While my friends and family on the East Coast of Australia have been fixated by the rugby league battle between maroon and blue, elsewhere there has been another tiny football competition happening. It’s called the FIFA World Cup.
Now, I don’t mind watching the odd game of soccer, but with no television, kick-off times late into the night, and with slim chances for my home team, it’s safe to say that watching the soccer was not a priority for me. The same cannot be said for my Zambian compatriots. In fact, when I mentioned to my colleague that (after just the first week of play) I hadn’t watched a single game, he was so aghast that despite not having slept for 20 hours, he insisted on picking me up in the night and taking me to his house so I could watch Brazil and Mexico battle it out.
The joy of seeing the competition favourite draw against Mexico had me on the edge of my seat. My colleague wasn’t even able to stay on the seat and stood behind us biting his nails and pacing nervously. The insults and badgering came thick and fast (from the couch full of observers, that is, not the players). The energy was electric. I finally understood.
So, the following night, when I started getting text messages from across the world about Australia leading against the Dutch (an almost impossible possibility), I had no choice but to force myself upon my neighbours and their TV. This was the beginnings of a fruitful, footy-watching friendship that ensued most nights for the next three weeks, and filled the evening air with the dulcet tones of cursing impassioned Italians. When I wasn’t at my neighbours’, I was at the pub, becoming instant friends and instant enemies with the avid spectators around me. Football really does have a way of bringing people together.
Yet the games, themselves, are only a fraction of what makes this event so great. I’m beginning to think the whole cup should be reclassified as a global public holiday given its contribution to lost productivity. On more than one occasion, people I know have missed morning meetings due to a sleepless night of match watching. Then during the day, lengthy discussions on the cup’s contentious calls and conspiracy theories ensure that little work gets done (think dubious red cards, Suarez’s hunger, and apparent ancestral links between every single World Cup umpire and South American countries).
I recognise that for some readers, you might be thinking what all the fuss is about. Fans of the sport would instantly respond by describing the tightly controlled footwork, the precise strikes, or the calculated defensive leaps that could make or break a team’s chances in a split-second. Admittedly, these are all good points, but they forget one extremely critical factor: fit players in tight uniforms. Yep, soccer is the sport for the single girl. For ninety minutes, a girl can feast her eyes on 22 athletic young men, who come in a variety of shades, moulded with 6-packs, ornamental tattoos & groovy haircuts. With three matches a night, 64 matches in the cup, that’s 96 hours of viewing pleasure! Sign me up.
Alas, with the completion of the final match for 2014, I might just finally have a chance to sleep. Then again, there is Le Tour de France.