Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Today we host a guest column from m’colleague Jim Smith, because producing a few hundred words of bibble about football more than once a month is apparently beyond me.

The FA Cup Final is being played as I type this, we're eleven minutes in and we've just had the first of those stupid little onscreen offside flags of the game. The FA Cup Final traditionally announces the end of the domestic season and this year, as it does every four, it means that the World Cup is almost upon us. Twenty Seven days to go and already I'm sick to the back teeth of it.

Sick of the World Cup? That's a bit out of character for me, surely? No, not a bit of it, because I'm not sick of the World Cup at all. I'm sick of people moaning about the World Cup. You know what I mean, the endless bleating we're subjected to whenever an international tournament is on the horizon. The petty whinging and broadsheet editorialising that accompanies the imminence of the premier international football tournament.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that everyone should be anticipating the World Cup with the same relish that I am. I'm not even suggesting that everyone should like football (never mind international football – there are of course those die-hard fans for whom club will always hold the only interest). Both of those positions would be rather dumb. All I'm suggesting is that people who don't like might like to get over themselves and stop moaning because the world, and particularly the television schedules, are not exactly as they wish them to be at all times. Aww diddums.

You know what I do with things I don't like, even with things I actively dislike? I ignore them. Do you know what happens then? They go away. No, really, they do. More Winter Olympics than I can count, decades worth of EastEnders and Coronation Street, Casualty and Last of the Summer Wine, not to mention the entire sport of rugby and the whole Da Vinci Code phenomenon have entirely passed me by due to my simple tactic of not taking any notice of them when they're mentioned. I don't climb astride my metaphorical high horse and attempt to browbeat admirers of these particular things with my own withering scorn, the irate product of my own lack of interest in such things.

England apparently managed to win the Rugby World Cup (or whatever the rugby tournament is called) a couple of years ago (I honestly don't know how many, not being interested and all that) and not once did I complain about the sport's dominance of the news in that period. Not even when a parade of players through the streets messed up public transport in London and severely damaged some plans I had for what should have been a very enjoyable afternoon out. Do you know why? Because I am, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, a grown up and I understand that some people like things I don't – such as drinking mild, reading Harry Potter books, wearing short trousers and tolerating the presence of dogs to name but four.

It's a peculiar propensity of members of the English middle classes to assume something that they (we) don't like is inherently 'wrong' rather than 'not to one's taste'. This usually expresses itself via a claim, overt or veiled, that the person who doesn't like the ostensibly popular thing is 'oppressed' by that thing's cultural omnipresence. This smug myopia is inevitably the underlying subtext of the attitudes of people who pen columns or articles mocking the World Cup (and especially those who allow their, let's face it remarkably active, lack of interest to infect places that it has absolutely no business to be – Mil Millington's 'Space' column in today's Guardian, for example). Such people usually have not the faintest notion of what oppression actually is, they probably think it's a bit like 'political correctness gone mad' or 'jumping the shark'. (Two phrases which, should one hear an adult use the without irony surely make it impossible to take anything that person say seriously ever again.)

Yes, the childish nationalism which is ill-expressed by followers of World Cup sides from all countries can be distasteful, but concentrating on that over the sport itself misses the point and is probably a deliberate mistake made by the above-mentioned to bolster their own pseudo moral arguments. Rampant nationalism is, I agree, as crass as it is dull, as unnecessary as it is thoughtless, but the argument is largely there to obscure the fact that their whole point is a lot of ill-thought through, self-indulgent muttering about something they don't like being a bit more popular than something they do.

Most football fans I know would watch, and indeed are watching, the tournament regardless of whether or not their own nation has qualified, or has the faintest breath of a chance of lifting the trophy - and besides which, have you ever been in an area full of roaring cricket fans? Such displays are not limited to what Pele called, with absolute perspicacity, 'the global game'. International football is about the football rather than the nations. Only people with no knowledge of the latter fail to understand that. Unfortunately, they persist in foisting this, perhaps deliberate, misapprehension on the rest of us, being holier than thou as they do so.

If you don't like what's on TV, then switch off and do something else (it’s not as if there’s generally much on over the summer anyway – and the coverage is almost entirely confined to BBC1 and ITV, which are rarely the favoured channels of World Cup whiners). Turn to a different page of the newspaper if you don't want to read about football in the sports section and ignore the sport related gossip in 'Heat' and the tabloids. Better still, don't read 'Heat' or the tabloids at all and go and read a decent book in the sunshine instead.

Trust me, it works. Give it a try.

The views in this article are not necessarily those of Middle Class Football Fan. Although, actually, they pretty much are.

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