The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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From the Secret Rulebook

Expressions of regret at missing a chance to score require, in almost all circumstances, contact between (a) one’s two hands and (b) one’s head. It is never appropriate to employ one hand only to demonstrate one’s dismay and/or wrath. Parts of the body other than the head may be touched, but only after manual contact with the head. All appropriate hand gestures will employ bilateral symmetry. The repertoire of approved gestures — to be used immediately after popping the easy header over the bar, scuffing the volley into the turf, or dragging the simple side-foot shot well wide of the gaping net — is as follows:

(1) The hands rise as quickly as possible and the palms are placed flat to the skull, the heel of the palms to the temples, elbows projecting outwards. Ideally this motion will be accompanied by an extreme widening of the eyes and the formation of the mouth into an O. For maximum effect the position should be held for a minimum of ten seconds. However, it is necessary to drop the hands and lower the head in shame before beginning to trot back down the pitch.

(1a) During penalty shootouts, it is possible for the foregoing gesture to be accompanied by a sudden drop to the knees. Also, under conditions of extreme pressure, it is permissible to perform this gesture when a teammate launches a penalty kick into low earth orbit or pokes a tentative, waffling shot easily parried by even a mediocre keeper.

(2) The hands rise as quickly as possible to cover the face as completely as possible. In this gesture elbows should be brought close together, with triceps touching the chest and forearms perpendicular to the ground. When enacting this gesture, it is permissible to turn and begin trotting back down the pitch before lowering the hands.

(3) This gesture begins with the hands at one’s sides, ideally with shoulders slumping to indicate shock at one’s own folly. From this initial position the hands are slowly raised and brought together, tips of the index fingers pressed against the lips, in the traditional position indicating prayer. Ideally, the eyes will in this case be half-closed; in no circumstances should they assume the wideness indicated for position (1). The mouth can assume varying positions indicating distress, or can strive for stoic immobility, but the O-shape is forbidden. Those employing this gesture must keep the hands pressed together over the mouth until they have progressed at least thirty meters back down the pitch.

(4) Primarily, though not exclusively, in cultures south of the Alps and/or east of Germany it is permissible to raise the hands quickly to head height, with elbows held rather close to the body at mid-rib level but not touching the ribs, and then move the hands in short circuits forwards and backwards. This is to be accompanied by baring the lips in order to reveal violent clenching of the teeth or gaping wails of pain. It is often appropriate to complete this gesture by bending at the waist and simultaneously beginning to run rather too quickly back to one’s proper position.

(5) The most complex of these gestures involves a set of variations on two of the previously described positions. The performance begins with the immediate and rapid covering of the face with the hands as in gesture (2). But then the hands are drawn down the face, pulling at the skin in such a way as to expose the red rims below the eyes, and are simultaneously drawn together in the posture of prayer typically associated with gesture (3). While this motion is being performed the head should lift and look to the heavens as though imploring God, as did Job, to account for the suffering He has inflicted upon His humble servant. Once the hands are in the prayer posture, it becomes permissible to bend at the waist; this can be done repeatedly, as though one is being punched in the stomach by a band of sadistic thugs. One may trot down the pitch only after achieving the prayer position. The most skilled practitioners of this sophisticated combination can extend it over a minute or more.

Players may consider each of these gestures to be permissible in all circumstances of abject ineptitude at goal, though, as will be seen, discretion should be employed in order to produce the desired effects. The game, after all, contains a nearly infinite variety of opportunities for failure. Any other gestures may be used only with the express permission of FIFA, which may be obtained by producing a video enactment of the proposed gesture, burning it to DVD, and mailing it to the FIFA offices along with €50,000 in unmarked bills.

Such a gesture could be seen as misleading, since there is no point in praying once one has already flubbed the opportunity, but the practice is so burnished by ancient use that there is no point protesting its illogic.

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From the Secret Rulebook

by Alan Jacobs · October 16, 2011

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