(Published in Business Standard on July 12, 2014)
It’s that time of year when the wind blows hot, the skies get clouded, and there is crushing pressure to be interested in the FIFA World Cup. It’s enough to put a kink in your spine, and there’s no escaping it. You must have a favourite football team, you must idolise some one player, and you must make canny predictions of game outcomes based on data sets ranging from the strikers’ fitness level to the coach’s Zodiac sign. Do you much prefer watching tennis? Do you live for cricket? Would you rather gouge your own eyeballs out with a spoon than watch sports? Too bad. It’s the World Cup, and you will be mad for football. If not, you can plan on spending your evenings chatting with the potted plants.
For every genuine football fan who’s been living on Rio time and knows what each player had for breakfast, there are four fakers who get a solid night’s sleep and Google a couple of statistics in the morning just to stay in the conversation. I’m mostly a faker. In the football section of physical education in school I played fullback, on account of underwhelming athleticism, so I already associate football with long periods of solitude and boredom, but it turns out that if you fake it you can retain your social life.
You can only fake things up to a point, of course. I tend to ignore the World Cup for that period in which four thousand teams face off several times a day in some version of Burundi vs. Liechtenstein. That part lasts for what feels like seven months. I only get interested around the quarterfinals. This is when I realise how much eye candy I’ve been missing out on, and start to pay attention.
So far in this tournament, I’ve watched a grand total of four matches. The first was Argentina vs Iran, notable for the exquisite pasta dinner I’d ordered. The second was France vs Nigeria. That was quite exciting because an inebriated friend lurched off to chat up some French dude, so we sneaked away to another part of the bar and hid, so that when she returned she would think we’d left, and hopefully freak out. The new part of the bar had a good view of the game, but we spent most of the second half spying on her.
The third game was France vs Germany, in which I was captivated by the virtuosity of the guitarist in the live band that was playing at the bar. The band was putting its heart and soul into it even though no one was paying them the blindest bit of attention. It was very poignant.
The fourth game was Colombia vs. Brazil, which I spent trying to entice a tiny Colombian baby wearing a tiny Colombian jersey into my arms, but even though I leered at it as seductively as I could, it just looked at me with that cool, appraising look that is the baby equivalent of concertina wire.
I did try to watch a fifth game, the Netherlands vs Argentina match, the other night. That effort, however, was eclipsed by a number of beverages that caused me such suffering the next day that even my mother took pity on me and ditched the lecture, though I did hear the words “fat”, “old” and “drunkard” muttered in low tones.
I will be among the faithful, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, to watch my sixth game, the big final between Germany and Argentina, on Sunday night. So excuse me, I just have to go look up a few things to toss into the conversation. Go, Germany! Or Argentina!