Thursday, 24 June 2010

World Cup Fever

WHEN I saw a big package lying in the middle of the living room in a friend’s house, I suspected this was a bad case of World Cup fever.

I guessed it to be a widescreen TV. All this while, the family had been content with a second hand model, with grainy visuals. On certain days, it only served as a radio as there was only audio, no visual.

But World Cup 2010 changed all that — a new 46-inch HD TV dominated the living room.

Our family life, save for the the boys’ fascination with the clubs of their choice, had so far been untouched by the World Cup. The eldest, an Arsenal fan and on holiday in Portugal, had sms-ed to say he hadn’t bothered to watch England’s dismal game with USA. As Robert Green watched the ball literally slip from his grasp into the net, our youngest (a Barcelona fan) was working in the kitchen of a friend’s restaurant, earning money for his tuition fees.

This lack of interest was perhaps due to England’s continuous failure to bring the cup back.

All around us, St George flags waved from rooftops, car tops and tow trucks, and also adorned the faces of fanatic fans singing Engerland, on their way to pubs and restaurants to watch the game. An hour before kickoff time, as we made our way to our weekly religious class, the road was eerily quiet and empty.

We were non-committal about the whole thing — I couldn’t even name one player and was surprised to learn that England had a new captain, whose face crumpled as Green’s blunder allowed the equaliser with USA.

The husband, I must admit, had improved dramatically his knowledge about football and footballers but not enough to make me worry about becomign a World Cup widow. One year, when France was hosting the World Cup, he was in Paris and he must have been the only one trying to get out of the city when most people would have killed just to be there.

Another World Cup year, we took a visiting cousin on a tour of London, which seemed extraordinarily quiet. We even apologised for the lack of life in the city. But our cousin, on his first visit here, didn’t seem too keen on the tour, looking a tad restless as we showed him the historic sites. Finally, he found the courage to ask whether we could perhaps go home as he wanted to watch the World Cup final on TV.

“How could anyone travel all the way here and just want to watch TV?” was the quizzical look on my husband’s face.

Anyway, on the day England met USA last week, we were all assembled in the friend’s living room with the new widescreen TV properly installed.

Kick-off was 1930 hours. So was the scheduled weekly religious class. While waiting for the young ustaz and some other members of our small congregation, we played some trivia game as the TV showed ads and promos. So, the last time England won the World Cup was in 1966, denying Germany the cup by two goals! A friend wearing an England jacket, proudly pointed to the one star above the lions, which meant one World Cup cup so far. When USA met England in 1950, England was defeated 1-0. So what are the chances for England this year?

The late arrival of our ustaz meant that we saw the kick-off on the widescreen, beamed all the way from South Africa. The field looked so green, the roar of the crowd seemed to echo forever in your ears and suddenly, the game was interrupted by an advertisement. How strange, even for someone who had never followed football on screen. The husband, sitting right in front of the screen, was woken up from his slumber by chorus of protests.

When we were brought back to the match, England had already scored and we had missed the moment. In fact, everyone watching the game on TV missed it and no matter how many times it was repeated, in slow motion and from all angles, that brief interruption had spoilt it for us.

“But England always started well only to lose in the last minute”, quipped a friend, watching the door for the appearance of the ustaz. And true enough, when the ustaz finally made his appearance, we saw Green diving for the ball, grappling with it and the torturous moment when the ball slipped from his hands into the net.

There was a heart-rending groan from the apartment across the street as we switched off the new widescreen TV and turned our attention to ustaz.

The St George was still flying proudly from rooftops and car tops as we drove back that night along empty motorways. No celebrations on the streets, save for some drunkards, their faces depicting a crumpled St George, making their own merriment outside empty pubs.

We survived the England match that night. For us , it was an equaliser as well: One to World Cup, one to ustaz.

This column was based on England's first game against USA and was published in the NST on 22nd June 2010.