From Rebecca Gablé’s tales, we now know a lot about the life of the Catanians. One aspect, however, she has withheld from us: Catan is the motherland of soccer*!
This is probably due to the fact that she relied mostly upon English sources.
However, the credibility of these sources may be doubted, as I will demonstrate below. Maybe the English are fighting tooth and nail to defend their reputation as the “motherland of soccer” because their national soccer team’s only World Cup title so far was achieved by means of two irregular goals.
In 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup, Catan players from the western Munsterland region in Germany for the first time put forward the thesis that on Catan, soccer was played much earlier than in England.
I was fascinated by this theory and inquired on my own. Luck was on my side. A couple of days ago, a reputable Catanabilia dealer named Conrad Cowyes offered me parts of the lost Austin chronicle, which deals with sports on Catan.
After reading the first pages, I have to say that the history of soccer must largely be rewritten.
According to this chronicle, already a few years after reaching Catan the Catanians played with inflated sheep stomachs whose shape can still be recognized today in American/Canadian football, Australian rules football, and rugby, the relatives of soccer.
Also, sketches in the Austin chronicle reveal that the Catanians originally played on hexagonal fields. Thus, the midfield was of greater importance, and they must have played a 3-6-1 formation.
They didn’t shoot at goals at this time but at the space between two vertical bars. Since there was no limiting upper bar, short people had no business between the bars.
The Catanians had no problem keeping the turf trimmed short. The many sheep on Catan were effectively used as lawn mowers. The Catanians accepted the fact that the players used to step on droppings and frequently slipped on them, which oftentimes led to a “crappy game,” in the truest sense of the word.
The sheep that proliferated on the soccer fields provided another incentive for the game: some of the sheep were offered as prizes for the winner. However, both the spectators and the losers expected the winners to sacrifice the sheep to Odin afterwards and invite everyone to a feast.
The Catanians were also able to solve the problem of an early form of today’s hooliganism. The fans of the participating teams were separated during the match and could only gather at the corners of the field to support their teams.
Those who respected these rules were allowed to participate in an “afterplay” once the game had ended. During this afterplay, the fans had permission to beat each other up to their hearts’ content. Afterwards, peace reigned for weeks on end.
Those who didn’t stick to the rules were sent to the robbers’ quarry to break rocks.
It was popular among the spectators to bet sheep on the outcome of a game. It is said that some arrived with a lamb and left with a flock of sheep.
But the most important part of the chronicle is the section where Austin describes how the first international soccer match between England and Catan came about, which clearly proves that the English, to a great extent, distorted history in order to present their country as the motherland of soccer.
A storm had cast up an English ship on the coast of Catan. The English sailors were well received by the Catanians and soon came to like the soccer game. At first, the Englishmen were disappointed that their hosts presented them with a soccer ball as a welcome gift.
In their opinion, it was totally worthless because neither was it filled with mead nor could it be used to bash an opponent’s head in.
Sebastian the Itinerant Soccer Player quickly taught them the rules of the game.
And so, the first international soccer match didn’t take place on November 30, 1872 but many centuries earlier, on the island of Catan somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
Here’s what Austin writes in his chronicle about that memorable day when the team of the settlers of Catan and the crew of the English ship faced each other in a soccer match:
“It didn’t start out well for the Catanians because of a dispute between coach Candamir and Osmund, his best player. They couldn’t agree on a tactic. As always, Candamir wanted to use the WM formation, while Osmund favored the new 4-2-3-1 formation.
Although Brigitta implored the gods, the dispute still continued after the game had started. So the Englishmen took advantage of the disagreement between the Catanians and quickly gained the lead.
But the tides turned when the English, at 5 pm sharp, briefly left the field to drink a cup of hot water with a drop of milk. Afterwards, the Catanians rapidly caught up.
Then, when Harald blew his widduzela, the Catanians no longer held back and launched an all-out attack to overwhelm the Englishmen.
Prudently, Sebastian had not told them that the game would end only after the last player was stretchered off the field.
When the moment had come and only Osmund was left, he triumphantly impaled the ball with his sword to denote victory.”
Yet we must give the English credit for not letting this defeat deter them from adopting the game, and for applying some rules changes to make it more playable. They changed the shape of the field, and they made sure that a match lasts only 90 minutes, that the ball is round and that it has to go into a rectangular goal. They also introduced the half-time break so that the players could enjoy their hot water with a drop of milk, which after the conquest of India became the teatime tea. The invention of the penalty shootout was their only mistake, because they should not have established a rule they obviously can not master.
The English only dispensed with the widduzelas. However, other seafarers brought them to the African continent, where they soon became increasingly popular.
If you, dear reader, want to integrate Catan’s soccer aspect into your game, you can download a soccer field and the corresponding rules (in German) here:
As is the case with many variants developed by players, different rules may be applied. Personally, I prefer the following rules, which are slightly different from the rules described in the linked text:
Replace one of the pasture hexes with the soccer field. If the number of the soccer field is rolled, a soccer match takes place between the two players who built a settlement or city at one of the four opposing corners of the field (red circles). Both players roll one die. The high roller receives two sheep from the bank; in case of a tie, each of the two players receives one sheep. If there is only one player with a settlement at a corner, he plays against the bank.
A player who built a settlement at one of the ends of the half-way line may bet one resource card of his choice on one of the two players competing in the soccer match. If the selected player wins the match, the player who placed the bet gets his resource card back and receives one resource of the same type from the bank. In case of a tie, he only gets his resource card back. If the other player wins, his resource is lost.
In the variant with Cities & Knights, you may also bring your fans into play, in the form of knights: if you have one knight adjacent to the soccer field whose number was rolled, you may add their strength to your die roll result. If you are one of the two players competing in the soccer match and are also allowed to bet, you may not bet on your opponent – that’s only possible south of the Alps.
Have fun with this add-on and enjoy the World Cup. And remember: When playing against England, getting to the penalty shootout or giving the English goalkeeper an easy task will suffice to reach the next round.
Dr. Reiner Düren
* The term “soccer” is primarily used in the United States and Canada, while the original term “football” is still used in England and most of the other English-speaking countries.