Sunday, June 04, 2006

The World Cup

I'm starting to feel the onset of the first symptoms of world cup fever. It's something in the air - the sunshine, the smell of cut grass and... oh yes, of course, the relentless media hype, advertising tie-ins and world cup history programmes on the tele probably have something to do with it too. I' m quite excited. It's difficult to explain what it feels like - difficult to describe why I feel like this. When I think of the World Cup I think of glorious colours - Brazilian Yellow, Italian blue, Argentian white and sky blue stripes and, of course, the deep, lush (and wholly unnatural) green of the pitches. I think of certain goals and certain games I've enjoyed in the past - Cameroon's defeat of Argentina in the opening game of Italia '90, when Platini missed his penalty kick against Brazil in 1986, England vs Argentina in 98 which, despite certain players' temper tantrums was a really fantastic match (remember Owen's goal?), Brazil vs Holland in 94, and Bergkamp's thumping goal against I forget who in 98. There's a certain heightened reality about world cup time - a 'hyperreality' if we're going to get all Baudrillardian about it (and why not?) - that torrent of colours, those famous players from around the world, the names (which sound so exotic to the English ear) - Ronaldo, Branco, Papin, Caniggia, Batistuta, Milla, Baggio, Raul - and the sheer pleasure of most of it overload the brain. It's the fantastical made (hyper-)real for 3 or 4 weeks. I'm getting carried away aren't I! Sorry.

The term 'hyperreality' is especially apt, though, because Baudrillard uses it to describe something which is, although more real than real, in some sense utterly false, too. Hyperreality is driven by simulacra - simulations of the real - often almost entirely concocted or fabricated by the media. The World Cup, of course, doesn't really exist in the form that you and I know it. We see the relentless media hype, the endless replays, the interminable 'analysis' and the gale force hype pumped into our heads 24 hours a day for weeks and weeks before and during the competition. The World Cup is, at root, a series of instances of 22 men running around on grass for 90 minutes - but this isn't the World Cup as we know it. The World Cup we experience is amplified, airbrushed, edited, distorted, inflated and so on by several layers of broadcast media, corporate propaganda and advertising. Even though I know this - I still love it.

I'm holding firm to my not-supporting England decision, however. Not decided yet, who else to support, if anyone in particular. There was a good article in the Observer (there's a first for everything) yesterday by Michael Henderson on this very subject of anti-patriotic feeling. Henderson goes for the jugular in his description of those overpaid, infantile wankers known as 'the England Team'. After laying into Ferdinand, Rooney and Beckham, Henderson continues:

Then there are the other players who must remain unnamed: the one who casually handed a cabbie £1,000 for a journey back to Manchester after a night's carousing in London; the one who halted his 4x4 in a Soho street, blocking the traffic, wandered into a record shop and threw the CD's wrapping out of the window as motorists hooted; the one who told a police officer who was warning him about his drunken behaviour: 'The youth of today look up to people like me.'

They make a lovely bunch.But their immaturity should not be so surprising when the game is infested by small armies of mediocrities and few men of substance. Surely no other human pastime attracts so many nest-featherers and show-offs

Then there are the fans:

The English football fan, when surrounded by hundreds of his kin, remains a national embarrassment. Why else would the German police feel it necessary to announce that they will not tolerate Nazi salutes or offensive songs during the World Cup? Because they know that English fans cannot get through a game, or an afternoon on the pop, without offering the locals insults, obscenities and cracked heads.


Four summers ago, I watched the World Cup final between Germany and Brazil in my favourite bar, a mile from the Olympic Stadium that will stage this year's grand contest. No Berliner present that day wore a replica shirt, shouted abuse at the other team or got drunk, though strong drink was certainly taken.

Finally, it's the moronic punditry's turn for a pasting:

As we approach the tournament, all those illiterate telly pundits will bump up England's chances and brush up their German cliches. 'Teutonic efficiency' they will tell us - yawn - as if that lazy phrase could account for Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Wagner and all those painters, writers, scientists and philosophers. In football, it is a good list, too. Even if we start in 1966, which brought our day in the sun, the Germans have had Beckenbauer, Maier, Breitner, Muller, Vogts, Overath, Grabowski, Netzer, Bonhof, Schuster, Rummenigge, Klinsmann, Matthaus and Sammer. Rather better than our lot, wouldn't you agree?

Exactly. I still haven't seen any reference to 'the hun' or the war, or Hitler in anything I've seen so far - I don't doubt they've already started. It's embarrassing - the way the English hold on so desperately to the 1940s. 'Two world wars and one world cup' - we'll hear a lot of that 'amusing' little chant from the 'fans'. I hope the Germans don't stand for it. Perhaps I shouldn't say this - and of course, I'm not normally one for police brutality - but I always get a slight, perverse thrill when I see those drunken, bald headed, bare chested thugs throwing beer glasses and chairs in some foreign street get what they deserve from watercanon and cops in riot gear.

Incidentally, I don't quite agree with everything Henderson says in that article, but the general sentiment, and certainly the quoted paragraphs above, seem absolutely spot on to me.

There's more on Ingerland supportery at the Red Pepper site, where Mike Marquesee debates the issue with Mark Perryman. Somehow, it doesn't quite get to the heart of the matter - a little frustrating - but it's worth a read nevertheless.

This post, by the way, is dedicated to Stroppyblog.


I think I might support Japan (in addition to all underdogs on a match-to-match basis) - they're a fairly skilful team from what I remember and it would be nice to see an East Asian team do well in world football since every other continent has its world class team(s). Plus their fans are wonderful (no pun intended).

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