The other day, I was in the park, and I heard a youngish boy, in the midst of an activity with some of his friends, shout a phrase I hadn’t heard for years. “Me, Pete, Alex, and Chris stick.” Those of you who are British, about my age, and male will no doubt be nodding in nostalgic recognition. Those of you not, well, you might well know what it means too — I’m not sure how far that particular bit of slang propagated, or whether it was ever applicable to things other than what I saw.
What I saw was some boys playing football. What the above phrase means, for those of you in darkness, is that the shouter, Pete, Alex and Chris are one team, and everyone else is the other team. This differs from just choosing those four as a team (and this is where the word stick becomes important) in that if someone new turns up halfway through the game to play, they will automatically be on the other team. “X, Y, and Z stick” is short, perhaps, for “X, Y, and Z stick together against everyone else”.
A fun game of football, as opposed to the increasingly money-burdened and formalised professional inception of the beautiful game, is not only one of life’s true pleasures, and something that practically everyone who used to play it as a boy will look back on with fondness, but is also a thing redolent with strange slang. Most of this slang is peculiar to the boys’ game because of its freewheeling and informal nature; in particular, it’s often unreasonable to assume that there will be an even number of total players, or sufficient players to give members of the team fixed positions in the field. There may not even be a goal, other than that marked out by a couple of piles of jumpers and coats. The other two terms that leap at me from my memory when I think about this are “rush” and “fly”, both pertaining to the goalkeeper.
You see, it’s unlikely that a bunch of lads playing will have enough players that they can mount a reasonable attack and still leave someone in goal the whole time; imagine 6 of them playing, which is by no means an unreasonably low number. If you leave someone permanently in goal, you’ve only got two players to attack with. If your attacking teammate is marked, therefore, you are a little short of choices. (What this actually means is that you make a glory-boy run at goal, which is something that you do all the time anyway, but we’ll leave that aside.) So, the concept of a “rush goalie” was introduced. A game played with the “rush” rule allows the goalkeeper to essentially behave like an attacking player the whole time. This results in all three of our hypothetical players participating in the attack, but does mean that the keeper has to run madly back to his own goal if the other team take possession and begin their own attack. That’s part of the fun. A rush goalie is never bored, and is always more tired than the rest of his friends by the end of the game. But you do get to do everything: attack, defend, save.
Interestingly, proper football rules include the rush rule; the keeper may come out as much as he likes. You see this at the end of desperate matches, where a team one goal behind may throw all eleven players, including their keeper, into the opposing team’s goal area for a corner. Keepers very rarely do come out, though, and hence, I think, it was assumed by all of us that they could not do so under the rules (we were none of us well versed in the minutiae of the FA’s Association Football rulebook). This therefore necessitated a special rule to allow keepers to do so.
“Fly” goalie is a different beast. If you have a rush keeper, he may come out and play, but he has to be the one who runs back. A team with fly keeper may have anyone in goal, and change without warning or notification. So anyone who’s in the area can be goalie and save the ball with their hands. Technically, fly doesn’t grant rush, which means that although anyone can be nominally in goal, someone must always actually be so; one of your team must always remain in your own goal area (but who that is can change arbitrarily). In practice, however, a team granted fly is assumed to have been granted rush as well. Fly goalie wasn’t awarded very much, because it gave the team with fly a big advantage, and because it was open to abuse: when under attack, everyone on your team essentially feels that they can use their hands when in the area, because at that moment they’re implicitly the keeper. In extreme circumstances, some teams would stand in the area and throw the ball to one another, catching it in their hands, on the assumption that the goalkeeper position was passing form one player to the next after it was thrown and before it was caught. Some games tried to patch this up by stating that the change of keeper had to be made explicit in some way (normally just by shouting), but most just didn’t allow fly keepers.
Both rush and fly are agreed before a game starts, in much the same way that house rules are agreed in a game of poker; they’re suggested by someone and then agreed by general acclamation. One player may offer a suggestion for teams: as above, something like “Me, Pete, Alex, and Chris stick.” The other team may then agree, with the proviso that they get rush. In such ways is diplomacy conducted.