I am dreading the coming month. The Football world cup will begin in South Africa. Already, I am spotting cars (usually Vauxhalls and Fords that look as though they were donated by the Bombay Municipal Corporation after they failed the roadworthiness tests) with St George’s flags fluttering, driven by men with tattoos on their arms.
I predict that the whole of England will willingly wallow in the thraldom of football over the next few weeks. The pubs will be overcrowded , and the roads will be deserted when England play, and, after each game, people—usually men whose flabby guts are testimony to decades of unhealthy eating habits, on to whom are clinging stout women (like the Baroque cathedral in Ghent, and a few teeth missing; whatever else they might be, no one in his right mind would describe them as pretty)—will disperse, like rats scattering out of a lab on fire, and discuss loudly the finer points—if that is not a contradiction in terms—of the game. They will agree (or disagree) noisily whether an offside ruling by the referee was justified, and, if the ruling has gone against the home-side, whether the referee was a c**t of the first waters.
If—God forbid—England manage to reach the semi-finals (though I doubt it), life will not be worth living. People will talk about nothing else. Each game will be awaited with the eagerness, alertness and avid anticipation of a Catholic priest waiting to have a private talk with the cutest choirboy. The prowess of individual players, both on and off the field, will be either admired or doubted, depending on their performances. Tedious remarks such as ‘He won’t be able to score in a brothel’, or ‘He is not a real footballer; he is just a sprinter’ will be spouted across every corner by men whose careers have reached the dizzy heights of ‘waste management and disposal technician’ (otherwise known as bin men).
I don’t like football. I don’t know what the fuss is about. I can’t really see the point of it. Why anyone would part with even a penny of one’s money to watch a bunch of grown-up men running across a field, kicking about a ball, frequently tripping one another, with the ultimate aim of putting the ball into a net, is beyond me. Also, it is not as if there is even a result in every game. So, these guys run about helter-skelter for 90-100 minutes, and have nothing to show for it at the end of it. Their coffers are of course swollen by several thousand pounds every time they put in an appearance, but what about the spectators? Are they coughing up eighty pounds to watch these overpaid, overhyped, overrated, overindulged, overinvested, inarticulate career delinquents (whose intelligence places them, Darwinianly speaking, somewhere between a brachycephallic and a poorly trained gorilla, and, you can’t really see what use there could be for them, if they couldn’t play football, other than fighting wars on foreign soils, and only if you could teach them to read and write so that they can follow the instruction manuals ) attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to one another and exploding like an Iraq refinery bombed from above every time a decision goes against them? Is this entertainment? Why would anyone watch it? But you never know. People will pay cash, especially in England, to watch any nonsense. They will pay £ 8.50 per head or some such ridiculous amount to stand in queues in miserably cold and dismal weather to gaze at and take photographs of a pile of rubble that used to be an abbey five hundred years ago. I have it on reliable information that there is a tomato museum on the island of Guernsey. Then there is—and I am not making this up—a barometer exhibition outside met office. I recently read somewhere that there is a bee museum in Cornwall. What is there to see in a bee museum? You go to any town or city, and you will find at least one museum devoted to the history of the town (or the area) over the centuries, which only serves to underline the point that nothing of any great significance happened there. I mean, the tapestry of your life is unlikely to miss many threads if you did not know that for generations people have been growing cabbages or carrots or whatever. You might as well pay money to watch the paint dry or a scab form or watch a Duran Duran gig.
The only part of a game of football I find mildly entertaining (on the few occasions when I can be bothered to watch it) are the celebrations of the players when a goal is scored. The sheer inanity of the jubilation is breathtaking. The guy who has scored the goal might begin running wildly, either kissing his (sweat-soaked) t-shirt or waving his arms like a windmill. His team-mates pursue him and are in great rush to jump over him; within seconds the player disappears underneath a tangle of heaving and sweating mass of male limbs and torsos. It is a miracle he does not end up with fractured ribs and limbs when the celebrations finally finish. Then the players run in front of the section of the crowd that has the supporters of their club, and shout in a demented fashion, invariably pulling and pointing at the t-shirts they are wearing (why? It is not as if anyone is in any doubt as to which club the players represent). Their supporters go apeshit: the camera shows men with beer guts, their faces unclouded by anything resembling an intelligent thought (or just thought), jumping up and down, hugging and kissing each other, and shouting at the decibel levels that would have Quasimodo applying for a tourist visa to go to India on the off-chance that it would be quieter there. The whole spectacle, it would be fair to say, is enough to fill you, depending on your disposition and the time of the day, with wonderment (that there are people who think nothing of indulging in a senseless and probably emotionally detrimental quest for happiness) or despair (that there are people who think nothing of indulging in a senseless and probably emotionally detrimental quest for happiness). Sometimes the players mime certain actions after scoring goals, inciting the commentators (who generally speak as if they have undergone lessons in how to speak like a t**t who has an incurable addiction to clichés and aversion to syntax) into a frenzy of speculations as to what the asinine gesture might mean (as if anyone gives two shits); like the moronic robot routine of the moronic and terminally ungifted Peter Crouch on the (mercifully very few) occasions when he scored a goal.
Then there are the managers. Most of them seem to oscillate between only two types of emotions: either they are surly, grumpy, insolent, and snort like a maddened bull who has spotted a red flag when their teams lose, talking about the referees (who, in their views have treated their teams unfairly) as if the transgressions deserve nothing less than a hauling in front of the commission in Hague (or, more likely—as I don’t think they’d have heard of Hague—, a public flogging that would have the Norfolk hicks nodding with approval); or, when their teams win, they are unbearably smug and crow as if they have conquered Afghanistan. Like the constantly-gum-chewing (with such gusto, you wonder if he isn’t wearing down his teeth) Alex Ferguson, of Manchester United, who, when his team loses or when he is contradicted, becomes frightfully rhetorical and hysterical, and does not realise (or mind) what a crashing bore he becomes when he goes on like it. Or Arsene Wenger, of Arsenal, who has come up with so many innovative excuses why his team hasn’t won a trophy in the last five years, you wonder whether he hasn’t missed his vocation as a novelist.
Football, I’d humbly put it to you, is, like homosexuality, French cooking, and Islam, not for everyone; and, over the next one month, if I find myself in a situation where the television is switched on to show grown men wearing shorts running about a field like chickens in search of their severed heads, I’d be out of it faster than an American says ‘Howdy’.