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World Cup: modern warfare. Plus: Guys, I’m trying to watch the game!

June 20, 2010

My first post on this blog was about how much I loathe football. Well, that’s at all times besides World Cup time, because, like many football haters, it’s impossible not to get caught up in some kind of nationalism when the WC comes around. It’s just churlish and actually, for those of us not used to being “fans”, it’s quite fun for once caring – along with mankind – what happens. And then there’s the added bonus of being able to weigh in at world round the water cooler – “Italy looked so tired!” or “Jesus! How could Rooney have missed that cross?!” Or “I think Cacau from Germany was looking really strong” . For one month every four years, I get a glimpse of what most men go through on a weekly basis – and we all know most fans care more about club football than international so you really have to quadruple any World Cup feelings to get a sense.

But anyway, it’s the only time that England becomes so weirdly, politcally incorrectly patriotic – when chavs and hooligans join forces with respectable types to fly the St George’s Cross flag from their windows, courtesy in many cases, of the Sun newspaper. My personal favourites are the little flags that people attach to their cars with special plastic fixtures, that flutter vigorously in the wind as they drive. So cheery to see naked patriotism when such vestiges of authenticity-  in the UK particularly – are ever-more obscured by self consciousness and, more crucially, by the fear of offending our immigrant friends. Well at World Cup time, it’s “all foreigners beware: you’re in England now!”

Anyhoo, I’m supporting England for the remaining four seconds that they are in the tournament. You don’t need me to tell you about the team’s problems – it’s everywhere obvious, the harrowing psychological state of ’em. But still, even if it is like watching a slow-mo car crash, I want to watch them play. And this-  for someone as football blind as me- means concentrating. Well, I’m used to the men who fly into rages at the women who try to talk to them when they’re watching the football. In fact, a football-mad colleague of mine told me he was going to go home to watch it because in the pub people keep distracting him and last time he had to stand on his own in a corner.

So there was I, meeting a friend and her completely sports-obsessed, consummate fan of a boyfriend in a public house to watch the match (I’d cancelled a dinner for it, so devoted am I), and lo and behold, it was HE who kept chatting to ME while I was trying to watch the match. I kept peering over his head at the TV screen while his words washed over me, occasionally darting him some eye contact and nodding to be polite. Take that for role reversal.

Finally, another reason international football is interesting is its similarity to warfare – in the old days young strong men went out and battled other countries on the field. The finest physical specimens were the most valued soldiers. Well, now we’ve got this lovely set of battles between countries on the relatively non-violent forum of the pitch. Of course, instead of facing death (or the chance to live) for being valiant, they face global adulation, more money and more endorsements. And if they aren’t valiant, a fate almost as bad as a battlefield death: shame. And in 2010, England knows all about that.

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