Throughout history sport has had an intimate relationship with animals; horse racing, running with bulls, hump the camel. An American football is nicknamed ‘pigskin’ after the original practice of running with and throwing a piglet with the aim of depositing it safely in the ‘Penzone’. Also curling, which didn’t involve an animal but the object did have a certain organic intimacy.
Football cemented its relationship with animals after matches which regularly turned into dogfights adopted the practice of allowing players to carry a puppy to discourage animosity. Teams would ‘shake paws’ before kick off and exchange compliments and grooming tips. After a heavy tackle aggrieved players would offer a treat, ruffle each other’s puppies and play on. Immediately acts of aggression and ‘barking obscenities’ plummeted.
Alas, over time animal rights activists proved incidences of the practice of ‘Keepy-puppy’ were on the rise, also some puppies seemed unnaturally docile on match day with evidence found that sedatives were being used to quell urges to chase the football or perform a ‘clean tackle’ on their own balls. FIFA then decided to impose a ban.
Now after strict rules over welfare and image rights have been implemented puppies are set to come off the bench and provide much-needed comfort in the event of conceding a goal, being ‘carded’ or suffering a humiliating ‘muttmeg’. Puppies with the ability shift position instinctively, to increase the centre of gravity and swerve with its master – even head the ball – are being trained and will undoubtedly be transferred between players as frequently as current ‘wags’.
FIFA also plan to credit puppies with assists if they contribute positively to a goal, also goalkeepers’ puppies on a short elastic lead ‘may leave their masters’ hands briefly in defence of an attempt on goal. Medically, a well-trained puppy can act as an immediate tourniquet or swab to stem blood loss from an injury, also balanced on the head a colour-coordinated ‘cranine’ can hide what a series of painful and expensive transplants cannot.
With clubs set to offer puppy kits, accessories and grooming products it looks like football and its merchandising are on the pup.