Love of soccer takes hold in Peterborough
As interesting as these books were it was not immediately evident how they could be helpful in understanding local soccer history. Dubois’ book opened up possibilities right from the opening pages.
Soccer and its rules date from England in the 1860s, and by 1900 was played widely, even beyond British influence, in Europe, Africa and Central and South America. Soccer was easy to learn and suited all physical types. Even in the early years soccer was played by women. When the English Football Association in 1921 banned women from its fields and stadiums, women were driven underground. There was wide interest in seeing women play as evidenced by the Women’s World Cup organized in 1970.
“Soccer is a language, probably the most universal language on the planet.” (5) There may be differences but soccer is mutually understood. The back and forth between offense and defense and the efforts by players and coaches to control makes “soccer beautifully unpredictable.” (8) Soccer is often called the “beautiful game” even in Peterborough, but as Dubois notes, because of beautiful plays in which the offense beats a well-planned defense. More importantly, it is about “interplay, relationships, motion”. “In soccer there are simply no guarantees.”
Players spend long stretches nowhere near the ball. Even in boring games there are moments of surprise.
Closer to home, Dubois describes soccer in America as suburban. He also sees soccer as a building process. Youthful pastime is succeeded by informal play, pick up games, amateur leagues and sometimes higher level training. Even after decades of expansion, soccer never seems to dominate; it cannot compete with baseball, football, basketball; or perhaps, he could have added, hockey in Canada.
Dubois organized the book around the key positions: goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, and forward. In the analysis, each position could feel that it was central to what was happening on the soccer pitch. As well, the manager, the referee and the fans were important to understanding soccer. This was a helpful perspective. In soccer, it is not enough to describe the goals scored. Wherever you look, there is a story unfolding. Sometimes it can be understood against what the coach might have been developing. Or it can be strategy devised on the spot in reaction to what the opponents are doing. Some situations develop over the length of the pitch; some emerge serendipitously. This diversity of possibilities distinguishes soccer from other athletic endeavours.
In the chapter on goalkeepers, Dubois began with a love letter from a great goalie, Gianluigi Buffon, to his goal. During a game he never looked at the goal, unless a goal had been scored on him, but he saw his purpose was to protect the goal, to be the “first and last line of defense.” (23) Another goalie was described as an “anti-footballer” because his purpose was to prevent what everybody was striving to accomplish or hoped to see.
The goal was described as 24 feet across. Later the height was limited to eight feet, and gradually the area he could cover while being the only player on his team that could use his arms was reduced in size. It, the “penalty box”, is now 44 yards across and 18 yards deep, or a little larger than a basketball court. The size of the pitch can vary, but in most stadiums is about 100 yards long and 60 yards across. Soccer is characterized by its movement; the goalie even with a large penalty box, is the most immobile.
The goalie is sometimes the most lonely, with lots of time to think. Dubois mentioned a Christmas 1937 game in England cancelled in progress by fog, but the one goalie never noticed. For some fifteen minutes he imagined how well his team was keeping the ball contained in the other end without scoring a goal, when the play would have returned to midfield. When he was finally told the other players in the locker room had a good laugh.
In early days, there was no defined goalie, and it was the job of the last defender to prevent the score. But in 1871, it was decided that one player could use his hands, and that was the goalie.
Dubois had been a goalie in his youth, and liked Vladimir Nabokov’s insights as a goalie “the keeper of a secret.” In quieter moments he reflected on cultural differences. The English ignored the goalie because they did not like show offs and felt the teamwork was the key to the game. Russians and Latin Americans on the other hand considered protecting the goal was a “gallant art.” The goalie was like a matador.
However, she was not always the hero. The goalie, such as Nabokov or Albert Camus, experience the ups and downs of life. When a goal is scored the goalie is at fault. Other players making mistakes are more easily forgiven.
The goalie can also be a key player in developing strategy and tactics. When facing the penalty kicks, the goalie receives lots of advice but has his own memory bank.
The Examiner soccer reporter in 1920 was more impressed with the offence but did on occasion talk in glowing terms about the goalie. For example, in a story described as “Best Football Ever Seen in the City of Peterboro” (October 19, 1920), Wilfrid Jones, the goalie for the Great War Veterans, known as the Vets, was described as “Brilliant in Goal.”
The reporter commented breathlessly, “Play was of a ding-dong fashion until Calder accepting a pass from Wright he gave Jones a hard one to hold that was cleverly picked up. From the punt by Jones the Vets raided Brunton’s goal with Sharman about beating Brunton with a low shot.” Jones made several saves during the game but the opponents were the league-leading Caledonians, who won 5-0. However, several Vets were sick and missed the game, but R. Brunton might have been the better goalie.
In a game between the Caledonians and the Woolens, which the Caledonians won 2-1, the goalies had the respect of the reporter and the fans. For example, in the second half, “A great save by [Sam] Calladine from the foot of [William] Calder brought praise from the spectators.” Calladine repeatedly made great saves.
The Examiner reporter’s good sense of soccer was evident; he recognized that action could come from all players, and even the referee and two linesmen and spectators had key roles in these two games in October 1920. There was an unpredictability in the soccer of 1920 because soccer was a game in which each player was important. Individual feats were important even if the game was never in doubt.
Elwood H. Jones, Archivist, Trent Valley Archives, can be reached at email@example.com. The Trent Valley Archives are presenting a spectacular show, the Cemetery Pageant, at Little Lake Cemetery on September 29 and 30. For details, www.trentvalleyarchives.com
Elwood H. Jones, Archivist, Trent Valley Archives, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . The Trent Valley Archives are presenting a spectacular show, the Cemetery Pageant, at Little Lake Cemetery on September 29 and 30. For details, www.trentvalleyarchives.com