The World Cup is upon us. As a Socialist it brings up unpleasant displays of Nationalism I disagree with, along with the financial excesses of the rich elite. As a football fan though, I can’t help but be excited.
Whilst the Champions League probably deserves to boast of having the greatest teams (with players assembled through the market, rather than nationality), the World Cup is still the greatest trophy any professional footballer can hope to win.
You look at a player as immense as Lionel Messi. Undoubtedly proven as one of the greatest footballers of all time by his domestic record, but his amazing goal scoring feats have to be put in the context of him being surrounded by fantastic talent. He will never hope to over take Maradona as probably the greatest ever player because Maradona took a very average Argentina squad in 1986 and almost single handedly, dragged them to World Cup success. He was that good!
The national obsession
The tournament being based on national teams is a difficult issue as a Socialist, as I oppose nationalism. Rarely is the nonsense of national identity more irritating than when it comes to football.
Here’s a crazy fact for you – England won the world cup in 1966. No, honest, they did. You might not have heard about it on account of it never being mentioned. I mean, aside from ALWAYS!!
“30 years of hurt” sang Baddiel and Skinner (well, ‘singing’ might be pushing it, but they did their best). That was for Euro ’96. Now it’s 52 years since winning it. Perhaps time to let it go?
During the 2010 World Cup there was one ridiculous advert in particular that showed the England squad walking through the tunnel to the pitch, being cheered on by English luminaries such as Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, former England rugby manager Clive Woodward, and the Chuckle Brothers (well, might as well have been). They look up the steps to the pitch, waiting at the top of which is a lion and the ghost of Bobby Moore!
What utter nonsense.
But at the same time, there is something brilliant about having a tournament where players are restricted by their nationality. You can’t simply buy the best players, you just have to work with what you’ve got.
This makes a change for football fans. So often fans place the ideas of passion and belonging they have for their team, on the players who play for them. Forgetting that they are simply professional entertainers, working to get the most money before their short lived careers come to an end. Mercenaries who happen to excel in their hand-eye coordination.
Your favourite player moving to another club can be heart breaking. This is not something that effects fans of other forms of entertainment, like TV shows. When David Tennant appears on screen in Broadchurch, Dr Who fans don’t start booing him and shout ‘Judas’ at the screen.
Focusing on nations can provide us with some fantastic stories. The success of small nations like Wales, Northern Ireland and Iceland in the Euros was fantastic. Mind you, I’m calling them small. If FIFA can award a world cup to a nation like Qatar with a population of only 2.5 million, then any of those must be in with a shout.
The population of Qatar might have increased you’d think with the amount of migrant labour being brought in to build the stadiums. But don’t worry, horrific Health and Safety practices are keeping those numbers down.
And yes, talking of which, the politics behind the World Cup can also be nauseating. Qatar getting the world cup was ridiculous, but then Russia hosting this one is not exactly inspiring.
I can’t wait for the opening ceremony. The mascot coming out with an ice pick tipped with polonium, just to send a message.
It’s a good job Ukraine haven’t qualified, can you imagine what it would be like if they played Russia? If Russia were losing, at half time they’d take Ukraine’s best player, and simply put him in a Russia top and say he was playing for them now.
So this World Cup is mired in controversy, nationalism and played by millionaires to raise money through sponsorship for billionaires.
But then, being a football fan isn’t about logic, it’s about something that can’t be defined. And as such, I can’t quite explain why, but despite everything, I’m excited about this World Cup.