What is a World Cup and why is it special? 0

I’ve been around football for a long time now and have experience enough of its highs and lows to have become philosophical about it.  Generally, the game doesn’t inspire in me the same kind of excitement as it once did - that’s really just part of growing up and developing priortities in your life that replace the importance of your team’s results.  My club side may win or lose on any given weekend, but beyond a fleeting emotional response in one direction or another the impact of the game doesn’t linger with me.

Football is generally like Christmas: the older someone gets, the more detached they’re able to be from it.  Of course, there are those who chose not to be and who allow a Tuesday night away fixture to dictate the tone of their entire week, but maturity provides individuals with the capability to shake off losses and celebrate victory with a smile or a frown rather than a ten-hour bender.

A World Cup is different, though.

FIFA have done the game a lot of harm, and part of their dripping poison has been to brand major tournaments as something that they’re not.  Doubtless, at some point during the upcoming opening ceremony in Brazil, Sepp Blatter will tell you that the competition is a demonstration of unity, that the next month will ‘make us all equal’ and I’m quite certain he’ll use the phrase ‘power of football’ at least three times.  It will all be nonsense, of course, and a manifestation of nothing more than FIFA’s thundering self-regard for its services to the world.

But still, we’ll enjoy it anyway.

‘Festival of football’ is a horrible phrase, but that’s ultimately what a World Cup is.  I don’t care for the spectacle of the competition and neither will I really notice the ‘carnival atmosphere’, because that’s not really the point - the greatest aspect of a World Cup is the sheer volume of games.  Back-to-back matches, all of them important and all of them hugely significant to someone.

There will be many people who leave their jobs, sell their houses, and maybe even their grandparents to fund month-long trips to South America, and those face-painted masses will engage with the tournament’s surroundings, but for the non-traveling fan the competition is about a basic love of the game - one which isn’t drowned in Sky’s hyperbole and one which they haven’t experienced, probably, since their childhood.  It’s football for the sake of football - it’s watching one country who you couldn’t place on a map play against another, having no vested interest in the result, and yet still absolutely loving every minute of it.

Naturally, England’s participation this Summer represents an approaching cloud of doom, but by focusing on your own country’s progression you are really missing the point.  In-Ger-Land are there, and they will chunter along unconvincingly until they are inevitably eliminated, but so what?  To focus on that would be the equivalent of going to a theme park and fixating on the one ride which doesn’t work properly.

There are all kinds of stories in a World Cup, there are dozens of new players to get to know and to become invested in, and - despite it being one the biggest stage of all - it can be football-watching at its most pure.  There’s no club-based tribalism, there are no tedious conspiracy theories about refereeing, and this isn’t about top-four qualification; a World Cup is really just about how much you enjoy watching the sport.

I was asked recently by a friend whether I’m dating anyone at the moment.  The answer, which I suspect is familiar to at least some of you:

“No, mate, World Cup.”

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