Thinking like a fan while covering games is one dicey high-wire act
At times I was more stressed than the players, apart from the Brazilians that is
James Rodriguez of Colombia: the 22-year-old has a bright and rewarding future ahead of him if this tournament is anything to go by. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
An early contender for my tournament highlight came in May several weeks before a ball had been kicked when Fifa emailed to confirm the approval of the first of my media ticket requests.
This seemed an amazing luxury and enormous relief. The World Cup was coming to Brazil and many friends had put in for tickets and got nothing and now no matter what I knew I’d be seeing Messi’s Argentina in the Maracanã and be back three days later to see world champions Spain and Chile.
This level of assurance was in stark contrast to my only other World Cup experience. In 1998 I had flown to France from my home in San Francisco with no tickets, no leads on a ticket and the press full of reports about how hard and expensive tickets were to come by.
I’d emotionally prepared myself for the possibility of not getting into any game but in the end it all worked out pretty well. Touts were everywhere and friendly and reasonable and so we managed to see six games including a quarter-final before prices spiralled out of reach.
But this time around I felt like a professional insider with Fifa’s polite, ever-smiling volunteers waiting at their media centre posts to present me with free tickets to seats perched comfortably somewhere above the halfway line.
This was workOf course at this stage I was still thinking like a football fan who was getting to bunk into games. But once the football actually started another reality came crashing in. Asking a journalist who is a fan if he can write about football is always likely to get a yes especially when the affirmative promises entry to World Cup matches.
Then the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, which Fifa in its boundless generosity had also decided to let me into, brought the sudden realisation that this was work and not like any I had done before.
Being at a game is one thing. Forming an opinion about it pretty easy too, as any fan knows. And writing about it for someone who makes a living with words should be all right as well. But doing it all at once?
This sent my stress levels rocketing in a way I had not been expecting.
It is a weird business watching a game and at the same time writing up the report that will be filed on the final whistle without yet knowing all the crucial facts that go into shaping so much the interpretation of what is taking place such as, say, the result. I found myself terrified to write in case I missed the match’s central moment but terrified not to with a deadline looming right after it ended.