Friday, September 28, 2007

Chicks Rule

Just a quick post before I go to work.

If you missed the WWC game between Brazil and USA last night, well... I'm truly sorry for you. Brazil's effort was possibly the pinnacle to date of a woman's soccer team.

Fozzie's stunned, almost hypnotised reaction, said it all. After the first half he said it was the best women's soccer he'd ever seen. After the game he said it was the best football game (of any type) he'd seen for a long time. It was certainly the best I've seen for a long time, and I will remember it, and especially the fourth goal of Marta's, for a long, long time. If you love watching Ronaldinho at his most magical, then don't miss Marta. She is a genius, and gives us I think a glimpse of what women's football can actually get to.

DON'T MISS the grand final on Sunday night between Germany and Brazil. It might just be the best quality, most entertaining, attacking football, you'll see for a long time. If the quality keeps improving, and the girls continue an apparent trend of playing to score goals without much cynical play, then frankly I prefer women's football to men's, by a pretty chunky margin. You might not agree with me, but I predict that many more people will agree with me than before last night.

Meanwhile Sepp Blatter has announced that the required 10% of funding to women's soccer from national federations is to be increased to 20%. Let's just say we have by no means seen the full extent of what is possible in women's soccer.

As for the Roar's difficulty with strikers, well I reckon we should import one more Brazilian. Marta would clean up any A-League defence, and I would just LOVE to be proved wrong.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tipping the A-League Version 3 Round 6

Well I have no epic to write, so here are my tips and here is a post for people to make their tips upon.

Melbourne vs Queensland
The Roar 0:2

Sydney vs Newcastle
Jets 0:1

Adelaide vs Central Coast
Mariners 1:2

Wellington vs Perth
Phoenix 1:0

Good luck everyone.

May the games be fair, brilliant to watch, and free of serious injury.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Coming Out of the Closet

I wrote the following piece specifically for Webdiary, which I am a Director of and used to work for, and it was published there this morning. Actually I think it's the first time I've had a go at writing outside of my own blog since last year. The subject matter from me may have shocked that audience, but I'm getting some nice comments.

Incidentally, for those with a separate interest in blogging, Webdiary was begun by my sister Margo Kingston while working for the Sydney Morning Herald, and is credited as being one of the first true blogs in Australia - it was evolving into a blog way before the word was in use in fact.

Clearly I'm writing for another audience, but it's about my favourite subject and I'm sharing it with my friends here too.


There Are More Important Things Than National Elections

Can anyone remember the hoopla about the Soccer World Cup? How it palpably gripped the imagination of our country that we were playing the international game at such an elite level? If the growth of soccer in Australia since is any indication it certainly had an impact. Soccer is even trendy in some circles. But then people seem all but unaware that the Women's World Cup is now on, that the Matildas are in it, and that they are brilliant.

Ok, it's a shame, and of course this is just the age old superiority of male physical sport, real or imagined. Inherent sexism in our society is an important reason to contemplate, perhaps, the extraordinary gap between national enthusiasm for the Socceroos and the Matildas, as is the spectacle of physicality. But it's not just like the gap between male and female tennis or swimming. It's a gaping chasm, and surely the marketing of the Matildas and the Women's World Cup for that matter, simply has to be partly to blame.

Here's a brief of who they are. The Matildas are fifteenth in the World, on a very international stage. 140 countries set out to qualify for Women's World Cup China 2007, and 16 got in. Let's recall that the Socceroos qualified for a finals of 32, so the Matildas are already ahead there. And by defeating Ghana 4:1 last week, and the drawing 1:1 with Norway, the Brazil of women's soccer, on Friday night, the Matildas are in with a fair speculator's chance of getting into the quarter finals, further than any Australian soccer team has got before. To do that they need a draw or a win against Canada, on Wednesday night. It's on SBS.

There is no real excuse for our country not getting behind these girls even for the most superficial reasons. This post is a plug, and some other possible reasons.

The official World ranking in women's football looks very different to the men's. The most coherent key to making sense of the required adjustment is that the women's ranking has a strong reflection of which countries have the most liberated women, by which I mean the extent to which women can choose their own lifeways. Apart from Brazil at number 8, there are no Latin American countries in the top 20, the USA and Norway battle for Number 1 (29th and 49th respectively in the men's), and Australia, an impressive enough 42nd in the men's, is 15th. Needless to say the Middle East doesn't get a look into the top 50 in women's soccer, though in the men's Israel, Egypt and Iran are all ahead of us.

There's a notable exception in my view, and that is North Korea, who recently knocked the Matildas out of their Olympic qualifiers and are certainly one of the favourites to win the Cup. Here's to caricatures and obscene generalisations, because I want to paint this picture properly. They look like a Stalinist machine. They have short hair, no femininity, very little expression of emotion, and are utterly, utterly brilliant. They are, if you like, Sparta, and as we know definitively from the movie 300, Sparta might be distasteful, but it can certainly mount a challenge in sheer effectiveness. The Matildas will not meet the North Koreans until the semi-finals at the earliest, if they get that far.

So perhaps this is a reason why women's soccer is not as significant a world event. It is not as universally a contest between populations (though you'd have to say it is still more so than any other team sport), as it is to a palpable extent layered by the extent to which the populations have women liberated enough to pursue soccer if they feel like it. Or perhaps this makes it a profoundly more important contest.

Like so many sports soccer began as a men's pursuit. But unlike many team sports in particular, soccer was and is very accessible. It's the same reason, if you like, why it's popular with juniors and why there's over-55 leagues that are still brilliant to watch.

Now I know it's Australians mostly who might read this, and I don't want to get into the stuff between different football codes in this country, all of which I respect and love to watch, but there are other reasons why soccer will not stop growing in popularity. There is the bodies and athleticism that we all love, there are some amazing skills and feats of strength and endurance, but more importantly there is that quality of an infinite world of possibility emerging from a simple set of rules, like chess as compared to backgammon, or bridge to 500. This quality does not really explain the growth of soccer around the world, but it explains its stickability, as cultures of meaning and analysis, along with an apparently infinite tapestry of metaphor for life, evolve around the game. Yes it's true of every sport to some extent, and as a fan I've got to avoid raving on about this, but there is a whole other exponent of possibilities in a soccer game. Expertly analyse a basketball game, cricket game, AFL game, rugby game. Sure there's plenty to say. But there is no comparison to the vistas of meaning available to the interested in a soccer game, at any level, whether playing or watching.

To explain the actual growth of soccer however, especially its tertiary stage of growth now in America, Australia and Asia, it's impossible not to refer to the accessibility of the sport to women. In both the USA and Australia the massive growth at junior level is girl-led to an enormous extent.

Soccer is not just accessible in that anyone can play at some level. That's true enough, but soccer's quality is accessible, to an enormous extent compared to other sports. In itself, physicality is largely taken out of the equation. Height and strength can both be useful in some positions and situations but as many a short, speedy player can attest, it is not the only thing. Hitting the ball really hard is very rarely a useful skill. It's hitting it at the right speed, accurately, that counts. Soccer aficionados regularly rue play which is too physical, too 'long-ball' and too much in the air, because they are interested in tactics and technical skill, in particular quick successive passing between players to weave a way through a shifting defence. In all this there's no difference between women's and men's soccer.

There's certainly a spectacle in highly physical games. The rugby codes attest to that on their own, but if you want to see some brilliant biff within the soccer code I recommend any game between Celtic and Rangers - great stuff and admittedly a brilliant spectacle in its own right. Meanwhile these girls are pretty tough and they don't hold back - don't get me wrong - but it is the level of raw toughness which provides the main difference in spectacle between women and men playing soccer. In soccer geek land there's arguments about whether women's soccer is as good to watch, and for me I've distilled the reasons to this. For those who love tactics and skill and the ballet of outwitting opponents on and off the ball, there is no difference in the spectacle. Ok, possibly one difference. As a generalisation, women seem to be better team players, they hog the ball less, and appear to intuit better what other players are doing and thinking. But then again, that may just be an observation brought on by the fact that the Matildas are actually brilliant. Any brilliant team looks like this.

An important overall point which must be made is that women's soccer has by no means matured. As I've indicated, women's soccer appears to have success to the extent that women feel liberated to do what they like. I simply have no idea whether women - in a theoretically completely liberated state - would want to play football less or as much as men, and I'm making no sweeping sociological statements about that. It would appear though from current trends that there's still a lot of growth to be seen. And these games are extremely high quality. Let's not even think about the extent to which the gap in quality would close if women had access to the same level of professionalism, coaching, facilities and support that men's soccer players do. Because elite women's soccer is already a comparable spectacle. The point is we don't even really know how equivalent the spectacle can be.

The Matildas are not just good. They are clearly special. As players and personalities, and as a team, they have that bit of magic which compels one to believe in them. They are the most brilliant role-models for our young girls, and perfect icons for Australian patriotism and pride. And I don't particularly blame the Australian people for not being more passionately behind them. Clearly their marketing has failed them because they are about the most marketable product in the country. They are young, beautiful, sexy, talented, committed and Australian. Their personalities and obvious team magic are inspiring. They are doing well on the highest stage available, and don't look like they've peaked.

They are playing Canada in their final group match for the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 on Wednesday night. It's live on SBS, from 6.50pm. They're our girls and they're brilliant. Go the Matildas.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Intuiting Round Five

Well when I had a go at analysing our collective results a couple of weeks ago I surmised that we were collectively less accurate than a random generator might be. I think we've improved overall but I'm afraid my own predictions appear to virtually guarantee another result. Rue it when I tip your team to win!

Just to step out of house for a second, for anyone who happens upon this blog, here's a recap. The Blogger's Cup is a tipping competition open to anyone but comprised mostly of people who blog about the A-League, all of whom are linked from here. As far as I'm concerned anyone can still join at the lowest score (ie my score... 3).

The prize is a bottle of single malt Irish whiskey or an A-League ball.

Each week before kickoff of the first game of the round you email or comment your tips for each of the coming round's games. You tip the score as well as a result, as a correct result (draw or winner) is worth a point and a correct result and score is worth three. The scores are tabulated here (and bookmarked on the right near the top of this page).

This is the overall table:
Mike 15
Wes 14
Neil 11
Eamonn 9
Dane 9
Tony 8
Eric 8
John 7
Wayne 6
Jacob 5
Jeccy 5
Cecilia 4
Dave 4
Hamish 3

Special congratulations to Mike for getting a record nine points in Round Four. That record was held by Tony, with only six points, in Round 13 last season, and that six points was matched by Eamonn in Round 2 two weeks ago. You've set a much higher bar Mike.

Jeccy, when you joined this comp, you 'warned' us that you'd get 5 points all season. Congratulations for being the first of us to reach your personal target. It's all cop from here. ;)

Anyway, here's the business.

My tips for Round Five:
Newcastle vs Melbourne:
Draw 1:1

Wellington vs Adelaide:
Adelaide 1:2

Queensland vs Sydney:
The Bloody Roar 2:0

Central Coast vs Perth:
Central Coast 2:0

When I compose my brief prayer to the infinite, which of course has approximately zero impact on reality, it has me considering what we really want from our A-League weekends. Of course we want our teams to win, but as a pretty new (nearly a year - yes that new) fan I can report that one quickly gets the idea that every true football fan has to get used to losing a fair bit of the time and winning (on average) less than half the time, and different values emerge quite rapidly. So apart from our team winning, what do we want?

My own answer is a weekend where all of these boys really show us what they can do. They've all played soccer for years, in parks, schoolyards, at home and on fields. Every one of them was probably best in their class and school. Every one of them has shown enough brilliance to be noticed along the way. They've all had their days of pure class, otherwise they wouldn't be where they are. I want a weekend where all the players are on, get their drilled pieces right, play the coaches tactics without stifling their flair, stick to the rules (ie virtually no free kicks), and just show us what they can do, with no excuses available or required. And then, when all the players and all the teams are the variously oiled machines they're trying to be, I'd like to see the best team win.

This is the Platonic perfection which I think each game intrinsically aspires to, and it is the ideal to which some of us I think, subconsciously or not, compare and judge each game. That is, when we say, "That game was brilliant" or "That game was rubbish," we are making implicit reference to the way a game should be.

Clearly mine is not the only answer, and if anyone else wants to have a go at the question, "What, apart from my team winning, do I want from a soccer game?" do be my guest. I think it's an interesting question, but then again I'm a bit of a nut.

To the infinite, may the games be fair and entertaining this weekend, may there be good sportsmanship on and off the field and may there be no serious injuries.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tipping Round Four Without Annotations

Tips may now be placed in comments for Round 4 of Version 3 of the A-League.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

We Call it Soccer

The Meanings of the Words 'Soccer' and 'Football'

Have you ever heard an AFL player insist, "It's not Aussie Rules, it's Football"? It would sound silly. But lads from every football code will say to their family/housemates as they go out the door that they're going to 'footy training'. They all also will habitually say they're going to watch a 'football game'.

Have you ever heard a ballet dancer say, "It's not ballet, it's dance"? That would also sound silly, for similar reasons. But he or she will say they're dancing, and going to dance classes.

A dog owner would never say, "it's not an Alsatian, it's a dog," because that would be silly, but they may say they're walking the dog.

Many times I've heard people say, "It's not soccer, it's football." That's silly too.

Here's a recent example from Four Four Two blogger Kevin Airs:

Because of the vagaries of TV rights, I had to watch the Community Shield match last night on ESPN. Words cannot describe how much I hate watching football on ESPN. Or “soccah”, as they seem to call it.

They use American football terminology (“That’s a great play”- plays are things in theatres with stages), they don't understand the rules (“That wasn’t offside” – yes, it was, Cole was interfering with play, you eejit) and they can't even recognise the players (“Chelsea seem to have brought on a new ‘keeper for the PKs” – it was Petr Cech without his eppi hat. And they’re called penalty kicks or spot kicks, not fuggen “PKs”).

Airs suggests that the commentators were incompetent as regards the rules and knowledge of the players, and I can't comment on that. What I'm commenting on that is his dismissive disparagement of 'American terminology'. I watched an entire Asia Cup game streamed to my computer with so much 'Chinese terminology' that I could only barely make out one of the players' names occasionally. Terrible business this infection of football with Chinese terminology. Someone might have mentioned that the World Game is played in every language and dialect, because I'm guessing the reason the commentators were using American terminology is because they were American.

But the key phrase for me - and far from picking on Airs who has just provided me with a good recent example of something widespread, I should thank him for providing me with an excellent example just as I was writing this essay - is the derisory, "“soccah”, as they seem to call it." Here is an emperor with no clothes. I'm assuming "they" are the millions of ordinary Americans (and Australians) who understand the word 'soccer' as to be referring to the round ball kicking game. They certainly don't seem to call the game that. They really do call it that, all the time, and they're understood every single time. And actually it's called 'soccer', a British word, in many countries in the world including America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, all of the Pacific, Korea and Japan.

Here's an even better example, particularly of the Orwellian silliness of what I'm talking about. On the AIS website it says in a cute information box down the side, "Did you know? Football is now the world-wide term used for what Australians formerly knew as soccer." This is pure spin and it only because it is so starkly twisted truth that we're capable of missing the absurdity of it. Read it again. "Did you know? Football is now the world-wide term used for what Australians formerly knew as soccer." Only adults could contrive to edict that a word is no longer in use despite ongoing, transparent, overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I remember for months I did try to argue with my son that the game was really called 'football'. His instinct for the real hasn't been obliterated by politics and ideology and for him I was just arguing against reality. He would point out every time I (necessarily, usually explaining my use of the word football) used the word soccer in conversation. Then he would go along the spines of my football books and point out all the uses of the word 'soccer' even in books published in the UK for a UK audience. Then he would point out every time a commentator - especially an English commentator - used the word soccer, again generally to describe the use of the word football. The evidence is overwhelming. "Soccer" in the English language is the specific term for a variety of the sport of the genus "Football." The FFA doesn't get to decree this any more than do the compilers of dictionaries. Every word's meaning is based on usage in a free market of symbols and meanings. The news for the AIS: The game is still "known", probably universally, as "soccer" in Australia, as in a number of other countries. Didn't we learn in the life-school of 20th Century political science to see through this sort of lingual triumphalism?

Will the Macquarie Dictionary leave the word soccer out next edition because it is no longer in use? Not only is the word in use, but it has an important, established function in our language and therefore will stay in use. When there is need to describe the game as contrary to other codes which also routinely, and quite rightly, call themselves 'football', our lingual faculties simply demand a specific term. And the joke is, 'soccer' doesn't have a synonym. 'Football', historically and in everyday use, is a generic word referring to a number of codes which in the latter 19th century and early 20th century crystallised through want of association from the thousands of football codes played in villages and cities across Britania and her colonies. Look up both words in any dictionary. They're not synonyms and their meanings are not in dispute.

The meaning of 'football' here is that, whether and when you can use your hands or not, it is a game played with a ball that is designed to be kicked with the foot. Historically these balls were made of all manner of materials and were no doubt a great variety of shapes and sizes. But they were contrived specifically to be able to be given a damn good kick, and their merits were judged on that basis. That remains true for all the football codes today.

I've had the privilege over the years of watching my son and his mates play (mostly handball, as it's turned out, until the last couple of years when it has been more football). A powerful observation has been their apparently innate proclivity to invent rules, changing and negotiating them very rapidly, but all agreeing, without awareness or comment, that an agreed set of rules is necessary. Naturally every schoolyard's handball, football or cricket will have different variations of the rules. This constantly creative dimension in child's play is, I reckon, probably the same spontaneous creative drive we see in kids inventing language. We appear to be hardwired to create rules within which to consociate. We all use them, but I'm inclined to think that it is the children in societies who have created and do create them. It's quite possible that from this anthropological perspective civilisation really is a game begun by children.

As an aside the other relationship between sport and language is that it appears that football and the English language (in which I'm including Shakespeare) have turned out to be the (possibly very) long term global residues of the now fully flaccid British Empire. For the English language of course we can rightly blame the oversized rebel child the USA, but not so for soccer. Ironically soccer flourished most and most rapidly in regions only (at best) obliquely friendly with the English. In any case, the spread of soccer occurred, in my view, in a very similar way to the spread of a language, but with very different barriers to growth. Also note that even in those places where soccer did not thrive throughout the 20th Century, football did thrive.

Those rules - whatever they are, in a schoolyard or an international code - the 17 laws in the case of soccer - are the strand of DNA upon which an entire social organism grows. And it wants to grow. It overcomes blockages to growth, when it does, by changing. When a new kid comes along generally he or she will have to go with the local rules, but might be a fresh source of variations. When two groups of kids meet however, they have to negotiate, either before the start or as they go along, which rules will apply.

All football is pretty similar in some basic ways. It's assumed, as it is in many games, that there is a space within which is 'in' and outside which is 'out'. This definable 'skin', defining the space of the game, is common to virtually every game as it is to every organism. It's assumed a kickable ball is used - for kids whatever is available - and that divided into two teams the object is for each team to get the ball up to one end of the field while stopping the other team doing the same. All football codes have these in common and I suggest that in schoolyards across the world there are infinite variations tried out. One lost code in football's history had no hands except for when taking a mark from a kick, where you got some sort of free kick. I remember at my primary school we generally played what we affectionately called 'Aussie No-Rules'. It still assumed the above basic features, but there were no other rules. It was mayhem, often quite violent, and a lot of fun. To a casual observer, what were we playing? It was football.

How different are these games really? Try this for a mental experiment, and I bet there's at least one bunch of kids in Japan who try this very thing this week, because kids try everything conceivable. Change one molecule of the Soccer DNA. Guys, you can now touch the ball with your hands. Well, first thing is next time the ball is at even Ronaldinho's feet he's going to pick it up, and then it's very quickly not going to work. Well, another change will be forced, because with all other rules the same Ronaldinho could then just run past the defenders, who can't tackle him bodily, and toss the ball past the goalie. So the kids can either abandon the change as silly or try one of two things. They can either limit the amount a person is able to run before they have to kick or pass the ball, or enable defenders to tackle more physically (or both). More changes would follow to tighten up the coherence of the game, and in short you either get something approximating AFL or something approximating rugby. Especially in the schoolyard which doesn't have to wait on bureaucratic approval, these transitions can and do occur very rapidly, and other changes will evolve as enjoyment, game coherence and personal taste dictate.

My mental picture of the social organism of football is one which has its roots in this 'schoolyard' - a metaphor here for anywhere humans - usually young ones - played around and invented rules for a game with a kickable ball. Because it is a team game it demands other teams, and as teams meet they need to agree on rules in order for the game to be enjoyable. If they don't agree the two variations survive but they don't get their game. If they agree on a set of rules, either on one set or an amalgam of the two, a 'league' develops. The league might have growth of its own, but the gravity is for attempts to be made to agree between leagues, cities and regions, so the best can seek out the best and, just so everyone can play.

This is a a philosophical caricature of the real history of course - a wank if you like. But continuing the story in the late 19th century that same organic process that began in the schoolyard yielded its logical telos, and official association rules of two main football codes were established. The colonies, including Ireland, more-or-less provided the rest.

The other apparently logical telos is nationalisation of codes, and indeed globalisation. In the case of soccer in particular the game's association around a codified set of rules certainly accelerated the spread of the code. In a Hegelian sense, the universal agreement of a code already exists as an unrealised potentiality right back there in the schoolyard, as surely as a seed contains a tree, an embryo a human, and the pre-Big-Bang universe self-consciousness in the form of complex life. This potentiality - even in the dreams of children occasionally a fleeting, dreaming desire for a 'world competition' of their favourite game - has probably existed in the games of children for millenia, but it in the 19th and 20th centuries is midwifed, by the grownups of course, with technologies of organisation, transport and communication.

'Football' is a very important word, but to deny it of its generic meaning, encompassing all of the codes and all of the development before and in between, is to deny it of its history and its identity as a general and extraordinary social development across the entire world.

So what of the word 'soccer'? It's certainly not American, or even Australian-and-American. We all know that it derives from the words 'Association Football', the name given to the ancestral version of our own round ball game by a bunch of public school toffs in England a century and a half ago (London, 1863), and I did at first see the word 'soccer' a little in that light. Already though, there is an enormous historicity about the word, as it is this event which defined our branch of the football species. But this link with 'Association Football' doesn't actually explain who or what brought the word about.

According to John Learmouth's formidably important (ok, a rather obscure source) Soccer for Young Beginners (1980), the origin of the name soccer also goes back to the English schoolyard:

At that time a favorite form of slang among public schoolboys and the alumni of these public schools was to shorten a word and then add "er" to the end of it. Using this slang they called breakfast "brecker," a preparatory school was a "prepper," and so on. And so, quite naturally, Rugby Football became "rugger" and Association Football became known as "soccer."

Pretty authentic stuff I reckon. Learmouth paints the picture of an environment where multiple codes were still around and this major breakthrough of football organisation had just occurred. That is, he describes an environment where the rules of language evolution demand a specific term to differentiate between variations within the generic. If and when there is no other football code, the specific term is redundant and will naturally fall into disuse. In terms of the use of the word 'football' and 'soccer', that's all that's happening.

There's a pretty straightforward reason why the word 'soccer' has been commonly used in Australia for decades. There are other football codes with mass followings. All four of these codes have been, and are, fairly regularly obliged to use the specific term for their code in everyday conversation. That's life in a multi-code nation. It's meeting a linguistic need.

Ironically and candidly the word soccer stays in use even among the most diehard footballists, as an adjective more-or-less to describe what they're talking about when they say 'football' in company outside the soccer context. The page on which we're informed that Australians "formerly knew" football as soccer has at the top of the page the title, "Australian Institute of Sport - Football (soccer)," defying its own propaganda. Is anyone else embarrassed by this?

On the AIS site they routinely use the term, "football (soccer)". Once again, if you're obliged to use the term 'soccer' to annotate the term 'football', due to the use of the latter term for a variety of codes, the rules of language development will gravitate toward the use of the specific term for efficiency. Those who insist, "it's not soccer, it's football" are insisting on an encumbrance on our language in a lingual environment where the generic term is often not appropriate to express our meaning.

The need for a word in a language will demand the word. Here's a sentence with no use of the word soccer whatsoever - "Football - you know football-football - is the most dominant, universally played football code in the world." It just doesn't work. Another word is demanded. I don't really care if you call it Dorothy but the fact is there is no generally understood synonymic equivalent to the word 'soccer'.

In Japan, it is called soccer, I don't know how many other Asian countries call it soccer, but I think it is a marketing myth that "the rest of the World calls it football." There may well be enclaves of working class folk in England who actually don't know what 'soccer' means through such prolonged lack of need for a specific term. But all footballers, coaches, administrators, sports media and serious fans around the world know what soccer means, and may or may not have occasional call to use the word in a sentence.

Football is generic, soccer is specific. It seems a little laboured to spell it out, because it is obvious, but it also seems strangely necessary.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ding Ding! Round 3

First the news that Jacob's season is over, as they lost their semi-finals on Saturday. They were one down, then equalised in the 2nd half, so it went to extra time. At that point Keiitchi and I (the coaches) put Max, one of our best players who we'd convinced to play the last few games in defence, up front. The defence collapsed, as we have seen before when we've done the same thing. As Jacob reprimanded, "It wasn't a risk Dad - it was just a mistake." I have to agree with him, and in the proper order of things, we coaches take full responsibility for the loss.

But the boys had a great season and have all grown as players and as young men. God knows I've learned a lot as well. And the Indoor season starts next month, so the round ball rolls on.

I'm enjoying this tipping competition. Clearly in the first round we were virtually guessing as we could have got more correct results by a random result generator (we got 11 of 44 results right between us). In the second round we did much better - 18 of 56 possible correct results (I'm not talking about scores) - but it's still interesting that a bunch of die-hard soccer fans couldn't quite get a third of the results correct, with essentially 3 choices for each call. The random generator would still have been odds on to beat us. Surely as the season goes on and we get familiar with the teams and their form, we can do much better.

An advantage of tabulating the scores is that you can see the patterns, and of course it's the games we completely fail to predict en masse which are the important ones to note. We collectively found Central Coast's win and the draw between Newcastle and Queensland very predictable, and although some of us called it each way, not one of us picked that Sydney and Adelaide would draw. Especially as this comp is between a bunch of folk who allegedly have some idea of what we're talking about, it's interesting data. Thankfully as well it's a much bigger sample than last year, but there were patterns last year as well, which were not easy to spot without a clear table, so for posterity I've tabulated last years comp as well. You can find it by clicking the 'Season 2' tab at the top of the Blogger's Cup Table. I've got a little bit more to do on it and I'll get to it soon.

Wes, Mike, Wayne and Dave have already tipped Round 3 in comments on the Round 2 post.

My tips:
Queensland vs Central Coast Mariners
Roar 3:2
Another bloody Thursday night game - at 8pm! Jacob has school in the morning. Don't worry our priorities are clear and we'll be there. I've instructed Jacob to get his weekly homework done tonight and Wednesday.

Adelaide vs Melbourne
Adelaide 2:0
Melbourne will recover I reckon and start to kick some ass in round 5 or 6. Adelaide have hit the ground running and aren't going to stumble yet. I have no idea why I think that, and if history is a guide my predictions are approximately as accurate as a random generator would be.

Perth vs Sydney
Sydney are in danger of gaining this reflexive underdog-supporter's sympathy for the problems with their troops. I think they have some hubris issues though.

Wellington vs Newcastle
If anyone can help, I'm very, very keen to bookmark an amateur A-League blog from Wellington. If they're what they're promising, the fans should generate a blog or two before long if they haven't already.

Good luck everyone.

It says at the top of this page that I'm a philosopher so I better occasionally say something philosophical. It also says I'm probably mad - a crucial qualifier.

Why do I pray to the infinite? Well there are in the annals of humanity thousands of gods, all mentally graven images (thus, incidentally, false idols according to the second of the 10 commandments). There is only one infinite and it is quite clearly incomprehensible, undescribable and, to add to the anxiety of it all, all-powerful.

Often atheists, who are generally very spiritually thoughtful people, choose not to pray at all, but I think they lose something. It's my view - barely defensible in a scientific way I admit - that the evolution of our mental equipment went alongside the development of early religion, and that those creatures who could, as their consciousness radically expanded, make some peace with this unknown 'other', so enormous and frightening, by finding a connection with it, however false in the eyes of many moderns, tended to survive because they were less inclined to go mad. It may offend some, but I find it interesting that the first tenet of AA and other addiction management organisations (of which I've never been a member, but know some who are very gratefully so) is to embrace the idea of a superior being. Meanwhile however the 'infinite' is a completely rational, secular idea which we can clearly and succinctly fail to grasp. If no one else finds it a useful mechanism to get through life, that's fine because I do.

I pray to the infinite (ok, I call it God in my own space, because it's shorter and I know what I mean) every day. Usually the prayer is "Hello," but sometimes I also say, "Thanks." It certainly can't 'hear' me, but my active mental acknowledgment of the all-powerful unknowable everything, I sincerely believe, actually facilitates a successful dance with the universe - by which I just mean getting through with a smile, and even - this is ridiculous of course and I only have an intuitive accumulation of anecdotal evidence to go by - having serendipity and 'luck' work a little extra my way. I don't understand the universe at all, but I suspect there's a little more to its connectivity than we think. Being mentally alien to it is a bad risk I reckon.

Religion, in my humble view, is to madness what masturbation is to rape, and what soccer is to tribal warfare. It's an arbitrary civilised cultivation of the creative fulfillment of a need which goes back hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary psychology.

Please forgive my indulgence here, and I am not an evangelist. It's quite irrelevant to me whether anyone gives two shits about my philosophical viewpoint.

To the infinite, may all the A-League games this week be fair with flair, may there be good sportsmanship on and off the field and may there be no serious injuries.

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