What The World Cup Means To Me
As I write we are a matter of minutes away from the beginning of the 2010 World Cup. For football aficionados such as the regular readers of a site like this one (because if you are a regular reader of the site, you regularly flock to a site manned by amateur writers, who have their own entirely separate day jobs, who have never played the game at anything approaching a professional level- though I guess I did have a trial for Crystal Palace when I was 9- there really is no logical reason you should be interested in what we have to say at all) it is easy for others to imagine that the World Cup is some kind of Bacchalian orgy for the senses. Yet often those of us that dedicate our whole loves to the sport have a much altered relationship with a festival that happens once every four years.
I think this would largely be due to our own in built pretentiousness. It`s probably a similar feeling endured by those that actually did see the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club in 1976, we look at the worldwide interest a World Cup briefly invokes as an encroachment on our intellectual property. We are the hardcore, we were pogoing in this beer stained sweat box long before the Mohicans and leather jackets turned up at Finsbury Park for the Filthy Lucre reunion tour. We sneer contemptuously as the "day trippers" ask, "Who is that fella playing the bass? Glen who?" The World Cup is the time when everyone hits "reset" on the expert button and as experts that irks us a little bit. Much in the same fashion, everybody becomes a budding political correspondent in the build up to a General Election, before shuffling back to their idiot boxes to watch Piers Morgan judge who exactly in Britain has talent. (People apparently accept this? Piers Morgan as a judge on an apparently national talent show?! Without a hint of irony or shame! I know, it`s mental isn`t it?)
I`ve never made any secret of my apathy for international football. I don`t have anything inherently against it (bar the stupid, wallet fattening spin off tournaments and friendlies); it`s just having devoted my life to Arsenal for reasons of the heart, I find it hard to genuinely accept another mistress into my life. I don`t normally wish the England team any harm per se, I just fail to get excited about watching them whack another seven goals past Andorra or Macedonia or The Isle of Sark. The concept of nationality is increasingly eroding anyway, as Amos pointed out in the Three Weeks of Glory article, most national teams don`t much bother with where their players are born either. I had to wonder too if anyone else noticed the irony last year of England`s Italian manager Fabio Capello ruling out the selection of Spaniard Manuel Almunia because he believed England`s players should come from England! However, with the tournament now minutes away, I don`t mind admitting that the excitement has gripped me. Why should I be embarrassed to admit that? Back in December 2005, I stood with around 500 Gooners on the terraces at Doncaster Rovers on the Wednesday night before Christmas to watch us get taken to a penalty shoot out via the conduit of a last minute equaliser. Exactly two months later, we were watching Arsenal win at the Bernabeu. Yet I didn`t shove my way through the celebrating hordes and demand, "Yeah, but were you at Doncaster though?"
This is what I have come to learn about my relationship with the World Cup. I`ve learned to surrender with the Pavlovian masses. I too become a casual fan. I too mouth unconvincingly along with the chorus of "God Save the Queen" (the epoch making Pistols tune you understand, not that hideous anthem to colonial and religious oppression that drones out prior to England games). Tomorrow my friends and I have already made plans to arrive at the pub shortly before Korea kick off against Greece and to jolly well stay put until closing time. I imagine Sunday will see a familiar scenario unfold. I have never been to a World Cup game, I have only ever been to one international game (Portugal v Brazil at the Grove and I won the tickets), I doubt if I will ever go to a World Cup game. Such a scenario would be unthinkable with Arsenal, I`ve dusted off my passport for pre season friendlies. I recognise the World Cup as a superficial festival, with increasingly commercial connotations (of course, the Champions League is unblemished on that score, ahem), but I`m happy to take a month off from being too cool for school. I plan to sit back, crack open some lukewarm ones (ale drinker you see) and let the jollity wash over me without taking it too seriously.
I would wager most of us, hardened and seasoned football watchers that we are, will have a fond memory of a World Cup from our childhood. In many cases, it might have been a World Cup that kick started our love for the game. Though I can`t say that`s the case for me personally. I began as a fan in earnest in about 1990, though I remember very, very little of the 1990 World Cup. In any case, with my family becoming a football fan was little more than a formality. For instance, one of the family cats was named Gazza following the tournament in Italy. (My family has a significant Tottenham wing, but then we all have skeletons in the cupboard, don`t we?) But I do recall the 1994 World Cup. Liberated from the suffocating presence of England, the USA World Cup enabled me to drink in the great footballers from afar. It was my introduction to the likes of Bergkamp, Klinsmann, Stoichkov, Romario. Bebeto`s cradling celebration that kicked off a million imitations, the way everyone in England all of a sudden had a spurious Irish connection enabling them to cheer on Eire without fear of reprisal, Roberto Baggio`s ponytail, Leonardo`s elbow, Bulgaria`s brief flurry in the limelight. World Cups undoubtedly forge impressionable memories, particularly on the embryonic minds of budding young football fans. So forgive me reader, if I stop stroking my chin for a month or so and let the fun and games wash over me. I promise I`ll be back and more snooty and condescending than ever come August.LD.