All this performed on fields where corner kicks are impossible to take because the flag is a yard away from the wall—try playing baseball without a foul line—where the cameras seek vainly to avoid the acres of empty seats, and with the commentary of—good God, Danny Blanchflower! who tries to conceal his sorrow at the scene by making brave allusions to players as Italy's great X or Germany's great Y (read "baseball's great Daryl Spencer or Joe Stanka") and who struggles desperately to convey some sense of excitement. He gets little help from his American colleague. Musing on what the game would be like without its tricky offside rule, Blanchflower is capable of sudden impromptus on what the Garden of Eden would be like without apple trees; the profoundest response he can hope for is "Troublesville!"
But the final degradation of soccer has been imposed by television itself. In an effort to force the game into the fragmented shape required by TV commercials, players reportedly have been instructed to feign injuries (the only reason for any stoppage whatsoever in football) or to wait a minute or more before taking a goal kick. (A quickly taken kick can turn a game around in seconds; delaying it while the opposition has time to get into position is like banning the fast break in basketball.)
And television is not content even with these atrocities. There are constant "pauses for a word" from some clunk in the very middle of a play. Time and again the commentator intones, "While we are waiting for play to resume, here is an important message...," and the picture fades as we see the ball already back in play. How would baseball fans react to, "While we are waiting to see if Mantle's towering blast is going to curve foul, here is a word from Pabst's"? (Poor Pabst's!) In one afternoon's display of contempt for the game two goals were scored in a matter of minutes (a great rarity). But did we see them? Did we, hell! While the first was going in we were dumbly watching a moronic commercial; during the second we were being closely briefed on a summer potboiler series that the network was using to plug up one of its scheduling gaps. This is equal to returning from commercial land to be told that while we were away Unitas has thrown a 60-yard touchdown pass, and then, minutes later, before our rage has abated, to return from yet another excursion to be informed that, by golly, this is an interesting game—Bart Starr has just come right back and thrown a 70-yard TD while you were engaged among the beer ads.
The culprit beer would be out of business in a week.
The fact is, American games are entirely different from those of the rest of the world in their pattern of long interludes of planning interspersed with brief spurts of action. The constant stoppages are, as it happens, ideal for television. I remember at my first American football game being astonished that the final three minutes of play took 20 minutes to get through. In American football this can conceivably make sense; but playing world football with time-outs and pauses is as ridiculous as playing American football nonstop and without consultations—huddles, if you will.
In one season, soccer here has become a parody. If it were to catch on it would mean the death of a great game, for the money available to American sports could make anything stick. I do not want to see Pel� wearing shoulder pads or Greaves calling a huddle on his goal line. I do not want to have the Wolverhampton Nymphets Marching Band inflicted on me next time I go to Molyneux or to have the crowd's singing at Liverpool interrupted by little girls playing with sticks. At half time at Wembley I don't want to have Chelsea urged to "win this one for the Topper!" I don't want padded goalkeepers or beer or popcorn or blue lines or a livelier ball.
I want my bloody game back!
Let's be reasonable. I like your games. Please have the simple decency to say you don't like mine, and then we can all be friends again.