It was a small history of Albanian football, in Albanian, which I bought for one dollar from an elderly man who was flogging a few copies of the badly printed tome outside the ground on the day of the game.
Back home, I thought it would make a fitting present for an old friend, Drogheda United and Leeds fan Arthur Mathews, a man with a well developed taste both for the beautiful game and the peculiar. A few years later, Arthur, who is as close to being a comic genius as anyone I have ever met, would earn fame as the co-creator of Fr Ted, and I always thought it was something of a missed opportunity that he didn’t find a cameo role for that strange little book on Craggy Island.
You can imagine the scene. Ted: “What’s that you’re reading there Dougal. I hope it’s the good book?” Dougal: “Oh, no Ted, you wouldn’t catch me reading that. No, this is a great book, Ted. Look, it’s a history of football in Albania, in Albanian, and, ah Ted, now see what you’ve done — you’ve made me lose my place.” Ted: “Right, Dougal.”
For a long time, I was happy to consider my history of Albanian football the most unusual literary purchase of my life but all that changed when, in a bookshop in Zurich recently, I picked up a little something, for rather more than one dollar, called ‘Praxisworterbuch Fussball’.
Officially sanctioned by UEFA, this is a German-English-France dictionary of football terminology, with a preface by European football’s top man Michel Platini. “Football cannot live entirely without its own language,” he writes, but anyone expecting to find the French or German (or, in some cases, the English) for “nutmeg”, “g’wan my son”, “prawn sandwich” or even Rico’s own beloved “interdepartmental choreography” will have to look elsewhere. No, Praxisworterbuch Fussball takes its work seriously, even solemnly, and often to unintentionally hilarious effect.
The medical section, for example, is a great reservoir of knowledge. I mean, how would you feel if, lying crocked on the pitch after a hefty challenge, you observed your spongeman looking a bit puzzled before consulting a book which contains such illuminating definitions as: “Leg: either of the two lower limbs, including the bones between the hip and the toes” and “Finger: any of the five terminating members of the hand.”
Then again, how much worse would it be if he informed you that you’d lost a yard of “Bewegungsschnelligkiet” or “speed of movement” (helpfully defined as “the ability to quickly transfer the body or a part of the body from one place to another”)? Never mind, at least lying on the turf, you’re unlikely to be suffering from “Schwindle” or vertigo, defined as “a sense of spinning or feeling of disequilibrium often accompanied by nausea and occasionally vomiting and which is generally worsened by motion.” Sadly, missing a wide open goal, the book fails to add: “see also, brutal hangover”.
Of course, spurning a wide open goal is, in anyone’s language, to miss a sitter. Except in German where it is a “grosschance” or in French where it’s an “enorme occasion”. And how about a classier name for a super-sub? In Germany and France, he’s known as “a joker”. Another kind of impact is made, at least in Germany, by a “Flitzer”. That’s a streaker to you and me, again helpfully defined by the dictionary as “a spectator who runs naked over the football pitch during a match.” To this, the crowd will invariably either “cheer on” (“encourage with shouts, chants or gestures”) or “boo” (“show vocal disapproval”). So now you know. However, if you’re still struggling to come to terms with some of football’s more complex terminology, the dictionary is here to tell you that “the start of the season” means “the beginning of the season”; that “a scarf” is “a long, narrow piece of cloth worn around the neck, head or shoulders by fans to demonstrate their support for a team”, and “jewellery” is a “decorative item not permitted to be worn by players in a match” but which, more interestingly, in German, is called “Schmuck” which may or may not have something to do with Ronaldo.
Other highlights? In Germany, a “Saturday afternoon player” is known by the lovely name “Hobbykicker”. In French, a trip is a “croc-en-jambe” which is something I’m pretty sure I once ordered in a restaurant in Paris. And should you ever get a dose of “Glaskorperblutung” your physio is likely to clear his throat before telling you that, what you’ve got there son, if I’m not very much mistaken, is “a vision-distorting accumulation of blood within the transparent, colourless mass of gel that lies behind the lens and in front of the retina, and which is most commonly caused by a complication of diabetes, though it can also result from retinal disorders and trauma.”
As Mick Byrne once said to Aldo.
For all that, there are a few major oversights in this lexicon of football. There’s no “best practice”. No “stakeholders”. No “family of football”. And, unforgivably in the modern age, no “going forward.”
So, don’t expect to see the Praxisworterbuch on the bookshelves in Abbotstown.