I will repeat something, which I have said often. I like to do sport more than I like to watch sport. Always have and always will. Even in college, when I played competitive sport, I preferred a book to spending hours in front of a television watching football (US variety). I might have watched hockey, but NHL games were not broadcast in those days.
Now, I watch the occasional football (global variety) match. I enjoy women’s international matches, because it seems to be a purer form of the game, without intense physicality demanded of men. Good matches in the World Cup competition and latter stages of the Champions League (for the uninitiated or uninterested, that’s a competition of the best clubs in Europe to make a bundle of money and bragging rights for owners) can be entertaining, if one can have a book nearby for the boring moments. Last night was the final match (Munich vs. Chelsea of London), which was boring throughout, but exciting at the end.
I tuned into the match part way through the first half for a few minutes. The game did not hold my attention, with Munich seeming to dominate play but unable to penetrate Chelsea defenses. I switched to more-interesting programming. I tuned in again and found play at around the 80-minutes point (again, for the uninitiated, a game is two halves of 45 minutes). After a few minutes, Munich scored, so I switched off. At some point--much later--my daughter called to ask if I was watching and informed me that there had been a tie after regular play, (Chelsea had scored a goal). After a scoreless overtime (two 15-minute halves), in which Munich had missed a penalty kick (I imagined the frustration and agony in the stadium--the game was being played in Munich!), penalty shots would have to decide the match. I decided to watch the agony and thrill: both were guaranteed.
Penalty kicks are more difficult than they look. The ball is kicked from twelve meters at a goal, which is 18 meters wide. A goal tender plants himself in the middle and hopes to guess which way the kicker will aim (which does not mean the ball will head in that direction). Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of statistics will know that he has about a 50-50 chance of guessing correctly (I say “about”, because he could choose to not move and the ball could be kicked directly at him). Anyways...
Not to prolong your reading and the agony of knowing the result, Chelsea kick more in/were blocked less times and thus won. Why is this important?
The point I want to make is about the improbability of the entire Champions League competition coming down to one kick of a ball. I want to put this into perspective for Americans, most of whom do not understand or care about soccer. So, I tried to think of an analogy, which non-soccer aficionados will understand.
Imagine the final game of the World Series. Last pitch at the bottom of the 9th inning.
The score is 3-0 for the team in the field; vases are loaded; and there are two outs.
The count is 3-2 (3 walks and two strikes for non-baseball aficionados).
The batter, one of the team’s best hitters...
He swings and misses. The team that should have/could have won loses on the one pitch.
No matter how good the player might be during his entire career, he will always be remembered for that one pitch/strike.
The better team does not always, because--on any given day--any team can win at soccer. It’s not the loss: it’s that they could have won and should have won. One roll of the dice, or rather one pitch or one kick, should not decide the outcome...but something must. That’s life and that’s sport.
As my friend, Antje, used to say: sport is murder.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.