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The Ball Is Dead!

by Bertil Falk

Soccer was since long a highly appreciated team game in the slums of Calcutta, among football hooligans in London, among neo-Nazis in Berlin as well as players of muscles on the Copacabana and in practically every home in Lagos. It was only in Burbank that soccer was despised for a long time. Talk show host Jay Leno made fun of the game in his day because the results were as paltry as 1-0, 1-2 or even a footling 0-0.

However, at the end of the 21st century, the situation changed dramatically. The changes were forced by the demands of the spectators for more excitement, the boundless as well as insatiable craving for bigger profits of the organizers, and the need for more advertising for the sponsors. The old FIFA collapsed like a house of cards concurrently with the integration of the nation states into bigger federations reminiscent of customs unions.

The old role of FIFA was taken over by GSO (Global Sponsors Organization). It happened just about the same time as all meaningless amateur athletics were prohibited and outlawed all over the world since they did not create the increased value the sponsoring companies hungered for.

All this contributed to the introduction of new rules, especially the lilac card, that was just that much better than the yellow and red cards. Because of this, the interest was on the top in the world when the 123rd world championship in soccer took place in Philadelphia.

In the West Indies, the interest in cricket had since long been overshadowed by the excitement surrounding soccer. The interest in ice hockey in the northern province of Canada was overshadowed by the lilac card of soccer, and the National Hockey League was on the verge of meeting the same fate as the FIFA. Incredibly, baseball and American football lingered on in the part of America that once constituted the USA. It was the century of soccer in every respect.

Not the least, the whole world looked forward to the encounter between America II and Europe III. The once so proud America II team had a Europe III complex. The first encounters between the two free-trade unions were won by Europe III as early as in 2137. The so-called samba football, which originally came from Brazil, was turned into a more defensive play characterized by the stalling strategy in the form of double rows of defenders creating an impenetrable wall, a wall that suddenly became a furious avalanche which rolled ahead on the football field.

The football was transformed into a growing snowball, that danced polka downhill Hardangervidda. For the polka football had sprung from the Norwegian part of Europe. It was a mark-time technique with a sudden take-off like ski-jumping from the Holmenkollen jump.

But the lilac card replaced the “More blood!” screams of the old days at boxing matches with the “Skin ’em alive!” roars of the spectators along the soccer arenas. The TV companies fought like animals or rather like brutes over the lucrative contracts for the colorful (read: blood-stained) entertainment.

The viewers really got good value for the live pay-TV matches. Enthusiastically, the sponsors staked enormous amounts, which they knew would be profitable. And the players — the real risk-takers — were paid fancy sums, which nevertheless only were fractions of the total turnover. In any case, they did not themselves have to pay for the amphetamine. That was up to the organizers.

And then there was the nostalgia about the balls. Every football that was used at the world championship was named after one or another prematurely deceased big star, someone intimately associated with just that ball and no other ball.

America II chose tails and won. The match began. The ball Olav, a memory of Olav Kristensen, who had gone to the happy hunting-grounds of the midfield players during an earlier world championship, was passed on the left side to an America II player from Nicaragua, who went straight ahead and hit the upright. The “Skin ’em alive!” screams roared. America II had found the right touch.

The pseudo-Tibetan death workers sat unmoved in their cabin, which was sandwiched in between the grandstands. Once their task had been to perform sky burials in the Himalayas. For lack of wood to cremate the dead bodies and a limited supply of soil for interments, they traditionally chopped the corpses and fed the vultures with the body parts. The practice was now obsolete in Lhasa, and the subtle craft had found its way into new fields of application. The tanners and ball makers sat in the cabin next to the death workers.

The match continued with new attacks from America II, which now not only dominated the midfield but also saw to it that Olav did not leave the Europe III players' half of the ground. Well spun, Olav was alternately boomerang-kicked in a lively manner and sometimes hit crosswise in mid-air, according to new techniques that had been developed in recent decades.

Double corners alternated with treble corners, slanted throw-ins altered with throw-ups, when one or two players or so were forced to throw up from exhaustion. It always drove the spectators into ecstasy, which in turn manifested itself in minutes-long violence on the bleachers, a development of the Sunday School-like Wave, the wavelike movement that according to the history books existed as early as in the 20th century.

It was not until the third half — the incorrect designation “half” was left like an atavistic appendage even when the matches on the urgent command of the sponsors were divided into quarters — that what everyone had been waiting for finally happened. America II player Pinka Paudejson, a red and bloated defender and a big star on the ground, was exposed to a nasty attack from behind. The Europe III player Doris van Doping, the most popular of European transvestites on the right wing, grabbed hold of Pinka's scrotum from behind and threw him up into the air, so that he fell down on the field and cracked his head on the asphalt field.

The referee immediately rushed out and raised the lilac card at the outwitted Pinka. While the slogan “Skin Pinka alive!” echoed, the Tibetans plunged forward onto the field carrying a stretcher on which they had spread out all their knives and tools. Without wasting a minute, they started immediately skinning the man who had so easily been duped.

In order to grasp the death struggle, the cameras zoomed in and caught the facial expression of the dying man. The chairman of the board of directors for the suntan lotion Sudden Death grinned pari passu when the sale of his highly dangerous product began to climb and the shares reached an all-time high.

Tremendous shouts of joy broke out and five minutes of violence ensued on the bleachers with altogether 17 dead and 98 wounded, when the boys from Tibet (well, maybe their ancestors were from Tibet) skinned Pinka.

Then they chopped Pinka into neat pieces, which they threw to the vultures. The birds had been released from their cages, an old tradition from the primitive time when white doves of peace were released in connection with world championships and Olympic Games.

When the choppers had done their job, the skinners took care of the skin. The match was resumed while the commentators speculated about what added time the referee would permit after this intermission in the game.

America II scored the only goal of the match in the fourth half, but all commentators afterwards agreed that the highlight of the match was Pinka's lilac card with the ensuing interruption. When the referee blew the final whistle, he had added five minutes. After a short pause the field was set for the next match, the one between Asia IV and Europe I.

One thing has not changed in the course of time. The ball is still round. And for the soccer match between Asia IV and Europe I, Pinka Paudejsson was again ready for a match. You see, the ability of the tanners and the football makers to handle players that have been exposed to a lilac card has improved considerably in recent years.

Copyright © 2007 by Bertil Falk

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