Every four years the world, or at least the part of the world with interest in matters football, comes to as close to a standstill as we can manage, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and IDF allowing. I can see you frowning, unhappy that I've chosen to return to that which kept me away from you, but I promised to do this post, if only to get Woolie out of his peculiar funk when it comes to what I considered one of the more enjoyable tournaments we've had in a while. Well, one of the most enjoyable first halves of a tournament we've had in a while.
The group stages of the tournament were a joy to watch, beautiful football, a touch of unpredictability (but only a touch. Thank you very much, Cameroon, for failing to deliver, as always), goals galore and suspiciously talented youngster with a name that confounded the commentators (in fairness, one would expect that James would be pronounced as James, no?). The round of 16 games were the longest four nights of my year, with mostly crappy matches dragging out into penalties (thank you, Costa Rica, for the most boring goal ever to be scored in open play). Would you believe my highlight of that stage was Algeria? Yes, Algeria, the bastards who beat out my lovely Burkinabe to the finals proved to be most entertaining. That was most odd. And Musa, lovely Musa... The boy is a genius. The problem with these big tournaments, once all the lively upstarts have been bumped off, it reverts to business as usual. Or not. The semi final threw up possibly the most humiliating thrashing in World Cup history. Quick question, did anyone else feel like they were watching a fake match? The first 30 minutes of Germany v Brazil were surreal, it was like exhibition football. For anyone who doesn’t understand the love people have for the game, watch the crowd reaction, people don’t cry like that for no reason.
Football is more than 22 people kicking a piece of inflated leather around for 90 plus minutes. It's a bloody love story, complete with unlikely heroes and evil villains, unexpected heartbreak and happily ever afters. I know, I'm making it sound like a cheesy movie, but in some ways it is, no? Where else would you find an idiot biting another idiot, just because? Or a broken back? Or a flying Dutchman? Or a super sub goalkeeper? Hang on, can we talk about about that substitution? That shit was not right, it just wasn’t. Football is fucking brilliant, is what it is.
For your withdrawal symptoms I give you a couple of video montages, because what is football without a mash-up of goals and fouls set to music, no?
Here's the arty homage to Brazil from the BBC...
...and the heart-string pulling goalfest from ESPN.
Now that I have you basking in the afterglow of a month well spent, how about we take a little detour down a rabbit hole? First we turn to the defining music of football, to my mind. Today's soundtrack is 'Nessun Dorma' by Luciano Pavarotti, from the 1990 World Cup, the first one I watched with real seriousness. Before that I was watching because everyone else was watching and I had no choice, being the last born in the house, but in 1990 I was home alone with the parents for long stretches, and because my father couldn’t (still can't) sit through a match without falling asleep, the TV was all mine. It was bliss. I became a World Cup junkie that year, and with my addiction came a peculiar fascination with peculiar music I didn’t understand. No, not Soukouss (Roger Milla taught us, me, how to dance at a corner flag), I'm talking about opera. 'Nessun Dorma' wasn’t the official song of the tournament, but BBC used it with such spectacular success it ended up on the charts (with matching video montages, of course) and in due course it became a bit of a sports anthem. I have to make an embarrassing confession at this point, I always though opera was unintelligible nonsense, the Latin 'shoobeeedooowup!', but with an orchestra and powerful vocals. I should point out that I am horrible with languages. Up until this week I had no idea what this song was about, and I'd never thought to find out. Shock on me when I read the lyrics and discovered it's a fascinating tale. From Wikipedia, this aria is taken, “from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera 'Turandot'”.
Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma! Tu pure, o Principessa, nella tua fredda stanza, guardi le stelle che tremano d'amore, e di speranza!
(English translation: None shall sleep! None shall sleep! Even you, O Princess, in your cold bedroom, watch the stars that tremble with love and with hope!)
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me; il nome mio nessun saprà! No, No! Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!
(But my secret is hidden within me; none will know my name! No, no! On your mouth I will say it when the light shines!)
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia!
(And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!)
Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All'alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!
(Vanish, o night! Fade, you stars! Fade, you stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!)
Do you see now why I compare football to a love story, and why this song is my default World Cup song? It's the high and low, and high again, of a game, in music. It speaks to our misguided, nay, blind faith in bastards who always break our hearts.
And speaking of bastards, we need to talk about the business of football and greedy FIFA, the real rabbit hole of this tale. I shall continue this on the dark side, where there is no word count, and I can put up pie charts...
There's a real post coming. Kesho. Promise. I haven't started it, but it's coming...