So, World Cup 2010 is go. All the cliches about South Africa being “colourful” and “welcoming” and “noisy” are already well worn. “Noisy” seems the most contentious, although Fifa are refusing all calls to ban the constant apiological hum of the vuvuzela as it is part of the South African football-going experience. As such, it’s now very much a part of ours. By “ours” I mean those of us watching at home as much as those of us having an earful of it out there in Durban and Cape Town and Rustenberg until four in the morning. (It’s all the TV pundits were talking about on day one, having been kept awake by the welcome the night before their first day round the coffee tables.) What’s amazing about the never-ending reveille of plastic horns is just that – it never ends. Unlike the drums and klaxons we’re accustomed to, which wax and wane depending on the intensity of the action “on the park”, the vuvuzela fanfare forms a hard layer of irritating sound – akin to the whine in a Public Enemy record, or the buzz of a distant municipal lawnmower – it has already started when the TV coverage begins, and it does not go away.
On Friday, I taped the opening ceremony and first match, and raced home from an all-day script-meeting to enjoy it on a two-hour delay. However, I accidentally deleted it on my new Sky+, an inauspicious start to the tournament. However, I caught up, vibewise, by watching Uraguay-France, live, that evening. It was a very disappointing 0-0 draw, hardly the stuff to set my enthusiasm ablaze. I am, as previously stated, a fairweather football fan, disinterested in the weekly machinations of the league (in truth, too busy and preoccupied to give it sufficient attention and it’s too late to start now), but I find myself instantly fired up by the two-yearly internationals, and enjoy the crash course. You won’t find me in a crowded pub or even a crowded living room, feigning knowledge. But my enjoyment is real. I love catching up with who’s who, and reacclimatising to the TV pundits. I’m already a fan of Adrian Chiles, so chuffed he’s been transferred to ITV, where he seems more relaxed than he ever did on the One Show furniture. The BBC’s revolving panoramic eyrie seems a bit pleased with itself, as it scrolls its viewfinder round past Table Mountain to the Atlantic. That said, ITV – or at least ITVHD, which was surely designed for a World Cup – have some catching up to do, having allowed “human error” to insert an unplanned ad break when Steven Gerrard scored England’s first goal on Saturday. They promise it won’t happen again. Chiles called it a “glitch.” I wouldn’t have fancied being in a crowded England pub in that fourth minute of their first game. Surely chairs would have been thrown at the flat-screen?
You hardcore football fans will have to allow me my little pleasures: the frisson of recognition when a coach from two or four years ago turns out still to be in the job – France’s astrologer Raymond Domenech a good example from thus far, and Germany’s Joachim Low with his amazing resemblance to Muroc out of Gorillaz; the satisfying sweep of the Guardian World Cup Guide‘s player sheets for the over-30s (“Ah! Friedrich, 31; Klose, 32; Butt 36!”); the boyish filling-in of the scores with the blue felt tip that’s always left on the coffee table … I seem to have had far more spare time on my hands, whether by chance or by engineering, in previous World Cups, as I’m unable to keep up with too many of the afternoon games this time round. I’m making an effort to see whatever I can. Algeria-Slovenia wasn’t much cop either, with a single goal in the 79th minute. Although someone who watches loads more football than me has more to compare these matches to, I’m surprisingly patient, and once I’ve sat down for a game, I’m in ’till the finish.
On Saturday, typically, I eschewed the chance to see England-USA in a full house of people in football shirts and played instead at home. I’m glad, as national fervour does not grip me, even though I find myself saying “we” when talking about my home team. I don’t hold with Chris Addison’s controversial view, aired on Five Live, that people who fly flags from cars and vans are “idiots”, but I am happier hiding any partisanship by geographical accident under a more general enthusiasm for the rainbow coalition of international football itself. That said, I’m as crestfallen as any Enger-land fan when they disappoint, as they did against USA. Admittedly, the Yanks’ 40th-minute goal should never have been one, having been helped in by one-time Norwich man Robert Green in “a moment of complete calamity” – I have absorbed the fact that “we” don’t really have a number one keeper this year, with James injured, and Green the second choice – but Gerrard’s early goal, though unseen by 1.5 million of us, was a fantastic start, and it was enjoyable, for me, to see old-timers like he and Lampard and Cole and Terry still kicking the ball around after what has been a four-year break (and Crouch, too, after a substitution).
I can’t help but fall into the time-honoured groove of wanting England to go far, but sort of knowing they won’t. Not having watched them play since 2006, it’s weird to see David Beckham in his suit in the dugout. And hasn’t Wayne Rooney grown? These are the cries, of an out-of-touch grandparent, that emanate from my mouth during a World Cup.
So, enjoying it so far, especially the trouncing Germany gave to Australia, which at least upped the rather diluted goal count, and gave us the edifying prospect of all four of Germany’s strikers sharing a goal each, combined with the unedifying one of Tim Cahill being red-carded by the severe-looking Mexican referee. Our commentators and pundits seemed pleased with his decisions, on the whole. I really wish ITV didn’t have that smudgy black panel for the score. It’s the visual equivalent of a vuvuzela. Always there. Always spoiling it.