Sunday, 13 July 2014


Wandering around a newsagent, I lurk in the background as I listen to the 50something woman behind the counter debating the finer points of the Colombian front line with a young girl buying a box of chocolate fingers.

“Now they have that fella Rockridges and my, oh but I don’t mind telling you young lady, if I were a younger woman -”

“Rodriguez, he’s called, but they call him Ham-Ez, after James Bond.”

“Ham is? Ham is what?”

“No they call Rodriguez ‘Ham-Ez’.

“Ham is?”

“No, y’see, I think it’s how you say James in Spanish or something. Anyway, they’ve been knocked out now, so he’s gone home I expect. Can I have my box of chocolate fingers back now, please?”

I love it. This World Cup has involved us all in more ways than I could have imagined. Without Ireland and - to all intents and purposes - England involved
in any meaningful way, the competition has captured the hearts of millions of people who never watch football.

I bump into a friend on Quay Street.

“So have you been able to catch the games, mate? I know your missis isn’t much into the footie.”

“Yeh, yeh I have Charlie. It’s amazing, really amazing. All of a sudden she’s completely into it, so we’ve watched loads of games!”

“Brilliant mate!”

Indeed, amazing and brilliant are apt words to describe this World Cup. While many previous competitions have been memorable only for their lack of goals or noise from vuvuzelas, this tournament has become known in my house as the ‘Spanish Inquisition World Cup.’

I’m not referring to the 15th century bunch who hunted down so-called heretics, tortured and then burnt them. It’s just that as the Snapper and I watched the group games, we said

“Nobody expected that!”

so many times that eventually one of us (me) just had to go for the full Monty Python:

“Nooooobody expectsssss ... the Spanish Inquisition!”

Nobody expected Croatia to be robbed of a deserved victory against Brazil in the emotional cauldron of the tournament's opening game.

Nobody expected Holland to thrash reigning World and European Champions Spain 5-1.

Nobody expected Costa Rica to beat Uruguay and Italy to top their group, or England to play good attacking football, as we did briefly, in our first game against Italy.

This World Cup has been a topsy turvy affair. Usually the group games are tetchy, close, fairly boring encounters, with everyone scared of losing, while expansive fluid football arrives in the knockout stage, but this time the group stage was a goal extravaganza packed with fun, skill and passion.

Oy, so much passion. I nearly cried the first time I watched the Brazil team sing roar shout the second verse of their national anthem, with neither the band nor the approval of FIFA, yet alongside their entire nation of football-lovers

Anyway, nobody should be worrying about offending FIFA, as the world’s governing football organisation is a fetid, cruel, greedy and corrupt entity, more reminiscent of an organised crime family than a non-profit body overseeing the planet's favourite sport.

Next time, instead of the players droning out FIFA’s anti-racism dogma before kickoff, they should read an affirmation promising FIFA’s commitment to humanity and legality.

Still, happily, it says something for the power of football that despite this loathsome avaricious bunch of bribe-taking, tax dodging, construction worker-killing hoods, the game has never been more popular.

During the opening ceremony, the BBC showed clips of people the world over describing football as a religion. A few days later my good friend Richard and I were discussing the merits - or lack thereof - of Glen Johnson’s inclusion in the England team to play Italy.  The Liverpool player is a regular in the England team, yet we decided he’d never earned his place.

As the Snapper rose to refill her wine glass, she offered:

“Chelsea reject!”

at which point both Richard and I instantaneously and simultaneously mumbled:

“Chelsea reject!”

In fan parlance, any player who once played for your team, yet now wears the colours of another, becomes a ‘reject’, even if you wish he’d stayed. The sentiment makes no rational sense, displaying only a blind loyalty to a central tenet of faith that brings comfort.

If that sounds reminiscent of religious behaviour, what struck me was the way we’d responded to the Snapper's comment. ‘Call and Response’ plays an important role in the ceremonies of several religions.

Football doesn’t offer any answers to the great and mysterious questions of life, death and meaning. What it does do, when at its best, is create an all-encompassing and very welcome distraction.

Oh and yes, it’s fun! We laughed as we played Military Football Bingo, where you score points each time the commentator uses any of the following words or phrases when Germany are playing (which they do, all the time!):

Aerial bombardment; minefield; onslaught; annihilated; retreat; territorial advances; marching on.

We thrilled at late goals in extra time and roared with laughter as the Snapper and I pumped out rousing choruses of the most politically incorrect of duets:

“They find fit birds in the crowd, Tra la-LA la-LAAAH! They find fit birds in the crowd, Traaa la-LA la-la-la!”

When I first moved here I was surprised at how happy the Irish fans felt about their national side going out at the group stages. Now I know how that feels and I don’t mind at all.

There’s a reason clich├ęs exist: there is truth in them. So, at the end of the day, we’re all winners, as football proves itself once again to be greater than any team, nation or organisation. It is the planet's favourite game.

If that’s not hyperbolic enough, football can always take you further. I now yield the floor to the BBC commentator who felt it necessary to travel far beyond the bounds of reason, as he described Robin Van Persie’s beautifully headed goal against Spain:

“The delivery was perfect. The finish even more so!”

©Charlie Adley
(written before the semi-finals)

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