World Cup Whimper

It was great to see England give Germany a thorough thrashing in a 1 – 4 victory in the World Cup. Okay, my take on it might not be totally in keeping with the stark reality, but as it was the first game I’ve seen in six years and only about the fifth I’ve seen in my entire life, I can be allowed a bit of journalistic licence.

My ambivalence to football, and sport in general, probably stems from the fact that as a youngun’ I was a shortarse, with the speed of a particularly lethargic Galapagos turtle, and, if there were twenty-three kids picking up for a football match, I’d be the one who spent ninety minutes walking around the pitch. But I was determined to see at least one game this time around, and what better one could I choose than to see England face their long-time rivals, Germany. Better still, it was happening on a steaming Sunday afternoon (at least in Spain), when cats would be curled up in the shade and bars would have the air conditioning on full belt.

I passed by my local caff this morning to reserve a table for myself and my lugubrious Irish friend, Mike, a sometime aficionado of The Pitiful Game. (A paraphrase of the line that is often quoted as being by the magical Pele, but the truth is that there is no definitive origin.Valdir Pereira, a Brazilian footballer, is thought to have coined it, but the English presenter Stuart Hall claims to have originated it in 1958. Anyone who has watched his signature TV series, It’s a Knockout, will be hard pushed to think that this inane plonker could possibly have come up with the phrase that’s synonomous with Association Football.) To make sure we had an uninterupted view of the game, I promised the darlingly delicious Andrea that we’d boost her earnings by having a few tapas and plenty of beers if she could keep what amounts to their version of the Royal Enclosure at Ascot open for us. 

Mike and I rolled up at 3.30. Andrea had gone – as had everyone else. Not a client in sight. My forethought had been unnecessary, but I’m British – belt and braces – what the hell do you expect? Mike and I parked ourselves smack bang in front of the screen and ignored the query for tapas from Jacinto, in for the afternoon shift, other than some crisps – they’re free anyway. At five minutes before the off, a chap wandered in with a dog the size of a decent sandwich. I was torn between pissing him off and telling him that in Spain it’s illegal to bring dogs, even a runt like his, into a bar, cafeteria etc., or allowing him to swell the numbers and give Jacinto the chance to up his income by a few euros on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon. I am (although you’ll never hear this said by anyone out loud, other than me) a bit of softie, so I held my tongue.

Elsewhere in the English world, there would be a big pre-match booze-up; the sinking of pints and gesticulating prognostications about the match and how this time ‘we’d really give it to them’. Here all was calm and sedate – how rowdy can you get with three customers, a sausage-sized dog and a barman! I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like in Finigans, an ‘Irish’ bar a few blocks away. It would have been jam-packed, full of smoke and bad language, as supporters would be fighting for space to see the match.

The game began with a slow start, and here I’m not talking about the match itself – which, quite honestly, didn’t get off to an instant roar – but in the café itself. And neither did it develop the full thrust of a rough and ready ‘sports’ bar, with stocky rugby types grasping pint glasses in their hands and pumping out great quantities of adrenaline. Of the thirty-plus blokes in the bar, there were only Mike and I and two others drinking beer. All the rest were drinking coffee or water, other than an older chap who had pushed the boat out with a freshly squeezed orange juice, and his mate, who was making up for the rest of them with a brandy the size of a bathtub.

As the game drifted into its opening minutes, a beautiful young girl, with long blonde hair cascading over golden shoulders came into the café. In one of those wonderfully serendipidous moments in life, she was wearing a thigh-length dress of red and white bands, the colours of the competing teams. Apart from mine, belonging to the oldest person in the caff, not a head turned as she made her way from the door to the ciggy machine in the corner. It’s probably the first time in her life she’s been so comprehensively ignored!

Had Spain being playing, the place might have been rockin’ and rollin’, but there was barely a murmur as Germany slipped home their first goal, and only a modest increase in admiration when their second went in. England’s goal got a slightly supportive rumble, and someone shouted, “El linear esta boracho,” the linesman’s drunk, when the ball bounced over Germany’s goal line and bounced back again, and the game went on. As Mike observed, as he took a pensive sip from his beer, “And what do you expect when you’re watching the game in an ice-cream parlour?”

The game was so enthralling that I drifted away to the conversations around me. I’d not seen the mixed group of Brits and Irish who sat behind us come in, but ten minutes into the second half I heard the limp-wristed version of a Southampton accent trill, “Has it started?” Like drifting in and out of a particularly stoned dream, my ears picked up the occasional phrases from the conversation behind, without being able to put a physical image to the speakers. It became obvious that the chat was between gentlemen who would once have been decorously referred to as ‘lifetime bachelors’, who appeared to be on holiday in Spain, but I nearly fell off my chair when I heard someone at the same table as the Southampton dearie say, “So, are you staying at a proper camp site?”

In a limpid attempt to support the failing Brits, the group launched into that staunch anthem, ‘Jerusalem’, which petered out after a couple of bars, in much the same way that most people, asked to sing the second verse of our National Anthem fall short, because they can’t remember the words. They went great guns at, “And did those feet, in ancient times, fall upon England’s mountains green,” slipped a gear while a couple pushed on to, “And was the Holy Lamb of God seen upon…” diminishing to total obscurity with “gardens…pastures green.”

Throughout the game Mike kept up an exchange of analytical text messages by phone with his football fanatical friend, Paul, in Dublin, who was sat outside a bar enjoying a coffee, (as if!), drawing comparisons with the 1966 World Cup match, the last time England hammered the Krauts – almost half a century ago!!!!!

While the German support on the screen erupted into ecstasy at their third goal, there was a faint ripple of applause from a solitary soul in the rear of the caff, although to be fair, even as a Brit and a football ignoramus, it did look like a pretty good one – and even I got excited then the Block Heads fourth hit the back of the net. (And a thought occurred, as I watched the English goalie grab at air, what a shame the Spanish word for goalkeeper is portero, the same as doorman.)

As the minutes crept on the crowd in the café began to disperse, obviously pretty sure that the Brits weren’t going to make a come-back. When the final whistle blew, once again there were only Mike and I in the bar. As we sipped our final beer, he showed me the message he had just sent to Paul. ‘Well there’s always 1966 … and 1945,’ referring to the last two decent victories England had over Germany.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered.

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One Response to “World Cup Whimper”

  1. tony Says:

    well now England boys, its back to the day job a bit earlier than anticipated and pickup the 100k a week, who’s bothered!!

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