Thursday, 10 June 2010

England in Bloom

[Disclaimer: this post is completely unrelated to software, firmware, hardware, engineering or managerial practices, and in truth doesn’t really belong on this site.  Normal service will be resumed in due course.]

A quadrennial crop of Saint George's crosses are flowering across the nation.  Obviously every pub, white van, and lager lout seems to be bedecked with the emblem, but so are a surprising percentage of ordinary houses, shops, and cars.   The reason of course is the forthcoming football World Cup.

A quick note to any American passers-by: when I say 'football', I mean football - what you would call soccer.  What you call football is in fact American Football, which I am assured by sports-minded people is completely different.  I'm told this is similar to rugby, but they stop every time anything exciting looks like happening.  Also, when I say 'World', I actually mean the entire World - calling something a 'World Series' when it's only you that plays in the competition is charmingly parochial, but displays a shocking failure to grasp the basics of cartography.  Thank you for your time and attention ;)

Yes, the World Cup is coming, and even I have noticed it.  I don't watch television, don't read newspapers, and assiduously avoid news web sites.  But in this country the sport is so insidious, pervasive, and all-embracing, that even I know Beckham's not playing this time round, thereby dashing his hopes of playing in four consecutive World Cups, Rio Ferdinand is out with an injury, and Wayne Rooney was recently carded for swearing.  It's some form of weird cultural/sporting osmosis, I think.

I generally actively dislike watching sports, preferring to take part myself.  But there's something about the camaraderie and group experience of watching a high profile, high stakes match with complete strangers in a packed room that breaks down the normal barriers and leaves you high on the atmosphere of the situation. 

I vividly remember seeing Beckham sent off, Gazza in tears, and the hand of God.  (This last, in this country at least, shamefully overshadows the simply breath-taking other goal that Maradona scored in the same game - still one of the most awesome pieces of skill you will ever see on a football pitch.  I recently heard an interview with Gary Lineker, who was playing that day, in which he said that he wanted to simply stand up and applaud this goal at the time.)

It was before my time, but Kenneth Wolstenholme's commentary on the closing moments of the 1966 World Cup ('they think it's all over…') is completely legendary here.  I suspect that it's actually taught in schools.  Although any discussion about this game with German colleagues has inevitably ended in a dissection of England's controversial third goal...

In any case, if you can't stand football, good luck for the next month.  There's normally a few places around here advertising themselves as footy-free zones during World Cups and European Championships, but this time round they seem conspicuous by their absence.

English World Cup campaigns generally follow a well-worn path.  They start off with boundless enthusiasm and wildly optimistic self-belief on the part of the entire nation, to be followed inevitably by gut-wrenching disappointment, ignominy, and defeat.  Generally featuring Argentina or Germany, and probably a penalty shoot-out for good measure.  Yet the fire of hope burns forever bright.

I for one am looking forward to it.  Come 7.30 on Saturday evening when England kick off against the USA, I'll have found a pub or friend with a TV, will be clutching a pint, and will be loudly expressing my concerns with the manager's strategic choices, something about which I know absolutely nothing.  I do know I will be trying to explain the offside rule to my wife YET AGAIN. 

UPDATE: In the office sweepstake, I've managed to pick England as my team.  I tried to explain to the girl running it that I'm such a dead cert to win that she might as well hand over my winnings now, but unfortunately she too has known the heartbreak of following the Three Lions, and politely told me to naff off.