Footie


There are two words I am learning to use correctly in context: football pitch. Both are strange in reference to the national pastime here in Scotland: football, or footie as it is affectionately known.

We call it soccer in the States and talk about playing the game on a soccer field. So, try as I might, I have tripped over the local vernacular.

“This is a really nice football field you’ve got here.” Wrong.

“This is a great soccer game.” Wrong again.

Once more, “This soccer pitch looks well cared for.” Even to me that sounded strange.

It’s football match, played on a pitch, not a soccer game played on a field.

It’s important that I learn to get it right because everyone is passionate about footie over here. At least that is what one might be led to believe by the news that pours in daily with the latest scores and commentary.

Strangely, in my two months over here I have found only a handful of people, and I mean less than five, that actually pay any attention to the game.

There is certainly no love lost for the game here in the Jarvie household. Early on I picked the daily sporting supplement out of the recycle bin for “research purposes.” John told me, “We never read that. It goes straight into the bin.”

It was not antipathy so much as it was studied apathy. They make an effort to pay it no mind whatsoever.

I remember playing soccer as a kid. I wasn’t bad but in America boys and girls really have no concept of the game. We listened uncomprehendingly to my Scottish father and our former Dutch coach shouting at us from the sidelines, “Pass the ball lads!” Both no doubt had an image of the deft shuttling of the ball so necessary for a successful match.

Dad would shake his head in disgust at the the weans (wee ones, pronounced waines) who played the game as a roving pack of hungry ball handlers. The kids followed the ball around the field for their chance to kick at it. No one had any idea of what it meant to pass the ball.

But, here in Scotland they know what it means. Boys in the street kick it around like they were born with a ball balanced on their tiny feet. They use their heads too; another foreign concept.

I’ve seen the pros do it with exceptional skill. Their head is a weapon to carry the ball up the field or to direct into the net of their opponent’s goal.

I remember trying to use my head in a game or at practice and thinking, “This hurts my head.”

Dad and Mr. Van Den Engh would urge us on, “Use your heads boys! Head it.”

“What if I don’t want to? It hurts my head.”

“That’s because you’re doing it wrong,” they would argue. “You’ve got to use your forehead,” as if it were some inanimate block between my nose and hairline.

It seems that most folks here in Scotland would argue that the pro’s heads really are inanimate blocks.

“Like most footballers he’s clever with his feet, but can’t speak in complete sentences.”

I never liked heading the ball.

But, wow, the pros head the ball almost as much as they use their feet. They seem to use every part of their head, moving the ball in the direction of their choice rather than boinging it back up into the air as we used to do. We never understood how to use our head in a game.

I watched my first full game the other night. Second Cousin Colin is a big fan of the local boys in blue, the Rangers. It was actually quite entertaining as their opponents were a little known, less affluent team known as Partick-Thistle.

“This is a David and Goliath contest here John,” Cousin Paul counseled. He was rooting for the underdogs, just like we do in America.

Partick-Thistle held their own against the Rangers, well into overtime, eventually falling under the relentless pressure of the superior team. I suppose with a name like Partick-Thistle they will always be underdogs.

But I had to admit, they could pass well and they used their heads effectively during the match, out on the football pitch.

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