Essay

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.

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21 thoughts on “Essay

  1. Chris Addison is spot on. It does tend to be simple fools who get the flags out. It is helpful in one way as it denote the morons on the road as makes likely you will have an accident as you will be able to leave a little extra room.

    I was really excited on Day One and dashed home form work like a small child in eager anticipation.

    So far it has been a little tepid. I’m hoping the teams loosen up as the threat of being dumped out forces teams to attack.

  2. I tend to get absorbed in the World Cup too. I’m enjoying it so far even though it’s early days and yet to really catch light.

    It took a Scot to point out to me how ludicrous it is that so many England flags have ‘England’ written across them, as if the St George’s Cross isn’t a big enough clue as to which country it represents. Chris Addison may have a point about people who have those flags.

  3. As your regular sporting correspondent from foreign climes, Andrew, I can vouch for the fact that the only worthwhile home for a vuvuzela is up the blower’s rectum. They’ve been banned from the broadcast centre here in Jo’burg, even though the newsagents on site has them for sale. Two sizes available.

    • That’s Chris Treece from BBC Sport, there; always a good man to have on the ground during a sporting tournament. Any questions for him?

  4. God that vuvuzela is damned irritating, I was convinced that it was a layered soundtrack at first. Having said that after watching a few games it is just (just) starting to blend into the background.

    Poor start for England, opening games are always a little tense. Having said that the Dutch and Germans made their opposition look pedestrian.

    Hopefully it is going to be all about the ‘football flair’ in this World Cup and the changes in SA will be evident to the world. How wonderful to see a world competition staged in this part of the world.

  5. I hate the snobbishness about flags. Why the hell shouldn’t people fly flags from their car if they want to show their support for their country’s football team? I bet none of you would have a problem if you were in Italy and they were Italian flags flying from Italian cars.

    I don’t have any on my car, but I really don’t see what the problem is.

    • here! hear! (I never remember which homonym it is so I hedged my bets!).

      The only bad thing about the flag-flying is that the george cross is just so bland.

      I do miss the decent roar of the crowd though as the game waxes and wanes and funnily enough it is making each game seem rather dull.

      The TV commentary is almost like those match of the day commentaries when you know they have been added afterwards (i.e. not live during the match, but live during a recording of the match). Apiological hum is right, good word Andrew. Although it is just as annoying as the Trumpeter at the England games that only knows two two tunes (Intro to the Great Escape and the chorus of that silly song from the Italian Job).

      All in all though a predictably dull start. Wait for the last 16 Andrew.

      I’d prefer if it was knock-out from the ‘get go’.

      You could even have a ‘proper’ world cup tournament with every single nation in the world represented no matter how rubbish they were. If you were knock out from the start you could have the hundred-an-odd teams and still manage to wrap it up in the same time I think.

  6. It is the constancy of the noise and pitch that irritates.They should invent ones with differant pitches so in a tense moment we could get the crowd to blow a diminished chord,a sad moment a lovely minor chord etc Too much to ask I suppose and the logistics….?However I sttill maintain a rectally inserted Vuvuzela is the only worthwhile one and they can blow ’til their hearts content.

    ITV is shit at sports especially football.always have been and it seems always will be.Dropping ads into games at crucial moments once is unfortunate but twice is just careless.Maybe Mr Chiles ,as Mt Lynam did before him is wondering if leaving Auntie Beeb,smug as they are, is the right move

  7. I’m interested to see that you’ve described Robert Green as the ‘one-time Norwich man’. As I support Ipswich Town, he’ll always be ex-Norwich (and therefore not to be trusted) to me but I was surprised to see you describing him thus.

    Last night on the BBC Italy v Paraguay show Clarence Seedorf revealed Hansen’s and, to a lesser extent, Dixon’s punditry to be the shallow and narrow minded guff they’re able to get away with in the cosy confines of the Match of the Day studio. It won’t wash when we’re a bit unfamiliar with the players from some of the other participating nations and would like the hansdsomely paid professionals to shine some ‘expert’ light on our area dark areas of ignorance.

    • Matt, when I first worked on 6 Music, Gary, who worked on the show from day one, infected me with his deep-seated, all-encompassing, unconditional love of Norwich (where he’s from), and, not being a follower of my own team, I took a keen interest in their fortunes out of tribute to him. It wasn’t a bad time to follow them secondhand, as they had a fleeting year in the Premiership 2004-05. Yes, I picked up on the Norwich-Ipswich animosity, but of course played no part in any geographical feud! (The fact that Ipswich fans have an unkind nickname comes up for discussion on the Collings & Herrin podcast CD, in case you’re moved to buy one! See: Shop, above. How’s that for a seamless plug?)

      • Thanks for the explanation and seamless plug – upselling that any call centre operative would be proud of.
        I expect the unkind nickname has something to do with refuse collection operatives doesn’t it? Did he tell you where the nickname comes from?

  8. In response to David, I am in Italy, I live here, and there are no flags on cars, but that is because the Italian nation is somewhat bemused by team selection for the azzurri, plus the Italians are fiercely regional still, only being united 150 years ago, and people support their local team first and the national side a poor second.
    Anyway, I digress. Great article Andrew, in fact it is maaa favourite article of the world cup so far!

  9. Okay I’ll be the brave one to put his hand up and ask:

    Mr Collins, sir, what does apiological mean?

    I did look in an on-line dictionary but it isn’t keen to divulge.

    Thanks

    • I think I made it up, Stephen. It’s extrapolated from apiology, the study of bees. (apis = Latin for bee) In my fevered mind, it means “like/of a bee.”

      • Thanks, for that.

        I think you have made up a word that means ‘like the study of bees’, but hey that is how language develops.

        I have found the apiological noise a real bar to my fair-weather-half-hearted enjoyment of the W.Cup. As a three-quarter Scot I have happily followed England’s progress in past Cup competitions. (I hate the concept of the ‘Any One But England’ approach to supporting a ‘home’ team.) However, the noise was a real irritant on Saturday night and I had to mute the TV. After a while I found that I had wandered off and I had forgotten that the TV was on, let alone the match was still progressing.

        I am going to have to improve my vuvuzela tolerance soon or this world cup is going to pass by while I reorganise my sock drawer.

  10. I was wondering if ‘apine’ was the right word (a bit like canine or bovine). I googled it but I’m still not sure. Then again they sound more like wasps to me (a bit high pitched and whiny) so maybe they’re vespine (which seems to definitely be a real word).

  11. Update from our cameraman with the England team, who’s been filming at a kids’ home;

    “I have just been to a South African orphanage with England’s Michael Dawson and Mathew Upson. “It was great to bring sunshine into the lives of people facing great challenges and unsurmountable odds,” said a Rustenberg orphan”

  12. Having also watched the Germany game, wasn’t it refreshing to find out that they have 2 Polish born strikers and a new young player with a distinctly Turkish surname. They could be said to be a rainbow coalition of races, creeds and backgrounds.

    Hitler must be turning in his grave….or box file in the depths of the Kremlin!

    This competition underlines how powerful sport is for bringing countries and it’s peoples together, tonights game Brazil v North Korea underlines that.

  13. you’re right about Joachim Low looking like Murdoc – I thought at the last tournament that he looked like Steven Drozd, and the Italian coach Donadoni resembled Wayne Coyne.

  14. Pingback: Let them eat Kaká – Josué

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