Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mayhem on the Field Leaves Teams With 8

I bring you strange tidings this week: eight-a-side soccer has been invented.


Like breakthroughs in the field of science, its discovery came about by accident. And also like some of the things that emerge unexpectedly from test tubes, no one has yet found a practical use for it. While we wait for that happy day, let us see how this all came about.


It all began last Sunday in Rio de Janeiro. Sao Paulo was playing Palmeiras and, late in the second half, was leading 2-1. Then Palmeiras equalized through Edmundo (a character familiar to readers of this column as the man recently suspended for refusing to pass the ball to two of his teammates).


Being Edmundo, his immediate post-goal celebrations involved not only the usual arm-waving, somersaults and embraces, but also a heated altercation with one of the Sao Paulo directors, who for some reason, was seated on his team's bench. The game re-started and there followed a rapid tumble of events. Those who wish to fully comprehend the events described in the next few paragraphs are advised to take notes.


First Edmundo crashed into an opponent with a reckless tackle, earning himself a yellow card. Then angry Sao Paulo players surrounded him and began pushing him. Somehow, in the melee that followed, Edmundo singled out midfielder Juninho for special treatment and slapped him in the face. They were both sent off.


Down to 10 a side.


As Edmundo exited stage left, he (by way of a parting gesture) punched Sao Paulo defender Andre Luis in the face and, just for good measure, aimed a kick at his groin. This set in motion a full-scale brawl involving almost every player, some of the officials and even radio reporters as they attempted to broadcast live the sound of boot on face.


It should be pointed out at this stage that this soccer match which had now become an impromptu, if inexpert, martial arts demonstration, had begun in a rather different ambience. Just before the kick-off, well-meaning supporters had "paraded for peace" as part of their campaign against violence on the terraces.


They even released a white dove from the center circle upon which a score of professional sportsmen were now trying to kick seven bells out of each other.


Finally, the riot police (stationed all around the ground to keep the fans in check) realized they were facing the wrong way and charged onto the pitch. Using their truncheons to good effect, they managed to break up the combatants. When the dust had settled, Mullrer and Gilmar of Sao Paulo and Carlos and Sampaio of Palmeiras were sent off.


Down to eight-a-side.


The depleted teams then played out the remaining minutes without further score. Matters, of course, did not end there. Edmundo, clearly a sensitive lad, claimed that the Sao Paulo director with whom he had the original row, had insulted his mother, and Andre Luis, the man he slapped, went straight from the stadium to a police station to press charges.


There are two reasons for bringing you the above blow-by-blow account. The first is its entertainment value. The second is that these events are one extreme of a spectrum, the opposite end of which is the state of emotional catatonia in which FIFA and their ilk now expect players to perform.


Somehow, the idea has taken root that absolutely any display of temperament should be squashed flat by referees.


Writing as one who made a premature exit from several games for dissent and retaliation (i.e. objecting to being brought down from behind), my sympathies are generally with the so-called hotheads.


No one would want to encourage the Edmundos of this world to career around the pitch mugging opponents. But, his craziness is also a reminder that soccer is a game of passions and any attempt to reduce its participants to the emotional level of robots will, and deserves to, fail.