Now that the Hockey World Cup is done and dusted, we can turn our attention to that little festival of football going on in Brazil. So far, it’s been brilliant. There have already been spectacular goals and major upsets, and it’s now getting to ‘squeaky bum time’ for a few teams and the fans that follow them. But I can always find something to moan about!
The English TV Pundits
Most of these so-called experts may as well be sat in the pub chatting for all the insight they are able to give us. The BBC’s Gary Lineker is good, but his orange skin tone becomes more alarming the longer you look at it. Alan “state the obvious” Shearer and Mark “could I be more negative?” Lawrenson are easily outdone by Thierry Henry on both knowledge and successful command of the English language. Plus Thierry’s presence must keep a few girls who are being forced to watch footy happy. Meanwhile, the usually irritating adverts on ITV provide a welcome break from Adrian Chiles’ sweat patches.
Newspapers, the Internet, the TV, advertising. As well as the usual beer and sports brand adverts, all kinds of companies attempt to cash in by tenuously linking their products to the World Cup. Castrol oil, Beats headphones and even Durex have got involved this time around. Once every four years, the global game really does take over the world. I actually like football. For someone who doesn’t, this must be one hell of a painful month.
Phil Neville has had a pretty hard time since his debut as a commentator last week. Yes, he is a bit boring and yes, perhaps you could do better. But is this much different to most football commentators? It’s amazing how many times you hear an ex-footballer (who often wasn’t actually that good at playing himself) say, “He has to score that” or “That isn’t good enough at this level”. It’s so lucky they had perfect careers and never made a mistake! Tony Pulis criticised a referee for sending off a player, believing the ref should do everything possible to keep players on the pitch. He didn’t make much mention of the fact that Pepe had (not unusually) done something stupid and reckless which is a red card offence. How about the players do everything possible to stay within the rules?
The good old English Press
They can never quite find a happy medium. They’re either busy telling us that, “We’re definitely going to win the World Cup!” or telling us who we should blame for the inevitable failure before it even happens. Wayne Rooney – who was England’s top goalscorer in the qualifying campaign, ran furthest in their match against Italy, and who set up their solitary goal – is currently being portrayed as the villain. Even if he misses an open goal tonight and it all goes wrong, it’s amazing how easily Rooney’s role in getting England to the World Cup in the first place will be forgotten. As far as I can see, the journalists who constantly stir things up don’t really care how England get on at all… as long as they get their story. In addition, the number of column inches dedicated to football means that other top level sport that deserves its fair share of coverage at the moment – think hockey, cricket, rugby – finds it even harder to get it.
Life in Brazil
As well as the excitement and positivity around the World Cup, there has also been tragedy and controversy. Whilst millions of Brazilian Real have been spent on building stadia and developing infrastructure for the thousands of spectators, around 16% of Brazil’s 200 million inhabitants are thought to live in poverty. Millions have been involved in riots and protest marches have been staged to bring attention to the financial cost of the World Cup in a country where many people do not have adequate healthcare, accommodation, education or wages. At least eight workers have died in the construction of stadia for the tournament and Brazil’s crime rate is high. The World Cup is a festival of football and it gives billions of people worldwide much to celebrate. But it also raises important issues about life beyond sport.
Despite the irritating commentary, the emotional roller coaster of being an England fan, and the genuine moral issues raised by extreme spending on sports events in countries with stretched economies, I still love the things that surround the World Cup. There’s drama, excitement, the Panini sticker book, and the betting I do against my Dad on every game. The best players are out there on the biggest stage, in a country that loves partying and loves football. And at least the authorities had the brains to ban vuvuzelas this time around!
‘I Love the World Cup, But… (Part II)’ coming soon!