The World Cup Runneth Over

With the advent of the World Cup, that quadrennial nightmare of saturation-coverage which forces my preferred viewing off-screen for an entire month, I have been pressured to justify my ambivalent (nay, negative) feelings toward football.  Initially, I couldn’t be bothered to expend enough mental energy to prepare an answer other than that despite the fondest desires of the mainstream media (and those looking to sell linked merchandise), there is no legal requirement to adore football to the point of the rabid and savage jingoism which seems to engulf otherwise-placid folk.

This was insufficient to repel insistence on elaboration.  I needed something better.  Something true, something filled with such powerful rationality that people would not dare mention football again in my presence.  It turns out that I have so many reasons that most people have shut their pie-holes by the time I am half-way through this list.

I grew up in London in the 1980s and early 1990s.  It was a time of serious and wanton football-related hooliganism between tribes of barely-literate ‘fans’.  News reports of fisticuffs, racism, and rioting were commonplace.  Particularly disturbing was the well-circulated rumour of the ‘Chelsea Smilers’, a gang of Chelsea fans who would either randomly on sight, or in response to failure to answer a Chelsea-related question (either on the street, or when you answered your door at home), beat you up and cut both of the sides of your mouth into macabre grin.  It matters not whether the rumours were true: the point is that it sounded plausible given the climate of the time.  Those associations, made at at such an impressionable age, stick.

My first relationship of any meaning was with an ardent football twit, and whether he could bring himself to act in a bearable human manner depended entirely upon whether his team had won their game.  It could (and frequently did) ruin my week.  Yes, he was an arsehole separately from football but again, the association went in and is not coming out again.

I’ve already alluded to the saturation-coverage and chronic commercialisation that accompanies most football tournaments, but particularly the World Cup.  Round the clock exclusive live pundit-ism, only on Sky Sports/BBC1/BBC2/ITV/ITV2! Buy your World Cup Dingleberry-Sac here  – only $178.92! Of course, this reason is mildly hypocritical since I have no objection to saturation-coverage of Wimbledon.  Sadly for civilisation, even during Wimbledon tennis coverage merely tugs at the trouser-hem of World Cup Football coverage.  Lard alone knows what will happen this year when they are taking place simultaneously.

The unadulterated stupidity of many of the players, combined with their loathesome personalities, juxtaposed to salaries that outstrip the GNP of many small nations is surely enough to make anyone despise what the game has become.

At this point it may surprise you to learn that I have attended two Premier League matches in my life.  Both of them were boring.  I have also been emotionally blackmailed into sitting through multiple televised games, to supposedly enable ‘education’.  I learned that my time would have been more profitably spent watching grass grow.  In over 90 minutes of game, very little happens: a ball meanders slowly from one end of a vast field to the other, and occasionally there are bursts of activity when someone gets a close to the goal.   At both of the football matches I attended, there was a large fat bloke behind me and slightly off to the left, shouting himself hoarse and me half-deaf with such intellectually-superior prose as “THE REFEREE’S A WANKER!”.  It’s not how I want to spend my time.

It troubles me that English football fans, by dint of their tribal associations, include themselves in assessments as somehow determinative of an outcome.  We played a good game, they will say, patting themselves on the back and ordering another pint of wife-beater.   We? We?  No, friend.  Your contribution was limited to lounging about while expelling flatulence and yelling obscenities.

Finally, football is ever-fucking-present.  ‘Season’ is a misnomer of such startling magnitude that one is driven to cry for mercy.  It has finally begun to consume itself: one tournament overlaps another, and is squared to the hypoteneuse with European cups, and cup-winners’-cups.  Football does not cater to the joy of anticipation, or the adage ‘less is more’.

To avoid appearing churlish (ha!) at work, an organisation numbering 19 staff of seven different nationalities, I entered the two – two! – World Cup sweepstakes at a total price of OMG.  I daydreamed as others sought to explain a system so complicated that predictions require an Excel spreadsheet brimming with formulae.  I entered numbers at random.  I dislike football, but I love winning money, and I have it on good authority that my lack of expertise has resulted in entirely realistic predictions.  So it was that my heart begin to soften towards the World Cup.

Usually, traveling from the Tube station to my office is akin to walking through an episode of The Wire.  I pick my way through the corner-folk, trying not to witness any crimes in progress.  The street-drinking starts from 9am (earlier in summer).  Lately, though, things have mellowed.  A curious calm has befallen the area.  Everyone is too busy inside being patriotic.  I quite like it.

This is the housing estate I walk through to get to my office.  I can’t be alone in thinking that the recent adornments are pretty cool.  I’ll actually be disappointed when they are taken down and I recommence having to wade to work through broken beer bottles.

So, football.  The World Cup.  Where do you stand?

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8 Responses to “The World Cup Runneth Over”


  1. 1 kellyg June 18, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    Ok, commenting here from the US and I have to admit, I’m not much of a football fan — your kind of football. (I am also pretty ambivalent about US football too.) And a lot of my feeling about sports comes from my annoyance at hyper-sports fans. I grew up with a brother whose life was determined by how his teams did. It always seemed like an emotional waste of time.

    My two most hated sentences? “We won the game” and “We are pregnant”. There is no “we” in either of those. Only one person is going to be pushing a 13cm head out of a 10cm tunnel. And the players on the field absolutely can not hear you yelling or cheering from your couch.

  2. 2 Antonia June 18, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    I don’t have a telly, so I only have the faintest idea that any football is going on. The only reason I take an interest in the World Cup is to find out when Portugal are playing: our neighbourhood is Little Portugal and the place goes APESHIT when they win a match, with endless driving around and around going BEEEP BEEEEP BEE-BEEEEP until the middle of the night. So I plan ahead and get the fuck out of Stockwell before Portugal games. It was lovely coming home last week to see lots of demoralised people with Portuguese flags draped around their shoulders. I am a spoilsport.

    I hate football. I hate the Neanderthal it brings out in people. I think my view of it is utterly tainted in exactly the same way as yours, having grown up in London since 1971.

    PS Where do you live in London now?

  3. 3 Ashley June 18, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    I like football/soccer a lot. Played in high school (defense/stopper), wasn’t very good. Actually I think I wrote about it in my blog a few weeks back. More fun to play than to watch, at least on TV – still love to watch live matches. I have no team or country affiliation, though. I usually like to see the underdogs win, that goes for just about any sport or competition.

    We have the DVD to “Green Street Hooligans” – have you seen it? Do you think it accurately portrayed what you were describing? FYI, the word “hooligan” doesn’t mean the same thing here, at least not anymore. Here, it’s more of a word an elderly person would use – if they called someone a hooligan you’d think they were upset by someone’s loud music or slang, not because they witnessed someone getting beaten.

    Vincent (an ardent U.S. football fan, former player and current coach) and I had a yelling match in the garage yesterday – our semi-annual “How can you think it’s acceptable that our society rewards entertainers with riches and complains or refuses to fund medicine, education, social reform . . . .?!?!” argument(that’s me). I usually wear him down, as I did yesterday.

    My boss and I had lunch in a pub today. The World Cup was playing and we considered staying to drink and watch England vs. Algeria.

    When the World Cup was in Chicago in the 90s, a boy I liked was able to go (we lived in Kansas) and he brought me back a World Cup keychain that I used for years.

  4. 4 Ashley June 19, 2010 at 1:03 am

    Also, I like a bit of “your team sucks” ribbing, but only when done in good humor. For example, Chicago has 2 baseball teams – the Cubs and the White Sox. *Stereotypically*, North Siders (hip, majority White, more affluent) are Cubs fans while South siders (Black, Mexican, Irish, more working class) are White Sox fans. This is due to the location of the stadiums for each team. We are a Sox family. Many people act a fool over the rivalry, which I think is stupid. It’s fun, though, to throw out a “GO SOX” on a friend’s Facebook page when they’re rooting for the Cubs. I don’t bother when I know they’d take it seriously.

  5. 5 pilgrimchick June 20, 2010 at 12:25 am

    I remember how big the World Cup was when I was living in the UK. The best time to visit the supermarket was anytime England was playing anyone. Here in the US, there isn’t much World Cup fervor–in fact, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who could tell you what channel is running the matches.

  6. 6 nic June 20, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    @kellyg: yes! ‘we’ are pregnant! Gah.

    @Ashley: I love a bit of ‘your team’s crap’ myself – just not when connected to football!

    @Antonia: hey, you live where I work!

  7. 7 Jenn @ Juggling Life June 20, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    This is the first World Cup where I can remember the United States really caring. Since most of the kids I teach are Mexican it is a huge, huge deal. My family are pretty big sports fans, so my life lately has been the NBA finals, regular baseball and the the World Cup.

    The U.S.A/England game did introduce us to the term, “It’s a howler,” which we were not familiar with and are enjoying using very much.

  8. 8 Leota Glueckert June 28, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    I was looking for a meds site when I came across your post in a google search. I agree you with your post completely. Couldn’t of said it better myself.


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