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Why we call it ‘soccer’…

What I don’t know about sport is a lot, but one thing I do know is this little factoid — and now is the right time to pull it out.

The question has been asked — how can we Australians expect to do well at a sport that we don’t even call by it’s proper name? How can we expect to be treated with anything but disdain by the rest of the world?

I remember Wil Anderson used to have a bit of material that dealt with that question. And, to be fair, he posed the question in a much more concise and less cumbersome way than I did, which enabled him to better deliver subsequent tags. He was talking about the ball sport that we in Australia call ‘soccer’, that the rest of the world calls ‘football’. (As it turns out, in the 1920s in Australia it was called ‘soccer football’ apparently; some later that century, it would have raised the question, ‘what is? Soccer, or football?’)

Fact is, we don’t really call it by a different name. Both names are abbreviations of the sport’s proper title. Its English name, in the UK at least, is ‘Association Football’. I don’t know why, but we’ve chosen a name based on the abbreviation of ‘association’ — ‘soccer’. Whereas in the UK, they’ve chosen the second word.

The real question is — why do sports that deal with kicking balls have to be bound in collectives — leagues and unions like rugby and Australian football, and an association in the case of non-Australian football?

That’s my contribution to your next ‘talking complete and utter bollocks’ session at the pub for this World Cup season.


Who Would You Eat Last?

For the last week and a half, I can say that I’ve been ‘hangin’ with Mr Rhodes’ — the full meaning of that phrase isn’t quite worth chasing down, suffice to say that Tom Rhodes is a brilliant comedian and Southern gentleman whose live performance I saw three times and enjoyed each time.

The second time, he introduced a nice new subroutine while talking about Hinduism. He has a great piece about the origins of Ganesh, the elephant-headed boy deity, which he follows with the comment that he’d love to convert to Hinduism. But of course, he can’t convert — you need to be born into Hinduism. Or ‘reborn’ into it.

So the subroutine was the comment about how George Harrison’s ‘conversion’ to Hinduism made him akin to Sammy Davis, Jr. My paraphrasing makes it clunky — Rhodes delivered it perfectly, in a concise and clever way which made a whole two of us in the audience, hip to the fact that Sammy Davis, Jnr converted to Judaism, roar with laughter. The following night, Rhodes delivered the line again, at the same point in the Ganesh piece, and again, about two people laughed. “That’s all right, nobody liked it last night, either,” he said. That got a massive laugh. Even though it was a lie: I had loved it.

As it happened, we’d gone out drinking after the second performance. That is to say, we’d stayed in drinking — since it was a Tuesday night and everything in Sydney closes early on a Tuesday night — imbibing what turned out to be an incredibly yummy Argentinian red wine that might have been called 33 Degrees (sorry, don’t know how to make the little circle on my Mac), named for the latitude at which Mendoza, the wine-making region of Argentina, is situated. In passing I mentioned the George Harrison bit, which I liked. I confessed that Harrison was quite possibly my favourite Beatle.

“Yeah, I’d eat him last,” Rhodes said.

There was what felt to me like an awkward silence that followed, but to Tom, was merely a dramatic pause before he launched into his explanation of the strange comment.

“Imagine you were on a plane with the Beatles, and you crashed in the Andes and ran out of food, and you had to start eating them…”

Of course. Given that set of circumstances, I guess George is the one I’d eat last.

“Because you’d eat Ringo first,” Tom continued, “since he’s the least necessary”.

I can’t remember if Rhodes made the observation at the time, or if it’s the standard observation that gets made at this point — “I mean, if you quite the band, and nobody notices for a few days…” — referring, of course, to Ringo’s walk-out during the recording of the so-called ‘White Album’, which led to Paul McCartney thumping the tubs for a couple of songs — “…then the band can get by without you.”

There is, of course an irony: piss pot Ringo, who at one point had to issue injunctions to prevent the release of substandard recording he’d made while muddling through life in an alcoholic haze, would be the one that would last the longest, inadvertantly pickled in his juices. Sure, you’d kill him first so as not to tax the rations of whomever you’d eat second, but you could get away with eating him next-to-last, depending upon who you chose next.

Who you’d eat second was rather contentious. Surprisingly, Tom and I agreed on this point, although for different reasons.

Popular opinion would be Paul McCartney; his post-Beatles output, though prolific, would not be described by most as prodigious. I don’t agree, of course; Rupert the Bear ditties, the 1972 ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ single and some of those painful mid-90s albums (Off The Ground in particular) notwithstanding, the time will come when everyone gives Paul McCartney the respect he deserves. John Lennon’s oeuvre, on the other hand, gets by unscathed because, ‘Imagine’, ‘Jealous Guy’, ‘Stand By Me’, ‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’ and ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ aside, nobody’s really heard it. He did so little and made so little. If people did try to listen to John Lennon to any extent, they’d hate most of his work. They’d be wrong, of course, it ought to be loved. But it oughtn’t be loved without being heard and understood, and it oughtn’t be loved at the price of hating Macca.

“I’d eat John Lennon second because he was a dick!” Tom announced, and I didn’t argue. There was no need to go into the finer points.

Macca was the third course on the Beatles menu and George, fourth. Although, when you think about it, there wouldn’t be much difference between them from a gustatory point of view, since they’d both spent the last few decades of their lives as millionaire vegetarians. So we’re talking organic, grain-fed, free-range Beatles. And both of them would have a fine, smokey flavour.

Having determined, logically, in which order to consume the Beatles, it became clear that this game could be applied to any collective, and the most obvious application at this point was to Monty Python.

“If you’re going to devour the dickheads first,” I offered — the change from ‘dick’ to more Aussie ‘dickhead’ made necessary by the fact that the phrase ‘if you’re going to devour the dicks first’ sounds like we’re going for specific apendages, which, even given this context, sounds downright sick… — “it would appear that John Cleese would be the first to go.”

“Which is a pity,” Tom pointed out, “since he’s the funniest…”.

“Yeah, but Michael Palin’s the nicest; you’d want to keep him around the longest…” I argued.

“So you’d eat Palin last?” Tom demanded in disbelief.

Six is a lot more difficult to deal with, but if you think it through, you can make a good case for the following:

Graham Chapman, lamented, demented genius that he was, lead actor in all the films, produced the least amount ultimately, even if you only measure up to his time of death in 1989. So he’d be the first to go, even if, like Ringo, his love of the sauce meant that he’d preserve the longest.

I stand by Cleese going next, although it’s hard to mount a strong case as to why it shouldn’t be Terry Jones. Then Cleese. Then Eric Idle, who is actually probably the funniest, albeit less successful if you only judge him by what gets to the screen. Apparently he makes a lot of money as a script doctor in Hollywood, making utter crap somewhat more palatable. Remember, he used to write alone. I reckon if he had his version of a Connie Booth, he would have cranked out a cracking good Fawlty Towers. Instead, he had Neil Innes, which isn’t a bad thing, since it led to making things like Rutland Weekend Television and The Rutles. Maybe after Eric, it should be Michael Palin and then Terry Gilliam.

At this point, having had plenty of Argentinian wine, there was a lull in conversation; while I was thinking it through I realised a few more ironies:

  1. if you were in a plane crash in the Andes with either the Beatles or Monty Python, and you ran out of food, despite their internal squabbling, their jealousies and their grudges, chances are they’d pull together and eat you first;
  2. this ridiculous conversation really should end by us playing the ‘Lifeboat Sketch’ (or whatever it]s called) from the album Another Monty Python Record. It didn’t end that way because neither of us had the recording — released on CD as Another Monty Python CD — with us. But I can at least link to it.