I sit here, laptop on my knees as the build up to the Women’s Singles Final of the Australian Tennis Open unfolds on TV. The commentators keep saying how it is such a big moment in world sport, the first big world sporting event of 2009. I can of course, see what they mean. There are some prodigiously talented players on show and there have been some exceptional matches this year. But I just can’t get as worked up about tennis as I do about football.
Of course, I suffer the natural prejudice of having been raised in a football obsessive household, and have played since I could walk, but even when I try and get my head involved in these debates rather than just my heart, I can only ever conclude that football is a superior sport, as it is to all other sports in the world.
I just feel that football is such a skillful game. It is so difficult to master. There are so many different skills involved in it, and no player can ever master them all. I’m not saying that other sports, and tennis in particular, do not require such skill, but I think few have such a demanding roster of skills as almost a requirement to partake in the game.
In tennis of course, there are a wide range of shots that a player must master to be any good, there is the serve, the positioning and the fitness. It’s a demanding game for sure, but to an extent, a player can master all these aspects of it. What makes this possible is that it is an individual sport I think. They can put in the work and know that, at the end of the day, it comes down to them, and them alone.
In football though, there are just as many skill areas involved. You need to be fit, you need to have a good touch, good passing, good positioning, good tackling, good tactical awareness, good strength and bravery and many more aspects. But even if one player could master all of these aspects of the game, they also have to apply this effectively to a team environment. You need eleven highly trained athletes formed, moulded into a cohesive unit. And that to me, makes it an ultimately more impressive spectacle. One man can win a game of tennis, but you need eleven men to win a game of football.
However, it is not just that which makes it so great. There are plenty of other team sports where players perform incredibly as a unit, and a good example of that, is Rugby. Living in New Zealand I am surrounded by people who swear by Egg-Chasing, but I have not been convinced of yet. Although their skills of passing the ball quickly amongst each other and running in lines etc. shows impressive cohesion, there is a certain lack of fluidity and skill still, that I struggle to get past.
Footballers are highly toned athletes, formidably fit and flexible and agile all at once, But rugby players don;t actually need to be, and often, shouldn’t be. The big guys that they have in their teams for scrums and for charging through the middle of the park (my rugby knowledge is very limited, you’ve probably noticed!) are just all brute force, and have much less skill. They serve as an effective part of their team simply as a human battering ram, and I don’t see the true skill in that at all.
There is also the fact that in football, scoring is so damned difficult. Some people, and often (stereotypically) American people, have always complained that football is ‘too low-scoring’ and therefore not exciting enough. However, although football is a low scoring sport, that doesn’t mean it is not exciting. Indeed, the fact that scoring is so rare a thing, and such an achievement when it comes, simply enriches the sport in my opinion.
Because in many ways, when you see Rugby players charging over the line or just simply whacking the ball over the massive posts, it almost demeans the art of scoring. With the scoreboard ticking over so readily, it makes the act of scoring seem less of an achievement, less special.
The same can be said of tennis. Winning a point in tennis is, not easy, but, well, expected. It happens so incredibly often, it must, for they play to a points target of course, but still that seems almost to nullify some of the achievement that is associated with scoring a point, or a goal, or whatever.
And the thing is, with football, even when goals aren’t flying in, it is still an immensely technical game, hugely skillful and very tense. Each pass made is crucial, every time a player controls the ball he knows that one mistake could gift the opponents a great chance to score. And each time a chance to score presents itself, there is such pressure on the player with the chance because he will know that they might not get another chance.
This pressure, this tension, is ultimately, what makes football so great. To score a goal in itself is an incredible achievement. To have worked a ball through 11 men, and into a small netted area is a daunting task, and to manage it sparks wild celebration amongst the fans. In many ways, it is this aspect of the game that makes the support for football so passionate. The world over, the most passionate fans will be found in football stadiums, because it is such an exhilarating experience. The tension, the pressure, the build up, as matches are 0-0, and the sudden explosion when a goal is breached, the relief, the pure, unadulterated joy is an incredible roller-coaster of pure emotion. And that can’t be said of any other sport in the world.
Even when there aren’t any goals, you can have a truly exhilarating, nail-biting experience. The cut and thrust of two teams giving their all but not giving an inch is often enough to provide an incredibly entertaining match. That is what people fail to appreciate about football. You don’t actually need goals, and you don’t actually need a winner. The play itself is mesmerising at times, slick passing football, played quickly or slowly, with ultimate commitment, is one hell of a spectacle.
That then, is why I’m sitting here typing out this blog as Serena Williams storms to a 5-0 first set lead in the final of the Women’s Singles at the Aussie open. Because this match is proving my point. Williams is all but a bloke, she is too powerful for Safina, and so, even though Safina is an immensely skillful player, she doesn’t really look to stand a chance. But that can’t happen in football, a match can’t be won by physique alone (though gosh knows, teams have tried).
Football is truly a game of all round excellence. The players must be technically, mentally, and physically toned and honed to near perfection. In other sports, sacrifices can be made. But football demands that 11 brilliantly crafted individuals must pool their combined skills and hone them further into a cohesive unit. It gives us almost unrivalled emotional entertainment, and its excitement is epitomised in the passion and commitment of it’s followers all around the world.
Many, many people will disagree with what I have written here, and rightly so. It’s entirely my own opinion, and I’d love for people to leave comments arguing against me. But all I’ve said is truly honest. I honestly cannot understand people who think Rugby is a more skillful game than football, and I don’t know how people can find Tennis more exciting. Yes these other sports do offer entertainment and excitement, but football just has so much on it’s menu. It’s an all round sport, and I can’t think of any to match it.