In praise of draws

This is the previous post, initially. As usual I get sidetracked, which is one reason why I suspect that I won’t ever be any good at this.

Anyway, it should be clear that I love football. And football is culturally significant, at least to a large minority of us. Football feeds on and nourishes culture, as I’ve just said below. And therefore what happens in football is important as a means of describing our lives and attitudes – equally our lives and attitudes determine our attitude towards football. Substitute rugby union, or basketball or some other sport, religion, ideology, what you will – the context is the same.

I do like other sports a lot, golf, tennis, cycling and American football in particular. I wish I was good at any one of them. However, none come close to football, and I attribute its cultural context to this. Other cultures operate in different contexts. We are told, for example, that one reason that football hasn’t taken off in the US is that (cup games apart), the Americans can’t take the prospect of a draw, or tie, as a valid result. We therefore have the ludicrous (to me) idea of “overtime” in what is essentially a league game when scores are tied. We’re told that Americans can’t abide the idea of a sporting contest that doesn’t produce a winner. For this reason the world’s second most popular sport – cricket – will never take off in the US, as the thought of five days play without a result is too much to bear.

It should be said that I was mildly devastated, again, that the New Orleans Saints couldn’t make it all the way this year, despite once again having the best offence in the NFL.

Now I was a rubbish footballer and never played to any level, but when I played I was a defender. The reason is that I modelled myself on my favourite footballer at the time, Everton and England hero Tommy Wright. I wanted to be just like him. Maybe because I took that path I looked upon not losing as equal in importance to winning. Draws are part and parcel of the game, and the tell the tale as effectively as anything else.

We’ve had a couple of draws that will go down in history in the last few days. Last night (April 24) Chelsea went to Barcelona and came away with a 2-2 draw. OK, they won on aggregate, this being a two-legged affair. However, they needed to draw 0-0, or score while losing by no more than one goal, to go through. Barça had 82% of the total possession, according to the BBC, as befits the world’s best team. Nevertheless, Chelsea, reduced to ten men, played the percentages so well, scoring on the break twice, that the draw was a fair result on the night. I would have preferred that Barça had won but nothing should detract from the Chelsea performance. They did what they needed to do when it mattered. Additional time would have been a travesty. Chelsea’s (and Roberto di Matteo’s, and Frank Lampard’s, and Didier Drogba’s), careers could historically turn on not what they achieved but on what they denied others’ achieving.

Everton’s season, as potential winners of something, finally ended on Sunday. They didn’t even win but then neither did Manchester United. It’s entirely possible that Manchester City could win the Premier League and point to United’s failure to beat beat Everton at home as the turning point. This wouldn’t be fair to Everton, who played magnificently throughout, and scored four outstanding goals. It’s terribly frustrating for me yet again, that Everton should be “best of the rest”, just like last year, and come away with nothing. Yet the draw is cause for hope if nothing else, apparently. Never have I been the recipient of so many flattering texts.

These two results teach us in their different ways that there is more to life than winning, albeit that Chelsea won overall. That sounds a bit English public school, I know. Pride, hope and optimism don’t always spring from victory. I suppose that Tennyson could have told me that.

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3 responses to “In praise of draws

  • Daniel Taylor (Route_70)

    Please allow me a preface before I remark. While a student at Louisiana State University, I shared living quarters on one occasion and then an other with students from Canada and Mexico, respectively. They set me straight about employing the term “American.” “We are Americans too!” they would cajole; so since that time I do not refer to myself as an “American,” per se, but as a citizen of the United States.

    Having said that, and having lived nearly 60 years upon this earth I can say a few things about my fellow citizens, but only two that particularly relate to this post:

    1. We are impatient (we require instant gratification)
    2. We are gluttons

    It is for those reasons that we cannot abide a tie score at the end of a contest, and why we’ve altered our rules so that our games do not end with scores of 1-0 and 3-2. Baseball is still an exception that that, but it should be apparent to most that baseball is no longer “America’s Game,” and has not been so in quite a few years. This past season, my LSU Tigers beat Alabama 9 to 6 in overtime at their place, and even though they were ranked #1 and #2, and were clearly the two best teams in the country, when they had their rematch in the national championship game, the television ratings, which are normally through the roof, were the lowest in the history of the sport. “Lack of offense” was the explanation by the pundits. They failed to recognize that in 12 games, both teams scored a total of around 500 points (42 per constest) against other opponents. They had the two best defenses in the country, so when the “immoveable object” meets the “immoveable object” what does one expect?

    We “United States” citizens would rather lose a game by the score of 58 to 45 than win a game by a score of 9 to 6. We want a lot of scoring, and we want it to start with the opening kickoff. That is why football (what we call something that starts with an “s”) is not so popular in the U. S.

  • Keith

    American football continues to be a mystery to me. If U.S. citizens are impatient, then they shouldn’t be watching American football in the first place. It largely consists of players standing around while viewers watch commercial breaks, interspersed with the occasional flurry of action (less than 60 minutes of it, in a game that lasts three hours or more).

    As for draws, I’m not sure I really believe the idea that U.S. citizens are especially averse to them. They could, for instance, quite easily set up the rules in their own soccer league so that an overtime period is employed to settle ties.

    I think U.S. citizens have another, possibly more important, quibble with football: the low scoring rate. They get bored watching people run up and down the pitch for hours without scoring.

  • Daniel Taylor (Route_70)

    Several studies have been made. It is true that due to commercials and timeouts, a 60 minute contest can require 3 hours to consumate. However, discounting the time that the clock does run, the actual playing time — the time in which players are engaged actually only consume on average 17 minutes!

    How do I explain our insatiable appetite for this sport? I cannot. I only know that my own mental stability rises and falls on the success of the team for whom I have rooted since I was about four years old, one year after my family moved to southern Louisiana.

    Soccer is big over here because it gives parents a place to deposit their children while they go play their own games. Boys and girls play together on the same fields, running around with no known purpose. Then after the children have been picked up from their soccer games and returned home, they eat dinner and sleep the sleep of the dead. Parents love soccer probably more than their children do.

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