Archive for June, 2006

Stop reading the papers or how I learned to stop worrying and love the World Cup

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

Chapter One. He adored The World Cup. He idolized it all out of proportion – er, no, make that: he – he romanticised it all out of proportion. – Yes. – To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a competition that existed in the gleaming yellow of Mexico ‘70 and pulsated to the great tunes of New Order. – Er, tsch, no, missed out something. – Chapter One. He was too romantic about The World Cup, as he was about everything else. To him, The World Cup meant the beautiful game and street-smart players who seemed to know all the angles. – No, no, corny, too corny for a man of my taste.

I love the World Cup.

From the pre-tournament collections of goals which are worth seeing a thousand times to the Panini by proxy of a friend’s ten year old and his collection of stickers. From the opening ceremony of curious lack of tedium to the first exchanges to the stressing over the performances of the England side to the glorious dawn of that nation and the cut and thrusts of Africans and Asians to burst the football bubbles of Europe – Czech Republic the second best team in the world? Tell Ghana that – and on and on and on.

I love the moments of the World Cup – Park Ju Sung’s knee taking the ball over Fabian Barthez and the reaction of William Gallas to the second French draw. For one game Zindane Zidane, Thierry Henry (Best striker in the World TM) et al are put into a situations where the fearsome reputations they have acquired are moot and they are what they are – the sum of their performance.

Stop the World Cup now and Brazil’s superstars are Kaka and a guy called Fred and not anyone called Ron-anything. The World Cup is not a respector of reputations – it is a creator of them.

I like to think of The World Cup as a genuinely multi-polar event. Not only multi-polar but multi-objectivised. Pick any group of four and one gets a team which aims to win The World Cup, two that want to get out of the group and one which is happy to go home with heads held high. The aims of a Trinidad & Tobago are so different from those of England that when the two meet the game is not the same as a Premiership clash – even be that the opening Wigan vs Chelsea game. The fact that T&T go into today’s final group games with a chance of qualification is testament to this fact. The one point from two that was a draw they got with Sweden and wanted against England would be a poor Premiership or League One return but could go a way to seeing them through.

Multi-polar because each team has a contradictory agenda not only of success but aims to success. Svennis’s England want wins, T&T wanted a draw and to assume that desire and decent performance alone can override someone else’s agenda is to misjudge the nature of the event.

Yet it is this misjudgement which seems to govern the media.

This morning Radio Five Live talked about putting three or four past Sweden as if it were just a matter of having the will and passion to do so. The rest of the media suggest we have played poorly against T&T and Paraguay ignoring entirely the will of those two teams.

Both looked for the point that would have kept their World Cup alive and both could have got it. The fact that those teams are viewed on the whole in the newspapers as being the football equivalent of jam cars there to block England’s progress and not to attempt to progress themselves – even if progress comes from blanket defending – is condescending to the point of insult. It is “Johnny Foreigner can’t play” thinking.

Not that that concerns me. I have long since stopped reading newspapers and try not to pay too much attention to the corporate news media and seem to enjoy this (and perhaps other) events all the more for it. I’ll be damned if I let someone interpret what I have witnessed for me and tell me that winning 2-0 against a blanket back eight is a bad result.

I’m not going to listen to people telling me that Ronaldinho must be feared when Kaka is pulling the strings. I’m not going to hear about how if we don’t underestimate Paraguay we can give them a good pasting.

Perhaps I’m stubborn after watching twenty five years of Bradford City and a few more of Liverpool and Forest in Europe before that or perhaps I just remember the Rodney Marsh style critique of City’s Premiership chances and how poorly they were based on reality – “Watford will stay up, they were great in 1984 after all” – but I do not trust those views.

I love The World Cup. It is full of hope and joy and disappointment and consternation and is strange and brilliant and horrible and wonderful all at once. That is self-evident. Do yourself a favour and fold the paper up, do the gardening instead of watching Sky Sports and mute the TV and turn to your sofa mates to discuss the game at half and full time.