Detesto futebol, odeio-o com todas as minhas forças. Desde que, em criança (ainda se escrevia football, na altura), me obrigaram a jogar a bola, sem eu ter jeito nenhum para aquilo, nunca mais pude ver sem repulsa uma bola à minha frente.
Para cúmulo, vim em 1980 viver para Lisboa junto do estádio de Alvalade e, volta e meia, vejo a minha rua invadida pelos carros dos adeptos que nos roubam todo e qualquer possível lugar para estacionar.
Gostava de saber por que é que os estádios têm de ser construídos no centro da cidade e por que é que não aproveitaram o 2004 para os levar para bem longe daqui, fazendo até umas massas com a venda dos terrenos.
Futebol na TV? Não me diz absolutamente nada, e mudo de canal rapidamente.
Os artigos aqui transcritos certamente falam do fenómeno “futebol” melhor do que eu e por isso aqui ficam para quem interesse.
Lopo de Carvalho
Agora é a sério. Odeio futebol. Odeio. Como odiava óleo de fígado de bacalhau. Fui feita sócia do Benfica, sem ser ouvida, ainda antes de ser registada como cidadã. Tal como todos os meus irmãos, não tive sequer direito a optar. Neste campo, a ditadura paterna não permitia opiniões democráticas. Ainda me tentaram levar à Luz para ver se me iluminava as ideias e se aprendia qualquer coisinha sobre o nobre e glorioso desporto, que de nobre nada tem, pois que ganham por cada chuto mais do que o prémio Nobel por uma vida inteira de trabalho.
Via a minha mãe de almofada encarnada para não destoar, aos berros e aos palavrões, numa desenfreada militância, desdizendo tudo o que nos tinha ensinado que uma senhora nunca diria. Via um rol de senhores: o senhor do café, o senhor dos jornais, o senhor da repartição das finanças e outros senhores «cativos» a fazerem-se magrinhos para eu caber - «é a menina do sotôr?» - olhando para mim com um misto de curiosidade e medo (esta
criancinha vai berrar e encher-nos as costas de sorvete). Mas os senhores que se faziam magrinhos para eu me entrincheirar entre eles gritavam como vikings e passavam a vida levantados, de tal forma que eu nem o campo via; de maneira que passados cinco minutos, ousei perguntar se ainda faltava muito para «aquilo» acabar. Acho que o «aquilo» deixou o meu pai em profunda depressão, o que foi remédio santo: nunca mais me levou.
Depois, irritava-me aquela coisa de não se poder fazer nada nos dias de jogo do Benfica. Andava-se em bicos dos pés e do resultado do jogo dependiam coisas vitais para mim como a hora de deitar ou a dose de sopa ao jantar. Enfim, aquilo chateava-me porque os humores em minha casa ficavam dependentes do número de bolas à trave, da personalidade do árbitro e da mãe dele, do QI do treinador e do fôlego dos rapazes. Irritava-me a oscilação nos sentimentos, a alegria e a tristeza da semana inteira, avaliadas pelo número de bolas enfiadas numa rede. Aquilo era injusto. Começou assim o meu ódio. Sobretudo por isto. Sobretudo por dar comigo a torcer para que o Benfica ganhe, para ele (pai, marido, filho) não me moer a paciência - que o jantar está péssimo, que a minha mãezinha não me ensinou a cozinhar, que estamos num país de bandalhos, que o herói/vilão devia ser torrado no forno e outras coisas mais. É que os homens no «depois» embirram com tudo, açoitam quem está por perto, perdem o norte e o sul, enjoam, fecham a cara e têm comportamentos bem piores do que os nossos naquelas alturas do mês em que nos apetece matar o mundo.
Está certo. Reconheço que é um desporto que move multidões e milhões. E que é lindo (imagino). E que toda a gente tem opinião formada. E que é tão importante, mas tão importante para a nação que até interrompe comentadores políticos a meio do Telejornal, para nos dar as últimas da incapacidade psicológica de um «grunho» qualquer para jogar à bola, que me deixa a mim com total incapacidade psicológica para reagir. Quando quero saber alguma coisinha mais, seja porque estou de insónia ou porque perdi os noticiários da hora de jantar, sou forçada a ouvir as últimas do Boavista, do cromo do Sporting, da SAD, ou então a assistir impávida na plateia, ao desfile em câmara lenta dos melhores golos da jornada, a última coisa da jornada inteira que me interessa saber. Mas porque será que eu, simples cidadã, que odeio toda a novela de futebol, sou condenada a digerir esta praga multiusos e profiláctica que serve realmente para tudo o que é realmente importante para os portugueses? Porque será que eu, simples cidadã, sou obrigada a ter de entrar naquelas lojas desinteressantíssimas que vendem enxovais completos com águias bordadas e que invariavelmente todos os anos o meu filho se deixa contagiar pelo «design» estilizado do passarinho e me derrete semanadas em últimas colecções?
A coisa anda a fermentar entre gente de todo o lado, de todos os quadrantes, de todos os géneros. Gente que opina politicamente correcto, com argumentos que oscilam entre o encarnado, o verde e o azul, separando airosamente o povo em fatias de fanatismo. Odeio aquilo. É um desporto nacional? E os outros todos? Não são desportos ou não são nacionais? Não há, nem pode haver grandes talentos, com grandes tempos de antena no ténis, nem no hóquei, nem na equitação. Ficamos a saber. Não têm cobertura. Só estes fenómenos, psicologicamente afectados, com umas mulheres a rebentarem de «sexys», intelectualmente «sexys», de cortes de cabelo à piaçaba, e pernas feitas de aço, representam a nação em «prime time», minam os jornais e comovem o povo. É popular, caramba, e eu devo ser «grunha» porque não gosto do que os outros gostam, nem de quem o inventou e importou para Portugal. São estes os quase únicos talentos portugueses, matulões de barba rija, que às vezes, algumas vezes (a culpa é do fado nacional) até se dão ao luxo de cobrir o país de luto, entupindo tempos de antena com a descoberta profunda da verdadeira razão da derrota, o contrato de não sei quantos milhões de euros que foi para o galheiro, os amuos e as ofensas dos rapazes no balneário. Valerá a pena?
Imaginem esta fertilidade desalmada de estádios novos a nascerem no Euro 2004 (vou imigrar um mês inteiro), num país que está como se vê à procura de prioridades. Socorro! Tirem-me daqui e deixem-me respirar. Odeio que me obriguem a olhar para uma bola a fugir de uma multidão de bardos aos gritos, para sentir que estou no meu país, que nunca à custa disto (como se chama aos piolhos num colégio de meninos-bem: «Isto») ganhámos fosse o que fosse e que o futebol manda em mim, nas horas da minha casa, no humor dos meus filhos e no meu, o que é ainda pior... Que transtorno, valha-me Deus!
From Volume 24 Number 13 | cover date 11 July 2002
29 May. Everyone I know is obsessed with Roy Keane's tournament-ending public diatribe against the Ireland manager, Mick McCarthy. 'Who the fuck do you think you are, having meetings about me? You were a crap player, you are a crap manager. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are manager of my country and you're not even Irish, you English cunt. You can stick it up your bollocks.' Mark points out that 'you're not even Irish, you English cunt' is like something out of Beckett. Andy wonders whether 'you can stick it up your bollocks' is an Irish expression or a stroke of inspiration on Keane's part. Myself, I take a more Derridean/psychoanalytic view and think this is a classic example of an aporia: since it is physically impossible for McCarthy to stick something up his bollocks, what Keane is actually signalling, in making an unfulfillable request, is that he doesn't want to play in the World Cup.
In the evening, to a Waterstone's gala dinner. The first speaker is Henry Cooper. He says something relevant, apropos Mike Tyson: 'when someone goes arahnd bitin' people's ears off and punchin' refs, that only tells me one fing: 'e doesn't want to be in the ring.' Precisely.
Cooper's other good remark, about the desperately low quality of opponents for Audley Harrison, the boxer whom the BBC has paid one million pounds: 'they keep on diggin' up dead bodies for 'im to knock dahn.'
30 May. First day of the Second Test against Sri Lanka. Was away for the First Test so this is my first chance to see some cricket this season. But at eight in the morning, a South African gardener rings the doorbell and starts carrying enormous rolls of turf through the house. It turns out today is the day M. has booked a whole set of heavy-duty gardening jobs. The garden is right beside the sitting-room so he will be able to watch me watching the cricket while he does heavy manual labour. Bollocks. I decide that I have the strength of character to butch it out and watch the cricket anyway. Besides, it's raining in Edgbaston and there won't be any play until after lunch. Do some work, go out for a coffee, back in time for the start of play and - disaster. There are now three hard-working South Africans in the garden. One I could handle, two is marginal, three is no-go. They would probably take an interest in the game, come over to the door to ask how it was going, proffer opinions about the state of the game etc, all while I just sat there. Damn. So I go upstairs and self-righteously listen to the game on the radio. Sri Lanka are all out for 162.
31 May. France 0 Senegal 1 in the opening match. This is officially the biggest shock of all time, though the previous winners have in fact won the opening game only twice in the last seven World Cups. Globalisation fact: all 11 Senegal players play in France; only one of the Frenchmen does.
1 June. Cameroon 1 Ireland 1. The boys are heroic in the second half; Cameroon are skilful and, as they were in the 1990 World Cup, physically enormous.
Mark tells me about Roy Keane's alleged description of his Man United colleague Juan Sebastian Verón, the most expensive player in the Premiership: '28 million pounds of Argentinian shite'.
2 June. England 1 Sweden 1. England play well in the first half but fall apart in the second. They lose their shape, are reduced to wellying the ball endlessly forward, and seem exhausted. My source in Japan told me months ago that the heat and humidity would be a big problem for us, and it looks as if he is right. As Bobby Charlton said about Mexico in 1970, 'you get used to the altitude, but you never get used to the heat.'llll
The underreported truth is that England are challengers not for this World Cup but for the next one, in Germany in 2006; and perhaps for the European Championship in 2004. The average age of the current team (minus goalie Seaman) is 23. But they need to find some left-footed players before then. This is the second tournament they've gone into without one in midfield, and it is a bit like trying to drive a car with one wheel missing.
Objectively speaking, 1-1 is an OK result, especially since the Swedish coaches went to college with Eriksson and they can all read each other's minds. But we needed to sneak a win here to go through, I feel. The Argies will be too good for us, and then we will be vulnerable to their reaching an arrangement with the Swedes in the last group game.
3 June. It's amazing how tenacious historical patterns are in football. National traits seem to survive despite all the personnel being different. Brazil, for instance, are supposed to be no good, and boring to boot; they only just squeaked into the finals, narrowly ahead of mighty Honduras. Their coach Scolari is supposed to have them playing dreary percentage football. But against Turkey they play the most exciting football yet seen in an already very exciting World Cup. Ronaldo looks back to form for the first time since before the final in 1998. Despite being four years older he still looks eerily like Bugs Bunny. He has one of those faces which make it hard to imagine what he's going to be like when he's older. It's hard to imagine a 60-year-old Bugs Bunny double.
Another historical pattern was that we haven't beaten Sweden since 1968. But that's no comfort going into the Argentina game. We haven't beaten them since 1966.
5 June. Germany 1 Ireland 1. Have to go out today, so set the video to tape the game and take steps not to hear the result until getting home (i.e. leave the car radio at home on purpose). But I'm so proud of myself for being able to use the video timer that I get the time wrong and tape two hours of daytime TV. So I have to watch the highlights instead. It's probably just as well since I'm not sure my nerves could have stood this, with Ireland scoring in the second minute of extra time. How much of a prat must Roy Keane feel?
6 June. Argentina 0 England 1. Hard to calm down after the game. In fact I have to have a nap in mid-afternoon to decompress. Partly I suspect because I watched it on my own. When you do that you concentrate harder and it takes more out of you, as Ian Hamilton said: 'I don't play football any more, but you should see me watch it.' Underlying this is the point that a football match isn't a spectacle but an experience: you don't look at it, you live through it.
This was England's best performance for years - since beating the Netherlands 4-1 at Wembley in 1996, perhaps. The Argies are one of the best teams in the world; before today, in fact, they were my tip for the World Cup. And England outplayed them. Amazing. Two small things that helped: the Sapporo Dome is temperature and humidity-controlled, which helped us to run around so energetically; and, from his time in Italy, Eriksson knows many of the Argentine players better than he knows our team. This always helps the underdog (as it did, the other way around, in Sweden v. England).
Six people on the field are completely bald: the ref, Pierluigi Collina (alopecia); Rio Ferdinand (fashion); Sol Campbell (ditto); Danny Mills (male pattern baldness plus shaving); Juan Sebastian Verón (fashion); Trevor Sinclair (fashion). Four of the Argentine players have absurd poodle perms: Pochettino (who gives away the crucial penalty), Placente, Sorín, Ortega. But we win the battle of the stupid hair, thanks to Beckham's mohican and Seaman's ponytail. ¡Olé!
8 June. Thanks to Italy's 2-1 loss to Croatia - a defeat helped by their having two entirely valid goals denied by the Danish linesman, but never mind - the Cup is going into its third round with Italy, Germany, Argentina and France all facing a realistic chance of elimination. That's never happened before.
This, finally and belatedly, is a justification for Fifa's policy of expanding the Cup. They took the number of teams up to 24 in 1982; the reasons were essentially political, to do with soliciting votes from the Third World. The result was 1. that there were too many duff teams and 2. there was a problem in then reducing the numbers to 16 for the knockout stage. Only eight teams would be knocked out. The structure of the Cup came to involve six groups, with the two top teams going through, joined by the four third-placed teams with most points. This system encouraged boring, cagey football, with canny sides having one eye on the points table at all times, rather than simply setting out to win their matches. Now, however, thanks to the gradually improving standards of world football - due in no small part to globalisation, with most countries' best players now playing in the world's best leagues - Fifa have been able to go up to a Cup of 32 teams. This means that only the top two teams in each group go through, which in turn is making the football at the group stage much more competitive and interesting.
9 June. At the last World Cup the cameramen would often, when Brazil were playing, focus in on Ronaldo's blonde girlfriend in the crowd. What we didn't know, but is revealed in Alex Bellos's terrific book about Brazilian football culture, Futebol (Bloomsbury, 256 pp., £9.99, 6 May, 0 74755 403 x), is that he went on to marry a different blonde, Milene Domingues, who had the distinction of being the Brazilian champion at keeping a ball bouncing in the air without touching the ground. Her record was 55,187 times over nine hours and six minutes. She married Ronaldo in 1999. 'She became a particularly unconventional footballer's wife not simply because she could enjoy kickabouts with her husband but because her close-to-body ball control was better than his.'
Things to worry about before the Nigeria game. 1. (again) the heat. The kick-off is mid-afternoon, and there's no Sapporo Dome air-conditioning. 2. the precedent of Euro 2000. We went into the final game there also needing only a point, against a team, Romania, we thought we would beat without too much trouble. We had just beaten a team we hadn't beaten since 1966 and were on a resulting high. On Wednesday we need a point against a team we should beat and are on a high from beating a team we haven't beaten since 1966.
On the other hand, the Nigerians apparently haven't yet been paid by their national association. That can't be good.
11 June. France 0 Denmark 2. Ireland 3 Saudi Arabia 0. Hee hee. What smug twerps the French have been, both on the pitch and by not rebuilding the team after winning the Cup in 1998. They didn't even look as if they were trying all that hard until the last half of this, the third game. A bit like not bothering to vote for Jospin say I.
John was watching the game in a local French café called Gastro. On the final whistle he commiserated with the owner. 'Of course,' shrugged M. le Patron, in a what-do-you-expect way, 'most of the team play in England.' Superb.
The Irish record in World Cup finals is a thing of smoke and mirrors, really, since in two tournaments they've only won one game - they've done as well as they have thanks to draws. So this result was a big deal; it's very difficult to go into a game knowing you need a multi-goal win to be sure of going through. Wonder if Keane is still telling people that McCarthy is a crap manager.
Photographer came from a newspaper today. He is jaundiced about football thanks to the amount of time he has spent covering hooligan stories abroad. Talks about how horrible they are and how preferable it is being in a proper war zone (which he often is). He said one of his happiest moments during Euro 2000 was when the Belgian police waded into the English fans with water cannon, riot sticks etc. These are startling things to hear from such a quiet, decent, mild-mannered man. It would be truly wonderful if there were no trouble attached to England's presence in this World Cup.
Current favourite names: Pape Bouba Diop, Stig Tofting, DaMarcus Beasley.
12 June. Nigeria 0 England 0. One of the strange things about football is that it can be simultaneously tense and boring. This game was close to unwatchable for the degree to which it was both. The England team visibly struggled in the heat and humidity. Saturday is awfully close for their next match. Still, at least the Argies are out, and we should - should - beat Denmark. And they will have almost a week to get ready for Brazil on the subsequent Friday.
Sir Alex Ferguson, before the tournament, was saying obnoxious Scottish things about wanting Argentina to win because he wanted Verón to vindicate himself after his disastrous season at Manchester United. In the end Verón was a joke, and if Sir Alex thinks the English press have been unfair to him he should swot up on Spanish and take a look at what they're writing about him in Argentina. Nobody likes admitting being wrong but with successful football managers this approaches a pathology. Partly I suppose this reflects the intensity with which they hate the press. I'll never forget the atmosphere of the post-game press conferences when I used to write match reports - electric with animosity and anticipation. The managers, straight out of the dressing room, would try to say as little as possible, all too aware that nothing good could happen to them in front of the press; the only meaningful event that could take place was for them to let something slip which would then be plastered all over the back pages.
Rio Ferdinand had another huge game. He was in Japan on a post-season tour with Leeds last June when a loony ran amok in a school and stabbed 23 children, of whom eight died. Ferdinand is from Peckham, where Damilola Taylor was murdered, and spoke prominently about that, so he and Alan Smith went to the school to express their condolences. This is exactly the kind of thing that English footballers tend not to do, so good for him. This was his first time back to Osaka since then.
Mulling over what the photographer said about hooligans, it occurred that part of what is so awful about them is that occasions like this are supposed to be the most benign form of nationalism. It is nationalism in homeopathic doses. So people who take it as a good opportunity to hurt and frighten foreigners are being not just stupid and malign but are trying to kill an idea, the notion that we wave our flag without hating people who wave a differently-coloured one.
Conversation at home:
M: When's that Martin Amis book coming out, the one about Stalin being a bad man?
Me: Not sure. A Waterstone's bloke told me he'd seen it in some list and it had one of those one-word titles.
14 June. Last games of the first round, and the show goes on with South Korea and Japan going through at the top of their groups. Neither group was all that hard, but still it's pretty amazing, and you would have got astonishing odds on this set of results two weeks ago. John points out that teams with conspicuously long hair have been big losers: the Argies, the French, the Portuguese.
Try to watch some of the cricket from Old Trafford today, but it's completely ruined by the rain. By 4.30 they have played only 13 overs - about an hour's cricket. This is underrated as a reason for the game's current lack of popularity. In the last six years I've had tickets to Lord's for one day each season, but have twice missed the whole day because of rain. That said, I was also present at the most extraordinary day in the history of Lord's, the Friday of the West Indies test in 2000, when 21 wickets fell on the day and part of all four innings were played in one day for the first time in more than a century of Test cricket. But people just aren't prepared to invest the time, not least because, as with all investment, there is a risk of total loss. I love cricket, and watch Test matches on telly whenever they're on, but I live a mile and a half from the Oval, where the best county team in England play, and in the four years we've been here I've never gone to see them once. I'd rather have it on the telly in the background, and tune in and out as the game changes.
Alex Bellos has a chapter on different football variants in Brazil, including a type played with a giant ball and cars - 'autoball' - and a version of five-a-side which was livened up by letting a bull loose in the middle of the field. This game was called Footbull. Perhaps the MCC should let some bulls loose at Old Trafford.
Look up the real title of 'Stalinbad' on Amazon. It turns out to be called Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million. Hmm.
15 June. England 3 Denmark 0. England are good, Denmark are very weak, and make mistakes which are instantly converted into England goals. It looks as if we may be benefiting from having been in such a tight, competitive group; our concentration is visibly better. Owen and Heskey both score, and all our goals are from open play, just as I knew they always would be.
Seven baldies: Mills, Ferdinand, Campbell as before, plus Dyer (fashion), Tofting (male pattern baldness), Gravesen (ditto), Bogelund (ditto). Tofting and Gravesen look so alike, and so thuggish, that they have been compared to the Mitchell brothers in Eastenders.
In the afternoon we go to a wedding in Covent Garden. The whole area is full of pissed-up England fans, all of them happy, but in a loud and drunk and aggressively extrovert way which does not feel all that far removed from violence - and certainly, if Denmark had won, would have been distinctly menacing. On our way to the reception after the service, a group of fans outside a pub notice our hats and frocks and general post-wedding demeanour and begin singing 'Denmark's going home' at us. The fact that we have obviously just been to a wedding seems to have made us, in some hard-to-define but nonetheless very real sense, Danish.
16 June. Ireland are heartbreakingly unlucky to lose on penalties to Spain. The Spanish team are technically skilful but they stop playing after going 1-0 up and Ireland are the better team for most of the game and extra time. The Swedish ref looks like a ski instructor but has a very good game, with the bottle to award two penalties to the Irish, both deserved, including the overdue first one this tournament for shirt-pulling. But when it comes to the shoot-out the Irish miss three penalties. Woe, woe . . .
I watch the game at John's because this is where I watched the last Ireland game, which they won. So it immediately became a superstition that I had to go to his for Ireland games. Jackie was in the room when Ireland scored so she then had to stay there for the rest of the game because she had demonstrated that she was good luck. Owing to the tension she stood by the door for the penalty shoot-out and that is probably why Ireland lost.
England games, on the other hand, I have to watch on my own, because that was how I watched the Argentina game, and the method proved its efficacy when we beat Denmark. As a tournament like this progresses you develop more and more superstitions. If your team has a long run, by its end you've practically invented a whole new religion. There are no atheists on sofas.
17 June. Brazil 2 Belgium 0. Without being anywhere near as wonderful as they were in the earlier rounds, the Brazilians go through to set up Friday's England v. Brazil game - which is great, since England v. Belgium would have been a bit of an anticlimax. So the competition's best attack will come up against the competition's best defence. It's in the afternoon, which will help Brazil big-time.
Both Ronaldo and Ronaldinho have been playing in attack for Brazil. In Futebol Alex Bellos points out that Ronaldo was once himself known as Ronaldinho, because there was already another Ronaldo in the side, as well as a Ronaldão. When the current Ronaldinho came along, this could have meant that Brazil were fielding Ronaldão, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Ronaldinhozinho: big Ronald, normal-sized Ronald, little Ronald, and even littler Ronald. Instead the former Ronaldo dropped out, the new Ronaldo became Ronaldinho Gaúcho (after his place of origin), and the former Ronaldinho was promoted to Ronaldo, a title he still holds. All this is gripping. But what I want to know is, why are so many Brazilians called Ronald? Surely it can't be anything to do with Ronnie Biggs? Or did he fit so easily into Brazil because it was already a country of many Ronalds?
At about six o'clock in the evening, the Test match that has been running since Thursday in a rain-affected, off-and-on, basically boring way, with England so on top that there was no real drama, suddenly becomes a thriller. Sri Lanka, batting out the day for a draw without great difficulty, suffer a mini-collapse, and then, at almost seven o'clock, an hour after the notional end of play, lose two wickets in two balls to set up a frenetic finish. England need 50 from 36 balls, which should be difficult under Test conditions, especially given that Sri Lanka have in Muralitharan the world's best spin bowler. But Trescothick and Vaughan marmalise the Sri Lankan attack and win without trouble; a famous victory.
Four and seven-eighths days of tight, tense, dull cricket followed by ninety minutes of tortuously suspenseful climax. I'm not sure if this is what is great about Test cricket or what is wrong with it. Only two thousand people are at Old Trafford to see the end of the game - this on a day when play went on until 7.30, and admission to the ground was only £5 (as opposed to about five times that to see any Premiership side play football). There was plenty of time for people to pop over to watch some cricket after work, but they couldn't be bothered. Now that is a problem.
18 June. Japan go out, narrowly, to Turkey, but their co-hosts South Korea go through, deliriously, against Italy, thanks to a golden goal three minutes from the end of extra time. The Italians tried to sit on a one-goal lead for most of the game, and then conceded an equaliser in the 88th minute. The commentators do a tremendous amount of sermonising about this old habit of theirs, how they deserved it, how they always do it, and so on. The odd thing about this talk is that it is true. The Italian national team does, historically, tend to sit on a lead and kill an important game, when they have the skill to go and win it. Many footballing traits have nothing to do with people's real psychology, but in this case it does seem to me that a strain of caution in the Italian character comes out in this aspect of how they play footy. A pity for them, since it's 20 years since they won the World Cup, and they have certainly had the talent to do better than that.
While I am spouting mad theories about national characteristics, I would like to expound here my theory that German sides' tendency to win big games right at the end, and often unjustly, is connected with the way German speakers have to wait for the main verb at the end of a sentence, thus developing habits of patience and concentration. That characteristic German goal in the 80-oddth minute is a verb.
20 June. Saw the 1970 England v. Brazil game, famously the best ever played, on the Beeb last night. Fascinating for several reasons, one of them being the pace of the game, which was, by modern standards, exquisitely leisurely - and all the better for it. You could see the skill more clearly than you can in the modern game; it was less of a demolition derby. In those days a player would cover about four kilometres in a match. Now it's around three times that. Broadly speaking, that means they had three times as much time. The other thing was how good England's passing was, and their first touch; better than any England side since. The ideal thing with first touch is that it is so good you don't even notice it. The ball comes to a player and bang, it's under control. England in 1970 were like that, even players who are now remembered as cloggers, like my old hero Alan Mullery.
Yesterday, Surrey v. Glamorgan at the Oval set the following records: highest score by a team in a one-day game (438); highest aggregate score ever in a one-day game (867); highest ever individual score in a one-day game (268 by Alistair Brown, in 160 balls). It gets a mention in today's papers, but barely. World Cup news has been on the front page of the Guardian almost every day; the victory over Sri Lanka was on the 12th page of the sports section.
As for tomorrow, I'm calmer than for any of the previous games, mainly because I don't mind the thought of losing to Brazil. (No other national team in any other game has quite the same status as Brazil, the feeling that they incarnate the spirit of a particular game.) They have better players than we do; but it is possible that we are a better team.
David Beckham has flown his hairdresser out to Japan, allegedly because Victoria noticed that his mohican was looking scraggly. (As opposed, of course, to completely twuntish.) There is a theory that he is going to try out a whole new hairstyle for the Brazil game. I hereby predict that he won't, because no footballer would be sufficiently unsuperstitious to change his 'do in the middle of a winning run.
21 June. England 1 Brazil 2. I have been banging on about Seaman's weakness over free-kicks for years. When I wrote match reports I saw him caught out a couple of times - and then there were things like Gazza's free-kick in the 1991 Spurs v. Arsenal FA Cup semi-final, and Nayim's goal from the halfway line in the 1995 Cup Winners' Cup Final. And now he lets in an absolute lulu. Oh dear - I don't much like Seaman, but he doesn't deserve this. (But what does that mean? He let it in, after all. I suppose what I mean is, he doesn't deserve to take all the blame for England's exit. The other day I heard someone reply to one of the commentators, who had said a player 'should have scored': 'No should about it, Ron.')
A woman calls into a post-match phone-in and says that if Beckham or Owen had taken that free-kick, everyone would be going on about how it was the greatest piece of skill of all time. Which is true. The reality is that they were better than us, and showed it especially clearly when they were down to ten men. After the second goal, it was as if England suddenly and completely stopped believing in themselves; it took away their feeling that they could win.
NB Seaman had the longest hair of any England player. Brazil fielded only one baldie, the great Roberto Carlos at left back.
Remember what David said about sport: 'I'm not interested, but I often wish I were, given that, as you know, the mind is always in pain.'
22 June. South Korea beat Spain on penalties, and Turkey beat Senegal with a golden goal. They go through to play Brazil and, surprise surprise, Germany in the semis. Wonder what odds you could have got three weeks ago on a Turkey v. South Korea final. There's some conspiracy-theorising over the fact that Italy and Spain both had perfectly legitimate goals disallowed in their games against Korea. I go for the cock-up theory myself, since host countries don't need bona fide corruption to be helped by referees; but this is an area where Fifa is damaged by its less-than-pristine reputation.
Franz Beckenbauer was unimpressed by the Germans' performance against the USA: 'if you put all the players in a sack and punched it, whichever player you hit would deserve it.'
See Mark in the evening and he disabuses me of any reasons for being cheerful about how England did and their prospects for Euro 2004 et seq. His main points are: 1. that we'll never have such a clear-cut chance, 1-0 up against Brazil, with Argentina, France and Italy out; and 2. there's no way of knowing how young players will develop, even when they look brilliant - Des Walker was a genius in the 1990 World Cup defence, exactly like Rio Ferdinand now, but he never again played anywhere near as well.
Mark also points out that there are only four matches left - and that includes the third/fourth place play-off. Waah.
24 June. Wimbledon begins today. Men's tennis on grass courts died some years ago, when racket technology made the serves so fast the game was reduced to a bad cartoon of its former self. Today, a normal 'rally' consists of a service winner; a good 'rally' is one in which the service return gets back over the net and forces a volley, and if that volley is then returned, the exchange gets onto the Ten O'Clock News. It is less interesting than Iain Duncan Smith, or watching a bowl of mayonnaise curdle on a warm afternoon. And then there's Henman, all traces of personality removed as if in a Swiss clinic, and replaced by his unspeakable self-celebrating fist-clench after every winning point. Imagine being forced to watch two whole weeks of this. I'd rather spend a fortnight trapped on a desert island with Dick Cheney.
25 June. South Korea go out 1-0 to Germany in a major snooze of a semi-final (unless of course you're German or Korean). So the list of teams beaten by Germany on their way to the final is as follows: Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Paraguay, USA, South Korea. In terms of overcoming difficult resistance it's not exactly Operation Barbarossa.
Ronaldo has had his hair shaved into a triangle at the front of his head. It looks deeply stupid. An article in the Evening Standard points out the growing facial resemblance between Anna Kournikova and Boris Yeltsin.
26 June. Impossible to imagine a more different 1-0 result than Brazil's win over Turkey. It's a thriller - not quite the 'masterpiece' which David Lacey in the Guardian says this tournament has lacked, but still a very good game. The Turks are vastly better than England were: consider the fact that after Brazil went down to ten men, England didn't manage a single shot on goal. Mind you, Brazil could have won by a bigger margin if their forwards, especially Rivaldo, hadn't taken the high-risk, high-glory route every time they were near goal, instead of passing to howling, raging, significantly-closer-to-goal colleagues. They'd better not do that against the Germans.
The final will be the first ever Brazil v. Germany game. Amazing that in seventy years of World Cup football the two teams who have dominated the competition have never played each other. Also, in this case it's the most attractive team in the competition against the most boring. It's your classic, never out-of-fashion clash of good v. evil. Like everybody else, I want Brazil to win, though this does bring back the memory of the 1974 final, West Germany v. The Netherlands, when I was the only person in a school of 500-odd to support the Germans (which I did as a fuck-off, connected with the fact that I was born in Hamburg). Now I want the same outcome everybody else does. This can only reflect a deterioration of the moral fibre. As Roy Keane was fond of telling his Ireland team-mates, 'only dead fish swim with the current.'
30 June. Brazil 2 Germany 0. A good final - the best in a long time. Ronaldo scores two goals, thus winning the title of Golden Boot. There is no Silver or Bronze Boot.
I spend the night uncomfortably and semi-insomniacally, wondering what can replace the World Cup-shaped hole I now have in my life - on previous experience, the symptoms are a little like the Post-Holiday Blahs. Half-dreaming, and recycling conversations from earlier in the day about the Order of Merit and BB3 (that's Big Brother Three), I suddenly have a brilliant idea. OMBB: Order of Merit Big Brother. All the members of the Order of Merit are put in the Big Brother house and are voted out one by one. The winner gets, I don't know, made a saint, or something.
According to this week's gossip e-mail from Popbitch (www.popbitch.com), Roy Keane's dad is called Mossie, and lives in Cork. When his son sends him cash from England, he goes to the pub and spends it without bothering to exchange it into euros. This practice has earnt him the nickname Sterling Moss.
John Lanchester's third novel, Fragrant Harbour, is published by Faber. The first two were The Debt to Pleasure and Mr Phillips.
July 18, 2002
Soccer: A Matter of Love and Hate
Held every four years, the World Cup competition for association football (soccer in the US) is now the world's largest sports event after the Olympics. This year's competition, hosted by Japan and Korea (it is the first time the cup has gone to Asia), brought together thirty-two countries, each of which had already gone through a ferocious selection procedure. Even countries like the US, where soccer is not one of the most popular sports, made a huge effort to be present and to perform. It was not always thus.
Largely responsible, in the second half of the nineteenth century, for inventing the modern game of soccer, and then for having taken the sport all over the world, the English nevertheless chose not to participate in the formation of an International Football Federation (FIFA) in 1904, nor would they go to the first three World Cup competitions arranged for the sport in 1930, 1934, and 1938. In its official history, the English Football Association now describes that decision as "a monumental example of British insularity." But perhaps it would be more useful to see the refusal as betraying a tension between competing visions of the role of team sports in modern society and, at a deeper level, between conflicting attitudes toward the whole issue of community and group identity.
After all, the English had long ago set up the first-ever "international" game between themselves and Scotland and by the turn of the century were regularly playing Wales and Ireland as well. Such encounters within the United Kingdom were necessarily galvanized by ancient rivalries and resentments. Adrenaline ran in rivers. Indeed, a hundred years later the annual England–Scotland game would have to be discontinued because of fan violence. What on earth would be the point, the English FA must have asked itself in 1930, of embarking on a three-week ocean voyage to Uruguay to play the likes of Brazil and Czechoslovakia?
Rarely articulated in the media, the "insular" attitudes that inspired the English FA in the early part of the century are still thriving, and nowhere more so than in Italy, whose sense of nationhood often seems to depend more on a series of ancient internal quarrels between erstwhile city-states than on any sense of imposing itself on the world around it. In this regard the country is not unlike those families who are immediately recognizable as such because they are so intensely engaged in arguing with each other. In his speech to the nation at New Year's, the Italian president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, spoke of "Italy, land of a hundred cities, that unites love of my home town with love of my country and love of Europe." On the Web site of Hellas Verona, the soccer club of the small town where I live, a fan signing himself Dany-for-Hell@s chose to respond in decidedly football terms with a list of all the opposing teams any Hellas fan necessarily hates: "Italian unity = Roma merda, Inter merda, Juventus merda, Milan merda, Napoli merda, Vicenza merda, Lecce merda. Need I go on?"
Always a favorite to win the World Cup, Italy thus often seems lukewarm and ambivalent toward its national team. At a recent local game, more than one fan told me they would be rooting against the national side during the World Cup. "The national team is made up of players from the big clubs, Juventus and Roma and Inter Milan. We can't hate them all year round and then support them in summer just because they're playing for Italy."
The word "hate" turns up in private conversation in relation to soccer in a way it never seems to do in the quotable media, which froth with noble sentiments as the big "festival of football" approaches. Immediately after interviewing me for national radio about a book I have written on Italy and fandom, the journalist removes his headphones and remarks: "You know, the wonderful thing about soccer is that it's the only situation left where you really feel you have an enemy, someone you can hate unreservedly, someone you don't have to make compromises with. Even with the terrorists you have to worry about whether you're indirectly responsible for their extremism." "Why didn't you say that on air?" I asked. He laughed. Clearly mine was a rhetorical question.
But even in soccer there are enemies and enemies. On the famous Costanzo Show, Italy's biggest talk show, a veteran player, Causio, insists that despite the fact that the Italian team never sings the national anthem when it's played at the beginning of the match (indeed some players have admitted that they don't know the words), despite the low attendance at many national games, nevertheless, when it counts, the nation rallies around. This is the official version and is no doubt true of that part of the public who are not regular soccer fans and thus not likely to put their local team first. But during a break for advertising, the actor sitting beside me on the stage together with Causio remarks off the air: "No, soccer is about hate. When Roma play Lazio [local rivals] I really hate the Laziali. But how can I hate Ecuador? I don't feel anything." The small South American country was Italy's first opponent, or designated victim, in the current competition.
Necessarily, soccer began at the local level and it was here that it took the peculiar and fierce grip on the collective mind that it still has today, in Europe, in South America. This happened at precisely the time when with rapid industrialization and better communications, local identities were becoming harder to maintain. Hellas Verona, for example, was formed in 1903, but it was not until 1912 that they beat their nearest neighbors and hence bitterest rivals, Vicenza. Reporting the crowd response when the jinx was finally broken, the journalist for Verona's local paper was clearly witnessing for the first time a new way of expressing group identity:
Verona won! Nothing we could write to express our joy, if such a thing were possible; no declaration we could ever make...could be so eloquent as the powerful, almost savage yell of the crowd each time Hellas scored. The shouting slowly subsided to be replaced by a confused, never repressed clamor rising and falling with the anxious and diligent inspection of every move on the field. Verona won! A victory too long desired.
A few decades before that historic moment, in his Discourse on the Game of Florentine Football, Giovanni Maria de' Bardi defined the sport thus:
Football is a public game of two groups of young men, on foot and unarmed, who pleasingly compete to move a medium-sized inflated ball from one end of the piazza to the other, for the sake of honor.
If "savage" is the most interesting word in the first quotation, "unarmed" is the crucial qualification in the second. That day in 1912 the Veronese crowd, savage but unarmed, discovered a new way of expressing their antique enmity toward their nearest neighbors, with whom of course it was no longer feasible that they might go to war, or even engage in a resentful round of trade sanctions. And for the first time that day the Veronese had the upper hand. They could take pleasure, unarmed, in their neighbors' discomfort. They could taunt and gloat and be cruel within a framework that would allow everyone to escape unscathed and continue their lives as if nothing had happened.
Ferocious taunting is a staple of Italian football matches and indeed this kind of embattled local pride, at once intense but, in the very extravagance of its expression, ironic too, is typical of fandom at the local level all over Europe. "SINCE 1200," read a banner at a recent game, "EVERY TIME THE VERONESE GO TO VICENZA, THE GROUND TREMBLES." In sharp contrast, when Ireland played Cameroon in the Niigata stadium, Japan, on the second day of this year's World Cup, the TV commentator was obliged to remark on how little the crowd at the stadium was participating in the expensively staged event. How could they? Of what possible interest could it be to the polite, carefully seated Japanese which of these two countries won? They have no quarrel with either.
If we were to ask, what has been the most dangerous emotion of the last two centuries, one possible answer might be: the nostalgia for community, the yearning, in an age of mechanization and eclecticism, for the sort of powerful sense of group identity that will enable you to hold hands with people and sing along, your lucid individuality submerged in the folly of collective delirium, united in a common cause, which of course implies a common enemy.
This desire for close-knit community at any price was no doubt an important factor in the rise of National Socialism, fascism, communism, and a range of recent and dangerous fundamentalisms. Football fandom, as it developed in the same period in Europe and South America, might be seen as a relatively harmless parody of such large-scale monstrosities, granting the satisfaction of belonging to an embattled community, perhaps even the occasional post-match riot, without the danger of real warfare. The stadium and the game have become the theater where on one afternoon a week, in carefully controlled circumstances, two opposing groups, who at all other moments of life will mingle normally, can enjoy the thrills of tribalism. Hard-core supporters of the competing teams occupy opposite ends of the stadium generating a wild energy of chants and offensive gestures that electrifies the atmosphere.
On the field, the extraordinary skill of the players, their feints and speed, the colorful pattern of their rapid movements, the tension as one waits and waits, heart in mouth, for that goal that never comes, create a collective enchantment that prolongs the stand-off between the two enemies, at once determining the rhythm of insults and keeping the crowds apart. At the end, if the police are efficient, and nothing too inflammatory has happened during the game, we can all return home with perhaps only a couple of stones thrown.
"The civilizing passage from blows to insults," wrote the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, "was no doubt necessary, but the price was high. Words will never be enough. We will always be nostalgic for violence and blood." Soccer, it has often occurred to me, offers an ambiguous middle ground between words and blows. The game appears to be most successful when constantly hovering on the edge of violence, without quite falling into it. Occasionally, of course, things will go wrong.
But whether innocuous or otherwise, the spectacle of opposing fans insulting each other is definitely not welcome at the World Cup. Nothing terrifies the organizers of the sport's biggest event more than the sentiments most ordinarily expressed at weekly league matches in the major participating countries. For alongside the nostalgia, as it developed in the nineteenth century, for the tight-knit local community springs the contrary ideal of the universal brotherhood of man, of a world where no one will ever express hatred for anyone. Having read Tom Brown's Schooldays, having decided that English notions of gentlemanly sportsmanship were among the highest expressions of the human spirit, in the early 1890s, just as football clubs were forming in industrial towns all over Europe, Pierre Coubertin decided that mankind could best be served by a festival of sport where national identity would be expressed in pageantry, folklore, and athletic prowess, all political antagonisms forgotten. In 1896 the first Olympic Games of the modern era were held. Soccer was included unofficially in 1900, officially from 1908. For many years it has been the Olympic sport that draws by far the largest number of spectators.
Coubertin had his enemies, chief among them the nationalist and monarchist Charles Maurras, who was hostile to the Games, fearing the degeneration, as he saw it, into cosmopolitanism. But on attending the Olympics in Athens and watching the behavior of crowds and athletes, it came to Maurras that in fact such international festivals might work the other way: "When different races are thrown together and made to interact," he wrote, "they repel one another, estranging themselves even as they believe they are mixing." In short, the internationalist theater might become the stage for expressing not universal brotherhood, but the fiercest nationalism.
Maurras's reflection raises a question: What happens when a team sport, particularly an intensely engaging, fiercely physical sport like soccer, a game capable of arousing the most intense collective passions, is transferred from the local to the national level? What happens when very large crowds, many of whom are not regular fans and thus not familiar with the game and the emotions it generates, find themselves involved in the business of winning and losing as nation against nation? For the soccer team comes to represent the nation, indeed the nation at war, in a way the single athlete cannot. Before England's decisive game with its old enemy Argentina, the London Samaritans announced that their staff would be at full strength to deal with misery if England lost. After Japan beat Russia —another old quarrel—the people of Tokyo danced in the streets, while in central Moscow, where giant screens had been set up to show the event, there was serious rioting and one death. The TV in the home is safe enough; in the stadium there are fences and police. But a crowd in a public square watching their nation lose against an old enemy with nothing between themselves and, for example, a Japanese restaurant (one was seriously vandalized in Moscow) is a dangerous thing indeed. These events serve to remind us that globalization has done nothing to diminish nationalist passions. Perhaps the reverse.
The tension between the different visions of international sport—the embattled community on the one hand, the brotherhood of man on the other —reached its height at the 1936 Berlin Games. At the opening ceremony the crowd sang "Deutschland über Alles," after which a recorded message from the then aging Coubertin reminded everybody that "the most important thing in life is not to conquer." Two years later at the World Cup in Rome General Bacaro in his inaugural speech announced that the ultimate purpose of the tournament was "to show that fascist sport partakes of a great quality of the ideal stemming from one unique inspiration: il Duce." Whatever that might or might not have meant, the next competition would not be staged until 1950 and was held in Brazil, far away from a still exhausted Europe.
The World Cup developed as an offshoot of the Olympic Games and deploys the same idealistic, internationalist rhetoric. But the decision to set up a competition separate from the Olympics came largely as a result of cheating. Olympic soccer teams were supposed to be amateur, but many players were clearly professional. England, who had deigned to participate and won in 1908 and 1912, withdrew over the issue in 1920. In 1924 and 1928 Uruguay won with virtually professional teams, at which point the only possible response for the offended pride of the other competitors was to acknowledge a fait accompli and get FIFA to set up a competition for professionals. The circumstances in which it was born thus belied the principles the competition claims to uphold.
More than anything else, it has been the growth of television that has shifted the balance of power in favor of Coubertin's internationalist, pageantry-rich vision of the sport. In the space of a few years soccer's main paymasters became the TV networks, not the ticket-buying fans. Experienced away from the stadium, the game loses its local, community-building functions. The possibility of collective catharsis is lost. At this point the antics of hard-core fans are merely disquieting. Often they look disturbingly like the choreographed extremist crowds of the Thirties. Now every gesture that threatens the sort of positive vision of the world that can be delivered into households where children and grandmothers sit around the TV must be rooted out and eliminated. The Asian World Cup looks like being the first absolutely hooligan- free event, in situ that is. Tokyo and Seoul are at a safe and expensive distance from Moscow and Manchester and Berlin and Buenos Aires. Opposing fans are not coming into contact in any numbers. How Coubertin would have rejoiced over that extravagant opening ceremony, with all its colorful Asian pageantry, the charming faces of elegant Korean dancers.
And yet... With the ugly crowds tamed, at least in and around the stadium, the TV cameras free to concentrate entirely on the game, what do we see on the field of play? I know of no other sport where cheating is so endemic, condoned, and ritualized as soccer, where lying and bad faith are more ordinarily the rule. Every single decision is contested, even when what has happened is clear as day. A player insists he didn't kick the ball off the pitch when everybody has seen that he has. Another protests that the ball has gone over the line when everybody has seen that it hasn't. Passed by an attacker in full flight, a defender grabs the man's shirt, stops him, then immediately denies that he has done so. Unable to pass his defender, the striker runs into him and promptly falls over, claiming that he has been pushed.
Only a few minutes into the Denmark– Senegal match the players were exchanging blows. During the Turkey– Brazil game, with play temporarily stopped, an angry Turkish player kicked the ball at the Brazilian Rivaldo, voted best player in the world in 1999. Hit on the knee (by the ball!), Rivaldo collapsed on the ground pretending he had been violently struck in the face. The referee sent off the Turkish player, eliminating him from the game. In an interview afterward Rivaldo claimed this was a normal part of football. The organizers, who had said they would be tough on such dishonest behavior, fined Rivaldo $7,000, perhaps a day's pay for a soccer star, but they wouldn't suspend him for even one game. It is crucial for TV revenues that Brazil make progress in the competition.
One of the curiosities of soccer is that while on the part of the fans it arouses the kinds of passions that once attached themselves more readily to religious fundamentalism and political idealism, one must never forget that for the organizers it is merely a business. There are few who believe that refereeing decisions are not sometimes made to favor rich teams; FIFA itself and its president, Sed Blatter, in particular are currently accused of large-scale corruption. When two apparently legitimate Italian goals were disallowed in their game against Croatia, many Italians immediately began to wonder if there wasn't a conspiracy against them. And when Italy was eventually eliminated by South Korea after yet another goal was disallowed, even some of Italy's most prominent sportswriters and some politicians suggested the referee was taking orders from FIFA.
After the pomp and idealism of opening ceremonies, then, what could be less educational than the spectacle itself and the suspicions that surround it? Or more exciting, more likely to inflame the passions? Infallibly, it seems, the overall frame of the brotherhood of man contains a festival of bad behavior on the part of the players, and paranoia, resentment, and Schadenfreude on the part of the fans. Far from diminishing people's interest in the sport, ironically it is precisely the unpleasant incidents and negative sentiments that fuel its vigorous growth. The genius of FIFA, at least in public relations terms, has been to stage an apparently violence-free positive event in Asia (the brotherhood of man!), while shifting, via television, the riot of emotions, and the occasional riot on the street, thousands and thousands of miles away. We are having our cake and eating it.
That said, soccer definitely makes more sense and is more fun when experienced at the stadium in the delirium of the local crowd, when it is our community fielding our team, here and now, ready to rejoice or suffer. After Italy's inevitable victory over Ecuador, experienced by almost everybody who cared about it through the medium of television, a fan wrote to his club's Web site:
Italy won convincingly...but the elation I feel when I watch Verona play from the terraces is something the national team can never give me, not even if they win the World Cup. It's a competition where hypocrisy and piety reign supreme. Come on Hellas!
The name of this local team, of course, suggested by a schoolteacher of the boys who founded it a hundred years ago, was the ancient Greek word for homeland.
From Volume 24 Number 12 | cover date 27 June 2002
I can tell you the exact moment when I decided to hate football for life. It was 11 June 1978 at 6.08 p.m. Scotland were playing Holland in the first stage of the World Cup Finals in Argentina. It happened to be the day of my tenth birthday party: my mother had to have the party after my actual birthday owing to a cock-up involving a cement-mixer and the police, but the party was called for that afternoon, and the cream of St Luke's Primary School turned up at 4 p.m., armed with Airfix battleships and enough £1 postal orders to keep me in sherbet dib-dabs for a month.
Things started to go badly the minute my father rolled into the square in a blue Bedford van. He came towards the house in the style of someone in no great mood for ice-cream and jelly, and within minutes, having scanned the television pages of the Daily Record, he threw the entire party out of the living room - Jaffa Cakes, Swizzle Sticks, cans of Tizer, the lot - all the better to settle down to a full 90 minutes with Ally's Tartan Army, now taking the field in Mendoza.
A full cast of Ayrshire Oompa-Loompas (myself at the head) was then marched upstairs to a requisitioned boxroom, where several rounds of pass-the-parcel proceeded without the aid of oxygen. I managed to eat an entire Swiss roll by myself and take part in several sorties of kiss, cuddle or torture before losing my temper and marching to the top of the stairs. From there, looking through the bars, I could see the television and my father's face. Archie Gemmill, at 6.08, wearing a Scotland shirt with the number 15 on the back, puffed past three Dutch defenders and chipped the ball right over the goalie's head. The television was so surprised it nearly paid its own licence fee, and my father, well, let's just say he stood on the armchair and forgot he was once nearly an altar-boy at St Mary's.
My school chums were soon carried out of the house on stretchers, showing all the signs of a good time not had, by which point my mother was mortified and my father was getting all musical. 'We're here to show the world that we're gonnae do or die,' he sang unprophetically, 'coz England cannae dae it coz they didnae qualify.' My birthday was spoiled, and I decided always to hate football and to make my father pay. I had a hidden stash of books in a former breadbin upstairs - the revenge of the English swot! - and I went out to the swingpark to read one and to fantasise about becoming the West of Scotland's first international male netball champion.
Hating football was a real task round our way. For a start, my brothers were really good at it; the fireplace had a line of gold and silver strikers perched mid-kick on alabaster bases, and they turned out to be the only part of the fireplace where my father wouldn't flick his cigarette ash. For another thing, I went to a school where Mr Knocker, the teacher, was football-daft, and he'd sooner you packed in Communion than afternoon football. But Mark McDonald - my fellow cissy - and I broke his spirit after he gave us new yellow strips to try on. We absconded from the training session and stretched the shirts over our knees, all the better to roll down Toad Hill in one round movement before dousing the shirts in the industrial swamp at the bottom. The destruction of footballing equipment was beyond the pale: we were too young for Barlinnie Prison, so we got banned to Home Economics instead and were soon the untouchable kings of eggs Mornay.
My father gave up on me. Mr Knocker put me down for a hairdresser and a Protestant. But there was always my Uncle Peter, a die-hard Celtic supporter - not like my brothers, but a real Celtic supporter, the sort who thought Rangers fans should be sent to Australia on coffin ships, or made to work the North Sea oilrigs for no pay - and Uncle Peter for a while appointed himself the very man who would, as he delicately put it, 'get all that poofy shite oot his heid before it really does him some damage'.
Game on. But not for long. Uncle Peter arranged to take me to see Celtic and Rangers play at Hampden Park. He was not unkind and had put some planning into the day out, but not as much planning as I had: for a whole week it had been my business to make sure that the only clothes available for me to wear to the treat were blue. For the uninitiated, I should say that Celtic fans tend not to wear blue, especially not to the football, and never, in all the rules of heaven and earth, to a Rangers game.
My uncle was distressed. He called me a Blue Nose to my face (strong words for a bishop) and when we arrived at the ground he made me walk behind him. He said that if Rangers scored and I made a noise he would throw me to the Animals (the stand in Celtic Park where men peed and drank Bovril was affectionately known as the Jungle). When Celtic lost the game 1-0 he called me a Jonah and said everything was lost with me and I should stick at school because I was bound to end up at university or worse.
Easier said than done. Academic distinction at our secondary school was mostly a matter for the birds, so the best a boy could do was to set his mind on surviving four years of PE without ending up in the Funny Farm (Mrs Jess's remedial class, only marginally more humiliating than being excluded from the school team). It was a wonderful education in the intricacies of human nature. I had pals, good pals, and as a resident smoker at the corner and a fearless talker-back to the nuns, I was in a position to feel confident about their loyalty when we came before Mr Scullion, the chief lion at the gym hall.
Not a bit of it. No sooner had Scullion given some Kenny Dalglish-in-the-making the chance of picking a football team than all affection and loyalty would fall away like snow off a dyke. First lesson: let nothing stand in the way of winning. My good-at-football erstwhile mate would choose one loon after another - a bandy-legged chaser here, a cross-eyed soap-dodger there - until the teams were nearly complete, except for me and Mark McDonald and some poor dwarf called Scobie left glistening with shame on the touchline. A new deputy headmaster came to the school; you could tell by looking at his hair that he was all brown rice and liberal experiment, so I wrote him a well-spelled note about reversing the method used for the picking of teams. I remember the day and the very hour.
'O'Hagan,' the PE assistant said, 'pick your team.'
I walked the few yards onto the field like General Patton contemplating the sweep of his 3rd Army over France. 'Scobie,' I said, 'McDonald.' And so it went on until every lousy player in the group had smilingly succumbed to an early invitation from the worst football picker in the history of St Michael's Academy. My hand-picked Rovers and I got beat 12-0.
When I was 12, I had nearly run out of juice on the football-hating front; it was an exhausting business not playing the game. But then I had an idea of quite intense perversity. Even my friend Mark had to shake his head sadly and note that in the arsenal of anti-football weaponry my new device was just too much: for a moment he pitied my trophy-winning brothers, he truly felt for my Scotland-deluded dad. I had gone nuclear: Jacqueline Thompson's School of Ballet.
Ah, the pleasures of disownment. Before setting off to Dancewear in Glasgow to buy my first set of pumps, however, I was dragooned by the seething Scullion to take part in a hateful five-a-side against Kilwinning Academy. What happened? With only two minutes to go I ran into the ball with the ferocity of a POW making a dash for the barbed wire. Reader, I broke my leg. As I fell to the ground in agony I was sure the sylphides were coming to fetch me en point, but - after even more delusion - I woke up in Kilmarnock Infirmary wearing a plaster cast the size of Siberia, and my father drove me home in perfect silence. The years have passed now, but I can still see him smiling in the audience many months later, the night of Jacqueline Thompson's Christmas Dance Display at the Civic Centre in Ayr, as his youngest son came onto the stage, football boots and socks pristine, whistle in mouth, to make his first appearance onstage in a dance number called - I swear to God - 'Match of the Day'.
For long enough - 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, oh how they trip off the tongue - I have comforted myself with the notion that my sense of defeat about football is entirely in keeping with my nation's performance on the field. But I am getting older now, and Scotland are not getting any better; being a Scottish person means growing into your sense of defeat, and like every other square-shoed man trying to get a bit closer to the bar, I find myself now occasionally looking towards football to offer a sense of nation-sized glory at least once before I pack up my pistols and grow a moustache. Imagine the horror. No sooner had Scotland failed to qualify than I was moved to treat my friends to John Steinbeck's comment to Jacqueline Kennedy: 'You talked of Scotland as a lost cause,' he said, 'and that is not true. Scotland is an unwon cause.'
Bloody hell. Better make mine a double. Five minutes later I was thinking about Ireland and five minutes after that, God bless us and save us, England. This is the hallmark of the truly hardcore football hater: he is a turncoat, naturally, and he will sometimes give in to sentiment, but at heart he is without grief or care about the prospect of victory or defeat, and all he really wants is for his birthday party to take place in a nice big room with tables and chairs.
Into the bargain come the jokes: like all would-be playground subversives, I was, more than anything else, a sniggering wreck, an absolute pest who would do anything for a laugh. For instance, I've never heard a joke about Scotland's crapness at football that I didn't find funny, and, by the same token, just the other week, when I saw the Tennent's lager advertising campaign for the World Cup - 'Och Aye Kanu,' it says over a Nigerian flag, 'C'mon the Tartan Argie' over an Argentine one, and 'Support Sven's Team' over Sweden's - I took the train back to London in a swoon of certainty about the wisdom of Scotland's dislike of England. Once you get into the swing of it, there's nothing so addictive as inconstancy; the only trouble comes when football-hating becomes a sort of love, when you find yourself not saving hours but dispelling days in your pursuit of understanding the whys and wherefores of the unbeautiful game.
I would by the way encourage anyone inclined to pursuits of that kind to keep their distance from the World Wide Web. The Internet - a thing which at times seems designed for and by nut jobs of all stripes - is never madder than when hosting any sort of discussion about football by any sort of fan. Take the following which picks up the England-Scotland resentment theme just alluded to. Topic headline: 'I Wish You Would Stop Sponging Off Us'.
Browser A: You are a twat. We want to be free of you inbreed half-breed Anglo-Saxon scum and one day we'll get rid of you and your German Queen.
Browser B: I am making it my mission in life to inform my fellow countrymen (English) what a bunch of pathetic cunts you Jocks are. Get ready to reap the whirlwind. Tourism will die.
Browser C: Yeh. England is your master, bow down, you subservient nation. And bugger the Argies as well.
I hate to cut out of the debate at such a crucial juncture, but you get the idea, and it does go on for thousands of hours. I have to say, though, perhaps surprisingly to some, that this kind of sophistication has yet to cause the generally football-appalled like myself to see the light.
I have this bunch of pals in London who are mainly Scottish but who play in a team called the Battersea Juniors. They are more persuasive in this regard. The team is a bit up-and-down, a bit part-time, even for a Saturday league, but I went to see them recently with a view to turning them on to the virtues of figure-skating. It didn't entirely work out: a feature of the genuine egomaniac is that we can't ever truly understand other people's obsessions, but these boys were absolutely for real - I recognised their determination from my youthful days with Mr Scullion. 'You're a fucking pure tosser,' said Alan to the referee, a Christian who gives up his Saturday mornings for £10.
'You keep it shush!' said the referee.
Paul was trampled on by the home team and screamed like a pig and got a twisted ankle. Raymond was out of breath and shouted to me that he's been on a pizza and fags diet for the last six months and had just crashed his TVR Griffith into a central reservation.
'A low-slung car for a high-profile guy,' said Russell.
The linesman was smoking a gigantic joint and shouting down the phone to his girlfriend in the rain. A young English player called Kez was up and down the park: 'He's new to the team,' said the injured Paul, 'young, fast and talented - unlike us. Oh. My leg's fucked.' He stared into the mud and the driving rain. 'I wonder if I should take a sicky.'
Alan eventually got a red card. The referee said that repeatedly being called a 'knob' was like being accused of sexual deviance. Alan apologised. 'OK,' said the referee, 'I'll let it go this time, but any more of that and it'll go through.'
'Cheers, Ref,' said Alan. And when the Christian departed the field of play Alan turned to his team-mates. 'Knob,' he said.
Meanwhile, these last weeks, the World Cup has come to spread the values of commitment and fraternity at an international level. I remember my dad buying me and my four brothers Celtic strips one Christmas; my brothers doing keepy-up with the new balls and tearing off their pyjamas as quick as possible to don the green and white, and me, standing at the door, looking into all this carnage with eyes like My Little Pony. 'I told you he would hate it,' said my mother, who reached behind a green sofa, producing a Post Office set to gladden the heart of any housebound hooligan.
I phoned my father the other day in a fit of questionable delight after England beat Argentina. 'England are a shite team,' he said philosophically, 'they get one goal and they think they're the champions of the universe.' I tell him I've been buying dozens of packets of Panini football stickers for my girlfriend's two boys. 'You lay them all out and stick them in the book,' I said, 'and then you mark down the results and all the information about the players and you can cross-reference them and all that stuff.'
'Typical enemy of the game,' said my father. 'Turns everything into office work.'
Andrew O'Hagan, a contributing editor at the LRB, is the author of The Missing, The End of British Farming and Our Fathers, a novel published in 1999.
19 July 2002 17:53 BDST
(Bloomsbury, £9.99, 404pp) (Yellow Jersey, £10, 207pp)
Is there any cultural practice more widespread than football? No world religion can match its spread. The English language and the vocabulary of mathematics must run it close, but each remains a lingua franca of the world's élites, not its masses.
And is there any singular event more global than the World Cup? Even the Olympics pales into insignificance compared to the ratings, money, politics and passion that it generates. More countries are members of Fifa than any other international body. In a world order increasingly dominated by the US, no other global event gives such precedence to the developing world, or comes closer to reflecting populations rather than power.
Yet despite the cosmopolitanism of the game, its deepest passions are insistently local and national. Clubs, their fans and their hinterlands are the deepest of all. Support for national teams was once restricted by the absence of television coverage of games. But as the international circuit has been steadily commercialised, travel has become cheaper and broadcasting has been transformed. So national teams may have acquired more cultural baggage than ever before.
Among the contenders at Korea-Japan 2002, there is plenty. France look to Les Bleus as a symbol of a successful multi-culturalism in the face a resurgent domestic xenophobia and as an assertion of France's status: a sporting force du frappe. Argentina's expatriate squad express the bankruptcy of the Argentine league and economy, but will carry the nation's hopes of defiance in the teeth of a global economic system. England's experiment with rational Scandinavian managerialism will, I hope, not be exposed by the accumulation of injuries and the possibility of violence that reflects an over-worked society.
Two teams with more baggage than most are Brazil and co-hosts Japan. Exploring it requires very different skills; Alex Bellos faces an open goal. No society and nation is so singularly understood in terms of football as Brazil. Is it any wonder that Nike were prepared to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for rights to the branding of the yellow shirts? Bellos not only scores, but he arrives in the box at the end of a mazy, magical dribble though Brazilian history and society that is worthy of Garrincha.
Brazil is a country of extraordinary size, racial diversity and economic inequality. Bellos finds them all woven into the vast fabric of popular culture where football, carnival and religion intersect. Football provides a canvas for the expression of Brazil's religions; from the born-again evangelical movement among players, to the use of Afro-Brazilian magic in blessing pitches, to the thousands of football shirts left as offerings at the national Catholic shrine. In football and religion, solidarity, identity and hope are entwined.
Carnival has been central to the expression of transgression and creativity. The first black player at the élite club Fluminense in Rio covered his face with rice powder before matches to whiten his skin. In Sao Paulo, the unofficial fan club of Corinthians – the Hawks of the Faithful – is also one of Brazil's leading samba schools.
The excess of wealth among the stockbroking élite of Rio produced "autoball", in which cars were written off pushing a huge leather ball around a pitch. The urban poor, with no access to full-sized pitches, have created futsal; a seven-a-side indoor game so popular that it has gone professional and global. Football becomes Futsal, fans become performers, journalists become managers, players become politicians. Politicians have become fans to the extent that the largest stable grouping in the Brazilian parliament is the Flamengistas – supporters of Rio's Flamengo, the country's biggest club.
At the intersection of money, politics and football the darkest side of Brazilian society emerges. In the last decade, the quality of Brazilian football has steadily declined to the point where the possibility of not qualifying for Korea-Japan was real, and Phil Scolari, the team manager, has pronounced the death of the beautiful game. Domestically, attendances have collapsed, debts are astronomical, violence on and off the pitch is endemic, and the national FA has squandered its Nike millions on secret salaries, campaign contributions and expense accounts. Bellos's exploration of this morass shows a society in which the powerful act with impunity.
Sebastian Moffet in Japanese Rules faces a very different task; for the peculiarities of Japanese society present a tightly organised defense to a Western writer. An aggressive pressing game is only likely to meet with frustration. Incisive passing and thinking is needed to cut through the silences and feints of modern Japan.
Although its schools and universities have been playing football since the late 19th century, the professional game is less than a decade old. Before the J-League was launched in 1993, baseball was the most popular spectator sport and football languished as the preserve of corporate teams playing untutored hoofing games.
The strict hierarchies, corporate control and American cachet of baseball had sustained it for 30 years. But, as Moffett argues, the changing economy and culture of Japan in the Nineties made it ripe for a game in which cities and communities provided the focus of identity rather than companies, and in which complex team work and individual creativity had to mesh.
Japan's deep pockets, phenomenal capacity for reverse engineering and insatiable consumer desire for novelty made the J-League a massive success in its early years. Its more doubtful progress since can, in part, be explained by the incompatibilities of Japanese society and football's dominant cultures. Excessive respect for reputation has been disabling for Japanese players, who preferred not to tackle foreign stars. Pathological fear of failure has stifled individualism. Japan's World Cup is testament to the strength of its construction and infrastructure industries rather than the quality of its play.
If the World Cup were really a test of probity and dynamism, Brazil and Japan would be lucky to make it beyond the group stages. But because football and society correlate in such bizarre and complex ways, the game can allow hope, inspiration and magic to triumph momentarily over material realities. It is why football is the global game and why, on 30 June, over half of the entire planet will be watching it.
David Goldblatt's 'World Football Yearbook' is published in August (Dorling Kindersley)