I once went to Sydney for a weekend with four male friends. We arrived around midday with tickets to a football double header that evening and an eye to heading out afterwards. Casually flicking through the TV channels, waiting for everyone to be ready, something unforseen happened. Somehow we landed on The World’s Strongest Man competition. For those of you who have fulfilling lives and are therefore in need of an explanation, this is a competition where enormous men with moustaches and names like Otto lift things. And sometimes push things. And that’s it. Next thing we know two hours had passed, we almost missed our train and that time had vanished forever into the ether.
Three valuable lessons can be taken from this situation. One, a staggeringly disproportionate number of the world’s strongest men come from Northern Europe. Two, all groups of men travelling together should bring a female chaperone along so that tragedies like this can be prevented. Three, my tolerance for utter trash on the TV could be described as heroic. Or pathetic, depending on your perspective.
Now typically I don’t have to worry about this because travelling with my partner means I have someone who has perfected the “you are NOT going to watch/eat/play that” look. Two minutes after copping one of those glares I can be showered and ready to go. But our current trip has seen the meeting of this immovable object with an irresistable force. I refer of course to The World Cup.
I’m the veteran of about four carefully observed World Cup campaigns now. The first two supporting Ireland, the homeland of both of my parents, and the latter two supporting Australia. Thankfully, the success trajectories of both these teams has developed into something of a double helix meaning I’m yet to have to pick a side, avoiding a painful Sophie’s Choice type scenario.
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This has been my first World Cup watched from the view of, well, the world I guess. Some benefits were immediately obvious. No more getting up at 3am to see Zidane headbutt his way to defeat for one, with all the games happening pretty much in prime time. And of course it’s nice to watch the game in a place where football is football. In Australia, you’re either talking about League in the north, or Australian rules in the South. And possibly Union if your dad is loaded. Soccer runs a distant fourth. In Europe, there is just football. Then there is daylight. Then there is everything else, or as they like to call it here, ‘shit’.
My watching time was split between the group stages in London, and the finals in France. I’ve had many a friend declare their love for living in England to me over the years. The reminiscing is usually cut short by the phrase “Except for football season. Then it’s crap.” I mentally armed myself for all sorts of hooliganism and car burning. Which was, of course, completely unnecessary. Watching the English watch football is almost better than watching the game itself. There’s the mix of cynicism and hope. The admiration of players who everyone freely admits seem like complete pricks. The battering of poorly performing players by the tabloids (the ‘Hand of Clod’ headline after the English keeper let in an easy goal was a favourite). The fact that the Germans are still referred to collectively as ‘the Hun’. Thankfully though we escaped the country before the English team was knocked out and the depression returned.
France has been even better for World Cup watching. Firstly, they got knocked out quite humiliatingly in the first round in a storm of controversy, with the French players seeming to go on strike at one point (which has led to no end of jokes from the rest of the world about the players forgoing football to indulge in France’s other national pastime). This means that the whole competition instantly loses those uncomfortable and largely unwarranted overt statements of nationalism. It also means that all forms of supporting become more jovial as the stakes seem immediately lower.
Secondly, the finalists in this years cup were countries that everyone would have liked to see win, and close enough to France that there was a significant number of expats from both so that the after match celebrations could be counted on to be entertaining at the least. And of course they were, with Spanish fans blocking the street, dancing along, playing drums and singing. It was terribly exciting, until I was trying to get to sleep and instantly became an 80 year old woman, peering suspiciously out the window and muttering things to myself like ‘where are the police when you need them?’
One of the highlights for me was watching a game in our tiny Paris apartment, windows open to counter the stifling heat, which meant that we could hear the large crowd that had gathered in the rough looking bar down in the street. Their TV was on a slight delay compared to ours so after every goal or near miss we would sit quietly waiting the 3 seconds or so for it to happen downstairs and the street to explode in jubilation or frustration.
After three weeks though my partners patience was beginning to wear thin. I had received permission to watch most of the games, and she had even indulged me by sitting down with me for a while before opting to do something she considered more entertaining, like sorting photos, or sitting quietly in the corner facing the wall. Things came to a head when I informed her that we couldn’t go for an evening stroll because there was a game to decide third place. ‘Third place?’ she asked me incredulously. ‘They’ve been knocked out, who even cares?’ After racking my brain it became obvious that there is no honest answer to that question other than ‘Noone.’ Trying to explain the correlation between not caring and still having to watch was to prove more difficult.
But the Cup is done now. The country with the best team, and for my money, the best sausage (chorizo), has won. Some things about the Cup are universal of course, no matter where you watch it. Diego Maradona was crazy. We all had to endure 3 weeks of journalists pondering whether America has finally taken to soccer. A South American team did something so egregiously unsportsmanlike in the name of winning it became easier to understand why dictatorships have thrived on the continent. And of course, women all over the world had another opportunity to look at their small minded partner yelling at the TV over a ball game, consider their relationship choices, and ask themselves, ‘Why?’.
Now I must be off for a romantic walk in the Black Forest.
Just a quick review of the Tour highlights and I’ll start getting ready.