Notes on an Island off the Coast of the EU: Sport

Following his look at our geography, David Cohen continues his series giving a US perspective of the English by tackling our sporting pastimes…

The English have two great sports, not-baseball and not-football. They also play golf, but that’s an artifact of Scottish colonial rule we’ll visit later in discussing English history.

No one understands not-baseball, which was invented in 1941 by German spies to demoralize American servicemen stationed in England. It survives mostly as an excuse to hunt down American tourists and say things like, “In the middle of his century, he squirted a nice googly just past square leg to deep backward.” Then the English and any nearby Germans laugh. (It’s worth noting that, despite their supposed devotion to not-baseball, the English are always using baseball metaphors, except that they call baseball “not-Cricket.”)

Unlike not-baseball, not-football actually has standard rules that have been written down somewhere, no doubt at the insistence of the EU. Despite the name, not-football is actually more a simplified version of soccer, except that it’s played by adults rather than hordes of 8-year-olds.

Not-football is played by three teams of three players each on a field of no particular length and width (typically, the field is about 91 meters long and 55 meters wide unless you’re playing foreigners, in which case the English like a little bit more room). Two of the teams, known as sides, are made up of two players known as kickers who chase after the ball and one player, known as the goalie, who stands at the back. Along with the sides, the third team, known as the referees, chases the ball up and down the field, although unlike the sides, the referees aren’t supposed to catch it.

Before the game, particularly weak invalids from the local hospital are selected to stand on the field acting as obstacles to the referees and the sides. This is surprisingly barbaric, even for the English, as they delight in watching these poor devils fall to the ground and writhe in pain if even slightly touched by a player.

The game is played by having one of the kickers kick the ball in the general direction of the other side’s goalie. The other kicker on that side chases after the ball, trying to get in front of it before it crosses an arbitrary line imagined by the referees. If he succeeds, the referees blow on their whistles. If he doesn’t succeed, he must kick it to the other side’s goalie, who catches it and sends it back the other way restarting game play. If the goalkeeper misses the ball, which happens rarely, his side gets a penalty. This continues for an hour-ish, with the actual end of the game coming as a complete surprise.

There is no scoring and the referees always win. This is the most popular sport in the world, which tells you all you need to know about the world.

The English also play a number of games, most notably draughts and snooker, which are remarkably similar to darts and pool, except that they are televised. The point of both games is to play while (or, as the English say, whilst) so drunk that you can’t aim properly, but not so drunk you hit the audience with your dart or cue, which is not-Cricket. Hitting the audience with a ball – especially in draughts – is worth extra points.

No discussion of English sport would be complete without mentioning chasing across other people’s land on horseback to watch dogs tear apart small animals and children. Which I’ve just done.

Next:  English history, or how the English manage not to notice that they’ve been ruled by foreigners for all of recorded history.

David Cohen is alive and well and living in New England.
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5 thoughts on “Notes on an Island off the Coast of the EU: Sport

  1. Worm
    April 18, 2012 at 11:14

    If I was very very rich or a roman emperor, I would love to organise a game where first the English rugby team play a USA american football team at american football and then vice versa. Would be fascinating to see

      April 18, 2012 at 11:41

      You would need two teams each, I think. In American football, the rugby players would be at a serious size disadvantage; “big” in NFL terms is about 25% bigger than “big” in rugby terms, so the rugby players would sustain a lot of injuries. (As for that matter do NFL players–the weekly injury reports make interesting reading.) In the course of the rugby game, most of the American football players, being built for brief, violent effort, would collapse from exhaustion. (It caused great amusement some years ago when a defensive lineman, having recovered a fumble, had to run 70 or 80 yards, a distance he had probably not run since his teens.) I believe that the ball in actually in play, snap to whistle, for a total of about 5 minutes in an NFL game.

      April 18, 2012 at 21:34

      I fear it would be disappointing, Worm. As George suggests, the American footballers would slaughter the rugby players at American football, and the rugby players would slaughter the American footballers at rugby, in both cases with humiliating ease.

      But it would be interesting to get them to play each other at non-baseball.

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