Love the World Cup? Football commentator, writer and curmudgeon John Anderson focuses on the things which will make us want to kick a hole in the TV screen over the coming weeks.
With the World Cup starting next week, fans throughout the globe are holding their collective breath for football’s greatest show on earth. Brazil 2014 promises to be an intoxicating extravaganza played out across the colourful canvas of the planet’s most glamorous and successful footballing nation.
Well, that’s the hype and, while much of it is true, the pre-tournament hyperbole tends to mask the fact that there are some things about the World Cup which will irritate, even infuriate fans both in Brazil and watching at home.
While the BBC and other broadcasters have been showing excellent programmes about real life in the Rio favelas recently, you can bet that the majority of TV trailers will follow the tried and tested path. A small boy kicking a pile of bound rags around in the dust cuts to Neymar scoring a spectacular goal. Meanwhile two bikini clad girls wiggle suggestively along Copacabana Beach as a group of tanned teenage hunks play volleyball in the background.
Then, after a lingering aerial shot of Christ the Redeemer, we see two lovers in a cafe clinking their glasses of caipirinha as the sun sets over Sugar Loaf mountain and it all ends with Iker Casillas lifting the trophy in Johannesburg four years ago.
You can bet this will be accompanied by a sub Orson Welles voiceover solemnly intoning such meaningless drivel as “one dream…one vision”, “striving for the ultimate goal”, “in the land where football is religion” and, most absurdly of all “can Roy’s boys go all the way?” In the absence of anyone with any genuine knowledge of the indigenous music, the soundtrack will be Astrud Gilberto’s The Girl from Ipanema or the greatest hits of Carlos Santana who, incidentally, is about as Brazilian as Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Nothing attracts publicity-hungry celebrities and politicians quite like global sporting events. Never mind the fact that you previously thought Sheffield Wednesday was a bank holiday or 3-5-2 a north London bus route, here’s a chance to engage with your public in an upbeat and uncontroversial manner. Hence we will get documentaries in which reality TV “stars” with their hats on the wrong way round lounge on a couch and regale us with their memories of Gazza’s tears in Turin or Beckham’s penalty against Argentina, even though they were probably falling off a tricycle at the time.
The politicians are even worse with their embarrassingly transparent attempts to show a common touch and convince us that they’re really just like we are when it comes to football. Virtually within seconds of Roy Hodgson announcing his England squad, the chosen 23 were visited by David Cameron who, in his desperate bid to see off the Ukip threat, will no doubt have been briefed that the likes of Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw were too young to vote in the last general election and will have pressed them for their support.
The relatively new concept of a bespoke ball for each competition is a thinly disguised marketing gimmick, which has inexplicably found its way into the pre-World cup ritual. The unpredictable new ball, we’re always told, will radically alter the way teams approach the game as it flies its swerving path into the top left hand corner of the net from 50 yards while the goalkeeper ends up hugging the right corner flag. This of course is nonsense.
Spain’s players didn’t win the last three tournaments due to their intimate knowledge of the laws of aerodynamics. In fact, if the ball’s flight was so revolutionary it could be argued that having possession of it for longer than anyone else would have actually hampered the Spanish cause, leaving a Scandinavian team managed by Dave Bassett to conquer the world.
World Cup advertising is unashamedly aimed at men. You won’t find scented face wipes being hawked midway through the Spain v Holland game. The type of person the sponsors are aiming at has a good shave, climbs into his 4 x 4 and picks up a 24 pack of lager en route to the bookies. The ubiquitous sight of the disembodied head of Ray Winstone beseeching us to part with our money on “in play” bets has, for me, utterly tarnished his reputation as one of our country’s screen legends.
I can’t take anything he does seriously anymore. In his recent portrayal of Tubal-cain, the nemesis of the eponymous hero in Noah, I fully expected him to shake his fist at the rain-lashed ark and shout “6/1 on the two slugs not making it in time, ‘ave it nahhhhhhhh”
During the game television directors will home in on the most colourful sights and sounds in the crowd; Mexicans in giant sombreros, yellow, red and green daubed Ghanaians, Holland’s orange army and of course the local Brazilian fans belting out samba rhythms. All of them enrapt in a glorious orgy of song and dance. What do we get? A group of blokes from Sheffield regaling us with ponderous war movie themes.
Their website makes the following claim: “Driven by the passion and pride that all England fans feel, the England Band have an overwhelming desire…to create the best support in the world.” Why then have I never met a single England supporter who finds them anything other than a constant source of immense irritation? What it should say is “strangling the life out of any hope of spontaneity, the England Band’s repetitive and uninspired repertoire will invoke all the passion and vibrancy of a particularly incident free goalless draw.”
Who the hell, players or fans, is likely to be inspired by hearing the opening bar of “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes being tooted on a trumpet ad infinitum?
Once the tournament is underway and it is clear that England have no hope of making any headway, at least we can marvel at the skills of the other nations’ players. This is where the intrepid tabloid hack comes into his own. Eventually bored with publishing England obits, the sports pages will revert to the bread and butter of transfer tittle-tattle and anyone who has a half decent game will be subjected to a post match ambush by the English press.
“Juan, congratulations on your hat trick. Did you grow up watching the Premier League?”
“Of course, I love very much the English football.”
“Who are your favourite team?”
“As a boy I am supporting Arsenal.”
Hey presto! “COME AND GET ME WENGER” SAYS ECUADORIAN STARLET.
Not that too many people in the TV studios will be able to shed much light on the background of the latest Latin superstar. The pundits, some of whom appear to have been selected on the strength of their hair alone, will inevitably resort to such explanations as “we don’t really know too much about him” which, as an insight, might just as well have come from the bloke who sells the Big Issue outside Euston Station.
What they are actually revealing is that, since banking their last enormous appearance fee at the end of the domestic season, their days have been spent on the golf course, rather than poring through the 700 page statistics guide which was lovingly prepared for them by a team of highly motivated researchers but is now lying in a corner of their snooker room underneath the cat.
There are of course honourable exceptions but, outside the safety net of the Premier league and FA Cup, too few of these ex players offer us any genuine enlightenment.
There are very few spectacles in life than can rival the atmosphere of a packed sporting crowd, their collective voices conveying every emotion from unimaginable jubilation to abject despair. Unfortunately, in this superficial, commercial driven world, that organic sense of togetherness is simply not enough for those who market the game.
Instead we get 50,000 voices trying to belt out a national anthem but finding themselves drowned out by the amplified shrill of an X-Factor runner-up. Teams walk out to fireworks and confetti, stadium announcers sound like bingo callers and the trophy lifting is accompanied by two of the most staggeringly vacuous anthems in the history of music, “We Are The Champions ” and “Simply The Best”.
I must confess I don’t know how far down this road the Brazilian World Cup organisers are planning to go but you can bet it will feature some degree of utterly superfluous razzmatazz which detracts from rather than enhances the unfolding drama.
And on 13 July when the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won we get Sepp Blatter handing over the trophy, beaming his munificence to all corners of the Maracana and into a billion homes. What could be more bloody annoying than that?