Girls Kick – A British Beginning

Long before Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy put women’s soccer on the map, the first female stars could be seen in Britain. While the Women’s United Soccer Association may be the first women’s professional league in the world, female soccer flourished in England almost eighty years ago. In northern England in the1920s, players like Lilly Parr and Lillian Ritchie competed in front of crowds that often exceeded fifty thousand.

Free from certain social restraints while their fathers, husbands, and brothers were away fighting in World War I, many women in England’s northern factory and mining towns began playing football, as soccer is known there. (The sport had long been reserved for men.) Now women players were training during their lunch breaks and forming clubs. Suddenly, women had a game of their own. Fans began to flock to matches organized to raise funds for war charities.

Many of the teams were formed in factories making guns and war munitions, among them the Carlisle Munitionettes and Darlington North Road Shell Shop. But the most famous club of all was the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club. Started at an engineering company in Preston in 1917, the club starred Lilly Parr, the greatest player of her time.

Parr was a six-foot tall left-winger. She scored forty-three goals in her first season in 1919 when she was only fourteen years old. It was said that Parr was so good that if she had been a man she could have played for the national team. The Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club drew enormous crowds and competed in the giant soccerstadiums where the men’s professional teams Everton and Newcastle played. One game, at Everton’s Goodison Park stadium on December 26, 1920–a 4–0 win over the St. Helens Ladies–drew 53,000 fans, with 10,000 more turned away.

In 1921, 900,000 fans passed through the turnstiles to watch the club. Players were paid for their efforts in pennies, after a collection bucket was passed around at halftime. The club even toured America, where they went 3–3–3 against men’s teams. Then, women’s participation in the sport was banned by male chauvinists, who claimed it was not a ladylike activity. In fact, although the Dick, Kerr club continued to play for a while, most female soccer clubs folded soon after December 5, 1921, the day that the Football Association (FA), the governing soccer body in England, banned women’s teams from playing at its facilities.

The ban, which remained in place for fifty years, meant that women players were virtually excluded from all professional stadiums and decent venues in England. At the same time, “medical experts” warned that female players risked sterility if they continued to play soccer. Detractors abounded. In 1953 the psychologist F.J. Buytendijk wrote the disgraceful comment: “The game of soccer is essentially a demonstration of masculinity. … Women have never been allowed to play soccer. … Kicking is specifically masculine; whether being kicked is feminine, I prefer not to say.”

Some clubs tried to survive by using rugby stadiums, but the FA’s ban killed off the women’s game in England–the birthplace of soccer. The feminization of the sport thus died in its infancy. Soccer steadfastly remained a man’s sport until the women’s game began to grow in Scandinavia and the United States during the 1970s.

Inspired by the growth of the sport in America and the stunning success of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the women’s game has been revived in England. Women’s soccer is now England’s fastest growing sport, and the number of women’s teams has jumped from 500 in 1993 to 4,500. The FA, which once stood in the way of women, announced last year that a fully funded professional women’s league, the first in Europe, will be established in 2003.

 

What a kick!

For scientist playing robotic soccer, it’s more than just a game.

The goalkeeper stops another bullet, returning the ball to his teammate downfield. The player takes control, scurries to the opposite end and scores. The crowd goes wild!

Typical soccer match? Hardly. The soccer field is a Ping-Pong table and the soccer ball is a really bright orange golf ball. Players are cube-shaped robots barely seven inches tall. You could fit an entire team in your backpack.

This is the world of RoboCup, where soccer meets science.

Team Scream

Since 1997, scientists have met once a year in the RoboCup International research meetings and competitions, challenging each other to robot soccer matches. It doesn’t matter that machines are playing the game–their coaches and fans really get into the action.

“You know they’re robots, but you still scream at them,” says Professor Manuela Veloso, head of the Carnegie Mellon University team.

There are four leagues in RoboCup, and the cube-shaped mini robots are the lightweight class. Each is run like a remote-controlled car, with a computer on the sidelines sending commands by radio to the five team members.

A second league contains robots that are about 20 inches in diameter and have their own on-board computers. The third uses Sony robotic dogs that actually kick instead of nudge the ball. The fourth league doesn’t move at all–it’s a sophisticated video game played on the computer screen by teams of 11 computer programs.

Calling the Plays

In all four soccer leagues, robots and computer programs run the show. There is no human control. Each robot has to figure out where the goal is, where the opponents are and whether it should pass the ball to a teammate or score.

Robotic soccer players aren’t perfect. One group of mini-robots was so strong that they spun the ball off the field every time. Professor Veloso says that watching the Sony robots can be doggone funny. “The dogs look like 6-year-old Rids playing soccer. They all rush at the ball but don’t really understand teamwork yet.”

Robots to the Rescue

But RoboCup is more than just a game. It has a serious side.

Soccer is just a way for us to understand how to cope with a challenging, dynamic, uncertain environment in which we have to make quick decisions,” says Ms. Veloso.

One project they’re developing is a team of rescue robots–ones that would go in after natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes and search for survivors.

Besides rescue robots, the researchers have another goal. By 2050, they’d like to field a team of robot soccer players and beat the human World Cup winning team!

 

An Alert Response to Head Injury

A small child playing on the sofa falls forward, hitting his head on the edge of the coffee table. He has a bump, almost immediately, but no cut.

A 12-year-old-boy, riding his bike with no helmet, hits a pothole and loses control, hurtling him headfirst into a pole. He is unconscious and bleeding from the scalp.

A soccer player, running toward the goal, loses his balance and falls into the goalpost, hitting his head. He is unconscious for a minute or two, but then insists he is fine. An hour later, on the sideline, he suddenly falls from the bench, unconscious, and cannot be awakened.

Leading Cause of Death

Accidental injury is the leading cause of death between the ages of 1 and 44; 50 percent of all accidental injuriesare related to motor vehicle accidents. Head injury is the primary cause of death in 70 percent of fatal auto accidents and 50 percent of fatal motorcycle accidents. Even more important, the age group most affected by head injuries is young adults. The three accidents described above are typical of the kind that occur most commonly. How can you as a first aider determine which are serious and which are minor?

If you are on the scene when a head injury occurs, you should do the following:

  • Survey the scene for immediate danger to you or the victim. In a car accident, for example, is traffic stopped? Is all danger of explosion eliminated and debris removed from around the victim? Also, try to determine what happened.
  • Have a primary check of the victim’s condition. Is the person breathing? Have a pulse? Do the pupils of the eye react to light? (Often they don’t, with serious head injuries.) Are both pupils the same? Is the victim bleeding from the nose or ear? This could be a dangerous sign if there is not a direct injury to the face.
  • Control any bleeding.
  • Ask the victim about any symptoms to deteermine if there is any need for professional medical help. Also try to determine if the victim is alert and fully aware of his or her surroundings.
  • Check for any neck injury before attempting to move or reposition the victim. Ask about paralysis or numbness in the extremities.
  • Keep constant watch on breathing and the level of consciousness. If the victim loses consciousness, record the length of time the person was unconscious and give this information, along with the time of the injury, to paramedics when they arrive.

Head injuries can be minor, requiring only an ice bag and bandage. But some can be life-threatening. One of your tasks as a first aider is to quickly determine the seriousness of a head injury. The following descriptions may help.

Lumps and Bumps

Bumps on the head that cause a lump to form are the most common minor head injuries. The cause of the lump, technically called a hematoma, is the leakage of fluid from broken blood vessels. The swelling is followed by a bruise, and the victim does not lose consciousness.

First aid for this type of head injury is ice for about 15 minutes to reduce swelling and pain. The best position for this victim is sitting up to reduce swelling.

Cuts

A small shallow cut on the head, with no other symptoms such as blurred vision of dizziness, can be treated as a cut elsewhere on the body. To stop the bleeding, wash the wound, place a clean gauze pad over the cut, and apply gentle pressure. A pressure bandage is also effective. Keep the victim’s head and shoulders elevated. If, however, the cut appears long enough to need stitches or deep enough to cause heavy bleeding, the victim should have immediate medical treatment. When in doubt, check it out!

The are some symptoms that can signal a more serious head injury. If the victim starts vomiting, complains of dizziness or headache, has a sudden loss of memory, or becomes uncontrollably sleepy, medical attention is urgently needed.

Conclusion

Loss of consciousness is also a symptom of a serious head injury, and the longer the victim is unconscious, the more likely that the injury is serious. Unconsciousness from a concussion occurs when the soft tissue of the brain bangs into the hard surface of the inside of the skull. The victim may vomit, seem drowsy, become pale, or be unable to recall events leading up to the injury.

Victims of concussion may also develop seizures in which the brain sends out abnormal electrical signals that cause the muscles to twitch. First aid for this injury:

* Turn the victim on the side to open the airway and allow for drainage of blood, vomitus, or saliva.

* Remove nearby objects the victim could bump into.

* Project the head by using a pillow or other soft object to cushion contact with the ground.

* Do not restrain the victim’s movements.

* Do not put anything in the victim’s mouth.

* When the seizure stops, keep a close eye on breathing and protect the victim until help arrives.

It is usually advised thta victims of concussion have skull X-rays. There may also be damage to the neck; use caution in handling this victim–don’t move the person if you suspect a neck or back injury.

After medical treatment, the physician may suggest that the victim be kept awake for a few hours in order to monitor whether any new symptoms develop. These could include a plainful headache or difficulty moving the limbs. These symptoms may indicate serious brain damage or bleeding under the skull; quick medical treatment will be required.

Skull Fracture

Occasionally a blow to the head results in a crack in the skull, known as a simple fracture. Victims of skull fracture often develop dizziness, headache, vomiting, and memory loss. If symptoms persist, they should be taken to a hospital and may be kept there for a day of observation. Physicians want to be sure there is no bleeding into the brain, which could be life-threatening. Once released, rest at home for several days will be required, as well as avoiding exercise and contact sports for four to six weeks.

A com pound fracture of the skull involves a wound in addition to the crack. It is a very serious problem because germs may have entered the brain. Do not clean such a wound yourself; get medical attention immediately.

Now go back to the original three situations. Think through how you would handle each one. Which is most likely to be serious? How would you know that? Giving first aid for head injuries requires that you use your head to make the right decisions.

A crucial message about bicycle safety

Since 12-year-old Mick Harte has an after-school meeting at a friend’s house, he asks his older sister, Phoebe, to ride his bike home for him. But she has soccer practice and can’t help him out. So Mick rides it himself. He never makes it to his meeting. When his bicycle is struck by a passing truck, Mick dies from a head injury. He was not wearing a bicycle helmet.

This is the tragic starting point of Barbara Park’s Mick Harte Was Here which Knopf published on April 15. Unlike the author’s previous novels–notably the perennial favorites Skinnybones and The Kid in the Red Jacket–humor is not the point here. The poignant, penetrating narrative (told in Phoebe’s voice) and unequivocal mandate to readers to wear bicycle safety helmets mark this as Park’s most resonating and important book to date.

Park notes that two separate experiences inspired Mick Harte Was Here, which concludes with an urgent, personal note from the author: “I urge all of you who do not wear bike helmets to please reconsider your decision. Today. Please. It’s your life.” The first incident occurred several years ago, when she and her husband were taking a walk in their neighborhood outside of Phoenix. “We came across a reenactment of an accident that had happened earlier that day,” she recalls. “There was a vehicle pulled over to the side, and police were measuring skid marks to determine how fast it had been going. And then I saw the bicycle. A child had been killed by that car. I never got over this. I have never again passed that spot without thinking of that child and what the family must have gone through.”

Though much affected by this episode, Park didn’t realize that there was a novel in it. Then months later, she read a newspaper article about bicycle helmet safety. “It contained a quote from a father who had lost his son in a bicycle accident,” she recalls. “The boy was not wearing a helmet. What his father said, in essence, was that there was not a scratch on his son’s body and that an inch of styrofoam would have saved his life. Over the next year these two events meshed in my mind somewhere, and I decided to tackle this subject.”

It was not an easy task. Writing Mick Harte Was Here took Park far longer than any of her previous books. “The hardest part was taking on such a depressing subject,” she says. “I kept asking myself, ‘Who is going to want to read this?’ I was afraid that kids would put it down if it was too sad, so I tried to add light touches in with all the heavy moments. I decided to include happy, funny remembrances of Mick. But I still needed to address all that his sister and parents were going through. I knew I couldn’t soft-pedal the painful, real parts.”

Spreading the Word

Park spent the last week in April and the first week of this month–National Bicycle Safety Month—on an eight-city tour promoting her novel and its message. Kelly Grunther, manager of public relations for Random House’s juvenile and merchandise group, has prepared an extensive press kit–which includes an endorsement of the book by the Long Island Head Injury Association—that encourages booksellers as well as media to underscore the connection between the novel and bicycle helmet safety. In hopes of further bonding the book and the issue, the publisher has joined forces with Cycle Products Company, which has donated a hefty number of bicycle helmets to be used in the book’s promotion. These will be given away by booksellers whose stores Park visits as well as by the 20 to 25 radio stations across the country that will be airing a satellite interview with the author.

Retailers have been quick to embrace Park’s critical cause. One stop on the author’s itinerary is Hicklebee’s in San Jose, where a window display featuring a bicycle has for several weeks been setting the stage for the novelist’s visit. Customers purchasing any Barbara Park novel can put their names in for a drawing to win one of the bicycle helmets that have been donated by local bicycle shops. On the day of Park’s signing, anyone who comes to the store wearing a helmet is eligible for another drawing–this One for an autographed copy of Mick Harte Was Here.

At The Library Limited in St. Louis, marketing director Nancy Higgins organized what she describes as a “family event” on May 5, when Park visited this bookstore. Staffers from a local bike shop gave a demonstration on bicycle safety and a helmet was raffled. Higgins remarks, “We are tying a number of events during May into Mother’s Day, and this fits perfectly. We chose to focus on how mothers can teach their children safe biking habits.”

Park is thrilled to be able to take her mission on the road. “This is, truly, the most exciting thing that has happened to me through one of my books,” she says. “I’ve always made it a point not to be a moralizing, finger-waving, ‘I’ve-got-something-to-teach you’ kind of author. But this is an exception. I intended from the very beginning to get kids to do one specific thing: to wear a bicycle helmet, even if they don’t think it’s cool. I know this sounds very corny, but it is the truth: my biggest hope is that someday I’ll get a letter from a youngster who will tell me, ‘I read Mick Harte Was Here and went out and got a bicycle helmet. I was in an accident, but I was wearing my helmet. I’m okay–because of your hook.'”

Soccer fever gives Hollywood a big kick

The film business has caught soccer fever. With the 1998 World Cup history, a slew of movies with soccer themes are aiming to buck the conventional wisdom that the beautiful game simply doesn’t play on the bigscreen.

Perhaps predictably, most of these projects originate from the U.K., the country that invented the game and exported it around the globe. More surprising is that several have significant American backing, even though the U.S. remains largely immune to the world’s No. 1 sport.

Propaganda Films, Mike Medavoy’s Phoenix Pictures, Robert Duvall’s Butcher’s Run and Miramax-backed HAL Films all have soccer films in the works. So does Working Title, the British production company that has repeatedly proved its instinct for international tastes.

These projects have been encouraged by the unprecedented levels of intensity and marketing hype to which the global obsession with soccer has risen in recent years.

Nonetheless, there remains a considerable wariness about the commercial viability of the subject matter. Indeed, most filmmakers are anxious to avoid the label “soccer movie,” which they regard as box office poison, preferring to emphasise the more conventional elements of romance, comedy or drama with the sport merely as a backdrop.

“It’s not a film about soccer,” insists BBC film chief David Thompson about his John Duigan project “Calcio” (Italian for soccer), which is likely to be co-produced by HAL. “This is a very funny script with good characters that just happens to have soccer as its background.”

“Films that have soccer right at their heart are difficult to make work financially,” Thomspon argues. “The received wisdom in the international marketplace is that a film with too much soccer, indeed too much sport in general, is a problem.”

But he also believes that the resistance of American financiers to soccer themes is showing signs of weakening. “Soccer still isn’t terribly popular in the U.S., but there’s a bigger openness to the resonance of the idea, they can see that it works on a metaphorical level. And American distributors can’t be blind to the fact that large chunks of the world are obsessed with the game.”

“Calcio,” due to shoot later this summer, is the stow of a young English man who tries to escape his father’s pressure to make him a goalkeeper by running away to Sardinia. He falls in love with a local girl who is engaged to a player in the hopeless village team, and gets drawn into helping whip them into shape.

These soccer movies fall into two categories — those which are actually about the professional game and its history, and those, such as “Calcio,” in which soccer is an amateur pastime used as the focus for the passions of ordinary characters.

The first group includes Working Title’s “Busby’s Babes,” to be directed by John Roberts, about the Munich air crash that wiped out the great young Manchester United team of the 1950s.

Then there’s “Best,” a biopic of the troubled Irish soccer genius George Best who played for Manchester in the ’60s, co-written by director Mary McGuckian and actor John Lynch, who will play the lead role. Tim Roth and Ian Hart are among those being lined up to play Best’s teammates.

In the same category comes Duvall’s untitled project in which he will direct himself as the coach of a second-division Scottish professional club — an extraordinarily obscure career choice for a major American actor, but perhaps no more so than his decision to play a fundamentalist preacher in “The Apostle.”

Finally, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” producer Duncan Kenworthy has long been developing a spoof documentary about the fictional coach of the English national team, titled “Mike Bassett: England Manager.”

The second category is stocked entirely with films that use soccer games as a vehicle for romantic comedy and an uplifting dose of triumph against the odds. Along with “Calcio” — and, from a couple of years ago, the film of Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch,” which never found U.S. distribution — examples include John Forte’s Irish teen movie “Mad About Mambo,” which is co-produced by Phoenix and Polygram; and an untitled Scottish pic (aka “The Match”) written and to be directed by former pro soccer coach Mick Davies, which Rafford Films is producing for Propaganda.

In Forte’s film, currently shooting in Dublin, a schoolboy soccer player with dreams of turning pro decides to learn Latin dance in order to improve his skills. When he seriously injuries a rival player during a game, he inadvertently ruins the hopes of the player’s girlfriend that the couple will win a local dance contest. But that gives him the chance to step into the breach as her partner.

Forte says that Medavoy, something of a soccer fan himself, saw no problem in the fact that the plot mechanics revolved around soccer. The one stricture is that there will be no mention of soccer (or dance, for that matter) in the title, which is going to be changed from “Mad About Mambo.”

“They say that with romantic comedies it’s the female partner who makes the choice to go and see it, so soccerwould be a turnoff,” Forte reports.

In any case, he expects to use far less soccer in his final cut than he has actually filmed, because he has found the game to be “tricky and rather boring on film.”

Rafford’s Allan Scott points out that the advantage of making a film about hopeless amateur players is that they don’t nave to look good at the game, which is the hardest trick to achieve. “The Match” revolves around a century-old grudge fixture between the two pubs in a small Scottish village.

The issue of authenticity is central to the execution of both “Busby’s Babes” and “Best.” Mike Ryan, co-chairman of sales company J&M Entertainment, who is advising McGuekian’s Pembridge Pictures on setting up the George Best biopic, reports that the film will use innovative techniques, including footage of real-life games.

“The way soccer is shot on television now is so sophisticated, that even three, four or five 35mm cameras are not enough to make it look right in a film,” he says. An equal degree of innovation might prove necessary in the financing, given the inbuilt resistance of theatrical distribs to soccer, with options under consideration including a British pay-TV premiere before an international cinema release.

Working Title’s Eric Fellner shrugs off suggestions that the soccer subject matter may be a commercial handicap for “Busby’s Babes.” “It’s not about soccer, it’s about love, life, youth, death. It’s a great British story. Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what a movie is about, it’s about whether the script engages people.”

Significantly, in view of this attempt to engage an audience way beyond soccer’s natural constituency, the screenplay for “Busby’s Babes” is co-authored by two women, Debbie Horsfield and Shawn Slovo.