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Football, bloody hell


Somewhere around now the World Cup stops getting fun and starts getting pretty serious. If you’re reading this on Friday the quarter finals are just getting underway. Argentina, who appear to be the on-form team, will take on Germany, who have been surprisingly good so far. Then the cynical and somewhat lucky Italians—a last minute disputed penalty got them past the Australians—will take on the Ukrainian team which also advanced out of the group stage because of a dodgy penalty decision, when Andrei Shevchenko tripped himself up in the Tunisian penalty area.

The real economic impact though happens on Saturday when England play the Portuguese, who fought a cynical football war against the equally cynical Dutch.

According to the London Times, “It’s spend, spend, spend as the nation bites its nails” on Saturday before the 4pm kick-off.

There will be
— One television sold every 40 seconds in John Lewis; one flat-screen TV sold every 15 seconds in Curry’s (though not after 4pm)
— 15 million extra pints sold in English pubs
—5 million cases of beer and about 10 million sausages consumed along with an estimated million bottles of champagne if England win
— 5 million disposable barbeques in action
— 6,200 cash withdrawals per minute at half time
By the end of the World Cup we will have spent
— £720 million on England goods, from deck chairs to giant inflatable hands
— £300 million on advertising and sponsorship
— £285 million on alcohol

Then the French play the Brazilians, who are the greatest TV draw, with an average world wide audience apparently of 150m for their group games — the estimate is that 1 billion will watch the Final.

You may think that it’s just a game, with an excuse to spend money. But it’s more than that. The World Cup has even made some moves into workplace hysteria in the US with investment banks and even McDonalds putting the football on in the workplace. One boffin is actually testing heart rates among fans watching the game

As Professor Ron Maughan, of Loughborough University, pored over the project data, the conclusion was inevitable. “The heart rates that we have recorded are in line with those experienced by an individual reaching sexual climax,” he said. “And, in some cases, greater than that. We knew that football fans were passionate about their teams, but these results really prove that, for some, football is better than sex.”

So if England win it’ll be like most of the nation has a simultaneous orgasm, and if they lose—well they’ll be lots of scorned lovers fueled by drink and expecting trouble. Of course it’s not just the English who care that much—everyone does. Here’s what the Argentinian coach Jose Pekerman says about their loss last time around when their were favorites while their economy was in the toilet:

“2002 was an enormous psychological blow,” he said. “As a country we were on our knees and the World Cup was a way of telling ourselves that, at least in football, everything was fine. That’s why it was so brutal when we were knocked out. Even though most of this team weren’t a part of 2002, they all know what happened, they all shared the pain and they want to set things right.”

So it really matters for these countries in a way that it just doesn’t in the US. Which is bizarre, because in politics, auto sales and on Fox News, no nation wraps itself in the flag and empty patriotism like the US. Most other countries don’t get all excited about the concept of the nation other than in football, whereas in the US it’s everywhere—two days debate on flagburning? Puh-lease! But, as I pointed out last time on Spot-on, America doesn’t like to play sports that have real international championships, and American fans don’t seem to be interested in their national teams. Luckily the US is out, so as a dual citizen I can be jingoistic for the rest of this piece. And I’m not the only rational Englishman losing his head.

Simon Barnes, the senior football writer for the Times who is usually very balanced, has come up with 25 reasons why England might win the World Cup which is frankly pretty optimistic given how spottily they’ve played so far. Still, the Italian team that won in 1982 was absolutely dreadful in the group stage, and then beat Argentina and perhaps the best Brazil side of all time on the way to winning the final. And the German team that somehow went all the way in 2002 was dreadful but had the good luck to never meet a decent side at all until Brazil beat it in the Final—and still needed a dreadful refereeing decision when Morten Frings handled on the line against the US in the quarter-final and not only wasn’t sent off but didn’t even concede a penalty.

And the England team has plenty of potential; more than any of the other quarter-finalists other than Brazil, Argentina and the aging but still magnificent French. And that potential is largely bound up in the incredibly fast recovering Wayne Rooney. Rooney is back on the field less than two months after breaking a metatarsal bone in his foot—an injury that has taken several of his team-mates more than 5 months to recover from. One of the Portuguese (a nationalized Brazilian called Deco who stupidly got himself red carded against Holland and so can’t play on Saturday) started saying the Rooney wasn’t as good as Pele. But even putting them in the same sentence is inflating expectation in England, and other than the Brazilian quartet of Ronaldhino, Kaka, Adriano and Robinho, and possibly the Argentinian wunderkind Messi, there is no more talented player left in the World Cup. Of course Zidane has a great history, but he’s largely playing from memory—but boy what a memory, and it was wonderful to see him score in the last minute against the kids from Spain. (As one wag said in the Guardian’s blog, “France reined in Spain and put them on the plane”)

So there’s more jingoistic fun to keep us going for a couple of weeks, before we get back to realizing that Italian football is in crisis, European teams are violating the prospects for African and South American leagues  by taking their best players too young and violating immigration law in the process. And then just apparently there’s a world outside football. Which some people seem to think is a total disaster.

Share  Posted by Matt Holt at 11:57 PM | Permalink

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