World Cup Thoughts: While We’re Waiting…


Happy first (official) day of summer, Cleveland folk. I don’t feel like talking about baseball, I don’t feel like talking about basketball even with the NBA Draft on Thursday night because I’m coping with the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals sweep like a mature, sophisticated adult: denying it ever happened (and crying), and it’s still too early to talk about one kind of football, but while we’re waiting…

Even though I don’t ever intend to refer to “American football” exclusively as “American football” — because how obnoxious is that? — I also reserve the right to call “football” “football,” because calling it “soccer” seems silly and dreadfully phony. So football is soccer is football, and football is American football is football. And in this column, football is the soccer “football.” Sorry for the confusion. Don’t blame me, blame the American lexicon and the quirky ludicrous semantic history of its games.

I certainly haven’t earned the title of “football fan,” least of all from myself. But I love watching premier (not just Premier) football, mostly because I love watching premier anything. I lack the bandwidth and temporal resources (and, to be honest, interest) to fully devote myself to football in its grand infinity, but I’m not able or even willing to do that with college American football or NBA basketball. (For instance, I know little about Thursday’s draft for the NBA — my favorite professional sport — other than the Cavaliers have the eighth overall pick, there’s a solid chance that whoever ends up the eighth overall pick will never play for them, and the Sacramento Kings will do something dumb.)

So football “fan” is giving me too much credit. We’ll go with “dispassionate football observer,” “part-time football watcher,” or “unpaid football intern.” But I love the World Cup like I love so many regular, low-frequency events like The Australian Open or the Summer Olympics. So I’ve been watching as much as I can when my schedule allows it. Here are some thoughts on the biggest tournament in world sports, in no particular order, some of which are recycled from tweets/fetal incarnations of embryonic tweets.

  • The Pacific Time Zone is great for watching Americentric sports attempting to attract viewing audiences from both coasts, is bad for watching European soccer or having a college football game on at the bar at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday morning when you’re bored and there’s a line for the pool table, and is awful for following World Cup soccer in approximately 12 different Eurasian time zones when you have a white-collar nine-to-five work schedule.
  • Is it so hard to have one Ian Darke on every soccer broadcast? Ian Darke is the delightful English broadcaster who works for ESPN and is noticeably absent from the World Cup now. All I want from my football broadcast is 1-to-1.5 tipsy Englishmen telling me things about the game I don’t understand and occasionally comparing football players to Admiral Nelson, Rudyard Kipling, or Churchill (a fake-sounding title of nobility optional). In fact, give me this on every broadcast of a traditionally American sport as well. I would much rather listen to a sloshed Martin Freeman express perpetual amazement at LeBron James and Stephen Curry than Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson fail to muster a modicum of enthusiasm for basketball or life in general. “It is a disgrace to humanity that a team doesn’t get the ball back when there’s an intentional foul.” “Momma, there goes that man.” “Players should be banned for sitting out regular season games to rest.” “Momma, there goes that man.” “I don’t even think I actually like basketball. I was just following my brother.” “Momma, there goes that man.” Etc. If I can’t have Doris Burke announce my basketball games, at least give me Ian Darke.
  • The World Cup intro video looks like a Russian propaganda video made by Pixar Moscow with pre-Luxo Jr. technology. There’s even a Sputnik in it. It’s one CG bear eating Bruce Springsteen away from being the opening act of aggression for the Cold War Part II.
  • Watching Lionel Messi miss a penalty kick was excruciating. Messi is the LeBron James of football — anointed saviors early in their careers/before their careers even started by emotionally damaged fan bases, oft-maligned for totally unfair reasons, saddled with wholly unrealistic expectations and unworthy teammates,1 raised in stature by absurd production and longevity, demanded to do more even after they’ve done so much, and allowed to make eccentric facial hair and tattoo choices as their careers progressed. They’re also both instantly spectacular and have the ability to imbue even uninitiated observers with a more refined appreciation of their sport. My girlfriend knows nothing about basketball, but within five minutes of watching a game with LeBron James, she was able to discern how much better he is than anyone else in the game and became slightly mesmerized by the master of a craft she barely understands. Similarly, I know oh-so-little about football, but within minutes of watching Messi years ago, I instantly understood why people thought he was the best. The joy with which he plays, his supernatural vision, the fluidity, his elusiveness, the the the magic with which Messi flows through defenses unimpeded like electrons through a wire before unleashing a thunderbolt. Ronaldo is great too — but Messi will always be the first player to make me think, “Wow, I think I get it” when watching football.
  • During Germany’s match against Mexico on Sunday, FOX displayed a stat that Germany was appearing in its 19th FIFA World Cup appearance and its 17th straight FIFA World Cup Appearance — which would mean an uninterrupted streak of appearances back to 1954. But here’s the problem: Germany wasn’t a country from 1949 to 1990. Germany had been divided into West Germany and East Germany for 40 years because the country started too many world wars. You may counter by saying, “But West Germany was the Federal Republic of Germany, and East Germany aka the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany to make the country we know as ‘Germany’ today.” Yeah, but then the Germans don’t get to claim the other two pre-1954 World Cup appearances because the Federal Republic of Germany didn’t exist then because it was a country established from the three Allied Zones of Occupation in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II! And even if we’re just moving all of West Germany’s records to a reunified Germany, it’s disingenuous revisionist history to not point out that there were two different Germanys for 40 years because the world was punishing Germany for trying to take over the world too many times. It would be like if the Cleveland Browns tried to take credit for everything the Browns did from 1945-1996, everything the Baltimore Ravens have ever done, and everything the Cleveland Browns had done since 1999 (which, truthfully, isn’t much, but what if it had been a lot???), AND the Browns had been split for annexing the Bengals and invading the NFC West. So yeah, Germany, trying to keep these records is cheating and it’s bullshit and it matters and if you don’t feel the same then I don’t know what to tell you. Wow, aren’t international sports the greatest?
  • Belgium’s World Cup uniforms are clearly loosely based on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Turbo Red Ranger suit. They are now my eighth favorite team that I will support opportunistically.

  • Europe is the SEC of international soccer. No, I cannot elaborate on that.
  • One of the best things about the World Cup is being able to read former Grantlander Brian Phillips blog about it for The New Yorker here, here, and here. He’s a tremendous writer. His World Cup preview begins, “Ladies and gentlemen, start your psychic octopuses.” Need I say more?
  • After I turned off FOX’s Maalox-on-white toast American broadcast team,2 I decided to watch the Brazil-Switzerland match on FOX’s Spanish or Portuguese broadcast.3 It did not disappoint. I seldom knew what was going on — but that’s no different than any World Cup match. The only words I figured out for sure were “pelota” (ball), and “gol” (goal). The euphoria at a goal on some of these foreign broadcasts is so much better than the repressed prudishness of the staid, borderline-bored white men they find to do some games. As Francisco Lindor can attest, Latin euphoria is the best euphoria.
  • My other favorite moments of the foreign language broadcast were: 1. When the announcers said, “Estados Unidos,” which I know from romance language-sibling Spanish to be “United States.” My ears perked up because I desperately wanted to know what kind of shit he was talking. But now we’ll never know. 2. When the broadcaster complained, “Colombia, Colombia, Colombia.” Without knowing the context, I know the feelings being expressed toward Colombia were a mixture between “irritated,” “disdainful,” and “belligerent.” Disgust transcends language. I also greatly enjoyed the commercials, which were a perplexing combination of Portuguese (for the Brazilian audiences), Spanish, and English, some with subtitles, some without. The commercials weren’t all that different from commercials for English-exclusive Americans, just with more dancing and fireworks. Apparently, Latin-Americans also eat McDonald’s and buy tickets to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (both American exports) — the typical Brazilian consumer is expected to have taste as bad as ours! If we can’t find a way to love our neighbors for basic human decency or moral redeemability, can we at least love them for their willing embrace (or at least “reluctant submission”) to slavish consumerism? One Nation, under God. One World, under Big Mac.

The Calvin and Hobbes Strip of the Day. It’s a good thing recorded human history is a string of stories about men changing the world — we wouldn’t want feminine sensibilities and values to disturb the violent, cruel, vicious swamp of unending human misery men have created for us to live in.

And now for the random 90s song of the day. Today’s Random 90s Song of the Day is from Fiona Apple because we need Fiona Apple this week. We need Fiona Apple every week. But especially this week. Thursday’s song is “Paper Bag,” from When the Pawn [Etc.], the entire title of which may be the best album title of all time behind only Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band’s Trout Mask Replica.

The video is charming and kind of adorable, with a bunch of grade school children dancing in early-to-mid twentieth century-styled suits in — what is that, a hotel lobby? It’s an obvious visual metaphor for a woman trying to find the love of a worthy man in a world of little boy suitors (see the lyric, “I thought he was a man but he was just a little boy”). Paul Thomas Anderson directed the video when he and Fiona were dating, which was one of my favorite celebrity relationships ever while it lasted. My all-time favorite celebrity relationships are: 4. Fiona Apple-Paul Thomas Anderson; 3. Alicia Vikander-Michael Fassbender (based purely on mutual hotness); 2. Maya Rudolph-Paul Thomas Anderson; 1. Megan Mullally-Nick Offerman. The bite when Fiona says, “Hunger hurts but starving works” could puncture flesh.

He said “It’s all in your head,”
And I said, “So’s everything” but he didn’t get it
I thought he was a man but he was just a little boy

Hunger hurts, and I want him so bad, oh it kills
Cause I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up
I got to fold cause these hands are too shaky to hold
Hunger hurts, but starving works
When it costs too much to love

  1. For Messi, his teammates are only bad in international play. For James it’s the inverse. []
  2. To be fair, FOX does have some non-American broadcasters. Derek Rae announced the England-Tunisia match with Aly Wagner, and he’s Scottish. It was a fine broadcast. Some of their teams are lousy, though. []
  3. The station said it was Spanish, but it sounded Portuguese to me. I’m relatively familiar with Spanish, and it did not sound like Spanish. But I took four years of Spanish in high school, and still can’t tell the difference between it and Portuguese, so I’m clearly an idiot. []