Monday, July 10, 2006

New rules for soccer - a modest proposal

Having just finished watching the World Cup with a mixture of boredom, disillusionment, and the occasional short-lived burst of excitement, I'd like to make a modest proposal that I feel will dramatically improve this beloved game we know as soccer, or football, or futbol, or footie, or kick-ye-the-ball, etc.

As I see it, far too much time is wasted by players running incessantly around the field, attempting to dribble the ball around other players only to be tripped up and stomped upon, passing to their teammates only to be intercepted, and attempting time after time to score goals only to be blocked by the opposing defenders and their goalie. Countless hours are consumed by such pointless activities, and all too often, players are seriously injured by collisions with each other, with the ball, with the field, with the goal, and various combinations thereof. What a shameful waste of time and talent!

After watching this latest World Cup, I think we can all agree that soccer is really about penalty kicks, corner kicks, and other set pieces. A disproportionate number of goals are scored this way, and all the running around, collisions, falling down, rolling about in agony, etc. are clearly intended to produce opportunities for free kicks and their ilk. And if the free kicks scored during the game don't give one team a clear advantage, the penalty kick shootout at the end will. For instance, in the World Cup final yesterday...what an inspiring ending! So if you aren't scoring on free kicks of one sort or another, you clearly aren't playing soccer.

Therefore, I propose that we streamline this revered sport by cutting right to the chase and basing all scoring entirely on free kicks. Fortunately, an excellent model already exists in the time-honored playground game of H-O-R-S-E. While H-O-R-S-E originated on the basketball court, it could work equally well on the soccer pitch. For those unfamiliar with this noble pastime, here are its rules - rules I think you'll find truly elegant in their simplicity:

The game may be played with as few as 2 people, and as many as desired. The only skill required is shooting; no player is allowed to defend. [For soccer the goalie would be kept since it's such fun to watch him dive and flail about.]

With 2 players, the first player may shoot from anywhere on the court [aka pitch]. There is no penalty if the first player misses; the second player then gets to shoot from anywhere on the court. If either player makes their shot, the next player must make the same shot from the same position; if the next player misses, they get a "letter" from the word "horse". The first player is again free to shoot from another spot on the court, however the player may not shoot from a spot where a shot was already made in the same game. A player is knocked out of the game once they have enough letters to spell out the word "horse;" the last player remaining wins.

The game is essentially the same with 3 or more players but the rules may vary slightly. [Imagine three soccer teams competing at once - what an innovation! "And Brazil makes the shot, and stays at 'H' - and now Italy makes the shot as well, and they're safe at 'H' too - but it's bad news for France, as Henry misses! Sorry France, I'm afraid it's 'H-O' for you. They're raging in the brothels of Montmartre right now, I can tell you that! And what's this? It appears Zidane has set fire to an Italian player's jersey - oh, the humanity!"

Often, the shots in H-O-R-S-E are trick shots that are rarely, if ever, taken in a real game; although unlikely, if the shot succeeds, the opponent is much more likely to miss and therefore receive a letter. Elaborate routines and "call" shots, such as "off the backboard" or "left-handed hook shot," are frequently allowed, and the shooter's actions must be followed exactly for the next player's shot to be considered good. [Yet another advantage of H-O-R-S-E - instead of waiting around for hours to see a creative or exciting shot, you'd get to see them all the time, as players strive to outdo each other for the honor of team and country. Each player on a team would step up and make the most challenging shots of which he's capable, striving to make things as difficult as possible for the opponent who must equal his prowess or receive the dreaded letter.]

To keep things interesting, why confine ourselves to H-O-R-S-E? Why not use different words from the respective languages of the competing teams? "Schadenfreude," for instance, or "prosciutto". What a stellar opportunity to build cross-cultural understanding while improving the vocabularies of foreign language students everywhere!

So who's with me? Isn't it time we retire all the tedious "passing" and "dribbling" that's led to so much wasted time, so many lost scoring opportunities, and so many players brought down in their prime? Let's join together in shouting "Hurrah for H-O-R-S-E!" Post your support in the comments and I'll forward our humble petition to FIFA in time for the next meeting of their rules committee.

(Thanks to Wikipedia for the Rules of H-O-R-S-E.)