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Sunday, August 14, 2005

A Primer of British Sport

Many people ask me, whilst accosting me on the street for autographs and serving me with legal papers for comments made on this blog (you know who you are you greedy, humourless bastards), Earl, why do you call soccer, football. I always give them the same answer: "Piss off, git!" No, sorry, that's the answer I give when people ask why my hair is so out of control. The football/soccer answer I give is much simpler: "Because football is what it is supposed to be called."

This usually results in a discussion about the unitque qualities of the games played in jolly old Britain. Whilst I am primarily a footie fan (Arsenal!), I do have some casual knowledge of the other sports played in Blighty, and have decided that I can head off a great deal of inquiries along these lines with the following:


What follows is a brief description of common British sports, designed to help non-Brits gain a simple appreciation, and to give Brits themselves a right old snort.

Football - Called soccer by Yanks (in order to avoid confusion with American football, which is played with the hands and based on rugby), this is derived from one of the world's oldest forms of game-playing. The rules were codified in the late Nineteenth Century so that British schoolboys and factory workers would stop kicking the crap out of each other and focus more of their attention on the ball itself. Spread around the world by British sailors almost as fast as the clap, the sport is now played in every nation in the world, and, in most nations, is the most popular sport. The exceptions are the US (where baseball and gridiron football are kings), Australia (Aussie Rules and pub fighting), Canada (hockey and hockey fighting), and Papua New Guinea (anthropologist skull bowls).

Football is played with the feet and a round ball. The object is to kick the ball into the opponent's goal whilst injuring the opposition as effectively as possible. The only player allowed to use his hands is the goalkeeper, who uses them to punch and maul as many opposition forwards as possible. Football is called "el jogo bonito" ("the beautiful game") by Brasilians, presumably because they are keen on violence.

Rugby - A game derived from football, of which there are two types. Rugby League and Rugby Union. Rugby Union is played with more players than Rugby League, because the union demanded it and that's just way things work in Britain. The ball may be carried by hand in Rugby, and the goal is to touch the ball beyond the opponents' goalline, which is, strangely enough, called a "try". (Shouldn't it be referred to as a "done it" or "have done?") Trys are worth 4 or 5 points depending on which league you're playing in and the mood of the union on that day. Points may also be scored by kicking the ball through the goal for a conversion or a penalty, the points scored to be negotiated with a government arbitrator and at least 4 ministers of sport, transportation, and television broadcasting.

Rugby also includes scrums and rucks. No one, not even rugby players, are certain as to why these things are included, as they involve teams locking arms and generally making a mess of things, while someone flings the ball under the pile.

The object of the game is to scored more trys than the New Zealanders and Aussies, who have got far too good at this sort of thing.

Cricket - Cricket is the game that Rounders was dervied from, rounders being the game that baseball was derived from. Of course rounders is primarily played by girls and in America, most girls play softball. All of this is terribly confusing.

The most exciting thing about cricket is tea, which generally involves some scrumptious sandwiches and pastries. Don't miss the scones, particularly the buttered ones.

The object in cricket is to hit the ball and run to the other wicket, thus scoring a run. Meanwhile, another player will be running to the wicket you just left, so that it doesn't get lonely. The players trying to hit the ball are called the batsmen, which sounds like a rock-n-roll band fronted by Bruce Wayne.

On defense, the ball is delivered to the batsmen by the bowler, who does not wear funny looking shoes. Cricketers dress all in white, so the grass stains show up really well, which really impresses the birds.

Tennis - Everyone knows about tennis but I just wanted to remind you that in Britain it is played on grass. Isn't that weird? Tennis in your garden. Only in Britain.

Hockey - Hockey is called "field hockey" by most of the rest of the world, in order to distinguish it from ice hockey, which, strangely enough, is played on ice. Field hockey is played on grass, like eveything else in Britain (including the horse racing, tennis [see above], motocross, basketball, and Formula One.) The players in hockey wear skirts, including male players, which provides no end of laughter for footballers, rugby players, and cricketers.

Golf - Golf in Britain is just like golf in America and Europe, except without trees, in 40-degree (Farenheit) weather, in a rainy gale. That's summer in Britain for you.

Lawn Bowls - This exciting and dramatic sport consists of people tossing (in Britain the word is rolling, to avoid confusion with another, ahem, popular activity) wooden balls along a finely manicured lawn. This leads to one inescapable conclusion about the British. British people are more obsessed with grass than Cheech and Chong.

Highland Games - These are the legendary games of Scotland where stout men run about in kilts tossing cabers (no, that doesn't mean what you think it does) and performing other athletic activities. The Scottish women come out to watch the men and see if the kilts go askew, because kilts are pretty much all the men wear. Considering the weather in Scotland, wearing nothing but a kilt is a far more challenging feat than heaving a log 20 meters or so. This phenomenon does explain the rather steady downturn in Scottish birthrates, that and the misthrown cabers.

Steeplechase - Horse racing on grass with fences. Yes, this sport is so ridiculously hazardous that Fox Television will soon be releasing a series called "World's Wildest Steeplechase Races", hosted by Vince Gill and Christina Aguilera.

Darts - Finally, a sport anyone can compete in. Darts are primarily contested in pubs. What better place to throw small, sharp objects, than the local establishment for serving alcoholic beverages. Next Britons will be knife-throwing at the off-licence.


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