Soccernomics

With the new English Premier League season upon us you might like to read Soccernomics, now in its 3rd incarnation with updated data. But first, let's deal with the title of the book as I know that some readers in the UK will be harumphing at the s-word.

Soccernomics trips off the tongue more easily than Footballnomics and so aesthetically it's a good title. Also, for readers in the US, Canada, Australia and Ireland it clarifies which game is being referenced. Friends in County Kerry, Ireland, can therefore avoid reading the book as there is no mention of Gaelic football. Likewise, fans of "egg ball" as some English people jokingly call the American game or Australian "Ozzie rules" Football might not find the book interesting either. All the aforementioned are variations of the game of football and all have every right to call themselves football.

The word football is of medieval origin. In those times the word was spelled foote-ball and referred to ball sports played by the peasantry "on foot" and had nothing to do with the act of kicking a ball. The aristocracy preferred to play their games on horseback, such as hunting, falconry, jousting, war etc. Quite often the aristocracy would complain that the peasants were "playing foote-ball when they should have been practising their archery" (for an upcoming war). Each medieval parish had its own football rules and all rules permitted the handling of the ball, kicking of the ball and the kicking of other players.

The official name for soccer is Association Football after the association that was set up to codify its rules. During the Victorian period many games were being codified for the first time. Britain's public school system was the progenitor of many varieties of football games, many of which are played to this day (e.g. Eton Field Game). Public schoolboys have a penchant for shortening the names of everything and during the Victorian period Rugby Football was often shortened to rugger and Association Football was shortened to soccer. It could have been called "asser" but I think the boys played that particular game in the dormitories when the lights went out.

Soccer is a perfectly acceptable term in the UK because, as Soccernomics states, the word soccer was equally in common usage in the UK as the word football was up until the 1970s. It seems that around the time the North American Soccer League was created English football fans got a bit snooty about the word soccer and often muttered "What do Americans know about football?" Because of this young English people now assume that the word soccer is of American origin but incorrectly so.

When the codification of football began in the mid 19th century some clubs couldn't agree on which rules to keep and which to remove. This led the game to differentiate itself into two different codes (rugby and association) but both still referred to themselves as football because of their common origin. Eventually, one termed itself Rugby Football and the other, Association Football.

So alike were early games of rugby and soccer that clubs would often play one set of rules in the first half of a game and the other set in the second half. All versions of the game were football but each club adhered to a slightly different set of rules rather like the parishes of the medieval period.

Similar rules in both soccer and rugger include early soccer permitting the "fair catch" which is the same as "calling a mark" in rugby today. Also, early soccer used to outlaw (as rugby still does to this day) the forward pass. Early soccer games looked like rugby games with most players in a line using a 1-1-8 formation because of the forward pass rule.

Originally, early soccer players had to dribble the ball towards their opponent's goal and then either shoot or pass the ball backwards or laterally to another member of his team. Not until the forward pass was permitted in association football (by way of an offside rule) did the game become more like the one we see today. American football started out as a similar game to rugby until it too created the forward pass and so Association and American football have something in common, after all.


David Beckhamberger (midfielder) - recent draft pick for Milwaukee United

The book? Oh yes, the book. The book itself is very interesting, containing much research. For all the billionaire businessmen and corporate interest in soccer, the game itself is not a business. At least not like the usual businesses you see that turn a profit and sometimes go bust. The game is played by clubs and turning a profit is a lesser consideration than chasing success on the field. Clubs that go bankrupt are often "phoenixed" back into existence after the former owners scuttle off and new money is brought in.

UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules get a mention, pointing out that the rules actually favour the big clubs rather than hindering them. The simple reason is because they are big clubs, usually situated in big cities and with a global fanbase are always going to make more money than other clubs.

Contrary to the belief of many England team fans their national side, after being beaten by the likes of Iceland, has usually played above its ability. Of course, Iceland more so in Euro 2016 but it will be unlikely for Iceland to repeat the feat next time, just as Greece returned to the doldrums following its success in 2004. On average teams play at or around their expected ability due to a variety of factors and one of the prime factors is population size.

Not for nothing is China planning on being a soccer superpower. It will take time but the likelihood of a China versus USA or Russia World Cup final grows by the tournament. However, Russia will have to ditch its authoritarian political leader as soccer is no longer won by dictatorships, as the book demonstrates.

The fans themselves are not all as it seems. Yes, there is a hardcore "Support X till I die." but they are very few in number. The average soccer fan supports many teams and these supporters often change their allegiance over their lifetime. The world's most soccer mad country? England? Brazil? No, think again. It's Norway.

There is a lot of research in this book that will change the way you view the "beautiful game". Maybe some of it will change the way you trade the game on the exchanges.

Amazon - Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Spain, Germany, and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia--And Even Iraq--Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport

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