After 4 years of anticipation, months of build up, hundreds of qualifiers and 64 tournament games the much waited for South African World Cup is over, and I for one loved it. We had some cracking games, some cracking goals and some surprise performers. The fact that so many people have bemoaned and belittled this tournament really gets to me. We get football (almost) everyday for four weeks, sometime up to four games a day, yet some still complain. It’s ridiculous. Be thankful that such an exhibition piece exists in world football, be thankful that such an event can unify almost the entire globe over a simple game. Too many people seem to be obsessed with the notion of beautiful football and have lost sight of what the beautiful game really is.
During the World Cup pretty much everyone is suddenly a football fan, everyone is interested, has always been interested and is automatically an expert. This is part of a flawed beauty about the game, it elicits such a strong response in such a short amount of time. It’s fantastic when one of your friends or colleagues who has never shown the slightest bit of interest in football previously is suddenly jumping up and shouting at the TV with you, and this is even better when it’s over a game such as Italy vs New Zealand. A game that from a non-football fan shouldn’t really draw you in that much. That’s the brilliant side of the world cup, that’s the side that I love so much. What I can’t stand however is the idiots that suddenly start coming out of the woodwork and spout of nonsense as if it’s stone-cold fact. I’m a talkative chap and I enjoy engaging in conversation with as many people as possible about football, but more and more during this World Cup I have felt the need to bite my tongue and simply walk away, usually also with clenched fists and gritted teeth.
Finding someone who’s opinion you actual agree with, let alone respect, is very very difficult. The more I speak to random people about football the more I usually get annoyed, it’s not the opinions that annoy me because there can never ever be a wrong opinion. An opinion is personal, it’s something that belongs to you and it’s something that should be treasured. It’s good when people have opinions, especially controversial opinions. This is, of course, as long as they can back up these opinions. I can’t count how many times I have been involved with or overheard a conversation that went along these lines:-
Man 1:- “ I thought Lampard had a good game.”
Man 2:- “Wot?”
Man 1:- “Lampard, I thought he had a good game.”
Man 2:- “Nah, he’s shit”
Man 1:- “ Why do you say that?”
Man 2:- “He just is”
Man 1:- Who do you support?”
Man 2:- “Liverpool”
Man 1:- Where are you from?”
Man 2:- Lowestoft.
Now before I comment on this let me state that this is not a statement on Lampard, on Liverpool or on Lowestoft. This is a statement on the nature of the comment. You could interchange the names, teams or towns very easily. To appease any Liverpool fans I have heard a similar conversation many times about Gerrard from Manchester United fans from places such as Ashford. Now back to the point I want to make here. The problem is that too often you hear baseless comments stated like they are fact and when questioned there is never a reasoned answer. You average “guy down the pub” is exactly what is wrong with the game. These are usually the people that have only ever watched football on the gogglebox, probably haven’t even been within 50 miles of the city where the team that they “support” come from, and if they are from a town or city which doesn’t contain a Premier League club then they would struggle to name the majority of the starting line up of their actual local team.
Recently there has also been an over-glamorisation of the notion of “beautiful football”, and anyone who doesn’t live up to this notion is somehow labelled as barbaric, especially if they go onto success. Inter Milan’s Champions League victory was much maligned, especially by large numbers of the press. Their tactical victory against Barcelona in particular was rubbished as “anti-football”, the attributes of a defensive display are apparently abhorrent and have no place in football. Perhaps if it was an English side that had achieved this result through a defensive performance then it would be heralded by the press. It is interesting to note the changes in attitudes that the British hold about what is an acceptable form of play and football and what is unacceptable. Take the World Cup final, Holland have been much criticised for their physical approach to the game whereas Spain have been hailed as some sort of saviour to world football because they passed it about a bit. Now don’t get me wrong Holland were a physical team but only de Jong’s karate kick was worthy of a straight red and he should have walked, but the rest is just about ambition, it’s about getting stuck in. The Spanish did not help proceedings by hounding the referee for bookings every time a tackle went in, even if there was nothing in it. A number of times a Spanish player stood on the foot of a Dutch player and then dived to the ground thus winning a free-kick. In my eyes the Spanish play acting was just as bad as the Dutch aggression. It’s interesting to think that ten or so years ago the media would have said that the Dutch were just playing the game with passion and playing like men, playing the English way and that the Spanish were a bunch of fawning prima donnas, yet now we get the opposite view. I wonder what the notion of beautiful and acceptable football will be in another ten years time.
The beautiful game is not just stringing together twenty passes in a World Cup final, it’s a misplaced pass in Dagenham & Redbridge vs Exeter. It’s a kick around with your friends down the park, it really is jumpers for goal-post. For it’s in these situations when you, and the game, really become alive. It’s looking for that pass, it’s about controlling it with your chest, it’s about nutmegging that guy you secretly detest, it’s about connecting with that ball and you just know, you just know, that you hit it sweet. It’s that feeling.
If you are a casual football fan, and there is nothing wrong with that, and you’ve felt your interest and love for the game pique more during this tournament then don’t let your passion just fall fallow. If your from, say, Lincoln, then don’t wait for Man Utd to come on the telly, go down to Sincil Bank watch the Imps play. You can bemoan the English game all you want but if you sit on your arse all day and simply spit bile at the telly just at the sight of Stevie G and Lampsy then you can’t really complain. Support your local team, support them not just vocally down the boozer but by attending games. Go and see the beautiful game and afterwards go out and play the beautiful game, just don’t fall into the trap of longing only for beautiful football. It’s a myth. The beautiful game is about flaws. Love the flaws and you’ll love the game. Simple as that.
This piece was originally written for Those Feet.