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Soup of This Day #387: The Tracksuits Are Old

Arc Health and Wellbeing Facility
The hanger-like structure that dominates this photo is Glasgow Caledonian University’s Arc Health and Wellbeing Facility, home to Glasgow Roller Derby – Photo: Knwwsss, 2009. Knwwsss is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Last night I saw a tweet that asked whether roller derby should be included as a sport in the Commonwealth Games. This informal proposal drew out some conflicting feelings from me – Predominantly excitement and doubt. On the one hand, I’m thinking, hell yes, because roller derby is some kind of awesome. The part that I’m doubting isn’t roller derby.

It’s the Commonwealth Games.

Which is awkward because the Commonwealth Games are a reasonably significant sporting occurrence and as it happens they are currently upon us – This time around in Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow.

Some background might be required – The Commonwealth Games are a multi-sport festival, sort of like the Olympics. They are more exclusive than the latter though because they are only open to the nations who are, or who have at one time been, members of the Commonwealth of Nations (Formerly the British Commonwealth) and who haven’t totally annoyed Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, or her predecessors.

To be accurate, it isn’t just nations who are eligible to compete – Currently there are 53 of those but there are 71 teams. The difference is explained by the inclusion of dependant territories, such as the Isle of Man.

The Queen of Australia is also the Lord of Mann. She gets around and she needs to as the 53 member states (and dependant territories) of the Commonwealth of Nations together field almost a third of the world’s total population.

Which is a lot of people, however the Commonwealth Games don’t resonate as heavily with me as those weighty numbers would suggest. As an Australian this could maybe be seen as sacrilegious thinking on my part – I grew up as an Aussie kid steeped in a culture of sporting excellence. My earliest memory of any sporting Games was that of the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, and specifically of a inspired kangaroo mascot called Matilda. For the opening ceremony a 13m tall Matilda was powered around Brisbane’s Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Sports Centre, powered by a modified fork-lift truck and winking at the crowd.

Sidebar: The map formed by participants in that ceremony, while ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ is played, is missing Tasmania. Which is awkward*. Also, yes, Matilda is a trojan kangaroo with what now looks to be a lascivious wink. The concept of using such a vessel to infiltrate Australia’s hearts will appear somewhat ironic later in this post.

So the Commonwealth Games should be a special occurrence for me. That they’re not, that the resonance just isn’t there for me, is down to some core reasons:

The first is that, sporting wise, the Commonwealth of Nations doesn’t exactly punch it’s weight. In the most recent Olympics, the 2012 London edition, Commonwealth member states won just 179 of 962 medals on offer. The four biggest member states by population (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria), who together account for 1.7 billion people (~77% of the Commonwealth), won just 6 medals between them.

Or between India actually. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria won nowt.

True, there were some stand-outs in there for the Queen – 56 of 302 gold medals went ‘Her’ way. Pitch a Commonwealth Games contingent from the likes of the island nation of Niue, whose total population is around the 1,600 mark, against those kinds of World’s best performances and you could argue that there is a real David verses Goliath struggle going on.

A contest between David and Goliath is something most of us enjoy. As a parable anyway. There are certainly some David’s and Davinia’s in the 2014 Commonwealth Games – Apart from Niue, the Falklands Islands has a population of not much more than 2,000, while others such as Nauru and Tuvalu have only around 10,000 citizens to choose their sporting stars from.

Nauru’s most popular sport, Australian rules football, isn’t even played at the Commonwealth Games and they don’t have a competition-standard swimming pool or athletics track.

The commensurate Goliaths though are few and far between. Mostly what we have are lower-league Goliath’s – Decent athletes to be sure, but not tall enough that a sporting slingshot between the eyes is as memorable for the neutral.

This is not the primary reason that I feel uncomfortable when it comes to the Commonwealth Games though. That dubious honour goes to the heart of the Commonwealth of Nations, and in particular how that grouping came about. A clue to this can be found in the name of the Commonwealth Games when they first began in 1930. Then, they were the Empire Games, celebrating the glory and fostering understanding of what was then the British Empire.

Australia was seen at the time as a prime example of this great cultural movement. The British had arrived around 150 years before that first Games and had in the intervening time settled and civilised this wide land.

Except that the land had already been settled for at least 50,000 years before they’d arrived and across that age had consequentially got a whole lot civilised in such a way that it’s inhabitants had forged an extraordinary kind of relationship with their lands. This harmonious enterprise was then royally buggered up by the invasion of the British, a tale sadly replicated across a number of Commonwealth nations and something we’re now tacitly celebrating via a sporting festival.


Imagine if we’d applied that ethos to other empires. We could have the Vandal Games, named for the people who were seen as so barbaric in their acquisition of territories that we remember them today as a byword for mindless destruction. Or we could have the Viking Games, honouring the Norse seafarers who raided and invaded large parts of Europe, and who, thanks to Leif Erikson, also made it across to North America. Such a Games would then involve the powerful US team, surely leading to a greater sporting spectacle.

Yep it’s all fun in the friendly Viking Games until some beserker pokes an eye out with a höggspjót and then it’s, what a heavy, pointy, ramming thing you have on the prow of your longship.

And that’s just the historical bastardry we’re referencing. Now in 2014, 42 of the 53 participating nations have laws that make it a crime to be gay. In Uganda for instance the parliament passed a law in 2013 offering life imprisonment for those found to have engaged in homosexual acts. That sentence is even on the lenient side – They were not far off making it death.

Ian Thorpe is arguable Australia’s greatest ever male competitive swimmer. At the 2002 Commonwealth Games he won an astonishing 6 gold medals. He’s also gay and so if he were to live in four out of five Commonwealth nations he’d be a criminal. Were he to live in Nauru, he’d face up to 14 years hard labour for being open about his sexuality.

Even if he’d kept it hidden he’d still have been stifled by the lack of a swimming pool.

So after some thought I’ve come to the conclusion that the Commonwealth Games is no place for the progressive and awesome roller derby. Think big I reckon, and that rules out the Commonwealth Games, because ‘thinking’ is stifled and the ‘big’ just isn’t big enough.

Oh, and @#$% you, Parliament of Uganda. Royally.

*Not half as uncomfortable as it now is looking back at Rolf Harris. Evil.

The Tracksuits Are Old

Soup of This Day #386: Tell You The Truth

Percy Doyle Reserve
Sunset across Percy Doyle Reserve as the Perth Glory Women do battle in the twilight – Photo: Longworth72, 2013. Image cropped by Longworth72, who is very sorry about the low contrast, but hey, twilight, people.

One evening last summer I sat atop a grassy slope in a Perth park and watched a free game of soccer. It was a pretty good moment to be in – There was a breeze off of the ocean that carried away the residual heat from a typically warm November’s day in Western Australia, and there was a handy tree that dappled the glare from the setting sun. I felt pretty lucky.

True, that same tree did block the view for a portion of the pitch, but even that inconvenience became agreeable, adding a quirky subplot to the on-field drama, an element of mystery.

Not that the narrative needed any extra devices – This was quality soccer, as evidenced by the presence of a number of players who have played in their respective national teams. In spite of all of this, the easy setting, the non-existent cost and the quality of the soccer, there was not that big a crowd in residence. I figured that there was no more than 300 fans, barely enough to sparsely dot the slopes or populate the club-rooms opposite.

This low turn-out was most likely because the game was an Australian W-League fixture. Women’s soccer.

People don’t watch women’s sport in as great numbers as they do the men’s equivalent. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons as to why this disparity exists, and I’m just as convinced that all of those reasons are a load of bollocks. In spite of that surety, my advice to sports fans is this:

Don’t set out to go and watch women’s sport.

Let me explain why:

Back in 1994 I sat up each night to watch the FIFA World Cup being played in the US. It was a decent tournament, with some cracking early group games, and then some edgy knock-out contests. It was a challenge for me to watch though – Because of the time zone difference and my love of sport, I needed to survive through many nights of no sleep. This was tough – Not even the eye-watering self-designed kit of Mexican stopper Jorge Campos or the possibility of that brilliant keeper remembering he was once a striker could completely beat out the yawns. So to keep myself awake I spent the time in between early morning fixtures playing on our new computer.

That computer was a boxy desktop 486SX-33. It was less than a year old and it had a then-luxurious 8MB of RAM. By contrast, the sleek i7 laptop machine I’m currently typing on, some 20 years later, has 8GB of RAM, a lazy 1000 times as much working memory. In spite of that disparity, I can still comfortably say that the comparatively ancient 486 had software loaded on it that exceeded my wildest teenage geekdom dreams far more than my current beastie. Mostly this was down to the games, with the 3D shoot-em-up Doom and the top-down isometric real-time strategy thriller Syndicate being the stand-outs.

Syndicate was my favourite. It’s construction was relatively simple but it was smart – Buildings and landscapes were expertly and crisply rendered but only as an enhancement to the gameplay, rather than a fixture of it. There was no technical eye-candy on screen – The playable part of the game for instance utilised just 16 colours.

I hardly noticed more than a handful of those colours.

Instead, I was focussed on the control of a team of up to 4 agents – Biomechanically enhanced humans – who were tasked with gaining and then maintaining the supremacy of a fictional corporation, the titular syndicate.

In spite of this capitalistic theme, the game was surprisingly egalitarian in outlook – You could select male or female agents to be a part of your unit, with neither gender having an edge in performance. In play you couldn’t even determine who was who, as each agent was a small sprite clad in nondescript robes and armed with a utilitarian flamethrower.

Yeah, a flamethrower. For incinerating things. The game was violent and never more so than with the flamethrower. It was not a game to be played by young kids and maybe not even old kids either. It still isn’t really – Time has not softened the harsher elements of Syndicate.

I’m making that quantification current because you can still buy Syndicate and you can still play it now, albeit via a DOS-emulator. I don’t need a DOS-emulator, because I still have the 486SX-33 and it still works. I’ve kept it so that on occasion I can play Syndicate the way it was intended.

And also so that I don’t lose my status as a Rear-Admiral in the naval flight simulator Fleet Defender. That took a lot of flying hours. I sacrificed some social stuff for those hours.

Unlike me back then, Fleet Defender has now dated a lot though. Syndicate hasn’t – It’s 16 colours, inert buildings and gender agnostic assassins are still disturbingly thrilling in 2014. Because narrative – The skein that runs through the game, that transcends things like flashy moves, fast processors and super-hyper-realistic-bazillion-colour visuals.

Narrative is everything in games. If your narrative is weak then all of the embellishments in the tech universe will not save games like Syndicate Wars, the eagerly awaited 1996 sequel to Syndicate.

Because Syndicate Wars sucked.

It had more complex graphics with user-controlled viewing angles (Syndicate had had just the 1 viewing angle), interactive buildings (Oh so destructible) and more weapons (You needed them to level the buildings).

But it sucked. Then and now, and not just because the idea of blowing up buildings seems kind of wrong right now. Because Gaza, Syria, Iraq and countless other wars.

Morals aside (And there was a cartoonish quality to Syndicate that gave it some distance from an ethical reality), there was no focus on a cohesive narrative in Syndicate Wars, the whole was a scatter of ideas, of a jumble of skills in play. Those skills read good on paper – faster and flashier – but they didn’t hold together in a compelling package.

This is where we get back to women’s sport. If you’re setting out to watch it because of the ‘women’ bit then I reckon you run the risk of seeing a Syndicate Wars. What you should be doing is looking for sport and a compelling narrative to underpin it.

That is the essence of sport for me. The skills on display aren’t valuable unless there is a narrative to bind them into something I want to immerse myself in. And just like for those lethal agents in Syndicate, gender plays no part in determining the viability of a sporting narrative for me. Yes, it is the case that elite women in sport don’t generally run as fast, kick as hard or hit as powerfully as their male equivalents. The narrative though is independent of all of that jazz.

I don’t love sport for the jazz* and so gender simply shouldn’t matter to me.

It used to, that’s true. I once frowned upon women’s sport because of those perceived physical shortcomings. To be honest, I never even gave women’s sport a chance, because I was so sure that the metrics were what sport was about. I saw women’s sport as sport by women and for women, and since I’m a bloke, figured that it wasn’t for me. When I did occasionally approach it then, I had the wrong attitude.

Because I can be a numpty and because I focussed on the ‘women’ bit instead of the ‘sport’ part. Which was easy because I’m a heterosexual guy and did I mention that I can be a numpty?

This then is why I’m suggesting that we should eschew the idea of setting out to watch women’s sport. Because the narratives that make women’s sport great are the same narratives that make men’s sport great. They’re the narratives that make all sport great. It’s about the sport.

So instead of setting out to watch women’s sport we should head out there to watch great sport and sometimes, often even, it will have women in it.

Like the 2015 FIFA World Cup.

At that tournament, just like for that evening last summer in Perth and for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, there will be some quality soccer on offer. For me, I’m hoping that it will be on free-to-air TV so that I can enjoy the narrative that will be in play. There is just the one catch though…

The 2015 FIFA World Cup is being hosted by Canada. Which is in North America, and with time zones that are almost exactly as disparate for me in Western Australia as they were in 1994…

It might be time to fire up the old 486 again…

*I do love jazz for the jazz. Doesn’t matter who’s playing it, long as they’re finding the key to my soul.

Tell You The Truth

Soup of This Day #385: Oh The Nights Are Warm

Tyrrell P34
This might look like a patchwork fantasy car but it is in fact a clever and complete automotive design that was realised into a competitive race car. The Tyrell P34 remains to this day the only 6-wheeler to get a decent run in the demanding world of F1. The #3 1976 edition, piloted by ace South African driver Jody Scheckter, even won the Swedish Grand Prix. Sadly, this was the sole win for the innovative P34, and with a lack of development on the unusually small front tyres, the model would only see two years of F1 – Photo: Lothar Spurzem, 1976.

I’m writing this post via a tablet device. There are a lot, maybe billions, of these gizmos in the world and there’s probably even more blogs so this is surely not unique.

It is bloody laborious though.

To be air, this is probably not how it is with all tablets. This one though is problematic.

And I meant ‘fair’ back there, not ‘air’. Although ‘air’ is strangely appropriate. As in ‘dead air’, because this tablet specialises in a sort of that. You tap the screen and you get nothing. Parts of the screen anyway. So you can be typing on the on-screen keyboard and you’ll find that some letters are missing from the selection you’d carefully composed in your mind.

There is some compensation of sorts – Some letters can appear twice – Like an ‘a’ or an ‘s’ – Pretty much everything from that area of the keyboard. Meanwhile ‘l’ and ‘t’ can not be there at all.

Or aa aa.

There is a workaround. I just rotate the screen and I get a different set of problems. Suddenly my ‘t’ is there ut I need to rotate the sree ak to get ‘c’, ‘b’ and ‘n’.

Auto-complete helps but not always and honestly, it gives me the sshiss so much that it’s hard not to swap this fukig device for one that is more consistent.

Like a leaking fukig pen.

Not for almost all of this post though and not for parts of others either.

Because, for all of it’s faults and quirks, I’m stupidly content with this tablet. Partly because it cost just $1, but mostly because it had been cast off, designated as waste, fit only to be deconstructed as a teaching aid. It hadn’t always been so lowly estimated – It served a senior staffer at my former workplace with aplomb. But then it suffered an impact and the touchscreen developed it’s quixotic approach to function. Out of warranty, the wayward tablet was sidelined, before being rescued by me prior to being ignominiously broken down.

Now it has a new lease, perhaps with it’s best form in the past, but still with much to give off the bench. There are still productive at bats to be gleaned and every time I pitch an idea at it, I feel like I get some bat to the ball. Sure, they’re often bloop hits, lobbing comically into an area of uncertainty between fielders, but it’s entertainment at an affordable emotional price.

This is how I’m viewing the 2014 Boston Red Sox.

In 2013 they were the best going around, tapping out hits all over the place and from any position. All of the functions worked and there was a smoothness that made you feel that successes was inevitable.

Not so much in 2014.

Maybe they suffered an impact across winter, a fall, a drop in motivation. Whatever the cause, while the components are still largely there, some key strokes just aren’t getting in safely.

Actually, it’s a lot of key strokes that are going awry – As at the 2014 All-Star break, which sits astride the mythical mid-point of the season, the Red Sox are ranked 15th among 15 American League (AL) teams for runs scored. They’ve managed just 367 of them.

The San Diego Padres of the National League (NL) do have a scant 279, but without a Fesignated… Sorry… Designated Hitter (DH) the NL teams have some excuse – The AL is relatively friendly to hitters. As evidenced by the LA Angels, ranked 1st for run production in the AL and across the Majors.

They’ve knocked in a lazy 478.

The Angels don’t, it’s true, have baseball’s best record at the moment. They sit 1.5 games behind fellow AL West outfit, the Oakland A’s, who have a decent 59 and 36 line. At .621, the A’s are on track for a 100 win season. They may have scored less runs than the Halos (466) but they’ve conceded significantly less ass well (321 vs 389).

And yes I know I left an extra ‘s’ in there but honestly, inserting an ass/donkey reference just works in most situations.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have further diminished their paltry total of runs scored by conceding 405. That’s relatively a lot of runs to give up and the resultant deficit suggests the Red Sox are unlikely to defend their World Series winning status in 2014. Given the feel-good success of last year, and the other two recent titles (2004 and 2007), the Red Sox Nation of fans could be forgiven for looking at this team and being a bit crestfallen.

That’s a difficult word on this tablet – Crestfallen – but it is a great one, so I took it as a challenge.

That’s how I’m taking the remainder of this season for the Red Sox. They’re a great side – 2014 proved that and for sure it’s a challenge watching them playing donkey badly donkey they are, but like with this tablet, there are moments to be proud of – Little quirks to celebrate and positives to be gleaned for hardly any outlay on my part.

That last bit is because the Red Sox won 2013, giving the Nation’s faithful a sort of emotional capital that will generate interest and dividends for years to come. For all I know this tablet won 2013 too.

I figure then that for the Red Sox and this bonus tablet, any successful key strokes this year are a bonus.

That does not mean that the Red Sox shouldn’t have cut A.J. Pierzynski. He didn’t hit good for the club or on this keyboard. Names like Ortiz work better.

Otherwise known donkey Big Paapi!

Oh The Nights Are Warm

Soup of This Day #384: The Weight Of Being So Much More

Tim Howard and Bill Hamid
The Sacred Union of Stoppers – This is Everton keeper Tim Howard having a friendly chat with DC United keeper Bill Hamid before their respective clubs faced off in a friendly – Photo: Paul Frederiksen, 2011. Paul Frederiksen is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

US conservative columnist Ann Coulter has written an article in which she lambastes the popularity of soccer in her country. Apparently she held off on this for a decade for fear of offending anyone. It’s not entirely clear why she’s decided that it’s ok to offend anyone now in 2014 but regardless, Ann has spontaneously let fly with a swerving strike on this world’s most popular sport.

And on soccer mums, liberal mums, kindergartners who play soccer, freeway signs, Longbeach in California, California, Michael Jackson, Germany, juice boxes, lesser beasts without opposable thumbs, HBO’s ‘Girls’, light-rail, Beyoncé, Hilary Clinton, the New York Times, the French, Europeans, the metric system, the French Revolution, guillotines, China, public schools, things that are 147.2cm long, the FIFA World Cup for men and the one for women too, women, David Beckham, Victoria Beckham, Teddy Kennedy and his 1965 immigration law, and languages other than English.

Which is a lot of people and ideas to take aim at – Roughly half the world’s population is made up of women and if you throw in the men from China, Europe and Longbeach, then Ann has a gaping goal-mouth to ping at – but if she’s been holding this in for 10 years, then I guess you’d expect that. Given a centimetre of wiggle-room to squirm through, Ann Coulter was always going to run 100 yards. 100 yards happens to be roughly the length of a soccer pitch and Ann has fair on streaked down one, her right-wing ideology naked to the world and seemingly protected by a half-dozen 300-pound bruisers – Her own offensive midfield of offending.

I’m mostly ok with that. I’m not really offended by her dislike of soccer and I think nobody else should be either. Partly because Ann’s article is riddled with comic exaggerations and also because gazillions of people won’t have their lives affected by what Ann Coulter thinks.

If you’re reading this Ann, I’m only kidding. That was a joke. See, I accused you of exaggerating and then did that myself. There are not a gazillion people in the world. Gazillion is a fictitious number that serious people don’t use.

Serious people like scientists, who instead use real and serious measurements, most of which are in metric. Because the base units of the metric system have such a logical relationship with subsequently derived units. As opposed say, to the empirically tenuous relationship that the length of a person’s foot has with anything bar their shoe size.

Don’t get me wrong – Here in foreigner territory we still respect a person’s foot. It’s just that it turns out that there are so many different sizes of them.

Tim Howard for instance seems to have fairly big feet which he clads in fairly big soccer boots whenever he takes to the playing field as the keeper of the United States Men’s National Team (USNMT). Big feet can be useful for a keeper to have, especially if he or she wants to be good at blocking attacks in close. This kind of action is known as shot-stopping, and it’s a combination of bravery, reflex reactions and insanity.

That last bit is best demonstrated by what a keeper will do when an attacker is bearing down on goal with the ball at their feet and nothing to stop them but said keeper.

Who will have thrown themselves at that ball before they even thought about doing that. There is no time for thinking so the keeper won’t have considered injury and the only strategy will be defined by a seemingly genetically programmed need to stop the ball from getting through for a score.

Good keepers will even throw themselves randomly at patches of synthetic leather that they may encounter in other sphere’s of life, having cleverly determined that one day that material may be made into a ball which could be fired at them. Even then it’s not correct to say that a keeper is being pre-emptive. Instead it’s more accurate to define being pre-emptive as being a keeper. It’s just never too early to thwart an attempt on goal, to stop it dead.

Tim Howard can kill such an on-field attack like few others. Against Belgium in a recent round of 16 match at the 2014 World Cup, he was required to stop the match ball a record 16 times, too often in one-on-one situations with one of those big hoofs stuck out to block a near-certain shot away from danger.

It was an extraordinary effort and an individual one as well. Keepers are a part of a team but they are also alone out there. In spite of Ann Coulter’s belief in the inherent socialism of soccer, individual players are held accountable for their efforts and none more so than a keeper. The folk who wear the gloves don’t need reminding of this – There aren’t many practitioners of the craft who don’t measure themselves scientifically against a higher standard than any spectator, or even right-wing columnist, can provide. Tim Howard for instance may have stopped 16 attempts but he’ll be remembering the two that he couldn’t get to, and that helped defeat and eliminate his USMNT 2-1.

Still, Tim Howard’s efforts have stood out and seen him gain a fair amount of adulation. His back-story helps – Howard was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome early in life and in addition, has a reputation for playing through injury. He’s a solid person, the kind most fans would welcome into their team. I’m one of those fans, even if Howard plays his club football against Liverpool FC – Simply, Tim Howard’s ethos is a reason why I’ve enjoyed the success of the USMNT this World Cup.

There are other reasons, two of which I’ll touch on now:

The USMNT doesn’t really have much of an identity beyond who they are. They are invariably referred to as just the USMNT. Likewise, the US Women’s National Team are logically the USWNT.

In Australia we know our national men’s team as the Socceroos and our national women’s team as the Matildas but those are nicknames and some people – Particularly those outside Australia – may not be able to identify exactly who is being talked about when one of those handles comes up in conversation. While ‘Matilda’ is generally a female name, ‘roos’ (Short for kangaroos) can be male or female. That variation is actually quite critical to the reproduction of kangaroos.

The US meanwhile are saying it clearly, unambiguously, we have a men’s national team and a women’s national team and they are of equal importance so we need to distinguish between the two. This World Cup that is on now features their national men’s team, while next year’s World Cup will see their national women’s team going for glory.

That’s quaintly officious – A little bit of equality wrought out of a seemingly mundane naming convention – and I like it.

My final reason for supporting the USMNT is a little more visceral – It’s because it offends Ann Coulter. Given that she be hatin’ on a lot of the good things in this world, that seems like a noble objective to shoot for.

The Weight Of Being So Much More

Soup of This Day #383: Geronimo

Common vampire bat
A common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) having a drink that I choose to believe is a White Russian cocktail – Photo: Nathan Bittinger, 2011. Nathan Bittinger is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Last night, in a decisive 2014 World Cup match between Italy and Uruguay, charismatic Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez apparently bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. This is unusual but not surprising – Suárez has some form for this kind of transgression as he has twice previously bitten opponents during professional soccer matches.

When I was very little I bit my brother on the arm.

At least four times.

He bit me once too which I think, given that he is older and therefore had more teeth at the time, makes for an equitable exchange. Mum and Dad disagreed though and I suffered severe repercussions. My parents frowned upon biting. So does most of everybody else. That’s why vampires and werewolves get such a bad rap. That and the Twilight movies.

Biting is especially frowned upon on the sporting field and in the subsequent press. Yep, it seems like you could break an opponent’s leg off and then beat your wounded foe around the head with the bloody stump*, and you’ll still only attract less revulsion than if you locked your chompers on their shoulder.

Personally, I’m not as overflowing with revulsion at biting. There is a lot of distaste to be sure, but mostly I’m just wondering why? As in both, ‘Why is Luis biting?’ and ‘Why does this offence stir up so much passion?’

The former question is a difficult one for me to answer – I’ve played a bit of sport and I’ve never felt the urge to clamp my teeth on anyone. I did once bite a sub right before the start of a game, but that was the sandwich and not a replacement player.

I in fact ate two foot-long subs just before that kick-off. My captain (and brother) was filled with revulsion at my lack of nutritional diligence vis-à-vis the impending football match. He was however conveniently distracted from my dietary transgression by two of our team-mates mouthing down some White Russians.

These were alcoholic beverages of that name (Kahlúa + Vodka), rather than pale peoples of Russian nationality. They don’t go for the latter kind of thing in Russia – They’re very conservative. Regardless, my brother was still incensed at the unprofessional conduct on display. I got the sense that, from a football perspective anyway, he would have preferred sober cannibals to drunk players. At least the former would have been looking to carve through the opposition defence, rather than getting all moody and emotional because nobody was watching their smooth moves.

You know who you were.

Sure, I can understand why FIFA will want to be seen to be stamping out biting though. It’s injurious. It hurts. I can’t remember what it felt like when my brother bit me but I do remember him yelping when I got my totally deserved revenge and boy did he get loud.

FIFA, to be fair though, do have a lot of things to stamp out. There’s the whiff of corruption, particularly around the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. There is also the blight of simulation – This has been a focus of FIFA for a while, yet still is a problem – In a match played just after the Italy vs Uruguay stoush, Greece beat the Ivory Coast 2-1, edging the Africans out of the tournament. The winning goal came from a penalty kick awarded in the 3rd minute of injury time. That decisive spot kick was won by what the reply shows was a clear dive by Greece striker Georgios Samaras. Even if Samaras faces retrospective action, that will be cold comfort to the Ivorians.

FIFA do come down hard on the more physical misbehaviours. They for instance stamp down on stamping down – A vicious stamp of a studded boot onto an opponent will garner a straight red card. This is the fate that befell Italy’s Claudio Marchisio in the 59th minute of that crucial clash with Uruguay. Claudio had had brought his fluoro-orange right boot down to rake the right shin of Uruguay’s Egidio Arévalo. It was an ugly challenge and so the referee showed no hesitation in holding up a red card.

This kind of punishment hasn’t eliminated stamping though – It’s just reduced the number of occurrences as players think about what they can gain against what they can lose. You can obtain possession of the ball and you can get ejected from the game.

Biting is much less common. Probably because it’s not clear what advantage is gained by it – When you’re trying to kick a ball with your feet, clamping your teeth around another player’s flesh is a discordant transfer of focus. Probably the best outcome for the biter is that the victim will have marinated in some sort of flavoursome seasoning before the match. I’m not thinking that there’s much in the way of honey-soy massage oil out there though.

So given the minimal impact on the football match, why does biting lead to such extreme reactions?

Perhaps it is the latent fear of disease transfer. This kind of viral transmission though seemingly unlikely is apparently possible. I’m not a medical practitioner but my research on the Internet has indicated that something like HIV for instance would require the biter to be infected, the bite to break the skin and for the biter to have a mouthful of blood. This would be bad.

It would also be bad if the biting player was a common vampire bat.

The common vampire bat is found throughout the Americas, including in Uruguay and Brazil, and can carry rabies. Which is bad. To counter that, I’m not a zoologist but my research on the Internet has indicated that there is some good news – Common vampire bats generally don’t play football.

What they do play is a game whereby they suck up some blood from a host and then mark them with urine so they can easily locate them again for 2nds.

Yep, they bite you and then they piss on you so that they can do it all again the next night.

Which brings us back to biting and what to do about it when it happens on the football pitch. For a start, FIFA should not play football at night because vampire bats are nocturnal. If a bite does occur, perhaps in the daytime, then prompt action is required.

Unfortunately Luis’ bite wasn’t spotted by the referee and a little while later the 11 men of Uruguay found a way through the 10 men of Italy and netted the only goal of the match. Italy are thus eliminated and Uruguay will progress, albeit possibly without Luis Suárez – FIFA have charged him based on a post-match video review. He faces a lengthy ban.

This is a part of my longer-term solution for the problem of biting in football – Significant bans paired with counselling – Don’t put players out there again until it’s safe enough to assume that they won’t bite.

In conclusion, biting in football is bad and if you happen to wake up smelling of bat piss, maybe see a medical practitioner. You’re welcome.

*You really can’t. This is less of a challenge and more of a thing that it’s just wrong to do.


Soup of This Day #382: If You Saw Me Driving By In A Car

Mulsanne Straight
A view of the famed Mulsanne Straight on the Circuit de la Sarthe. This long section is where the fastest speeds in the 24 Hours of Le Mans are registered. The highest on record was set in 1988 when a Welter Racing Peugot was clocked at 405kmph. That car did not do so well in the race though – The aerodynamics were radically modified in order to achieve the speed. This included taping over the air ducts and thus sacrificing much-needed cooling capacity. The engine subsequently lasted just 59 laps of the endurance test – Photo: Pete Fordham, 2006. Pete Fordham is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

One day back in 1998 I had to drive to Kalgoorlie, a mining town that is just shy of 600km from Perth. I was a learner driver and so I had my boss in the passenger seat – He either wanted me to gain as many kms as I could for experience or he was lazily enjoying not driving, because he left me piloting our lumbering Landcruiser for most of the trip.

This was not a smart play.

I was tired before we’d got started from Perth and that had been late anyway – Around 1:00pm. By the time we passed through Coolgardie, with the winter sun long gone behind us, I was bone weary and missing out on cues around me – It had stopped raining maybe an hour before but I still had the wipers on.

Then I fell asleep.

It was only for what I recall as an instant. My eyes opened and we were still on the road so it can’t have been long. Unfortunately though it was time enough for us to end up on the wrong side of the road.

With a pair of headlights pointed right at us from what seemed like 50m or less distance.

Fatigue is tough on humans. We need regular quality rest or we start to mess up at basic tasks. We can skate by when those tasks only require a low level of functioning, like doing a crossword, but when the stakes are higher, such as being in charge of a motor vehicle, then that skating can be on thin ice.

This is why the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the very pinnacle of endurance motor racing, requires each entering vehicle to have a team of at least 3 drivers, with stints behind the wheel no more than 4 hours and each driver limited to 14 hours in total.

Sure, it’s not all tough – Unlike on that road-trip to Kalgoorlie, Le Mans drivers don’t have to eat a roadhouse-prepared ham, cheese and tomato toastie in under 5 minutes. This is the rough equivalent of turning your body inside out and then walking across a bed of coals on your tongue. Still, those professional drivers do have to pilot their vehicles around the 13.629km Circuit de la Sarthe at an average speed just shy of 230kmph, so it’s not all easy street either.

This lack of a comfortable life for 24 Hours of Le Mans drivers is sometimes curtailed abruptly and unfortunately, via death.

Yep, folks die out there. 21 drivers have lost their life competing on the circuit, while a 22nd, André Guilbert, died while driving to the circuit to compete in the 1925 race. The 1st driver to die during the race was Guilbert’s fellow Frenchman Marius Mestivier. The latter outlived the former by less than a day – He was hardly into his stint when he crashed into a ditch. He may have been knocked unconscious by a collision with a bird just prior to the incident.

It’s a fair bet that the bird was a casualty too.

Nature played a part in the latest death too – Experienced Danish driver Allan Simonsen hit an Armco barrier in the 2013 race. Unfortunately the Armco did not flex under impact as required, most likely because a tree buttressed the barrier at the point of impact.

Sometimes it’s not even just the drivers – In 1955 Pierre Levegh, driving a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR clipped the Austin-Healey 100 of Lance Macklin, somersaulting his roughly 240kmph Benz into the crowd. Some were killed by the resultant storm of debris, while others fell victim to the fire – The 300SLR had a body comprised of a magnesium alloy and so burned white-hot, like a light-bulb filament. Whatever the cause, along with the 49 year old Levegh, 83 spectators died.

Levegh himself had died when he was violently catapulted clear of his car – The drivers at that time had largely eschewed seatbelts, believing them to be an encumbrance and a safety risk – It was thought that it would be better to be thrown clear of a car than to be trapped in it. There was certainly an element of convenience in foregoing the tricky belts at the start of each race, with the famous Le Mans start requiring drivers to run to the car, start it and then peel out as quickly as possible.

This way of commencing the race lasted until 1970. The previous year, Belgian driver Jacky Ickx protested against what he thought was an unsafe method of releasing the field by walking calmly to his Ford GT40. Britain John Woolfe meanwhile sprinted to his car and, in his haste to get under way quickly, failed to do up his seatbelts correctly. Before the 1st lap was done Woolfe crashed and his body was thrown clear of his Porche 917. He died on the way to hospital.

Ickx meanwhile went on to win that race, the 1st of 6 such triumphs. The latter 5 of which were achieved with a rolling start – Each driver starting secured inside their car – while the last 4 were won in a Porsche. That storied marque has won the most 24 Hours of Le Mans titles, 18 of them, although the last was in 1998.

In recent times Porsche have been absent from the top class at Le Mans and Audi have reigned supreme, taking 12 of the past 14 up to the 2014 edition. The last non-Audi winner being a Peugeot in 2009, with an Australian, David Brabham, as 1 of the drivers.

This then brings us to the trigger for this post – In 2014 an Australian, Mark Webber, suited up for the returning Porsche at Le Mans. If he was to win, Webber would become just the 5th Australian and the 2nd to do it in a Porsche – Vern Schuppan had helped pilot a Porsche 956 home in 1st in 1983.

Sadly though Vern must remain alone for another year – The #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid suffered a failure while a very credible 2nd, allowing an Audi R18 e-tron quattro to finish in 1st, having completed a staggering 5165.39km of race distance.

That’s more than 8 times the distance from Perth to Kalgoorlie, an astonishing feat at speed. For me though, I’ll take just getting to my destination safely. I did achieve that all those years ago but it was close. So close that my desperate swerve still cost me a wing mirror.

That was not the part that makes me shake though. That came later, after my boss had prised my hands off of the wheel and we’d driven back down the road to where the other car waited. There I got to see the wallet of the driver I’d almost killed. In that leather folder was a photo of his wife and kids.

I don’t drive tired any more.

If You Saw Me Driving By In A Car

Soup of This Day #381: We Will Find A Way

Estádio do Maracanã
The view from inside Rio de Janeiro’s Estádio do Maracanã. It’s hard to see the slums from here – Photo: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo, 2013. Leandro Neumann Ciuffo is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup has started and I’m struggling to get involved.

Not because of the football, because that has been excellent. It almost always is in the early stages of a World Cup. Later, as it gets down to the knockout stages and the stakes are raised, the matches will ironically dull down, but for now the football is nominally worth losing sleep over.

I think though that I’ll take the snooze. FIFA is no longer just about the football and the World Cup has no grand or noble aims. Instead the whole reads like a greedy grab for more of everything. Which isn’t new but in Brazil this is being played out with a backdrop of many who have so little.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking this. Maybe I need to find a way to get pulled into the heady mix of a samba beat with an overlay of capitalism.

What I need are slogans. Punchy little sayings that encapsulate everything about life while saying little of meaning.

Here then is the Longworth72 crib notes on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, based around the official slogans of each of the participating 32 national teams…

—–Group A—–

Brazil – Brace yourselves! The Sixth is coming!

Way to manage the expectations Confederação Brasileira de Futebol. Everyone in Brazil is watching the Canarinho (Little Canary), even the statue, Christ the Redeemer. It’s eerie how it’s eyes follow a Brazilian player around the pitch.

Cameroon – A lion remains a lion.

Lions are cats and generally aren’t in to football. Also, if Cameron have always been lions then maybe they need to rethink that identity because in 6 attempts they’ve not won the World Cup.

Croatia – With fire in our hearts, for Croatia all as one!

Twice in the past Croatia have won FIFA’s ‘Best Mover’ award. The last time was 1998 though so I’d think about having somebody else carry your furniture around in 2014. Maybe it’s just heartburn but it could also be more serious.

Mexico – Always united, always Aztecas.

The Aztecs of Ancient Mexico played a ballgame called Ōllamaliztli, in which the players controlled the ball with their hips. In some versions of the game the captain of the losing team was decapitated. The modern Aztecs have kept the shimmy and while they don’t do beheadings any more, they are a danger on the pitch.

—–Group B—–

Australia – Socceroos: hopping our way into history!

In 1982 El Salvador set the record for the most goals conceded in a World Cup finals match, losing 1-10 to Hungary. History isn’t always kind.

Chile – Chi Chi Chi!, Le Le Le! Go Chile!

I’m not bitter about them beating the Socceroos – La Roja are a genuine and consistent threat on the football field. Their team slogan though only works if you spell it out with pompoms.

Netherlands – Real men wear orange.

Well, that settles it for anyone with gender identity questions. Are Holland gonna be cool though with themselves in their alternate blue kit? God only knows what manner of man wears blue, apart from those who played for Spain when they beat the orange-clad Holland in the 2010 World Cup decider.

Spain – Inside our hearts, the passion of a champion.

This could be problematic as only two nations have ever gone back-to-back in the World Cup. The other 17 times it’s been better to go in with the passion of not-being-a-champion.

—–Group C—–

Colombia – Here travels a nation, not just a team!

The squad is limited to just 23 though and none of them is the talismanic striker Radamel Falcao. Which might be awkward in the knockout stages.

Greece – Heroes play like Greeks.

Oedipus heroically saved Thebes by besting the riddling Sphinx but then accidentally hooked up with his mother, having earlier removed his father from the picture in a road-rage incident. Being a Greek hero can go either way.

Ivory Coast – Elephants charging towards Brazil!

I like elephants. They’ve got great footwork for a beast so large. I’ve always wondered though about why it’s called the ‘Ivory’ Coast? What? Oh… Awkward.

Japan – Samurai, the time has come to fight!

They’re aware that it’s football, right? No katanas allowed. Although there is little apparent danger – These Samurai have a sharp edge but not enough thrust through the midfield.

—–Group D—–

Costa Rica – My passion is football, my strength is my people, my pride is Costa Rica.

A brilliant sentiment. Unfortunately Los Ticos will do well to simply progress from Group D, even with a shock first-up win over Uruguay.

England – The dream of one team, the heartbeat of millions!!

And 1 penalty shoot-out loss, probably to Italy. Because that’s what almost always happens to England, the heartache of millions.

Italy – Let’s paint the Fifa World Cup dream blue.

Wait… Are you doing drugs Italy? I’m asking because you’re painting dreams. Either way, the Azzuri need to make time to knock out England, most likely via a penalty shoot-out. It is their destiny.

Uruguay – Three million dreams… Let’s go Uruguay.

A 2013 estimate had Uruguay’s population at 3,324,460. Let’s all take a moment to think then of the 324,460 fine Uruguayans who can’t or won’t dream of Luis Suárez doing something undeniably magical and/or irredeemably stupid.

—–Group E—–

Ecuador – One commitment, one passion, only one heart, this is for you Ecuador!

Registering for organ donation is a noble thing to do, although La Tri are unlikely to get killed by opponents on the pitch this World Cup. They have a solid squad that deserves respect.

France – Impossible is not a French word.

Neither is ‘taco’ or ‘radar’ so it’s not all upside when you limit your vocabulary. The latter is a problem because Les Bleus struggle to fly underneath it. Instead they tend to give the receiving station a Gallic nutting after it said nasty things about their sister.

Honduras – We are one country, one nation, five stars on the heart.

Five points would be better for the Hondurans. It could happen for Los Catrachos but they have no stars, let alone five of them, and so they’ll need a fair bit of that heart.

Switzerland – Final stop: 07-13-14 Maracana!

This is a very precise slogan. It’s like one of those fine timepiece movements and you can believe that the Swiss will make that appointment. Don’t be banking on seeing this youthful Swiss outfit playing the final though – They might just be there as spectators.

—–Group F—–

Argentina -Not just a team, we are a country.

This togetherness is reflected in their nickname, ‘Lionel Messi.’ It’s pure coincidence that this matches the actual name of star player Lionel Messi, who everybody would admit is the greatest ever if he could have a great World Cup for a change.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Dragons in heart, dragons on the field!

Just like in Game of Thrones. And also as in GoT, the likeable Bosnia and Herzegovina may face an early defeat at the feet of the impish Lionel ‘Tyrion’ Messi.

Iran – Honour of Persia.

I’m not sure that football imparts honour. Regardless, this is bigger than Persia – Team Melli could be the highlight of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) contribution to this tournament.

Nigeria – Only together we can win.

And maybe not even then. The Super Eagles may well flock together but they’re ranked 45th in the world so will need some fortuitous thermals to attain great heights.

—–Group G—–

Germany – One nation, one team, one dream!

But not One Direction. Instead, the Germans are more Die Adler (The Eagles), with a band of harmonised midfielders playing football in the fast lane.

Ghana – Black Stars: here to illuminate Brazil.

Stars can brilliantly shine but they can also furiously implode. It’s not clear where on the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram of stellar evolution that Ghana sits.

Portugal – The past is history, the future is victory.

Yep, the past is definitely history and the future of this World Cup will end in victory. It’s just not clear whether it will be victory for Cristian Ronaldo and the Seleção.

United States – United by team, driven by passionfruit.

I added the ‘fruit’ bit, because otherwise it read like a bank slogan. I think it works, unlike actual passionfruit, which are ok atop a meringue but score far too few goals for my liking.

—–Group H—–

Algeria – Desert warriors in Brazil.

Does Brazil have deserts? Seems a little high in precipitation. The Fennec Foxes had a dry qualifying campaign and will flounder if the goals rain in at the other end.

Belgium – Expect the impossible!

Half of Belgium is French, the other half is Dutch. In spite of this they have recognised the word ‘impossible’ and aren’t wearing orange. They’re enigmatic, those Belgians.

Russia – No one can catch us.

A bold claim. Certainly, with a punchily aggressive offence and a rigidly conservative defence, nobody will catch the Russians thinking that homosexual people are really okay after all.

South Korea – Enjoy it, Reds!

This is either a wise strategem to keep the players grounded or an admission that they’re going to get belted. I think it’s the latter but I’m now expecting some ‘Caddyshack’-like antics along the way, only with football instead of golf.

—–The Winner—–

And we’re done except for a final thought:

I probably should make a prediction on who will win this World Cup. I’ve thought a fair bit about this and I can conjure up a clear front-runner.

Sepp Blatter.

Yep, the incarnation of FIFA that has presided over the global game for the past 16 years, will be the big winner. Somebody give them a trophy.

We Will Find A Way


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