Early on in this World Cup, while observing the fantastic local flags and banners hung over the balconies by far-flung fans at one of the stadiums, I saw two next to each other that seemed almost poetic, one in Gothic lettering, white on black, the other in the more traditional gaffer-tape style. They read: POTSDAM, PENGE. I loved the alliteration, and the exotic nature of both locales, each as faraway and foreign as the other. One the capital city of Brandenberg, with eerie echoes of the beginning of the Third Reich and the end of the war; the other a suburb of Bromley best known as the site of Crystal Palace Park and the TV transmitter. I don’t know if the fans who unfurled their local blankets that day were at the Free State Stadium yesterday in Bloemfontein, but I like to think they were.

So, England went out in a blaze of glory – not their own, but Germany’s, who could have pasted them even more comprehensively had David James not been almost uniquely on-message. I am English. I was born here. Not in Penge, but in Northampton, virtually the middle of England. Naturally, I feel a certain geographical affinity to the England team, and wish them well, every time. But you would not choose to follow them if you had the pick of the world’s teams, would you? I mean, truthfully? They are too often less than the sum of their parts. Imagined feuds with another European team do not help. The English fans have been world class. If their singing and support couldn’t get England through yesterday, nothing could. And we heard how plenty of them had had to trek miles to Bloemfontein to be there – possibly across open terrain where three lions might have eaten them – and show that unfailing support: the ones dressed as knights, the ones dressed as RAF fighter pilots … all doomed to be the ones clutching their heads, the traditional pose of the England football fan.

No point in me dissecting England’s performance, not from my position of well-meaning ignorance, but I picked up that Rooney never really caught fire, and that our defence was, once again, loose, and that the Germans outclassed our “Golden Generation” (not a phrase that Frank Lampard favours) with their just-over-21s. The final score, 4-1, was only a shadow of what it might have been, had David James not played so well. The sight of him swearing at his defenders from the goal line with that huge, toothy mouth of his will be the lasting image of England’s World Cup 2010.

The big talking point to come out of this, and yesterday evening’s Mexico Argentina game – which Argentina comfortably won, powered by Maradona bear hugs – is of technology, which Fifa seem unwilling to introduce into the grey area of whether goals have gone in or not, and whether a man was offside or not. The problem is not that the officials don’t always have the best view of whether a ball has gone over a line, or whether a man has gone offside, but that once they have made their call, they are not permitted to reverse it based upon what is commonly known in detective shows as “evidence.” We at home can see immediately whether Lampard’s goal was a goal or not, but the ref and his linesmen cannot. (Unless, of course, they show the replay on the big telly screen at the ground, which they did in the case of the offside Argentinian goalscorer Tevez. Not sure whether this is supposed to happen. It certainly democratises the in/out, offside/onside decision-making process, allowing 50,000 fans to officiate!) From what I can gather, EVERYBODY WHO WORKS IN FOOTBALL, EVEN FORMER SCEPTIC ALAN HANSEN now favours goal-line technology being introduced, except Sepp Blatter. Why? (Some of you will probably know better than me.)

Let us briefly praise Matthew Upson, who pulled one back for England when they were 2-0 down, using mostly his face (although he had earlier been part of the clay-footed defence that had let through Klose for the first German goal), and Frank Lampard for scoring the equaliser that never was, moments later. Apologists will forever claim that the disallowed second goal would have changed the course of the game (Rio Ferdinand said so in today’s calm and collected Sun – front page: YOU HAVE LET YOUR COUNTRY DOWN), but when you lose 4-1 – and might just as conceivably have lost 6-1 or 7-1 – it’s not about one goal, it’s about more than one goal. If anything, England showed most spark when they were 2-0 down, and never recovered that spark.

I wanted England to win, but only out of a random accident of birth and growing familiarity with the players and where they’re from and what they are supposed to be good at doing, and it was a shame that they lost instead. But I was not weeping into my beer. The worst thing that happened was that I stopped being interested in drinking beer. Which may have been because I had drunk too much of it in the afternoon. That, I guess, is England’s fault, as I had used their brief window of hope against Slovenia to instill in me the notion that this was a potential big moment – one worth breaking out the beer for. It wasn’t. It was a big moment for Germany, who look a strong side with their young men. And a big moment for the pro-technology lobby.

I found a surprising amount of support on Twitter last night when I suggested that I was sort of relieved that England were out and I could relax and just enjoy the rest of the world-class games. I do think this. It makes far more sense to follow your local team, or a team you grew up with, than the national side. Mind you, the more I see Fabio Capello speak, the more I wonder how the England players can ever really connect with him, or know what he actually wants. He can speak better English than I can speak Italian, but I am not paid £6million a year and I don’t work in Italy in a job that is all about communication.

On a more positive note, has anybody else found themselves mesmerised by the way the black tablets showing the score and the minutes within the BBC’s on-screen graphic seem to cast a constantly but slow moving reflection?

15 thoughts on “Essay6

  1. “It makes far more sense to follow your local team, or a team you grew up with, than the national side.”

    This is actually what football fans do, as a rule.

  2. Hello Andrew.

    About empathising with your local side as opposed to the national side of one’s birth, upbringing or residence…well, you don’t really feel the England thing, and I respect that. I’m don’t say that that’s wrong.

    But isn’t having a local side just as subject to the vagaries of circumstance and geographical luck as having a national side?

    • Yes, John, you’re right about the vagaries of birthplace, but the national side doesn’t play every week, so the local one seems like a much more useful option if you wish to follow football. That’s what I meant, anyway.

  3. No, I don’t think you do know, really. Your last comment suggests you think there are two exclusive “options” to following football – supporting a club or supporting the national team. Everyone who goes and watches England also supports a club that plays every week.

    • Mark A: so you actually think that I think people who support a club don’t support their national team? Then I have failed in my duties as a communicator! I simply meant that following a local team who play every week makes far more sense than to put your faith in a national team who play together on a fairly infrequent basis. That’s all I meant. I wasn’t saying one was exclusive of the other. As I say, Mark, it’s my failure to get across my point. The truth is, it’s a blog, written in a certain degree of haste. It’s not a published article or book. So I’m happy to continue a dialogue at the end. That’s why we’re here. But please don’t say to me: “No, I don’t think you do know, really.” That’s trying to gain the upper hand. It’s not a battle of wits, merely a discussion.

  4. Kim:

    Front paws are hands, and those cats are clearly handling the ball. This is fine for the one in goal, but the others should be booked. Bloody cats, they’re worse cheats than Portugal.

    If it is football. To my mind, given a) those floorboards really slippy b) there are no throw ins and c) the goal and the cat in the goal are virtually the same size, it reminds me much more of ice hockey. Played without sticks.

    Hockball. That’s what it is. Cat hockball.

  5. Regarding the actual subject of the blog, this is our biennial Grim Day, the day after you’re knocked out of the World Cup or European Championship. Every country in the world goes through this, because every country gets eliminated once from the World Cup and once from their continental trophy, whether in qualification or at the tournament itself.

    There are two exceptions to the previous statement. Firstly, Africa has a continental trophy every two years, so Africans go through this three times over a four yearly period. Secondly, every trophy has one winner, whose citizens are briefly excused. Of course, once you’ve won something, every subsequent tournament until you win something again becomes extra years on your years of hurt.

    Your club side, they hurt you all the time. It’s like the death of a thousand cuts. The national team, they hurt you every two years, but they hurt you big. Not so much a thousand cuts as the short stabbing sword.

    Of course, once you’ve been through the Grim Day you can then relax and enjoy the rest of the tournament. Which we do. God forbid we should seem morbid in any way.

  6. I find it does help with football if you have some allegiance to a team, although I wouldn’t necessarily say it makes it more enjoyable. More intense certainly. I don’t often watch football as a neutral (i.e. when I don’t really care about the result) but the World Cup is an exception for me. Like Andrew I sometimes feel a bit relieved when England go out so I can indulge properly in the novelty of being a neutral and just enjoy the football without the stress.

    Geography has had a peculiar effect on my own allegiances. I was, by a quirk really, born in Liverpool so I support them, even though I haven’t actually visited the city since I was two years old. Still, my brother supported them and I suppose they were (at the time I got into football) the best team in Europe. I feel a bit guilty that I don’t properly support my home town team, although they are cobblers (indeed that’s what they’re called). As a kid I also used to support Scotland more than England – all my favourite players were Scottish and Scotland seemed like a much better place. Since going to live in Scotland, I find my allegiance to England has grown while my enthusiasm for the Scotland team has waned. I was right all along about Scotland being a better place though.

  7. I was also captivated by the strange effects within the score graphics Andrew. Maybe this is something to do with the fleeting interest in the sport which we seem to share! It’s one of the most superfluous things I’ve ever seen, and I’m quite confused by it.

  8. Andrew,

    Apparently the showing of the Tevez offside goal in the stadium was a mistake as ‘controversial moments’ such as that shouldn’t be replayed for some reason. (Possibly something to do with evidence and not wanting to make the officials even more unpopular or something.)

    Btw, why did the chicken cross the road? Sepp Blatter says it didn’t!

  9. I used to follow football in my youth but not so much now. I follow my local team Norwich but rarely go to many games unless there is a Tuesday night cheap ticket.

    The good things for me about the world cup are:
    [i] football is on when you get home from work everyday. this seems an incredible novelty.
    [ii] teams from different continents playing each other. this seems a real novelty as well.
    [iii] the WC does pull the majority of people together behind one objective which doesnt happen very often. I went to a BBQ last night and the world cup was a decent icebreaker as I didnt know anyone there.
    [iv] it always interesting seeing how the press follow the england team. sometimes predictable but always fun. the best rollercoaster ride around.

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