Blowing the whistle on kickoffs

You can be sure that the World Cup football season is upon us whenever newspaper headlines seem just an excuse to somehow use the word: ‘kickoff’. Just now I came across a report with the headline, which I promise I didn’t make up: ‘Woman kicks off remarriage plan, kills hubby’.

If the news does not lend itself to the insertion of word ‘kickoff’, journalists will work ‘extra-time’, which by the way is another word that is hugely in play during the World Cup time, to ensure that it does.

News: Robbers strike at electrical appliances showroom

Everyday Headline: Shop looted

Football Season Headline: Shop selling TVs, showing World Cup kickoff, looted

(For the record, the cricket season headline for this is: Shop looted, BCCI sends notice to Lalit Modi)

Anyway, India being a cricket-centric nation, the people are fully clued up on the details that make cricket such a beautiful game —- its statistics, by which I doubtless mean Shilpa Shetty’s hip-size and Katerina Kaif’s, well forget it.

The point is that the knowledge of football of a man in the street in India is pretty abysmal, because most streets are abysmal.

Just try this simple test:  Walk up to any random individual on the street and quiz him or her as to who is the captain of the Indian football team.

Most likely you will not get any answer, as most people generally don’t respond to vague questions posed by suspicious individuals (by which I mean you) on crowded streets.

In the event, the captain of the Indian football will remain unknown, often including to himself, since it is also highly unlikely that he knows that the country has a football team.

But this being the World Cup season, we need to understand football. For that we need an easy, bite-sized Q & A piece on the game. So, here we go. So it’s time for, you know that, kick-off:

What is right —- soccer or football?

Historians are as much confused on this one as they are on every other question. But analysts, who have a lot of free time and hence analyse stuff like this, say that soccer is the preferred usage in the USA, where football refers to a robust and relentless game, which is played, why not, mostly with hands.

The rules of American football are simple and straightforward: The oblong ball is hurled up in the air while down below the players involve themselves in kicking, what else, balls.

There is also Australian-rules football played in New Zealand, which is called Footy, and is mostly played with, well, boxing gloves.

By now, it should be clear soccer is football, but football is not soccer, only in America which lies in a time-zone that apparently kills all the thinking brain cells.

What is the role of a ‘forward’, ‘defender’, ‘mid-fielder’?

As the bulwark of the team, it’s the responsibility of the defender, as the name clearly makes it out, to attack the opposition players.  In the event of a free-kick near the penalty box, a sturdy full-back brings to the fore all his skills and energy to manfully safeguard his own danger zone, if you get my drift.

The mid-fielder is unique in the entire team, as naturally he is the only one with a hyphen in his name. The primary job of the mid-fielders is to bolster and fully support the forward line, a task they seem to accomplish by hugging and lifting the goal-scorer with robust relish.

The true strength of any football team lies with its forwards, who are named so because it will be too overt to call them thespians. Yes, seeing some forwards in action, you will wonder why the Oscars still don’t go to them. To see a speedy forward go cartwheeling in excruciating flips in the face of violent tackle, as represented by the presence of an opposition defender five-feet away, is to see Robert De Niro put to shame.

How different is a football referee from a cricket umpire?

First let’s look at the etymology of the words ‘referee’ and ‘umpire’. But for this, we have to first look up the dictionary to understand what etymology is.

But since I am busy writing this and you are busy reading this, both of us cannot thumb through a dictionary now.

Anyway, cricket umpires have the benefit of technology, in the form of TV visuals, especially commercials that can divert the attention of all the viewers.

Cricket umpires, from time to time, are seen to signal in the general direction of where the TV sets are, and seek to know the details of what is technically supposed to have happened in front of their eyes on the field of play. This means only one thing: Cricket umpires sleep on work. I don’t blame them. Cricket does this to the best of people. If they aren’t sleeping, then it means: They were ogling the cheerleaders. Hormones do this to the best of people.

Football referees, on the other hand, are busy as a beaver. And just as with beaver, you don’t know why they have to be busy.

The football referee has been thoughtfully handed the most powerful tool to control 22 able-bodied men at the peak of their physical prowess: A plastic whistle. The long sound, which signals the end of the 90 minutes of robust game, is mostly the whoop of exertion before the referee passes out after running the length and the breadth of the enormous football field.

Oops, the long whistle to end this week’s piece also seems to have blown. So, now that you’re fairly clear on the various aspects of soccer (the US has nukes), it’s time to enjoy the pleasures of World Cup watching, by which I don’t mean the pizza that you inevitably gobble whenever a match is on the TV.

May the best team win. And over to, what else, kick-off.