World Cup 2018: I’m the man Proper Football Fans despise most
I don’t like soccer, I only like the World Cup. Have you got that?
Uruguay’s forward Edinson Cavani (R) vies with Egypt’s midfielder Sam Morsy (L) during the Group A football match between Egypt and Uruguay. Photograph: Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images
The best revenge is living spitefully. Nothing is more satisfying than enjoying life in a manner that annoys your enemy.
The World Cup has started. It is possible that you have missed this information. The build-up has been quieter than usual. There’s been less about Lionel Messi’s hamstring than we might have expected. Too few articles have pondered Iceland’s welcome arrival at the top table. Have too few have discussed Romelu Lukaku’s fragile temperament?
Look at me with my “Lukaku” and my “Messi” and my “hamstring”. I know that Iceland have qualified. I can name at least three host cities. I know that the right term is “host cities”. I know all kinds of stuff about the World Cup. I’m a regular John Watson (sub: please check this).
The English versions got intrigued by New Order’s World in Motion and were then further entranced by Gazza’s lachrymose exit from the semi-final
I am, in fact, the man Proper Football Fans despise most. They don’t care about the chap who never pays attention to their favourite sport. But the fellow who, uninterested for three years out of four, becomes an expert for the World Cup has a special place in the bestiary. He hasn’t stood shivering at the rainy end in December. His childhood birthday parties weren’t enlivened by getting new bits of Subbuteo.
Bite me. Not only will I be pontificating about the relative merits of (checks Google) Gonzalo Higuaín and Iago Aspas, I will be bragging about the fact that I hadn’t heard of them before last Wednesday. I will do more. I will make it clear that, come the start of the regular football season, I will have forgotten their names and returned to a state of merry ignorance. I only like the World Cup, you see. Have you got that?
I have some history here. That fan’s bestiary I mentioned earlier contains other despised types. In the closing years of the last century – particularly in England and Ireland – there were, for the committed, few more abhorred individuals than those middle-class milquetoasts who became football fans only after enjoying the 1990 World Cup.
The English versions got intrigued by New Order’s World in Motion and were then further entranced by Gazza’s lachrymose exit from the semi-final. A few years later, just as they were getting to grips with the concept of the sweeper, Nick Hornby published Fever Pitch and – though the newcomers couldn’t compete with that author’s genuine obsession – Johnny and Jane Come-Lately had something to read while travelling to Highbury. The archetypal new arrival was so associated with Arsenal that The Fast Show devised a sketch in which Roger Nouveau, a supporter of that club, got stuff comically wrong when trying to commune with Proper Football Fans. “I used to support Manchester United but they weren’t doing so well. So I moved to Arsenal,” Roger told the lads in the pub. Ha ha! Proper Football Fans hate people like that. Roger Nouveau is worse than Hitler.
You won’t need to be told about the Irish experience in the 1990 World Cup. Following something or other that happened in the 1988 European Championships (I didn’t even notice that Ireland had qualified and wouldn’t have cared if I had), the nation was already swaying towards the Association code, but the heroics of 1990 turned an entire nation into fanatics. Eamon Dunphy may have resented the attention of those who hadn’t endured sleet-driven scoreless draws at Dalymount in the 1970s, but nothing was going to stop us joining in the fun.
Had Malcolm X turned up at a Sunday evening Klan meeting he would not have suffered the glare I received after mistaking one Neville for another
I represented the worst of these worlds. I began the 1990 World Cup with no interest in football and ended it as my version of a dedicated fan. That’s not all. I was actually living in north London at the time and, like Roger Nouveau, elected, as grown man, to support Arsenal FC.
It was doomed. There was too much information to absorb. I had to get up an hour earlier to read my way through football reports in the Guardian, but the information never stuck. And when I got things wrong I was confronted with vicious disdain from friends who had hitherto offered me not a cross word. Had Malcolm X turned up at a Sunday evening Klan meeting he would not have suffered the glare I received after mistaking one Neville for another. Proper Football Fans loathe people who dare to sign up late for the devotion. Proper Football Fans get inexplicably furious at those who don’t know all they should. Eventually I got tired and made a conscious decision to stop supporting football. The free air can have tasted little sweeter to Solzhenitsyn when he stepped from the gulag.
I have, however, never forgotten the unfriendliness of the Proper Football Fan towards the half-committed supporter. So, once every four years I take a vigorous interest in the World Cup.
Come on, Italy!