Beautiful Losers

Week Three of the World Cup has come to an end. And what a [🚨 CLICHÉ KLAXON!!! 🚨] Feast Of Football it’s been. Notwithstanding that Brazil continue to elicit roughly the same amount of sympathy as their 1994 World Cup-winning edition of vicious bores, rather than 1982’s beautiful losers.

[Feeling bereft as the games begin to dry up? Pass the time with the Apoplexy Newsletter.]

Yeah. Happy Independence Day to you, too. In trying to remind myself of the details of Leonardo’s brutal, jaw-breaking elbow on Tab Ramos, I came across this discussion of the incident, which includes the following extract from ITV’s commentary in Britain:

Kevin Keegan: “Well I’d love to see that again, I didn’t think he did that much wrong… Look, he’s holding him”. Alan Parry: “Ahh, Elbow” KK: “Yeah but he’s being held Alan” AP: “But that’s an elbow though isn’t it?” KK: “Yes, but…”

As usual, the standard of commentary and analysis we’ve had to sit through this year has been atrocious, too.

To be fair, Spain did lose that game, but are we still condemning tiki-taka as a kind of cheating ten years after Euro 2018? Well, of course we are. It’s just not of a one with the uniquely British sense of fair play and up-and-at-em heroism, is it?

"Well done, he's 13"
Michael Owen takes time out from bullying a 13 year-old goalkeeper

I wonder what Keggy Keegle had to say about that?

But I’m probably just being moody because Scotland didn’t qualify, right? And a Scottish player wouldn’t do anything as underhand as that, right?

Or Rangers' 2014 performances. I dunno.
Ally McCoist reflects on his playing career

On the other hand, I was just remarking to a friend that I can remember rooting for England in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea while I was living in New York. And even if I’m weeping for myself, I’ll be happy for my English friends if the unimaginable happens this year.

There just seems to be something different about the experience of watching the World Cup in Britain.

When even the Mail agrees with me, we’ve really passed through the looking glass. I don’t suppose I should be too hard on Keegan and Glenn Hoddle. The mindfulness practice that I was encouraged to adopt in the aftermath of my stroke has reawakened my interest in critical thinking. But I don’t think that that critical thinking is top of the curriculum in the football academies.

Plongée? Wossis foreign muck?
Although, even Danny Dyer’s got the hang of it by now

No. The Latins (except for the Samba Selecao) practice the dark arts. Japan’s play is tidy. The Spaniards have a perverse aversion getting it in the mixer. The African nations are indisciplined in defence. Scotland boot people up in the air. And as evidenced above, the national television stations – and no doubt, the Mail itself – encourage this sort of thing.

And then there’s people having to have this sort of conversation with the bandwagon-jumpers from UKIP. Did you know that the BBC have had former UKIP leader Nigel Farage appear on Question Time thirty-two times? And contrary to what Kippers might think, I can assure you that fitba’s no comin hame any time soon. Now, using my critical facilities, I can acknowledge that football wasn’t invented in Scotland just because Patrick Barclay says so in the Independent. I remember going to see a play on Broadway about the invention of television and being astonished that it didn’t feature Scotsman John Logie Baird.

...inventing colour
John Logie Baird in 1917

Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention, you see, was about American Philo Farnworth’s invention of the first fully functional and complete all-electronic television system. It says here that, while Baird gave the first public demonstration of the transmission of moving images, Farnsworth came up with the technology necessary to give TV its mass appeal. Needless to say, we don’t get into that distinction in Scotland. And my American friends often give me a blank look when I bring up Baird.

Take that, RCA President David Sarnoff!
Philo Farnsworth in 1935

SaveSave It turns out that The Farnsworth Invention is itself not historically accurate, but an intentional alteration of the story. What I’m saying, I guess, is that it pays to consider what we consume, whether it’s a commentator’s jingoism, the Mail (whether in white hat or black shirt mode), or Aaron Sorkin playing fast and loose with the facts for the sake of art. Because all that stuff has an effect on us. Which leads me to a final observation which brightened my day in the face of footballing fatalism.

I hope your day is good, too! SaveSave




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2 thoughts on “Beautiful Losers

  1. I try to ignore the commentary on American TV, except for the occasional details which actually matter to the game at hand. Watching the Mexican team games on Telemundo (and previously, Univision) is particularly difficult – the pro-Mexican bias is over-the-top. (The Spanish-language networks know who their target audience is.)

    At the quarterfinal stage, now that Spain have decided they never wanted to play in this tournament in the first place, I’ll be rooting for Belguim to upset Brazil, and praying that Croatia can stop the Russians from accidentally making it to the semifinals. Otherwise, I have no real interest in who wins the Cup at this point (and I’m thankful that Germany and Mexico are out). Just show me some good games without too much of the dark arts. Pretty please? 🙂

    1. Interesting to get the impression from “abroad”. And to read of the similarities when a broadcaster is broadcasting to an audience beyond its… core? Wonder if Spain have reverted to their original model of underachievement? Recent developments in the politics of football and the politics of politics might suggest yes?

      Anyway, QFs! Personally, I’d agree on Belgium. And if Croatia can play the way I imagine they can, they could light this World Cup up and make it something to remember. Hard to know how feel about the Russian team, in that on the field their players seem quite appealing – but I don’t know if we can base anything on that any more than one can with England. If I haven’t done so already, I’d recommend watching Frankie Boyle’s Frankie Goes To Russia on the BBC iPlayer. I can imagine Frankie would encourage you to watch it on YouTube, but I certainly wouldn’t.

      Notwithstanding their right bastardness in 1986, I’m inclined to root for “small independent nation” Uruguay. And our northern cousins Sweden – like Iceland before them – have issued a lovely request on the tweetie box for the world to support them. Like, am I made of stone?

      So, I can rustle up enough of a rooting interest to keep it fun, but like you I’d just like to see a World Cup that doesn’t descend into extreme caginess as things progress further. Even though plenty of games have been going to ET & PKs, I don’t think we can accuse this one of that, yet.

      And, sorry for not getting back to you earlier regarding watching spots in BK. Time has passed, obvs, but… Bar 718, a little bar of Polish origins on 5th Ave bet. 22nd & 23rd was always a good spot for games. If the fitba-mad proprietors Damien and Krystian are still there, tell ’em we say Hi! The Dram Shop on 9th St would do a decent job, too, and have shuffle puck to boot. The NY Spurs supporters club is based out of Floyd on Atlantic Ave, which is a decent bar. And Woodwork is the specialist soccer bar, but our experiences with them were a bit meh. YMMV.


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