the goal’.
11) ‘there is no one offering themselves’.
12) ‘there was no one running with them
13) ‘the other players should help’.
14) ‘rash finish
15) ‘the last precision is missing
16) ‘the crosses are too inaccurate’.
17) ‘they try again and again with long balls – an unsuitable means’.
18) ‘they can’t get through with the short passes, the small-small’.
19) ‘they don’t have the right idea’.
20) ‘only safety passes, no risk’.
21) ‘another technical mistake
22) ‘mistakes in the build-up, that costs energy’.
23) ‘unnecessary ball loss
24) ‘too little movement in the game without the ball’.
25) ‘at the end of the day, it’s always the use of chances. That’s a common thread throughout the whole game’.
Have you got everything?”
“Yes, we did. That’s a lot…”
“…but by no means everything. Only I want to leave it at that. What is important now is that all this toot advice could be exchanged for each other at will, and, as one found with many, directly contradict each other. So the tip to play on the outside and then the one that crosses wouldn’t work with the tall centre-backs, but these two tips could very well be spouted in the same game. But we are far from done with that.”
“Surely you mean: what would happen now if they had taken one of those so clever tips to heart after all? Didn’t they do that from time to time, even without having heard it? Well, I mean: they played fast, they all moved, all the team-mates offered themselves, ran along, helped the team-mate, they looked for the one on one, found it and won it, they hit a cross which didn’t lack precision, the cross found the head of a team-mate, they didn’t fail because of the lack of chances which had been standing in their way for so long. The ball was in. Everything done right, that’s what he should be saying now, right?”
“Yes, that’s what you’d have to think. That’s what common sense would suggest, especially since I can hardly imagine that one takes pleasure in completely demeaning everything, but really everything, to the spectator and now simply being allowed to rejoice. He does it, he is happy, he is happy that his advice was so well received – even if it has degenerated into drivel due to its interchangeability and has long since lost all substance, but he lives in an illusion anyway – and now everything has worked out. Nothing more to complain about. Or so one might think. Now what do you think he did?”
“What, he blamed the defensive behaviour?”
“True enough, but if that was all, you’d have to say. The defence was given a much rougher time than the attackers had received before. Here we are talking directly about a ‘chain of errors’ and not about a single one. He only calls the chain of errors one, so that he can gain some time until the replay of the scene, and by then he is ready to tear apart every single defender action that comes into question. And the fouling up of the German language is not even the worst of it, if it was called ‘too half-hearted’, because half-hearted is guaranteed not to be able to be increased. A half is a half, and if it were, it would be a quarter of a hearty or an eighth of a hearty or something, but that hardly matters. The ‘collective deep sleep’ in which all the defenders were supposedly in serves as a sweeping blow and doesn’t provide any insights for the viewer, especially since ‘deep sleep’ would be a hyperbole anyway, but the ‘individual criticism’ doesn’t help much either, The ‘individual criticism’ doesn’t help much either, when it says ‘too far away from the opponent’ or ‘it’s far too easy’, when the dribbling was successful, to ‘three opponents – and everyone is just watching’ or, if a player successfully got the ball past the opponent, this opponent would only have given ‘friendly escort’. Also the ‘no one has him on their radar’ or ‘no one really goes for him’ if not ‘no one attacks him’ and ‘you can’t give him that much space, they should know that, shouldn’t they? Whatever it was, it far surpassed the mistakes and helplessness of the attackers who had so far had no chance in this area of mistakes.
“Now I know what you mean: a successful action? There wasn’t. Not from a commentator’s point of view. Either the attackers did something wrong or, if it came to scoring, it was the defenders. But the defenders made the worse mistakes in the case of the goal against.”
“That’s right. You could only ask the last question about it: why or how did it happen? If you think about it and figure it out, you feel better. Not that the comments afterwards become bearable. But, generally speaking, everyone has a basis for their actions and thus a certain justification for doing it that way. Understanding it is a difficult task now and then, but once you have done it, you are often a decisive step further. Also in the sense of counteracting, doing something differently. And if you only did it yourself at first, because of the accumulated understanding of other people. Why did they do it?”
“I could imagine that – as you said once before – they come from the country of the world champion and one imagines there to have to take a somewhat higher position of view. So somehow they can judge it even better than others.”
“Yes, there is definitely something to that. That’s one aspect, that’s true. Another one?”
“As far as I understand, the country was teeming with self-appointed experts. A judgement like ‘but that was great work’ was equated with amateurishness. Anyone can think it was great. Anyone who doesn’t have a clue. So the true expert sees deeper and further and has a better and higher understanding.”
“Yes, also very true, only there is something else that follows. What is that?”
“They outdid themselves in expertise. If one of them had started to praise, the person sitting behind him would have said: ‘What is he talking about? Can’t he see all the mistakes? Now let me have a go at it!’ The successor would scuffle his hooves and wait for a ‘mistake’ from the person in front. That mistake would be praise.”
“All this very true. But there is one thing that is specific to situations. Do you know that?”
Collective shaking of heads, anything but deep sleep, let alone collectively.
“The speaker basically relied on a principle of probability. This is: improbable things rarely happen, even more improbable things happen even more rarely. A goal will not happen, not in this attack. I’m pretty sure of that. He’s relying on what feels like a gigantic chance that it won’t happen this time. The chance is too small, it won’t? The attack is on, he can already dare to explain during the attack what someone should, should have or could have done better. The result – no goal – will already confirm him. He permanently collects expert points. Every attack that does not result in a goal increases his score. That’s how he builds up his cushion in every game. Again no goal – again I was right that he should have passed or shot himself, depending on what he failed with this time’.
But this principle is invalidated when an attack is successful, again according to the laws of statistics and probability. There is only a small chance with every further attempt, but, as Murphy and his law put it well, even the smallest probability will occur at some point, if you only try long enough. A game is often not long enough, which is why so many games end 0:0 or 1:0, but every now and then – and ultimately not so seldom and also somewhat dependent on the strength of play on the pitch – it does happen. Now his permanent prediction ‘it won’t work out’ would have been completely wrong. At most, actually, because, as we learned during the attack, it wouldn’t work like that and this time it wouldn’t work again, and yet it did. Instead of digging in his heels, or at least giving back all the expert points that he had invested in painstakingly making people feel bad in one fell swoop with compound interest, he now simply turns the tables. A tiny little trick of psychology, an interpretation of the work and functioning of our brain, and there you have it: it was the defence that brought the entire prognosis crashing down.
Since this event is at the same time more spectacular and would have a greater impact on the allocated expert points, at the same time it has brought him so much out of his standard blah blah, the defence now gets it in umpteen copies. He himself continues to collect points without end. Because here the entire defence was to blame, each one in his own way. So it was often said, and soon with almost every goal, ‘a goal that should never, ever be scored like that’.”
Wow, everyone was speechless. But you could actually understand it that way.
The successful action? An invention of literature. In earthly football in the eyes of a reporter? An impossibility.