Ah, the World Cup. Every time I see a ridiculously hyped sports shoe ad featuring ridiculously hyped footballers poncing about with Table Mountain in the background, I’m eight years old again.
The smell of cut grass. Jumpers down for goalposts. “Bags I’m Mario Kempes.” “No, I’m Kempes.” “Sound so, I’ll be Johnny Rep.”
The 1978 World Cup Final. Argentina, the hatchet-tackling hosts, versus Holland, the silky-skilled purveyors of Total Football. No contest, right?
Except just as the ref puts his whistle to his lips to start the game, my mother says, “Now remember, Argentina are the Catholic team. Holland are the Protestants.”
Result? 3-1 to the Pope’s Rovers.
Football has changed since those halcyon days, of course. For starters, you can bet your bottoming-out euro that no contemporary international footballer is heading to South Africa with the intention of defending the honour of the Vatican / Martin Luther / Buddha / et al.
Worse, these days footballers are overpaid whinging cheats. Back in the good old days, the last thing you’d want an opponent to know was that he’d hurt you with a bad tackle. Today it seems like every tackle, good or bad, is an audition for Swan Lake. Then there’s the chaps who can’t wait to take their shirts off to display their unnecessarily tanned and muscular torsos, not to mention the unnatural predilection for orange / yellow / red / green football boots. And the quite frankly embarrassing displays of mutual affection that include hugs, kisses and the patting of behinds …
It’s just not very manly, is it?
Except, unfortunately, it is.
Yon striker rolling around on the ground in agony after a centre-half accidentally brushed up against his perm? It’s just football’s equivalent of the man-cold.
And what man, after achieving a nigh-impossible feat - toe-poking a heavy balloon into an empty rectangular structure, say, or completing a report only two days behind deadline - hasn’t wanted to rip off his shirt and sprint around the office, to slide knees-first towards his adoring fans gathered around the water-cooler?
What man isn’t ridiculously over-paid, at least by comparison with the women gathered around the water-cooler to discuss exactly how useless he is?
What man doesn’t enjoy a little touchy-feely male bonding, be it celebrating a goal, rolling a maul on a mucky pitch or plunging into the scrum at the bar come closing time?
What self-respecting man wouldn’t revel in the mindless adulation of millions of fans for excelling in an utterly pointless exercise?
What man could resist the allure of a war with rules and a referee?
And the man hasn’t been born who can resist the temptation of pointing at a group of other men and chanting - regardless of the language, or the actual lyrics employed - “Ours is bigger / La-la-la / Bigger than yours / La-la-la …”
Hell, the advent of red / yellow / white / orange football boots even allow us to tap into our inner shoe-diva.
Ah, football. How do we love you? Let us count the ways …
As for this year’s winners, Spain look good. Xavi, Iniesta, Torres, Villa, Fabregas. They’re the reigning European Champions, and unbeaten in all competitions since God was a boy. And even though there’s a pretty good chance they’ll come up against the silky-skilled young guns of Holland in the final, they’re Catholics.
No contest. - Declan Burke
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.
Monday, July 5, 2010
The World Cup: Does It Come In Diamante?
I had a piece published in the Irish Examiner about three weeks ago, just in time for the World Cup, suggesting that those who consider today’s game of football a tad less manly than that of yore simply aren’t up to speed on contemporary manliness (image courtesy of drinky.org). I also predicted a Spain v Holland final, except I hadn’t factored in those pesky Germans. To wit: