As we Anglophiles well know, the British are mad about sports. Even if we don't closely follow British teams and scores, we see the occasional news article about rowdy football fans. But what is most striking to those of us on this side of the pond is the curiousness of some of the British games. Some are just so...so...different from what we see in the States. I confess complete ignorance about sports, American or British. (Though I do enjoy a rousing game of croquet as much as the next person.) Because of my clueless-ness, I found someone who is knowledgeable to supply us with the basics about British games. This fine gentleman, MR. JON MALINGS, provides brief summaries below about the most popular spectator sports in the UK.
(Note: While Jon does not explain game rules in his summaries, he does provides links to websites that do. Such links, he says, "should help if, for instance, you have a desperate need to know what the 'offside' rule in Football is all about–good luck with that." )
Cricket is a game that lasts five days, with breaks for lunch and tea, and usually ends as a draw. There’s a marginally less exciting one-day contest that dispenses with lunch. Umpires use a mathematical formula (the Duckworth-Lewis method) to find the winner if rain or “bad-light” ends a game prematurely.
If you ever want to upset a New Zealander (easy) or embarrass an Australian (almost impossible) just mention Cricket’s 1981 World-Series Championship. The last ball of the game, with New Zealand batting, needing a six (like a home run) to win. Trevor Chappell, the Australian bowler (pitcher), perfectly legally, rolled the ball, underarm, along the ground to the batsman. Wars have been fought over less. That just wasn’t Cricket.
Visit the English County Cricket Board website HERE
Watch a video showing how to play Cricket HERE
We don’t mind if you call it “soccer”, we do too, sometimes. It’s played with a round ball, which only the goalie is allowed to handle. The other ten in the team use feet, heads, or whatever, to get the ball “in the back of the net”.
In England (we let Welsh clubs in too, but Scotland does its own thing), there are ninety-two major football clubs, most over 100 years old, organised into four divisions. The top division, the Premier League, is the richest and most successful in the world. The Premier League consists of twenty clubs; they play each other twice in a season (home and away), plus various knockout competitions. A successful club can play fifty games between August and May.
Football is a “game of two halves,” each lasting 45 minutes, with no time-outs. Stoppages only occur when a free kick is awarded after a foul; when someone goes down injured, causing an obstruction on the field; or when a fight breaks out. At season’s end, the bottom three clubs in each division are relegated to the division below, and the top teams are promoted. The head coach is the manager. We don’t do statistics. (The only interesting one is top goal scorer.) Players can be sent off the pitch for the rest of the game for foul play. There is no draft—clubs buy and sell players worldwide.
Women play football in large numbers in the UK, but the games are not so much a spectator sport. We also play a friendly (sometimes) five-a-side, indoor game.
The most famous football match of all time occurred in 1914, during the first Christmas of World War 1. Troops on both sides declared an unofficial truce and played a game of football in no-man’s-land. The Germans beat the Brits 3-2, a result we eventually avenged in the World Cup final of 1966.
Final word from Bill Shankly, manager of the highly successful Liverpool team in the 1970s: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Visit The English Football Association website HERE
Visit the Premier League website HERE
Invented in India in the nineteenth century by bored British Army officers, snooker recently became popular in China. Snooker is a bit like pool: played with cues and balls on a table with pockets. The table, covered with green baize, is 12 x 6 feet. Players use twenty-one coloured and one white ball. The maximum possible score (or break) is 147, obtained by potting the coloured balls in a particular sequence. You can also gain points by “snookering” your opponent, i.e. putting his ball behind the eight ball, if there is one.
Snooker used to have a seedy reputation, being played in dingy, dim rooms, where lamps over the tables and lit cigarettes provided the only light. In my youth, I, along with other young men, frequented Albert’s Billiards Hall (Billiards: a game so boring even we don’t play it). We were pale imitations of The Hustler. When colour TV arrived, in 1969, the BBC used snooker, with its green table and coloured balls, to promote the new service, and the game is now shown on TV throughout the year. The final of the World Championship is “best of 37” games (or frames). As each frame typically lasts about a half hour, the game is played in four sessions over two days and is compulsive viewing.
A playing tip from three-time Masters Champion Paul Hunter: Down 2-7 in a “best of 19,” he retired to his hotel room with his lovely girlfriend, Lindsey, during the afternoon interval, whereupon (so he said) he practiced “Plan B.” At the re-start, he took six frames in a row, ending up a 10-9 winner. B is for “bonk” by the way. Read all about it in The Sun, Britain’s most popular daily newspaper, HERE
Visit the World Snooker website HERE
Watch Ten Snooker Shots video HERE
“A game for ruffians played by Gentlemen.”
Rugby comes in two different flavours, Union and League. In the nineteenth century, Gentlemen players were not constrained by the sordid need to earn money. Common People, mainly in the north of England, where they know a bit about “brass”, could not take time off work to play Rugby, so the northern clubs began paying them. Eventually the game split: professionals in the north, amateurs in the south. Over time, the two codes diverged, and now the northern Rugby League has thirteen players, while the southern Rugby Union uses fifteen—and the two have some other small rule differences. Openly professional players didn’t appear in Union until 1995, 100 years after the split.
Rugby is similar to American football, with the same shaped ball and the same objective of getting the ball over the opponent’s line—but the similarities end there. (Even getting the ball over the line is called a try.) The game lasts 80 minutes, with two halves. No body-armour, helmets, or time-outs exist, nor do the concepts of attack or defence teams. The only time a player comes off the pitch is if he goes into the “sin-bin” for ten minutes or if he is injured (in which case a blood substitute might come on).
Players can pass the ball freely, but the ball can only travel backward. To move forward, the ball must be carried or kicked. There are subtle difference between League and Union concerning what happens when a player carrying the ball is tackled and brought to the ground. Then the Gentlemen of Rugby Union show their most un-gentlemanly side. Neither code lets you tackle or obstruct an opponent who doesn’t have the ball.
The only Rugby stories I know are too gory to tell, like the time when “Match” Fletcher’s index finger came off in his hand, but let’s not go there.
Visit the Rugby Union website HERE
Visit the Rugby League website HERE
The sport of Kings and Queens
As a summer sport, horses run on the flat. In the winter, they go over jumps.
There are few “all weather tracks,” but most horses run on grass on a racecourse. The oldest flat race is the St Leger, first ran in 1776. (That date rings a bell, but I can’t think why…) The most famous flat race is the Derby (we say Dar-by), first ran in 1780 over a distance of one mile, four furlongs. A furlong: 220 yards or one eighth of a mile—which is also the length of the ploughed strips of land in the English medieval open-field farming system.
The meet at Ascot in June--Royal Ascot—is a Society event as well as a horserace (a flat race). www.ascot.co.uk/ Ladies Day at Royal Ascot gives fashionistas a chance to display extreme couture and amazingly whacky hats. (Jump racing makes less of a fashion statement because of the need to wrap up warmly in the winter weather.)
Jumping horses may go over hurdles, but most races are steeplechases, which involve more daunting obstacles. The name comes from the time when races were run cross-country, from one church steeple to another, over any hedge or ditch that got in the way.
Horses start their jumping careers around five years of age, often continuing until they are twelve or thirteen. Unlike flat racers, they don’t have to be thoroughbreds. Races are much longer, often three or four miles, and the sport is dangerous for both horses and jockeys.
The most famous steeplechase is the Grand National, ran at Aintree, Liverpool. The race is 4 miles, 4 furlongs around a triangular course, with over thirty fearsome jumps. Luck can play a large element in the outcome of this race, which, with forty starters, resembles a Calgary stampede at times. www.aintree.co.uk/pages/grand-national/
The premier event of the jumping season occurs in March at Cheltenham. A large contingent of Irish spectators and horses come to this four-day meet, the highlight of which is the Cheltenham Gold Cup. www.cheltenham.co.uk/
Two important things about jockeys:
1) Men and women compete in the same race, flat or jumping.
2) Most jockeys are professionals, but the odd amateur does appear. On the race-card they are always listed, quaintly, as Mr., Mrs. Miss, and occasionally, Lord. I’ve never seen a King.
Visit the British Horse Racing website HERE
Jon holds a university degree in Psychology and previously traveled the world for his job with IBM Software Development Laboratory. He now lives in Ireland, where he is semi-retired--that is, working on a wide range of projects, from gardening and genealogy to remodeling houses, the current one being a 150-year-old granite farmhouse.
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