World cup careers, fine lines, hands of God and all that chaos

Sometimes a career can be blighted if you get in arms way.  So Harry Kewell, a footballist who plays for Australia is dismissed from a South African field for a handball offence in the World Cup. Temporarily then, poor Harry whose hand and arm were in the wrong place at the wrong time had his career aspirations thwarted. Indeed at the time of writing this, it may be the moment a nation’s world cup dreams are thwarted. Who knows, for these moments never reveal their real meaning at the time.

Generally speaking in the game of Association Football, hands are only used to thump other players, grab large amounts of cash for endorsements, and to hold the manicured hands of teamate’s wives and girlfriends, or should that read “hands of teamates, wives and girlfriends”. An apostrophe and a comma radically alter the meaning. Two of the tiniest grammatical devices can make all the difference between a team player and a player of the field. Small things matter.

When it comes to hands and football, big things matter too. Like God and his hands. Those who hold long grudges will recall that long before Argentinian hoofer Maradona allegedly got more interested in bottoms link , he had the hand of God, at least he claimed it was the hand of God that saw him punching the ball into the net to score a goal in a previous World Cup.  Now aside from the interesting theological point about whether God knows the rules of football, whether God cheats, or whether the referee who awarded the goal possessed the eyes of the Devil, we witness a small difference between a head and hand held close to the head changing the course of a World Cup.  Maradona’s teammates subsequently had very different experiences in their career compared to the hapless English players by winning the World Cup.  Something those English players never experienced.

Decisions made rightly or wrongly in the flash of a second can and do alter lives and therefore careers and sometimes profoundly so.  One of the joys of sport is that these life-defining moments are played out in real-time for us.  Fortunes are made and lost by line-ball decisions, “brain snaps”, and being in the wrong place or right place at the wrong or right time. The plans for the game go out of the window in the face of the unexpected.

Perhaps the reason sport can be so engaging, compelling, worth arguing over, worth recalling is that despite all attempts to capture the play within the strict perimeters of the lines and the strict parameters of the rules, the players and officials being human cannot always restrict themselves to such idealised closed systems.  They do go outside the lines and sometimes rules – sometimes deliberately and sometimes unintentionally.  I am sure that the tension between the ideal sporting performance and the more messy reality that most sport entails is why it can be such compelling drama. Sport like careers is chaotic, open, non-linear and inherently unpredictable.

So we can deconstruct Harry endlessly henceforth, and maybe Harry himself would give his right arm to have that moment over again. If he had self-deconstructed his right arm, the ball would have missed him, and the result would have been a goal. Instead the ball hit his arm, and the result was a goal from a penalty.   In Virgil’s Aeneid he wrote  “Arma virumque cano” (Of arms and the man I sing), Harry’s unplanned event makes sport more chaotic, interesting and relevant. Relevant to the reality of our careers as lived and not as planned. So this blog is my song of arms and the man.