Monday, 28 June 2010

My World Cup Tuppence'worth

I would’ve dearly loved to have used the 2010 World Cup as an excuse to finally fulfil a lifelong ambition to visit South Africa. Instead of which, sadly I spent the first week of the tournament, watching most of the matches in 30 minute snatches, between interval changes, backstage at the Royal Albert Hall. My enjoyment of what’s often billed as “the greatest show on earth” was interrupted by what was supposedly the largest ballet in the world.

Fortunately the Arsenal Box Office granted me a couple of weeks grace on the 1st June deadline for season ticket renewals and the offer of a fortnight’s work with the stage crew proved to be the answer to my prayers, with the relatively lucrative remuneration guaranteeing me my Gunners’ pleasures for another season, enabling me to rustle up the funds, rather than risk the threat of my highly-prized pitch being released to one of the many punters on the waiting list.

I suppose it’s a small price to pay, as if I was going to be deprived of watching a World Cup group stage, I couldn’t have picked a better one. In truth I’ve never been a massive fan of international footie. Philistine that I am, I’m even less of a ballet lover and yet I’ve little doubt that most nights there was more entertainment to be had watching the fancy footwork of the sixty swans prancing around the Albert Hall lake, than there was to be found on the proliferation of TV screens backstage, all tuned to the positively turgid fare on offer in so many tedious encounters during the opening stage of the tournament.

Mind you, with such a massive cast of dancers from all four corners of the planet, I can think of many far less salubrious circumstances to be watching footie. If I was down the pub I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the distraction of a procession of nubile nymphs in various states of undress, whereas we had to ‘suffer’ a fairly constant stream of cast members wandering into the crew room to find out how their respective countries were faring.

However having watched something like two-thirds of the live coverage of most of the games, in between the three interval changes in this protracted four act ballet, the vast majority of matches seemed so excruciatingly drab that I was hardly about to dash home, just so I could suffer the negligible highlights again on the box, in order to catch the odd moment that I might’ve missed. As a result the competition reached the knockout stages, with me having seen most of the action, but without ever really feeling as if I’d absorbed any relevant information about the individual form of the various runners and riders.

In fact the only lasting impression of the first week of this World Cup was the blissful joy of silence, when eventually turning off the box and escaping the interminable swarm of bees blare of those blasted Vuvuzelas! I fully appreciate that these horns are an integral part of South African football culture and unlike those nouveau footie fans who get narked by the noise-level, I’m the last person to complain about football’s fabulous cacophony, as someone who often inflicts headaches on anyone in earshot, by hollering my own head off for the entire 90.

Nevertheless, the more I watch of this World Cup, the more I wonder about the impact of the ubiquitous Vuvuzela. It wouldn’t be so bad if noise from the horns waxed and waned, according to ebb and flow of the football, rising to a crescendo with an imminent threat on goal. But it’s the fact that it’s an incessant drone that drowns out all other crowd noise which quite frankly gets on my and apparently most other viewers’ tits. You’d have thought that by now the TV sound engineers would’ve sussed out the specific frequency, so that they could reduce the noise of the horns and afford us all some respite.

Sadly I’ll never know what the atmosphere is like for those actually present in the stadiums. But from an armchair perspective, what bothers me most about watching on the box is that the horns principle achievement is to have turned this into the homogenous World Cup, where instead of each game having an individual atmosphere, generated by the respective fans idiosyncratic rituals, every single game sounds identical!

Worse still, I’m even beginning to wonder if the Vuvuzelas are partially culpable for the monotone tempo of far too many matches (let’s face it, it’s no less far-fetched than blaming the bloomin’ Jabulani ball!) because the constant blare means that there can be no potential boost to a team’s momentum from the traditional twelfth man, with the horns nullifying all prospects of any “sing up for the lads” impact from the terraces.

England have no such excuse, as seemingly their no. 12 was the only performer to have bothered turning up at this tournament. Thus far they’re the only fans who’ve managed to make themselves heard above the din (albeit that this duly developed into a collective expression of their disapprobation!). I’ve always found the England support a little too jingoistic for my liking, but living in this country, it’s impossible not to get caught up in all the ballyhoo. I’m sure most of the Murphy clan would’ve been mortified to hear Rona roaring at Rooney. Myself I pondered upon how many euphemisms the Beeb’s commentary team could possibly conjure up, before eventually admitting that Wayne was simply having another ‘mare !

Obviously my Jewish ancestry means that I always live in hope of an eternal return on the Krauts bad karma but I wanted England to win, if only because an entirely irresponsible British media are guilty of imbuing our national sport with such a thoroughly disproportionate significance, amongst both lovers of the beautiful game and those who are more likely to mistake Fabio’s chosen team formation for the unordained relative of Bishop Tutu, that the resulting national mood of well-being would ensure that one would be more likely to be greeted by a “hello” than a headbutt when walking the capital’s increasingly mean streets.

Perhaps the nuances of British dressing room banter escaped Capello’s laughable command of the language, as the lack of unity within his squad was evident to me from their opening game, at a distance of over 5000 miles away and only became more apparent, to the point where Terry couldn’t resist going public. Even then Fabio doesn’t appear to have got the message, judging by the hope he invested in Emil Heskey to save the nation’s skin on Sunday!

Terry was far from alone in his selfish lack of team spirit and personally I’d have preferred to watch a team of journeyman Championship players fail valiantly, than suffer England’s preening squad of prima donnas. But then judging by the ignominious early exit of the French and the Italians, sadly a failure to perform for your country as if your very lives depended upon the result appears to be a recurring theme in this particular competition (for all but the North Koreans – but then perhaps their’s does?). Football’s excessive trappings of wealth and fame seem to have finally taken their toll, to the point where players aren’t even prepared to feign the prerequisite passion and pride in wearing their nation’s shirt

There wasn’t even much satisfaction to be gained from Domenech and his French squad receiving their just deserts. After cheating the Boys in Green of their rightful seat at the South African party, the very least the buggers could’ve done was to give it a bit of a go!

Mercifully the impromptu return of Stevie Gerrard and his teammates (who won’t surprise me if they lack sufficient respect to be suitably shamefaced!) might at least signal the end of a positive plague of England flags. I’ve nothing against displaying ones patriotic pride, if there was something to be proud about. Nevertheless, there’s something I find unnerving about the sight of so many crosses of St George, flapping at every car window and hanging from every other house and home. Perhaps it’s a hangover from the flags previous hijacking by the National Front and the BNP and the lingering xenophobic connotations. Or maybe with the bouillabaisse of cultures in this cosmopolitan city, I believe we should be celebrating the commonality of humankind, rather than revelling in our nationalistic differences?

With the tabloids doing all in their power to stir up patriotic fervour in the days leading up to Sunday’s game, the resulting epidemic of England flags put me in mind of the story that gave it’s name to the Jewish Passover, but with an unhappy ending. Never mind the first born, the Gerry Angel of Death passed over and well and truly did for all the English menfolk!