It’s been a good four-year wait (depending on one’s definition of how long a wait is). And now the World Cup is upon us with an added flavor in Bafana Bafana land. Come to think of it – it’s the only global event worth waiting for and one that actually delivers a concrete result at the end of it. There are no deadlocks, no breakdowns, no talks-to-be continued but good old-fashioned walking the talk or in this arena, kicking the ball to a score, a draw or the dreaded penalty. Heartaches and relief aside, the game always produces a result. No wonder it’s the most popular game in the world.
There was a time when we’d talk about the good old days, and someone would put in this gem. “Yeah, we’re not getting any younger. You’ve got to ask yourselves – just how many prime-time World Cups have I got left in me?” It was really eerie, this reverie. Suddenly there would be silence in the air, followed by instant panic. You see, you can actually measure how long you’re going to have it good by calculating the number of World Cups you’ll be able to watch without going deaf, dumb or blind and if you’re lucky, all of it and senile. With the TV wilderness we were living in, it probably means we have missed out on quite a few ups and downs, meaning we have had just three good televised World Cups in the last 37 years (you could go back farther depending on your age).
But the beautiful game does reflect ugly intervals when wars are waged, genocides committed, the earth itself ravaged and the atrocities carried out in the name of progress, democracy, freedom and globalization. Jesus! Why couldn’t we just settle stuff on the turf – 11 a side, two goalposts and a ball and a whistle? And that’s precisely what we get every four years and don’t we just love it!
For those of us in the television wilderness the beauty of what this event signified and symbolized was more than Maradona’s Mexico triumph some 34 years ago to Zizou’s headers in France ’98. This was when illegal satellite dishes resembling UFOs made the landing in Thimphu. Even zealous authorities love the game and tolerating the presence of such, we got together in community halls around Thimphu. Typically about 30-50 wooden benches semi-circling a television as big as the ones you see shop vendors taking a peek-in at today’s lazy Thimphu afternoons. With a handful of plastic chairs reserved for the big honchos. But man, this was the World Cup! We didn’t care who saw on what.
What we’d missed out on was the magic of Pele, the “Totaalvoetbal” of the Rinus Michels Dutch side with the suave Johan Cruijf rock and rolling it. When Maradona broke English hearts and minds we saw snippets in the back-issues of Indian papers and little did we know the shorts and T-shirts we’d sported with the funny initials MARADONA was that of a footballer and not a pop star. When the divine pony-tailed Baggio made up in the US ’94 for that miss on home soil in Italia ‘90 we were still feeding off the newspaper scraps – bits and pieces from here, there and everywhere.
Thus France ’98 truly was the homecoming. And when Asia held its first World Cup in Korea and Japan, for once we could sit back in our couches at home or in bars and not worry about what the heck was going on wherever the heck it was going on! The timings were splendid too – we didn’t need to turn into yawning sleepy-eyed werewolves. Now it looks like we might have too. Not a bad bargain when you think about your brethren down in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.
Now that it’s in progress, enjoy it. The hype and the buildup are as exciting as the tournament itself. Hear the pundits go about the usual chatter and then get it all wrong, well, except for where England’s Golden Generation is played up for its last gasp at glory – the Dutch for exciting football that exits as promptly. The Spanish for bottling it and the rest of the African and Asian squads for springing in a few upsets (and here’s looking forward to the North Koreans – they’re as likely to play the game as let go of one of their missiles). Which leaves us with the usual suspects – the effective Germans, the dancing Brazilians and the mercurial Argentine (with the most expensive toiletry, a bling in one ear and a newfound wisdom in the beard, Maradona just might get
God involved again – hand or no hand) and of course the nutty Italians. Changes notwithstanding the mental stigma attached, this looks like the last four.
Though here’s hoping this African party breaks all records and corridors with the now notorious Jabulani, the official ball and the controversial Vuvuzela, the unofficial soundtrack (a kind of three-foot long cheap plastic trumpet that makes a deep monotone sound (supposedly like an elephant) and, when blown in concert, sounds like a swarm of bees (it’s particularly annoying on television), does the rest.
So enjoy it – you might not be around when the next one goes to Brazil in 2014.