(A Mother’s) Fear of Football: A World Cup Recap – 2006 onwards.It’s here again. In your face. World Cup Soccer. Crowds, close-ups, scrapping, earth-shattering yells of GOOOOAAALLL... and it all comes flooding back. The School Yard!
With a gut-churning bell, in the fifties our classroom order vanished as we streamed into the concrete playground for the daily free-for-all. Duty teachers might puff up, arms waving sighting a tripping, shoving or biting; might direct the injured to be carted off and read the riot act, but like FIFA referees they couldn’t stop the massacres.
I first realized this in 2006, watching Paraguay being slaughtered in an opening round against England. Paraguay, a tiny, land-locked country of three million. Male population decimated in the 1930’s land-grabbing Chaco Wars. Where was the athletic base? England; male population thirty million, a cold climate and 3.000 miles of coast and cruel sea to toughen it up.
Population numbers bother me. I still pore over my dog-eared school atlas, comparing land sizes. I never bought David and Goliath. David might have felled a giant. It was a fluke, man! David wasn’t knocked flying in a tackle for ball possession, a wrong look or jumped on behind the toilets.
In 2006 I trembled for mini Togo and petite Ivory Coast; wanted to cry, “It doesn’t matter, loves.” when they lost. I worried for the mothers of the poor men who enabled goals, missed penalties; imagined their sons targeted, like the poor Colombian player who had an ‘own’ goal in 1994 and was later found shot.
In 2010, I felt for France’s Thierry, when, Maradona style, he palmed the ball, facilitating a goal for Ireland. Watched nervously as desert giants Algeria and Egypt, surely poorly practiced on parched ground, kicked off. Watched Columbia and Venezuela, Andean countries where soccer, the simplest of sports - demanding only space, a ball and some shorts - is a real life-brightener, yet where teams pander to squads of supporters full of ill-will. My father might have yelled, “Yer off side Ref. get some glasses,” when he took me to a match, but we wandered home for tea afterwards, we didn’t roam the streets looking for revenge.
And did the world really have 214 countries that year? I quaked for England, never mind Paraguay; for Canada, for Iraq! How did Iraq scramble a team? For Afghanistan – Afghanistan! Was it still a country? Then Uruguay went through! Uruguay, a country the size of Wales, whose name no-one could spell, let alone remember, through to the 2010 South African World Cup.
Now it’s 2014, Brazil hosting and the event has become personal. My daughter is married to a Brazilian and, until recently, lived in Uruguay. Talk about wish/dread fulfillment. We watch as England, my birth nation, civilized by Rome, home of the Industrial Revolution is sent packing after the first round! Could the reason be that within weeks, the players will be back playing with their professional teams? Luis Suarez, the biter, returned to Liverpool. Did the England teammate, in the heat of Manaus, forget where he was and enable Luis his best goal?
Next Italy, Spain and France - other European powers - fall. And Uruguay is through again. And little Costa Rica. How about that? It gets worse or is it better? The beautiful game between Brazil – playing ‘at home’, population almost 200 million, to Chile’s ‘away’ and 14 million - and where many Santiago Writers have spent their most creative years, ends in the dreaded lottery of a penalty shoot-out!
Cries of “It hit the post. It hit the post.” reverberate. The sad lament, “Chile are going home!” But there’s a consoling addendum. “Chile’s got bottle.” What an accolade! “Bottle” What wonderful word use for the Chilean team and us writers! New football stars are announced. But… what of Jara who missed his/the last shot in the penalty shoot-out. Silence, when it should have been Gooooaaall.
Oh dear, what’s a mother to do with her fears and an old school atlas, it’s bound to get worse!
Susan Siddeley: Mon July 6th