It’s World Cup time again and as usual I’m changing into the person I normally swear never to be: a football addict. I mean addict. I have watched almost every match since the competition began, honourable exceptions being the Ivory Coast vs Japan, which kicked off at 2am last Friday, so perhaps there is still hope.
I have been a fan since the golden year of 1990, when Ireland found itself getting into the quarter finals of the World Cup in Italy. The magic of those weeks is something few people of a certain age will ever forget.
I’m not sure what it is about the World Cup that turns me into the type of person I normally have little in common with. Football can be exciting, sure, but often it is boring and uneventful. There are many people who can speak to the intricacies of midfield strategy and defensive positions at the goal mouth. For me, I usually just see players kicking a ball to each other and sometimes getting tackled for their efforts.
No, for me the excitement comes from elsewhere. It’s the drama and the stories that unfold in the course of the tournament: the freak chances and frequent injustices that send whole nations from elation to depression in seconds, and vice versa. The World Cup can be seen as a collection of narratives more intriguing than anything the world of fiction has to offer.
This has been a particularly exciting World Cup. The terrific performances of Algeria and the USA had me on the edge of my seat. The surprising ineptitude of Spain and Portugal had me mystified. Suarez’s biting incident and Arjen Robben’s dive. England doughty performance that ultimately came to nothing. The last minute goals, the questionable decisions. What an event. What a spectacle.
It’s also an opportunity to bond with my sons. They are far more knowledgable about football than I could ever be, and I appreciate their answers to my unending questions. I’ve even been tempted to play football in the garden with them although I quickly make my excuses when my lack of match fitness makes its presence felt.
One of the great things about the World Cup is the sheer humanity of it all. Players and fans from all over the world coming together to remind us that we are not all that different from each other. If anything, the differences are getting less and less each time the competition takes place. As a celebration of our shared aspirations and vulnerabilities, this occasion has no competitors.
Now that we are reaching the late stages of the competition, it’s dawning on me that this event is coming quickly to an end. Normality is about to resume. I still fancy the Netherlands to do it, but given the quality of the remaining teams, it’s a crap-shoot at this stage. I’m looking forward to the final, but not to the long silence that will follow it.