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The Beautiful Game...?

Updated: Mar 15

Deputy Editor Amelia Perry tackles sport for the first time (ever).

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are three inescapably pervasive languages; Food, Love, and Football. Given St Andrews seems to be an American outpost these days, I’d like to make one thing very clear — we’re talking British Soccer here, people, none of that American Football nonsense that takes place at the end of A Cinderella Story (yes, that really was the best example I could come up with).

Right, starting off nice and simple. There are eleven players on a team. Apart from when there aren’t, in which case there are five. Or sometimes six. Potentially seven? Scratch the ‘nice and simple’, there’s an arbitrary number of players on a team. Each of these players is, helpfully, identified by a number on the back of their shirt. Less helpful, however, is the fact that these numbers aren’t necessarily in any form sequential unless we’re talking some sort of obscure Fibonacci-esque sequence of which I am totally, yet unsurprisingly, unaware. Oh, and I forgot to mention one of these players is allowed to wear gloves and a different-coloured shirt, and can use his hands unlike everyone else. This is the phenomenon known as “a goalie”.

I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining the aim of the game, but you should probably know that each game consists of two 45-minute halves. Except there’s extra-time, injury-time, and half-time. Never seems to be less time though, which is potentially where they’re going wrong…

Much like Szentek, a football pitch has a lot of lines. You’ve got the goal line, the touchline and the halfway line. There’s also a circle, three dots, and some rectangles, but this isn’t an art class, so I’ll leave those for another time. Not to state the obvious here, but the ball is either in or out of play at all times. If it’s in play, happy days (I think?). As soon as the ball crosses the touchline or the goal line (without a goal having been scored), we’re in trouble. At this point, one lucky player from the opposing team is nominated to kick the ball back into play. Simple enough, you might be thinking, except, wait for it, not simple enough — they’re also inexplicably allowed to throw it? Not sure what happened to the no-hands rule, that seemed pretty key earlier.

You know when you were in primary school and that one weird bloke ate one too many glue sticks so the whole class would lose five minutes of golden time? Yeah, they have that in football, too. Not keeping your hands to yourself, pushing and shoving, or biting and spitting results in players being removed from the pitch — god, the primary school comparison is too easy at this point. Don’t worry, it’s not completely draconian, they get given a warning (yellow card) before actually being sent off (red card).

So it sort of goes back and forth, and on and on (and on), a bit like that, until we encounter the dreaded off-side rule. Spoiler alert: the offside rule has nothing to do with being off the pitch, because why would it need to make any sense whatsoever? Deep breath, let’s just hope the millions of TikToks, three different articles, and one whole YouTube video I’ve consumed trying to make this make sense pay off here. A player falls foul of the off-side rule if there are fewer than two players between them, the ball, and the opposing goal. Nailed it.

What else? Ah yes, how to channel your best inner Alex Scott and provide elucidatory commentary for all your compatriots. If you get the impression the wrong team is losing, you can never go wrong with, “it’s just all so political these days”. If the ball has gone into a net (any net, I’m not fussy) you must immediately take off your top and scream in your best impression of a pterodactyl. Either in rage or joy, that just depends on who you want to win — the quickest way to decide that, by the way, is simply which shirt colour you think is the prettiest. When in doubt, my friends, just blame the ref. He’s either corrupt, totally biassed, or clinically insane.

And, in the highly likely event you need to stall and buy yourself some more time, I’d recommend cornering the nearest boy and asking about sports washing, it’ll keep him happy for hours.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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