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Three Lions

Yes, I know the subtitle of this song is “Football’s Coming Home”, and football didn’t, but what am I supposed to do? It’s been a month or so since the end of the World Cup, and I think it’s enough time to be able to reflect on the event that crams 64 games into about 28 days, so here goes.

To start with, staging the finals in Russia has been discussed at length and needs no input from me. No one who follows football actually believed that removing Sepp Blatter and his cronies would make a difference in how FIFA does business, and of course, it didn’t. FIFA makes even the worst dictatorship look squeaky clean, and this was embodied in the opening game. On more than one occasion we saw shots from the V.I.P. box of  a triumvirate of evil; Vladimir Putin, FIFA President Gianni Infantino ( AKA Johnny Baby) and someone who I assume was Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia sitting next to each other and chatting. To be honest, it looked like the supervillain conference scene from a James Bond movie: There’s always one Arab in traditional dress present, Johnny Baby looks like a Bond villain and Vlad the Invader IS a Bond villain.  The scene just reeked of influence, corruption and contempt, so it was no surprise when the hosts, the lowest ranking team in the competition made it to the quarter finals.

Do you honestly believe that their games were fair and square? I’m pretty darn sure that every single official involved with Russia’s game had a visit from a couple of big blokes called Ivan and Sergei who said:

” Mister referee, here is special gift from people of Russia. Is whistle for competition. Is good for use in Russia, it glow in dark, and it stay  warm, so please, keep hold of whistle. Russian winter is very cold and dark, and we want you to be safe and make right decisions in game. last referee who made bad decision sat on park bench in Salisbury, he get very ill. We not want that to happen to you.”

Or words to that effect. You catch my drift, anyway. You might think that not having any kind of television service would be a disadvantage, but far from it, as I used a couple of streaming websites and saw all, or at least highlights of 63 games. I didn’t bother with the third place playoff as it’s the most meaningless game in world football and neither team wanted to be there. I was pleasantly surprised at England’s performance as I’d expected the usual squeaking through the group and then going out in the first knockout round to any half decent team. Thankfully, not being in England I avoided the inevitable hype surrounding a decent run, although by the time the semi final came round, even I was beginning to think that I might be about to experience England’s second appearance in a World Cup final.

Mind you, as a Liverpool fan I had already experienced the result of getting over enthusiastic about a final once this season, so kept my own counsel. I don’t know if the Germans have a word for Schadenfreude, but there was plenty of that to go round, and as well as seeing the Germans finish bottom of their group, I took especial delight in seeing Portugal, Argentina, Spain and Brazil fail to make the last eight. I have nothing in particular against those countries, but seeing Cristiano Ronaldo have to go home early was a delight. I can’t stand the guy for a number of reasons: He thinks he’s Gods’ gift and makes no attempt to hide it, he’s not a team player and doesn’t track back or make any effort to help the team and if he was made of chocolate, he’d eat himself. So, seeing him trudge off the pitch after the Uruguay game looking like you could light a candle on his bottom lip gave me quite a lot of satisfaction. I should point out, as others have done, that the last time Germany failed to make the last eight of a World Cup was 1938. Yeah, I know. They didn’t take that defeat particularly well, so I’d do a bit of planning if I were you. Yes, I know a lot of people were joking about this, but not really joking.

Mind you, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised, I mean, Germany doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to winning in Russia, although at least this time the trip home won’t be quite so traumatic. I am, however, a little disappointed that Germany didn’t play any games in Volgagrad,  although I suppose that would have been a little tasteless.

As an Englishman, the most disappointing thing was England’s performance in the Semi Final. The way I look at it is that if you get that far, you go out and play the greatest game of your life, putting all your energy into the game on the principal that if you lose, you will at least go down swinging, and if you win, hell, you’re in the final, and you might not be fully recovered physically, but the adrenaline rush of being in the World Cup Final is enough to reanimate even the mouldiest of corpses. Alas, this never occurred to the English team, who apart from the free kick never looked like scoring. Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Dele Alli were noticeable by their absence, and it just stunned me that they didn’t seem to realise that this game actually mattered.  As with all the other games I made a very strong effort to avoid learning anything about the game, so at least my day wasn’t ruined until the end.

My plans for the final were to watch it at home mid morning, until a friend offered to host me, as he has television service. Works for me, I thought, as long as his other half doesn’t object. In the end, two other friends, also expats announced that they would host a party in their workspace and had bought at 52″ T.V. in honour of the event. They popped by work the day before to buy ham and cheese for Panini, I brought some strawberries, and set off early on Saturday morning to indulge in that most English of activities, morning drinking while watching football.

There were about 18 present all told, most of them locals who were there for the social rather than the football portion of the morning, but my Chelsea loving expat friend and I parked ourselves in prime viewing spots and enjoyed what was, all in all a pretty good game. Of course I was disappointed, but in no way surprised that France won, but I have to say that Croatia ran them close at times, dominating the opening 20 minutes and giving as good as they got. By the end of the game, suitably full of beer and food we stayed to watch the trophy presentation ceremony, and I have to admit that there may have been some coded messages involved.

Firstly, as Putin stood on the pitch awaiting the completion of the podium, he was accompanied by someone who I can only assume was a very expensive Russian prostitute. I don’t know why she was there, as the rain made sure that the pitch was well watered. Maybe she was being rewarded for a job well done. The large flags or Tifos on the pitch were a regular feature of every game, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they were being held by what appeared to be extras from a low budget 1980’s sci fi movie, nor why there was a line of female flight attendants standing behind the dignitaries. Of course, all this took a long time to set up, and was done purely for the cameras and the advertisers, no walking up the steps to receive the trophy as Bobby Moore did in 1966 and I did wonder why only Putin had an umbrella while the Croatian president, Johnny Baby and everyone else simply soaked. Talking of all things soaked, did you notice that when the confetti cannons were let off, they shot huge volumes of golden foil into the air? Hmm. A golden shower in Moscow. Nah, it couldn’t have been any kind of sly jab, could it? Admittedly, Putin did have a sly grin on his face, but then again, he usually does, so I don’t want to read too much into it.

So, not a bad way to spend a month. Plenty of football, not too many boring games, a lot of beer drunk whilst watching it and a fun morning to cap it all off. Now what do I do? I have to wait a full nine days for the start of the English Premier League season to begin, but at least that’s a damn sight less time than the 1,572 days 13 hours and 25 minutes until Qatar 2022. Assuming of course it even happens.

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Football Crazy.

Editorial note: for “Football”, read “Soccer” if it makes it easier for  you.

I’ve been a fan of Liverpool Football Club for as long as I can remember, so it must be at least 44 years. In fact, I can’t remember ever NOT being a Liverpool fan. When living in the city, attending games was never a problem, and there was always “Match Of The Day ” on Saturday night to give access to the highlights of other games, and eventually, in the mid 80s’ live games on a Sunday afternoon, so I never felt deprived of footballing action. Moving to the U.S. in 1992 changed all that. Our first computer, a 486/66 at least gave me access to scores and game reports, but nothing else.

I dwelt in this netherland for a couple of years until Fox launched a highlights show fronted by Mario Machado, and pretty dismal watching it was too, as poor MM seemed to have no real understanding of the game, the laws or  the teams. Still, it was English football, and that’s all that counted. The expansion of cable, and then satellite gave greater access, and praise be, whole games, not just highlights, made all the easier to watch with the addition of a DVR to the home. The arrival of the kids made watching somewhat problematic due to the disappearance of all free time from the schedule as well as a permanent state of sleep deprivation  seen only in those individuals singled out for special treatment at Guantanamo Bay.  One bright note was the European Champions League final of  2005. It took me 3 days to watch the game,avoiding all potential news of the game, fitting it in around regular fatherly chores, and I still have the tape, but at least I saw all of the game, and the depression induced by the first half made for a pretty miserable day until I could find the time to watch the remainder.

When I moved to my first rental, I paid the extra $10 a month for a DVR and at long last, I could stretch out on the sofa with a beer or five and watch the games in all their  high definition 64″ flat screen glory. Oh happy day! Leave aside the frustration of lacklustre performances and defeats against “weaker” opposition, I was again watching full football games uninterrupted. In April of this year I moved again, and had already decided not to pay for cable, as the cost just doesn’t match the value I would derive from watching T.V. “The Daily Show” is available online.

A friend pointed me in the direction of a free website that shows football matches not just from England, but from all over the world. “Great”, thought I, but of course, there is always a catch. That catch is that the games are streamed live, with no ability to pause or rewind, transporting me back to the early 80s’ of I.T.V.s’ “The Big Match”, sans Brian Moore.

Just in case you missed it, the games are carried LIVE. This means that a 1:30pm kick off in England means a 5:30am kick off for me. Yeah. Now, I’ve never been one to slip out of a young ladies’ bed before either she or the sun was up, but this is what I found myself doing  one recent Saturday morning so that I could watch Liverpool take on their local rivals Everton in what is always a fiercely contested game – 20 players sent off in the last 20 years. At least my sweetie had the good grace to understand my need to see the game,  having gotten up with me the week previously when staying at my house to watch her first ever football match, for which I appreciate her greatly. Still,  I experienced a  mix of emotions as I dressed in the bathroom and then proceeded to make coffee and set up the laptop in anticipation of the game.

It’s not the easiest thing to watch such an emotionally charged game under such circumstances, especially if you are the kind of person who still yells “YESSSSS!” at the top of his lungs when your team gets a goal, or something less polite at a poor refereeing decision,   but somehow I managed to restrain myself and returned to bed 2 hours later slightly disappointed at a draw, but having seen a 6 goal game full of excitement, skill and passion. At least on that occasion I could return to welcoming arms and a bed kept warm. Not so this week. The need for silence remained, as the kids were with me, but knowing that once they awoke I’d have no opportunity to catch up on my lost sleep, I made the coffee just that little bit stronger. It’s a pity I only had coffee on hand, as a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Hull City needs something fermented or distilled to ease the pain.

Why the hell do I do this? Why the hell do I get out of bed at an ungodly hour on a weekend to subject myself to the possibility of said weekend being ruined before it’s even begun? Maybe there really is an element of masochism in being a football fan. Maybe I’m pining for my youth spent standing in the stadium with all the cameraderie, joking and sense of purpose that it entailed. Or maybe, my mother was right, and, as she used to say, that I haven’t got the sense I was born with.  Only the remaining 25 games of the season will tell.

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