On a quiet spring afternoon in the Florentine Hills, TPA’s Ben Shine quietly slipped into the empty and unguarded Italian National Football Museum and Training Base, Coverciano. Unaccompanied, he perused the displays of World Cup glory and retraced the footsteps of idols Maldini, Baggio and Sacchi. He shares his experience here. Continue reading “I Sneaked Into Italy’s National Football Museum”
I don’t want to watch the third State of Origin game tonight, but I will.
Like a father spending his Saturday watching under 13s cricket while he waits in vain to see his son bat at number eleven, I will loyally tune in to channel 9 at precisely 8:17pm tonight – thus avoiding the pre-game hype – to see the Blues and Maroons play out a dead rubber that many of us had forgotten about.
It seems odd to be in this situation, when a matter of weeks ago the Origin series was something that was so highly anticipated, and the entire state of NSW yearned for its first series victory in eight years. But here we are, thousands of league fans going through the paces of State of Origin, simply because tradition compels us to.
I could easily forego watching Origin tonight. I’m sure there are plenty of other, productive things I could be doing with my time like going to the gym, reading a book, or writing another article bemoaning the state of rugby league.
But no, instead I will spend almost two hours watch a game that means nothing. Why? Because rugby league is a sport unique in its ability to foster a sense of obligation from its fans.
Like a charming friend with a debilitating drug addiction, we will continue to lend rugby league twenty bucks, even though deep down we know he won’t be spending it on a cab fare to get to a job interview. He’s going to spend it getting high. Like a fool who never learns, our trust will be repeatedly abused, but we will never abandon the relationship.
In this case, obligation is a one-way street. Rugby league can change, but the fans have to keep showing up. We are obliged to keep going to games, even though our team is terrible. And because our clubs have long-since stopped playing at their local ground, we are obliged to keep watching their games on TV. And we are further obliged to buy the latest jerseys, even though our club changed its colours this season to coincide with the release of the latest James Bond movie onto DVD.
Obligation is a noble value. People who stick by their families out of a sense of duty, or are committed to a cause or their country, through the good times and the bad, are revered and lionised by societies across the world. But when it comes to rugby league, it just all feels a bit silly. Are we really giving up our precious Wednesday night for a game we don’t care about, and the outcome of which will have absolutely no bearing on our lives, simply because of a sense of loyalty to a sport that has long since abandoned such antiquated notions?
Probably. Or, we could skip the game and wake up early for the FIFA World Cup Semi-Final between Argentina and Holland. Because unlike rugby league, Australia’s relationship with soccer is a no-strings casual hook-up through Tinder. It’s fun, there are no repercussions and we’ll forget about it in a month’s time.
By Ben Shine
“Soccer is for pussies”
It’s a refrain uttered by many Australians when speaking about the round ball game, and despite soccer’s increasing popularity, it’s a tough tag to shift.
Maybe it’s because soccer is, and never will be, as physically intense as league, union or AFL. It is true that when it comes to bodies colliding at speed with intent, soccer will never match the other codes. And it’s certainly the case that the prevalence of modern soccer players who dive, roll on the ground to feign injury and shed tears during games has not helped soccer shake the perception that it is less masculine than other sports codes.
But this all stands to change, and it’s from the most unlikeliest of sources.
Brazilian wunderkid/superstar/bloke with a rat on his head Neymar has always been the stereotypical soccer player that GPS-educated Tahs fans love to mock: he falls theatrically whenever he is touched, weighs 64kg and cries liberally throughout games.
And yet, somewhat ironically the serial diver/primadonna Neymar has the chance to salvage soccer’s reputation.
During Friday’s Quarter Final against Columbia, Neymar copped a violent knee to his lower back and left the field with a fractured lower vertebra. The doctors say he was lucky to avoid becoming paralysed. The injury is so severe that he will not play any further part in the World Cup, and won’t be able to touch a football for 40-50 days. Treatment will involve wearing a cumbersome brace ala Forest Gump.
In spite of this, various outlets are today reporting that Neymar may attempt to play in the World Cup Final with a broken back – a little more than a week after the injury occured – should Brazil make it that far.
I’ve never heard of anyone playing professional sport with a broken back. Your back, and your spine in general, is a pretty fundamental part of the human body, and without it, performing pysical tasks becomes quite hard. I’m no doctor, but playing with a cracked vertebra would require a lot of painkillers to ease the pain, and of course you would run the risk of making the injury even worse.
But, what is more masculine than risking death or paralysis in the name of sport? Or even better, in the name of your country? I vividly remember former South African cricketer Graeme Smith batting to save the match as the sun set on the fifth day of the SCG Test, with a severely broken wrist. By risking further injury to an important body part in order to scratch out a draw – not even a win – Smith gained a lot of respect from the crowd, quite a feat given he is South African.
And then there is Andrew Johns who played with a punctured lung in 1997, and John Sattler who played with a broken jaw in the 1970 Grand Final.
But a broken back is a whole different ballpark. If you irreparably break your hand, you’re always got another one. Mess up your jaw, and you’ll probably look like
Nate Myles a Neanderthal for the rest of your life. But sever your spinal cord and you’ll be luck to live, let alone walk or lay claim to having a good quality of life.
Playing through life-threatening injury has long been the sole domain of rugby league, but Neymar has the chance to change all of that.
If he takes the field for the World Cup Final with a broken back, Neymar will not only defy conventional wisdom on the body’s ability to rehabilitate, he will also shatter any residual belief that soccer is a game for pussies.
By Ben Shine