Wednesday, 14 July 2010

End of the World (Cup) as we know it

So the World Cup is over for another year. I will miss it. I won’t miss the vuvuzelas, but I will miss the World Cup. Football begins again soon, though – Liverpool’s first real game is in less than a fortnight as they kick off their Europa campaign.

People have said that the World Cup wasn’t very exciting this year. That is because they are rugby supporters. This year seemed to be all about defence, and I used to play right back, so I am happy enough with that. It was all very well to display your silky skills up front, but if you were leaking goals at the back then you weren’t going to get through to the next round.

Spain may not have scored the most goals, but they conceded the fewest and that’s why they lifted that amazing 18 carat gold trophy. New Zealand have the distinction of being the only unbeaten side in the 2010 World Cup – that will be a pub quiz question for many years to come, in this country at least.

The media here is paranoid that football is edging out rugby in the popularity stakes. Actually, they call it ‘soccer’ (although the New Zealand Football association officially calls it football, along with every other country, apart from America), and refuse to give it the correct status as the beautiful game; more watched globally than any other sport.

The media make a lot of money out of rugby, so they don’t want to admit that more people are interested in football. New Zealand are top of the IRB World Rankings – there are apparently 95 countries that play rugby, approximately 20 of them competitively (Namibia and Romania are included in the top 20). 207 countries play football – a quarter of the way down that list we find New Zealand at 54, after gaining 24 places from their strong World Cup performance.

Glamour attaches itself to the All Blacks – there is a myth in this country that real men are hard and stoic (think monosyllabic and unresponsive – like your stereotypical Yorkshireman). They are afraid of emotion as it might demonstrate weakness (i.e. personality), so despise the fact that footballers hug each other in delight after scoring. A true New Zealander merely does a war dance and sticks his tongue out at the opposition – much more mature.

More children play football – just look at the sports fields of any city in the country on any weekend, but then they are lured away to the oval ball. Just in case this might not happen, they are reminded that they must worship the scrum. When the FIFA World Cup was on the television and graced the front cover of the SKY magazine – it is after all the most watched event in the world – the Kiwi press wrapped a picture of an All Black around it. They weren’t even playing any games that month. Running scared? I’d say so.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Private Lives; Public Heroes

During a text ‘conversation’ about football with my friend in England, he wrote, ‘Did you hear Gerrard rumour?’ My insides turned to ice as I replied, ‘I have heard several – what’s the latest?’ He answered, ‘Getting his wife’s sister pregnant, or brother’s wife. I can’t remember which. That was why Terry was so whingey in South Africa’, to which I shot back, ‘That’s okay then. I thought you were going to say something awful like he’s going to Man Utd.’

Don’t get me wrong – adultery is nothing to be flippant about – but what has it got to do with his football? I care very much about where Stevie chooses to play his football (and I hope he will stay with the not-currently-very-mighty-reds) but his private relationships (extra-marital or otherwise) are none of my business. It seems that many people think it is theirs. I found this from the Talk FC web-forum, where clearly Vicky Pollard is masquerading as ‘redmadmundo’:

“The part of the story is that nonsense is its Ronnie Whelan’s daughter, a lad I know actually knows the girl and there’s no way, the other one about his sister in law was even worse, when a lad in work got a text, I spoke to the fella sitting next to me who lives down the road where her mum lives and he said there wasn’t a sister!”

Since when did we expect sporting figures to be role models? We watch programmes like Footballer’s Wives and then pretend to be outraged if someone has an affair in real life. Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Tiger Woods – they’ve all suffered in recent months from our phony mealy-mouthed morality. We strip them of their endorsements, contracts and captaincy because they don’t set a good example. Basically, it’s mere envy because they are earning thousands of pounds a week, but they’re not earning them for saintly morality; they’re earning them for hitting a ball – and they still do that very well, if we let them.

If I had children I might want them to play football like Stevie G, sing like Dusty Springfield, and build businesses like Richard Branson and bridges like Isambard Kingdom Brunel. But would I trust their emotional judgement? How would I know? I don’t know who these people really are. There is an old joke that people mock David Beckham for not being very bright, but no one criticises Steven Hawkin for being crap at football. There used to be a school of thought that you should stick to what you’re good at – now we seem to expect our ‘stars’ to be paragons of virtue as well, and I don’t know why.

We were supposedly horrified when Gordon Ramsay cheated on his wife. Why? This is the man who routinely swears at and belittles people on public television, and yet he was voted ‘celebrity father of the year’ – clearly demonstrating that bullying is admirable. Serena Williams has the most smashing forehand in women’s tennis, but I wouldn’t take fashion tips from her.
In New Zealand Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads is revered as the greatest lock forward ever – he has an MBE and was named the NZRU Player of the Century in 1999. He endorsed Provincial Finance with the immortal, emotive (and typically Kiwi) line, “solid as, I’d say.” When the finance company went under in 2006 and 14,000 investors lost their money, they seemed somehow surprised, having put their trust in the man rather than company. Again I ask, why? How does sticking your head between other men’s thighs qualify you as a financial advisor? Probably best not to answer that.

There are some public figures who are known to be lovely – Joanna Lumley; Michael Palin and David Attenborough spring to mind. Others less so. I don’t agree with many of Jeremy Clarkson’s opinions and would probably find him insufferably smug and arrogant if I ever met him, but his journalistic style is sublime. Similarly, Tom Cruise’s scientology and sofa bouncing antics may be completely bonkers, but he has made a number of good films (Top Gun; Rain Man; Born on the Fourth of July; A Few Good Men; Interview with the Vampire; Mission: Impossible; Jerry Maguire; Minority Report; Collateral; Valkyrie).

Some people (though God only knows who) might think Angelina Jolie has talent in her chosen field of pouting – oops, I mean acting – but does the fact that she has a bizarre necessity to recreate the united colours of Benetton adverts lessen her attributes? Are Roman Polanski’s films of less merit because of his controversial personal life? The Americans in a wonderful display of duplicity awarded him the Best Director Oscar in 2002 for The Pianist but refused to allow him into the country to accept it. Many singers, authors, musicians, artists have dodgy political viewpoints and personal lives: Michael Jackson may be a child molester of very limited mental faculties, but Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough is still one of the greatest disco sounds of the ‘70s.

I wouldn’t take political pointers from Sean Connery, as he is a rampant right-wing misogynist, but he’s a good actor. Conversely, does the fact that Bill Clinton chose to play hide-the-cigar with his intern have any relevance for anyone other than his wife? It was disgraceful that he lied under oath – and for that alone he should have been removed from office; no one should be above the legal system – but he shouldn’t have been in the dock for it in the first place. We should be ashamed of ourselves for being so enthralled by the salacious gossip. The ‘stars’ are only giving us what we want.

We used to have godparents who were supposed to be our role models and protectors. We respected our parents, teachers, religious leaders, and perhaps scout and guide leaders. I remember being influenced by my parents, aunts, uncles, a couple of teachers and the local Red Cross leader. If we now look up to singers, actors, celebrity non-entities and footballers, what sort of a life are we admiring? Perhaps we actually get what we deserve after all. But Stevie, please don’t leave me.