The Beautiful Game
It was elegant. It was beautiful. The game should be beautiful, like a well-executed war.—Mr. Nutt, Unseen Academicals
Football is a sport in which players attempt to kick a ball into a goal, mostly without the use of hands. It's also by far the most popular sport in the world. The World Cup is the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world with an international viewership of hundreds of millions. Football has been used in peace-making in places like Sierra Leone. During the Christmas Truce of 1914, the Germans and British played football. During a couple of cases of going "over the top", British attackers kicked a football towards the enemy lines (it ended up riddled with bullets along with the rest of them). A World Cup qualifying match between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969 was the proximate cause of a war between the two countries that killed around 2,000 people.
The game is most properly called Association Football, which gets abbreviated to "football" in most countries. The British term "soccer" has become more popular in countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, often to help distinguish it from the other sports called football, it's also the standard term in Japan (サッカー) (Interestingly "Soccer" has fallen out of use in the UK and is considered an Americanism). Rivalries between the terms used to refer to the sport can often be just as heated as rivalries within the sport itself.
Football in the UK:
Football in Europe
Football in America
- Copa America
- Copa Libertadores
- European Championship (Euro 20XX)
- UEFA Champions League
- The World Cup
What to do at a football game:
- Eat pies
- Drink beer
- Sing amusing songs and chants at the opposing teams' fans. Example: If they're from Liverpool: "You Scouse Bastards", "Stand Up If You've Got A Job", "We Pay Your Benefit". Other areas have their own songs. Frequently based on well-known songs, such as "Yellow Submarine" or "That's Amore". This is definitely an undersold attraction of the sport; you may have just come home from a 4-3 cracker, but what'll stick in your head is one of the chants. Example: supporters of the England national team like to serenade their opponents (especially France) with "If it wasn't for the British you'd be Krauts" to the tune of "If You're Happy And You Know It". When playing "the Krauts" the "There were ten German bombers in the air," (to the tune of "Ten Green Bottles") chant is popular.
- Loudly insult the referee every time he does something you don't agree with. Be as vulgar as you like. (Note: don't ever do this if you're a player.)
- Loudly express your pleasure or displeasure at your and the opposing team's performance. Be as vulgar as you like. (Note: don't ever do this if you're a player, especially if you're in front of a television camera.)
- Feel free to take "expressing your displeasure a player on your team's performance" to the level of I Have No Son if applicable (if you're American and watching soccer it probably is). Bonus points if the kid's younger than eight.
- In general be as loud as possible. Particularly easy if you haven't disposed of the vuvuzela you bought for the 2010 World Cup.
Famous football players
Many football players have near-cult status in their home places or even abroad. Teenage boys may have a poster of one of their favourite players on their bedroom wall, in place of or with one of a scantily-clad woman (there aren't all that many women footballers who pose for that sort of thing, but they do exist -- Google "Josefine Oqvist" if you must). An attractive woman in a football shirt, sometimes just a football shirt (they cover your backside) = sexy.
Some of the most famous football players in the world:
- Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), considered the greatest football player of all time (partially because he was the first great player of the TV era). The Brazilian scored over 1000 goals in his professional career, placing him near the top of the goal-scoring table. He is the only person to have been on three World Cup winning teams.
- Diego Armando Maradona, Argentine footballer voted the FIFA Player of the Century in 2000. Controversial (particularly among England fans - just ask about "The Hand of God"), has been suspended for failing drugs tests in the past and many people (especially the English) accuse him of playing dirty. Somehow, he still manages to be the national hero of Argentina, to the point that saying Pelé is better in an Argentine forum is usually considered flamebait.
- Worth noting that in a World Cup poll by FHM UK, while Maradona's "Hand Of God" was voted by english readers as the worst World Cup moment, the second goal he scored in that match, a sixty-yard dash dribbling around six England players, was still chosen as the greatest. It was simply that good.
- Maradona's popularity in Argentina is taken Up to Eleven there is an actual group called Maradonian Church, they worship Maradona as God, Read from his self biography during marriage ceremonies and have their own ten commandments. The day of the Hand of God goal represents Eastern for the Maradonian Church, and Maradona's B-day is Christmas.
- Maradona's past with drugs was held against him in 2002 when he wasn't allowed to set foot in Japanese soil to watch Argentina's games.
- Stanley Matthews. The first footballer to be knighted in the UK - while still playing (he played until 50).
- Most of the England 1966 World Cup Squad, most notably Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles, Geoff "They think it's all over" Hurst and Gordon Banks. Banks pulled off one of the greatest saves of all time - from Pele in the 1970 World Cup.
- Some of them turned up, unannounced, in an episode of Renford Rejects.
- David Beckham. Formerly of Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan, but now playing for LA Galaxy. He spent a while as England captain. Also known for his wife, his tattoos and inspiring the movie title Bend It Like Beckham, which is probably how most Americans know of him. There was a time he was better known for his talented right foot and not endorsing products.
- Gary Lineker. An English striker, known for being a prolific goalscorer. He was top scorer in the 1986 World Cup and received the Golden Boot, the only Englishman to achieve this feat. He's also known for his fair playing - despite his long career, he never once recieved a yellow or a red card. Nowadays famed for being the pitchman for Walker's brand potato crisps, being a TV football commentator, and his somewhat large ears.
- George Best. Formerly of Manchester United, now deceased. Pele thought his good friend Best was better than him. Very popular in his native Northern Ireland where they say "Maradona good, Pele better, George Best". Also famous for his alcoholism, accusations of domestic abuse while drunk and destroying two livers. Which leads to cruel jokes even among those who admired him in the UK.
- They even renamed the international airport after him in Belfast. Cue unimaginitive jokes about Irish people naming something after a famous alcoholic rather than a footballer.
- Franz Beckenbauer - Also known as Kaiser Franz. Without a doubt most famous German player, and the most famous defender. He is considered the best libero ever. Also won the World Cup as both a team captain (1974) and a team coach (1990).
- Gerd Müller - Not only scoring 398 Bundesliga-goals in 453 matches but being the very reason Germany won the World Cup in 1974. He was considered to be a threat when being in the opponents penalty box. And he had the unique ability to instinctively position himself the best to score. He also scored an incredible 68 goals in just 62 international appearances. He is still, by some distance, the all-time top scorer for the German national team.
- The slang term "Mullered" was coined because of him.
- Miroslav Klose. Fourteen World Cup goals, making him tied with Müller and second only to the great Brazilian Ronaldo. The only player to have scored five or more goals in consecutive World Cups and the only player to have scored at least four goals in three different tournaments. His goal tally for the German National Team is currently at 63, only five behind. Germany has also never lost a game when Miroslav Klose scored.
- Michael Ballack THE face of German football for much of the 2000s. Michael Ballack is a talented midfielder who Pele himself selected as one of FIFA's 100 Greatest Living Players. Since June 2005 and to his exit, Germany never lost when Michael Ballack scored a goal. Tragically, he was injured right before the start of the 2010 World Cup and this signalled an end to his international appearances.
- Philipp Lahm Current captain of both Bayern Munich and the German National Team, a position he was promoted to after Ballack's injury before the 2010 World Cup. Easily one of the best fullbacks in the world, and a position he can play on both the right and the left. Lahm has been a candidate for the UEFA Team of the Year in all of his professional years when he has been fit and is therefore alongside Michael Ballack the most often nominated German player for the aforementioned team and the second German having been elected more than once. Consistently plays more than 90 minutes in any match, and the only German to have played the complete 690 minutes of the 2006 World Cup.
- Garrincha, whose real name is Manuel Francisco dos Santos. He had several birth defects: his spine was deformed, his right leg bent inwards and his left leg was six centimeters shorter and curved outwards. Despite that (or maybe because of that, since such deformities made it easy for him to dribble, which was his trademark skill) he was one of the top players in the world back in the 50s/early 60s. He won two World Cups with Brazil, and played for most of his life at Brazilian team Botafogo. He had problems with alcoholism, dying of cirrhosis in 1983.
- Johan Cruyff, one of the best European footballers ever. An unpredictable attacker, he was the master of "total football" -- he could be the most dangerous striker, the most dangerous winger or the most dangerous midfielder, all in the same game. Speedy and classy, he was nicknamed the "Pythagoras of Football" for his incredibly precise passes. And his retirement was only the beginning: he took management of the Barça, and under his command the team won eleven championships. Previously a chain smoker, he quit smoking after he had to receive a double heart bypass. He never quit the habit completely, though: when he got nervous or tense he always had a lollipop ready.
- Dennis Bergkamp, deserves a mention as well, his sheer skill with the ball is so incredibly fantastic. Most notably played for Arsenal forming effective partnerships with Ian Wright and Thierry Henry. Notable as a striker who never scored many goals, but displayed amazing vision and ability to assist with many others. When he did score though it was usually something special.
- Alfredo di Stefano. Some say that, if Maradona never existed, Di Stefano would be the God of Argentinian football. Considered the fourth best footballer ever (after Pele, Maradona and Cruyff) by the FIFA, Di Stefano was a fast, powerful striker. Barcelona and Real Madrid fought to sign him - it's suspected that The Franco Regime had a hand on his eventual transfer to Real Madrid. At 84 years old, he's now the President of Honour of Real Madrid and has a stadium named after him.
- Thierry Henry. One of a select few Frenchmen to be openly revered in England due to his many successful years at Arsenal. Currently infamous for keeping the Irish out of the 2010 World Cup singlehandedly. Currently plays for the New York Red Bulls.
- Ferenc Puskás, one of the few Hungarians to attain international fame. He scored 514 goals in 529 matches in the Hungarian and Spanish leagues (this was back then when Hungarian football was good). In 1999 he was voted as the 7th greatest football player of the 20th century, and in 2004 he was included on Pelé's list of the 100 greatest (then) living footballers. Late in his life he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and died of pneumonia in 2006. FIFA created an award in his honor, which is given to the player who scores the most beautiful goal of the year.
- Similarly, Lázslo Kubala, a lightning fast striker and freekick specialist, also born in the golden age of hungarian football. Urban legend says he got drunk before playing: if that's true, maybe alcohol was his secret, because he never contented himself with just one goal - his personal mark was 7 goals against Sporting de Gijón. In 1999, FC Barcelona supporters declared him the best player ever to play in FC Barcelona - and we're talking of a club that had Cruyff and Maradona.
- Any Portuguese/Brazilian called Ronaldo or some variation (well, not all of them, but three of them made mainstream popularity in World Football). Full names included for distinction:
- Ronaldo, (Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima) from Brazil, who was presented to the world during his 1996-1997 spell in Barcelona, then moving on to Inter, busting his knee (twice!) and getting better in time to bring the 2002 World Cup to Brazil with help of his eight goals. Now retired.
- Ronaldinho, (Ronaldo de Assis Moreira) also from Brazil, better known for playing for the famous Barça and AC Milan(just like his like-named partner; the -inho suffix, meaning "little", is a means to subvert One Steve Limit). Currently playing for Flamengo; and
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Cristiano Ronaldo do Santos Aveiro) from Portugal, of Manchester United and then Real Madrid. "A whooshing force of speed, skill and hair gel", according to Sports Illustrated.
- Eusébio. The best player ever from Portugal, albeit born in Mozambique. His goals at the 1966 World Cup led Portugal to the third place, and him to the top spot of the goalscorers' chart.
- Michel Platini - Don't listen to the Zidane fans, this was the best player from the French team ever. He led the Bleus to a Euro title (1984) and two great campaigns in the FIFA World Cup (1982, 1986), both times stopping at the hands of the West German team, and finishing fourth and third, respectively. Nowadays, he's the somewhat-controversial President of UEFA.
- Zinedine Zidane, even compared to Platini, was a genius in his own right. He had class, leadership and a great game vision, which made him one of the best players in Europe in the late 90s, as well as allowing his team to win the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro. He also scored a magnificent goal in the UEFA Champions League's '02 final. And, once you know what led to him headbutting Italian defensive midfielder Marco Materazzi at the 2006 WC final, you might as well forgive him for defending his family's honor.
- Romário, one of the best strikers to ever grace the game. While his size was proportional to that of his fuse, and he had a notorious aversion for training, when he got up on the field, he made magic happen in the box, scoring one goal after another, in any imaginable way. He, too, scored over 1,000 goals (though controversially, following his own accounts), but he had to play until 42 to make it happen (most players finish their careers well before that age).
- For not letting Romário join the team that represented Brazil at the 2002 World Cup, Coach Scolari became target of criticism but silenced them all when his team won not only the cup but all games (without overtime).
- Eric Cantona - If there is one man who can be attributed for kicking off the modern era of football it is this man. Almost single-handedly making the English Premiership the focal point of domestic football, whilst becoming a true pop-culture icon in the UK, the likes of which Beckham, Zidane and Henry can only match. He was also likely the greatest bargain signing of all time for only £1.2 million.
- Lionel "Leo" Messi An Argentine striker playing for FC Barcelona who is widely considered the best active player in the world (a title he's fighting over with the above-mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo). Fast, creative, talented, goal-hungry and basically unstoppable if he has a good day (he has a lot of good days), even the arrogant Maradona and the godlike Pele have bowed to his skills. He broke the original Ronaldo's single-season goal-scoring team record for FC Barcelona and passed Lazlo Kubala on the club's career scoring list (he's on pace to be the team's career top-scorer ever by the end of the season). Oh, he's TWENTY FOUR.
- Josep "Pep" Guardiola: Some of the younger tropers may only recognize him as the very successful manager of the Catalan giant FC Barcelona. But he also was one of the best Spanish midfielders ever. The king of the defensive area, he was able to read the game like no other, and his milimetrically precise passes decided matches. If you never seen him playing, don't worry too much - his pupil and fellow defensive midfielder Xavi plays a lot like him.
- Michael Laudrup: A player who isn't recognized as being one of the best ever, despite having the early 90's Barcelona dream team built around him (the manager, Johan Cruyff, said so). A complete second to none eye for finding his teammates with his perfect passes. A gentleman on the pitch too, as he never recieved a red card.
- Wayne Rooney: is a gifted player from Everton who made career records at a very young age. Widely noted today at the new star of Manchester United after Beckham left the squad. Made the National team at the age of 17, but is still yet to lead England to a European Title or a World Cup. He's done it a lot for United though.
- Javier Hernandez Balcazar: or just Chicharito, following Latin American custom of using nicknames for football jerseys. Star of Mexican club CD Guadalajara (more known as Chivas), until he was signed by Manchester United in 2010 as it's new center forward and counterpart for Rooney. The very first Mexican to play for Manchester United.
- Frank Lampard: son of West Ham United's Frank Richard Lampard and current star of Chelsea; known more for his playmaking skills at the midfield than his scoring ability (any cross coming from Lampard is sure to find its mark), although he can rise to the occasion if the team needs an additional striker. One of the mainstays of the English National Team, usually playing The Lancer to Gerrard and Rooney.
- Steven Gerrard: Second Striker/Midfielder who spent his youth and professional career for his hometown club Liverpool, which he supported growing up. He has a very close personal relationship with the club, especially as his cousin was one of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, and he laces his boots every match in memory of him. He is currently the captain and longest running player of the Merseyside Reds and Vice-Captain of the English Team.
- John Terry: or "Mr. Chelsea" to you. Defender and captain of the famous London side and intermittent captain of the English National Team, the reason behind is his record of scandals on and off the pitch. A very polarizing character in English Football, most people hold two opposing views about him: A personable captain and great defender who reads the game well and leads his teammates by example, or an arrogant, racist, and egoistical primadonna whose behavior does not deserve the respect accorded to a football great.
- Zico: or Arthur Antunes Coimbra by birth. Second only to Pelé in popularity among Brazilians, Zico used to play for Flamengo when not in Japan (he also had a stint for italian side Udinese in the mid-80s). Aside from his lethal free kicks, Zico is known for increasing soccer's popularity among Japanese people, lobbying for the creation of the J. League along with other footballers who made the move from Brazil to Japan, like Alcindo and Bismarck.
- In the final episode of the second season of School Rumble; Karasuma was involved in an "accident" which worried both Tenma and Harima out of their underpants. Turns out that he accidentally met Zico on a match with the Japanese national team (which Zico managed at that time).
- Didier Drogba: Chelsea legend who holds the record for most goals scored by a foreign player for the team (his last game for Chelsea--and his last kick of the ball for Chelsea, no less--brought the club its first-ever Champions League title). Most goals scored for the Ivory Coast National Team. But more than that, how many football players can officially say they helped stop a civil war just by asking the combatants to lay down their arms?
- Carles Puyol: Defender and Captain of Barcelona and Vice Captain of the Spanish National Team, easily recognizable for his burly yet stocky build and long, shaggy hair. Although very much known for his defensive capabilities (Valdes rarely does keeping work as it is very hard to breach Puyol), his claim to fame is his headers off corners and crosses, most of them crucial game-winning goals. Some of his most memorable headers came from two El Clasico Matches against Madrid in 2009 and 2012 (both after Madrid had taken an early lead), and the 2010 World Cup semifinals against tough opponents Germany, where he scored the only goal of the match and ensured their entry to the finals, which they later won.
- Clint Dempsey: Fulham midfielder, he's the first American to score 50 goals in the Premier League.
- Landon Donovan: Formerly of Everton, now playing for LA Galaxy. Scored the game winning goal for the USA against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.
Not all greats were strikers and midfielders, however. Winning matches also depended on the performance of the custodian between the goalposts, some which are noted below:
- Lev Yashin - Considered to be the best goalkeeper of all time, he is so far the first and only goalkeeper to win the European Footballer of the Year award. Invented some goalie concepts, such as punching the ball away. Reportedly saved over 150 penalties and kept 270 clean sheets throughout his career. Was nicknamed "The Black Spider" and "The Black Panther" due to his amazing reflexes and black jersey he always wore.
- Edwin van der Sar: Recognised as one of the best goalkeepers in the premier league. Manchester United player for six years. Set a world record in the 2008-2009 season by not conceding in 1,311 minutes of play. Retired now, but whether or not he was THE best keeper was hotly debated; especially by Liverpool fans who prefer their own...
- José Reina: Aka "Pepe" Reina. Second vice captain for Liverpool FC. Also widely considered one of the finest goalkeepers in the league and, indeed, the world. He is known for his exceptional shot-stopping and ball distribution and has won several league golden gloves awards. Surprisingly he isn't first-choice keeper for his country. However that is only because he is unfortunate enough to be Spanish, and consequently is competing for a place with...
- Iker Casillas: Real Madrid keeper. Most capped goalkeeper in the Champions League. Has been included as the goalkeeper for the UEFA team of the year for four consecutive years at the time of writing. One of the very few players to have won EVERY major club and national championship title. Captain of Spain, easily one of best teams in the world at the moment.
- Victor Valdes: Goalkeeper for FC Barcelona and third fiddle for Casillas and Pepe Reina in the Spanish National Squad. Four-time winner of the Zamora Trophy (Spain's golden glove, even Casillas only won this trophy ONCE), he holds the record of being the only Goalkeeper never to be substituted in a La Liga Season and a Club record in 2006 for not conceding a goal for 466 minutes of play. Though many atribute this achievements to his team ,Barcelona, impressive defense.
- Oliver Kahn: His record - eight German championships, six German cups, UEFA Cup in 1996, Champions League and Intercontinental Cup in 2001. Received four UEFA Best European Goalkeeper awards, three IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper awards, and two German Footballer of the Year awards. At the 2002 FIFA World Cup, he became the first and only goalkeeper in the tournament's history to win the Golden Ball. His record of most clean sheets at Bayern Munich was recently broken by...
- Manuel Neuer, considered one of the best active keepers in the world. In large part thanks to his skills, Schalke 04 reached the semifinals of the 2010-2011 Champions League with a clean sheet. His performance in the two matches against Manchester United must be seen to be believed.
- Petr Cech: Czech goalkeeper playing for Chelsea. He is currently a Premier league record holder for attaining 100 clean sheets at the least number of games possible (180), and previously held the record for the longest time without conceding a goal (1,025 minutes of play) before it was beaten by Van der Sar. A life-threatening skull fracture saw him out of action for only three months before returning and keeping 810 minutes of play without conceding a goal. Owing to the nature of his injury, he is now required to wear a rugby cap every game as protective headgear, leading fans to nickname him "Batman".
- Gianluigi Buffon: Currently plays for the Italian club Juventus. Buffon was declared by Pelé to be one of the 125 greatest living footballers in the world. He has been named the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year a record eight times and he has also been named the IFFHS goalkeeper of the decade.
- Rene Higuita: a retired Colombian Goalkeeper who played for many teams in South America, most notably in Atletico Nacional. Highly eccentric, he was known to fans as El Loco (The crazy one/The Madman) because of his unkempt appearance, his frequent attempts to score (leaving the net open and unguarded) and his goalsaving techniques, most especially the "Scorpion Kick" which was considered one of the greatest moves in Football when he pulled it on 1995 in a friendly against England in Wembley. Also had issues around drugs and politics, like his good old buddy Diego Maradona.
- Jorge Campos: in a nutshell, he was the Mexican counterpart to Higuita: acrobatic, charismatic, attacking-prone (he has scored 34 goals throughout his career) and, most of all, eccentric (he himself designed the garish kits he wore on the pitch). He played on a slew of North American teams, but made his name for Pumas UNAM, LA Galaxy (in the early days of the MLS) and, obviously, the Mexican team.
- David Seaman retired English goalkeeper who played for Arsenal between 1990 and 2003. Was Englands number one through most of his career and regarded as one of the greatest English goalkeepers to grace the game alongside Banks and Shilton and regarded as an integral part of the famous Arsenal defense of Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Keown and Adams. In his first season he played ever game and only conceded 18 goals! Won 3 league titles, 4 FA Cups, 1 League Cup, 3 Community Shields and a Cup Winners Cup (the precursor to the current UEFA Europa League) while at Arsenal. In his later years he was known for his ponytail and some silly mistakes in goal, but was still able to make saves like this despite nearing 40!
- Peter Schmeichel Often considered the best keeper in the world ever (at least by anyone not old enough to know of Yashin,) Schmeichel defined the idea of a "Stronghold Guardian," a keeper who marshalled his defense meticulously and without second thought for anyone who didn't live up to his expectations. He is also the first keeper to score in the Premier League and holds the highest clean sheets to games ratio in the league ever.
- in hindsight, you better don't.
- In Brazil, he's commonly referred to as "Ronaldinho Gaúcho", after the state of Rio Grande do Sul in which he was born, and also because, by the time he started playing, Ronaldo himself was still known in the country as "Ronaldinho"
- Spanish for "Little Pea", a derogatory word turned badge of honor for the puny guy when he was a child; he is an average 5'9" today though