‘World Cup widows’ miss the point – football isn’t the main draw at all
As well as the sexism and self-importance of World Cup widowhood, it fails to see what the coming month is really about
As if there aren’t enough contrivances in the world already aimed at splitting the sexes
World Cup widows. ’Tis the season. For survival guides and agony aunts dishing out tips on how to cope. For tossed-off articles wondering “Is your relationship strong enough to make it through the World Cup”? For “23 things to do while your useless plug of a fella is watching the footie”. Because God forbid modern life would ever allow a global event to pass without paying due deference to the eternal quandary of “what about me?”
World Cup widows. Even the very phrase is enough to make a sane person stare off into the distance and reflect on the Bill Hicks line that humanity is just a virus with shoes. The self-importance of it, the pure-spun calculation, the joking-but-not-really-joking guilt-trippery. Its message is so simple – hey, just so you know, your devotion to the World Cup makes us feel as though you are actually dead.
Not to mention the insidious sexism. As if the month splits the globe in two, with pizza-slobbering, can-swilling, barely sentient males in one room and eye-rolling, perpetually-put-upon, patience-of-saints women in the other. As if there aren’t enough bullshit contrivances in the world already aimed at splitting the sexes without co-opting one of the very few genuine pan-planetary shared experiences.
Makes you wonder what actual widows make of the appropriation of the word. The poor unfortunates who would delight in having their chosen life accompaniment back stuck to the couch, eyes glazed over while Chile and Australia play out the evening’s third game. They must look at the casual, light-hearted use of the term and dream of a life with so few problems.
We didn’t start the fire
Look, we get it. The World Cup is a behemoth. For a month every four years, it’s a bushfire that knows no outer boundaries. Walk a street on any corner of the planet from Urlingford to Ulan Bator over the coming weeks and it will crackle out from living rooms and shacks, from pubs and portacabins. It’s far too big and far too all-consuming. Do you imagine we don’t know that?
But here’s a question. Do you get it? You, in your airy “ugh, football” sulk. You, with your presumption that it’s the silly meanderings of 22 men and a pig’s bladder that has us rendered catatonic. Do you get what the draw of this event is for us?
Because here’s the thing. It’s not actually the football. We can watch soccer any time, and the God’s honest truth of it is that most of us can broadly take or leave it. We actually watch far less of it than you might imagine.
The Premier League is white noise, our interest often tied up most intently in the fates of our fantasy team the further the season goes on. The Champions League is a chore for the most part until after Christmas. Ditto a lot of the Spanish stuff, if we’re honest. As for the whys and wherefores of watching Ireland, well that’s a sorrowful mystery that would take a far longer article than this to tease out.
The coming month is different. The coming month is not about watching football. It’s about watching the World Cup. If you think that amounts to one and the same thing, you don’t know us as well as you think you do.
Where were you in ’94?
The World Cup is one of the ways we tick off the times of our lives. We remember who we were and what we were about for each one from our first one. Mexico 1986, as a seven-year-old, running out from the living room to tell the workmen laying kerbs outside our front door that Maradona did it again. USA 1994, as a 15-year-old on his first night in his first job collecting glasses, watching them go everywhere and smash to pieces when Ray Houghton scored against Italy.
Japorea 2002, as a 23-year-old, getting a first kiss off the girl who would later become my wife the same night as Robbie Keane scored his last-minute equaliser against Germany. Call her a World Cup widow over the next month and see the pitying look you get in return.
She gets it. Just like huge swathes of the female population who don’t recognise themselves or their friends in so dreary and exclusionary a phrase as World Cup widows get it. This is a carnival, the world’s greatest sports event. Everybody is welcome. Why would you deliberately exclude yourself from it?
So you don’t like football. That’s fine. Nobody said you had to. But we do. And we like the World Cup most of all. The pure gluttony of it, the three matches a day, the passing yet utterly sincere interest in the Chilean attacking formation on which we will be experts for a half a day and no more.
We will get around to other matters in time. Until then, come join us.
The World Cup begins on Thursday