Monday, June 28

Ode to the World Cup version 2010

I'm not a rabid football fan, but I am a World Cup enthusiast. 

That is to say that between World Cups, I keep an eye on what's going on in the football world in a general able-to-make-a-decent-contribution-to-conversations sort of way. I have a foreign team or two whose fortunes I follow closely. (One of which has a very dusty trophy cabinet, I am sad to say.) And I have begun to follow, from a respectable distance, the stirrings taking place in Kenyan football. 

But during the world cup, I become a sort of amateur fanatic. I let go and let myself get caught up in the highs and the lows and the wows and the arghs. The whole shebang. I immerse myself in the beautiful game and let myself get carried away by the tide of the times. 

It's a very conscious, very self-aware participation in a ritual. 

All the while, I wonder what sets the World Cup apart from club football. Sometimes I tell myself that perhaps it is because here, national pride holds sway over personal fortunes. But I'm not certain, even of this. Maybe it is the idea of sharing this moment in time with so many disparate people from diverse political, social and economic backgrounds in a space where all our differences appear to shrink and what we have in common is amplified. I confess that I can be a romantic that way. 

And, think about it: whereas there may be other sports that boast deeper degrees of fanaticism in certain pockets of the world, there's none that draws enthusiastic devotees from all over the world quite the way football does. That should count for something. 

Whatever the reason, every time the World Cup comes around, I take off my shoes, lift my skirts and wade in with both feet, jumping and screaming and groaning with the best of them.

I let myself be fascinated by the sheer breadth and depth of skill, grit and determination on display. I watch with wonder as personal brilliance intertwines seamlessly with meticulous team work to manufacture historic moment after historic moment. I am in awe of the will and discipline that it must take to keep going, to keep pushing forward, to not give up when your team is two, three, four goals down. And I am reminded that sometimes, you can win a much more highly ranked opponent simply because you are hungrier, you want it more. 

(This is a lesson that I want to carry with me through life. To keep hungry in order to keep winning.)

Lesser instincts are on display as well, of course. Like nations that turn viciously on their own, mauling them and devouring them in full view of public for not living up to their expectations, unrealistic or otherwise. And players who expend more energy feigning injury and putting on a show than on playing. Or when a fit of temper grips a player so that he forgets how far he's come, what obstacles he and his team have had to overcome to get there, and in an inexplicable moment of gross self-involvement, he does something that sends the fate of his entire team spiralling downwards. 

Then there's yet a handsome helping of human error to toss into that mix, to deliver just the right amount of tension. Like referees and linesmen who make calls that bring the groan up from the deep. And what. And not. 

There's so much more. Club football played at the highest level is ruled ruthlessly by the bottom-line. Big football is big business. At a certain level, FIFA notwithstanding, the World Cup provides momentary respite. It allows a legitimate retreat into the more primal sphere of national identity and the re-emergence of intricate subtexts in the football story. There is the potential for a clash of civilisations for example, when North Korea plays its way into the finals. Or there is the opportunity to settle scores, old and recently spilled over when Iran encounters the USA for highly-charged example. There are encounters that recall to us the biblical tale of goliath and David: the minnow takes on the political or economic giant on the playing field, and triumphs. An economic, political and even cultural consciousness scrolls just below many games. We watch, and read, transfixed.

All this and more is the World Cup. 

When it is over, many will face disappointment where once they had dared hope and a precious few will achieve to their wildest dreams and beyond. And then July 11th will come and July 11th will go. We will mourn and we will celebrate, as the case may be. (Africa will be particularly proud of South Africa for its resounding success in hosting the World Cup.) 

And then we will get back to the daily grind of our lives and look forward to Brazil, 2014. 

*this post is dedicated to the friend who thinks football is about nothing but hot air wrapped in polished skin. 


Lisa said...

This is my first World Cup to really watch. It has been amazing!

Inaie said...

Being Brazilian and not enjoying football is a contradiction, only one of the many contradictions in my life, but World Cup games are a whole different story...

Bruno said...

FIFA marketed their product and created a buzz around the competition. Everyone is trapped, even non-fans :)