Slide tackles | Football proceeds on ice, in the name of research

Traditional elements of games below latitude 75ºS appear in this January 2003 match at Halley Research Station: irregular white surface with tractor treads, bulky kit, 55-gallon drums as goals, multiple photographers. (British Antarctic Survey)

Halley Research Station, Antarctica (U.K. claim) | The Kansas City Star shirks no continents in a summary of how world cultures will be captivated by the forthcoming World Cup finals. An e-mail exchange with Simon Herniman, general assistant at the British Antarctic Survey’s most isolated station, confirms that radio and Internet will aid researchers as they track England matches as well as the rest of the competition.


My main medium will be radio broadcasts, which suits me just fine. Audio commentary is fantastic—you get loads more feedback from the crowd for a start and it’s much more dramatic.

Otherwise I’ll have to watch the minute-by-minute updates on the [Internet]. This, however, can be stressful. While the screen refreshes itself you have to fret pointlessly for a moment awaiting either a dodgy offside decision or three goals in 7 minutes.

We applaud writer Pete Grathoff for his dogged pursuit of this story, although a few editorial oversights gave us a slight facial tremor as we worked through an otherwise excellent survey. The names of two of the greatest performers in World Cup lore, Eusebio da Silva and Zinedine Zidane, were misspelled, and Grathoff refers to Colombia having played its final six qualifying matches for the 1994 finals not in South America but in the United States. Huh? Also, Herniman in his e-mail apparently confuses one former Liverpool manager for another in attributing the “football is much more important than that (i.e., life and death)” quote to Bob Paisley rather than Bill Shankly.

Oh, well. It’s the thought that counts.

Copyright © 2006 NASA

In any case, what was in the main a carefully prepared article to give readers in the American heartland a sense of the tournament’s drawing power led us on a fruitful search for examples of football culture in a part of the world ever obscured on the base of desk-model globes. Diaries that form part of the British Antarctic Survey’s extensive research mission in meteorology, seismology, glaciology, radio astronomy, aurora and airglow effects and geomagnetism display concern with playing the beautiful game regardless of conditions. In this way the modern explorers share kinship with the missionaries of the late 19th century who spread the game from their way stations.

“Football is our sport,” continues Herniman, in his e-mail transcript with the Kansas City Star. “Each of us who has ever played football will live those missed tackles, ballooned shots and 30-yard free kicks as though we were on the pitch.”

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