Nervous kids and lost balls, this World Cup business is a bit shady
Footie-phobe Barry Murphy on the assault on the senses that is the greatest expo on earth
Dutch striker Robin van Persie (centre) high-fives his dad in the parents’ enclosure after scoring against Spain at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, 13 June 2014. Photograph: EPA
Ouch! Portugal’s Fabio Coentrao was left reeling by a freak injury during the defeat to Germany at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. Photograph: EPA
So here we are - another year, another International Contest of Soccer Games. With 2013’s evidently lacklustre World Cup a fading memory - in fact, a quick internet search suggests it has been all but written out of history – it’s time once again for some of the world’s wealthiest athletes to get the hair done, strap on the runners with the pointy bits on the bottom, reluctantly (though contractually obligingly) chug down a lurid performance-enhancing elixir, and stride with pride into a neatly-cropped field with a nervous child.
For most keen football enthusiasts the comprehensive televisual coverage provides the perfect excuse to avoid participating in actual football, or indeed physical exercise of any kind, and instead indulge in a strict four-week regime of extreme couch or bar stool sitting. All fuelled of course by beer, crisps and, on bookie-win enhanced occasion, crispy-coated hot chili nuts (overpriced little tubs with deceptive raised bottom to give illusion of snack superfluity, lukewarm).
But spare a thought for those of us for whom this massively overexposed advertising, sorry, sporting contest is a baffling quandary of infinite “why?”.
We face four long and often lonely weeks of intense bemusement fuelled by beer, crisps and, on particularly isolated evenings of self-doubting perplexity, crispy-coated hot chili nuts (reasonably priced family size bag, room temperature).
Spoiler alert: Ireland are not competing. For even the casual fan, this is perhaps something of a let down but once the telly is turned on, any sorrow is soon blasted into oblivion by a garish tsunami of inconsequential animated statistics and high-budget short films that have been created to remind you that, yes, fizzy drinks exist.
For the terminally disinterested, Ireland’s shameful and unsportsmanlike boycott of the games is, in terms of summoning anything approaching mild enthusiasm, the equivalent of the dreaded third ‘X’ on the Family Fortunes board. Without Jackie’s army to root for, you may as well be watching an 8-disc box set of televised paint-drying with the director’s commentary turned on. Especially cruel is the missed opportunity of seeing a row of men with varying convoluted connections to the emerald isle lip-synch to their own internal and wildly off the mark interpretation of Amhrán na bhFiann. In other words, without Ireland’s involvement you have to dig deep to get your *pauses, winks* . . . kicks.
The Holland & Netherlands V Spain (bit of an unfairly balanced fixture – what gives, FIFA?) provided some moments where, I’m almost certain, one of my eyebrows temporarily became more elevated than the other. One such moment was a spectacular airborne shot by a hovering Dutchman by the name of Van Persie – with his head no less! - which whistled comfortably past a disinterested Spanish gentleman who was loitering around the net.
In an amusing twist, the explosive glory of this goal was almost instantly diffused by Mr Van Persie’s undignified belly-flop/faceplant combo, the shamefulness of which was redoubled by the subsequent inept, limp-wristed attempt to high-five his Dad in the parent’s enclosure at the sideline.
It’s not all physical comedy-based family entertainment, however. Regrettably, a long shadow was cast over yesterday’s 5pm match between Germany and Portugal. Literally. Half the pitch was in near total darkness and the situation only worsened as the game progressed – a staggering oversight from the planning committee.
The striking ethereal whiteness of the German kit gave them a clear tactical advantage and one plucky chap got so carried away he scored three goals all by himself. An unfortunate Portugeezer was so confused in the dim light that he somehow lost a testicle during an awkward landing, incorrectly estimating the distance between his boots and the ground. Thankfully he was carried off to safety by some quick-thinking Good Samaritan-esque fans.
Nice to know the spirit of human kindness can occasionally prevail in the cynical and corrupt world of spectator sport. Naturally enough, it only grew darker in the stadium as the game continued, so presumably his ball is still at large – a fitting metaphor for the Portuguese campaign thus far.
Barry’s World Cup column returns on Thursday.