A reader wants to know why I have seen fit not to comment on the football World Cup, coverage of which seems currently to dominate even the most serious of media outlets, and not only in the sports sections.
I should have thought the reason, or reasons, obvious.
Those who know my views will be aware that I have no interest in football – unless, as is quite often the case, some juicy scandal has been exposed to rile me up and get the indignant juices flowing. I could not comment on the unfolding sporting drama in Russia even if I wanted to. I have not seen a single game, and that includes those games in which a young newly-minted England team, suddenly looking like a contender for the title – or so we are being told – has been involved.
I am aware, of course, that some of the more fancied teams have been knocked out – notably Germany, which even the more serious and polite commentators like to call ‘England’s traditional enemy’. Germany’s ‘shock’ elimination gave rise to an outpouring of misplaced Schadenfreude that I found revolting. I say ‘misplaced’ because every English fan fervently wishes that the home team could enjoy a fraction of the success that Germany has achieved over the past twenty years or more – actually half a century or more – during which time Germany reached the quarter finals with monotonous and teeth-grinding regularity and in the process won the Jules Rimet trophy more times than any other team. England last won it (against West Germany) in 1966, but has done nothing of note, in this competition or any other, ever since. Credit where it is due, I say, and England’s football establishment has little of it.
None of this has prevented the more jingoistic English tabloids, even the respectable broadsheets, from whipping up a frenzy of optimism that Germany’s loss may be England’s gain. And yesterday, to add to the relief, Argentina and Portugal, both among the favourites, followed Germany into oblivion.
All this joy at the misfortunes of other teams I find curious. England had just lost to Belgium, and before that had only managed to beat lowly Tunisia and Panama, albeit the latter by a five-goal margin. It has even been suggested that the narrow loss to Belgium was a tactical masterstroke, allowing England, which plays Colombia next, to avoid meeting a more fancied opponent. This, to me, sounds suspiciously like match-fixing, but perhaps I am being naïve.
I have to wonder why the English get their hopes up on nothing more tangible or noble than prospective opponents of greater competence dropping out. Surely, if England wants to be considered seriously as a potential cup winner, the team should be confident of beating any team that stands in the way. Pathetic, I call it.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no reason to wish England ill. I hope the team wins the tournament. If it reaches the final I may even, if I have nothing better to do, watch the match. But I shall cross that bridge in good time, if it ever comes, and meanwhile attend to other subjects and concerns.
In the event that England emerges triumphant, will I at least have the decency to eat my words? Well, I may take a few bites. But the prospect of having to wade through the billions of words that would accompany such an occasion would prevent me from swallowing too many.
Frankly, I am far more concerned about other things to linger at the table: like the Brexit negotiations; Britain’s place in the world; the civil war that is enveloping a weak and confused British government; and the outlook for the British economy. A World Cup victory would lift up the nation’s spirits, or so the papers are already assuring us. So they might, for a while.
But perspective is everything. My spirit will not be soaring if, as football fans across the land spend weeks drinking themselves senseless, the country is cut adrift without friends in a harsh market-driven world and the 300-year old Union starts to fall apart.
Come to think of it, I may be partaking of a few jars myself.