Wednesday 09 March 2016

Cup the greatest: Soccer’s showpiece the envy of all

Geelong Advertiser, Monday 9 October 2006, p. 37.

The football World Cup is the greatest multicultural sporting extravaganza of modern times. Its only conceivable rival, the Olympic Games, is a multi-sports activity in which all member countries can take part in a tournament that is concentrated in two weeks usually in a single city. At the Olympics, however, the largest attendances at the Games have been for the football tournament, despite the fact that it used to be restricted to amateur players and now consists of players under the age of 23.

Even Kofi Annan says, ‘The World Cup makes us at the UN green with envy, As the pinnacle of the only global game, played in every country by every race and religion, it is one of the few phenomena as universal as the UN. You could say it’s more universal, FIFA has 207 members; we have only 191. But there are better reasons for our envy. This is an event in which everybody knows where their team stands. I wish we had more of that sort of competition in the family of nations. Countries vying for the best standing in the table of respect for human rights, and trying to outdo one another in child survival rates or enrolment in secondary education. States parading their performance for all the world to see. Governments being held accountable.’

In 2006 more than 3 million people watched the games live, and probably several times that number watched at public screening areas throughout Germany and the world. Television audiences ran into the billions, with women making up approximately 40 per cent of those watching.  An estimated 60 000 Australians were in Germany during the World Cup, most without tickets for games but there to take part in the experience.

Scotland did not qualify for the World Cup final tournament, yet there were many thousands of Scots in Germany in June 2006. Many were supporting Trinidad and Tobago, just because it was playing England and because some of the team played for Scottish clubs. Jason Scotland of St Johnstone became the public face of Irn Bru, Scotland’s other national drink.

One group of mixed Rangers and Celtic fans from Motherwell, near Glasgow, consisted of 14 young men with but two tickets between them. Another Scot, spotted in Kaiserslautern, was wearing a kilt but no shirt and had his head painted as a replica of the Adidas ball used in the tournament. In Scotland a person’s whose behaviour is bizarre might be referred to as a ‘bawheid’, literally ‘ball head’, and this one certainly was.

England did qualify and some of its supporters let the team down by wearing offensive t-shirts and engaging in hooliganism.

The vast majority however  entered into the spirit of friendliness which the German hosts tried hard to project. For the Germans the tournament gave them a chance to find and display an acceptable form of national pride without the baggage of the past. A New Zealand student at university in Berlin noted, ‘For a country that struck me as being uncomfortable with open patriotism, it was refreshing to see the whole city suddenly awash in black, red and

Australia’s travelling support was in Germany in force, and somel have already published accounts of their experiences. Tony Wilson, Australia United: Adventures at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Geoff Slattery Publishing, Melbourne, 2006, is one fan and novelist’s account. Just before leaving Australia Roy Hay attended a farewell for a group of Australian-Croatian fans who were heading for Germany. Former North Geelong player Eddie Radojevic, who was kept at home by family commitments, presented his cousin Steve with a red and white diced hat, which looked for all the world like a Croatian grb. But if you looked closely, the logo on the front said Sydney Swans. Joe Radojevic, grandfather of Geelong’s Croatian keeper, Joey Didulica, could not travel to Stuttgart, but he said he would barrack for Australia all the way through, unless Joey was in goals when the teams meet, when family loyalty would take precedence.

In Australia the reception of the World Cup by the mass of the people was extraordinary. This was reflected in the media which seems to have underestimated the extent of popular enthusiasm. Large screens in major venues saw crowds of several thousands gather to watch matches. Federation Square in Melbourne was packed, with some people travelling from Geelong, 80 kilometres away, to watch matches on the big screen rather than at home or in a local hotel. The games finished at anywhere between three and seven in the morning, Eastern Standard Time. After the Australia–Croatia game a significant number of those present at Federation Square, estimated at around 4000, marched to the steps of state parliament in Spring Street, some shouting ‘Guus for Prime Minister’ in honour of coach Guus Hiddink.

The impact of the World Cup can be felt in the strangest places. It was a radical feminist writer who pointed out several years ago that the only time the guns fell silent during the previous civil war in Lebanon was when the World Cup was being played. ‘Perhaps the way to solve the Middle East torment is to give the men round-the-clock live male contact sports,’ she wrote, though this time Hamas, Hezbollah and the Israelis seem not to have paid enough attention to the Cup.

Many Australians ceased to be involved once Australia was eliminated, but many more, having experienced what World Cup football means, followed the tournament to its conclusion, while those thousands who made the pilgrimage to Germany returned with experiences which they will never forget.

The conservatives in Australia who worry about divided loyalties among Australia’s multicultural population need have no fears. The more we know about the world, and international football is a great way to learn about it, the better a place it will be for its citizens, as we found when we talked to the young and old Aussies who were part of the tournament.

So there was not a World Cup, but many world cups for the groups of fans and individuals, each with its own story. The Scots used the World Cup to distinguish themselves from the English, the Germans to rediscover some acceptable national pride and the Australians to celebrate their appearance on the world stage.

The modern fan is an active participant in the event, moulding the experience to fit personal and group needs and expectations and adapting to surroundings in at least some ways which were certainly not conceived of by the organisers. Yet, and this is the point which is often missed, credit must go to the German organisers of this World Cup in that they set up a structure in which all these adaptations could take place, almost entirely without trouble, for which the resilience and good humour of the hosts and visitors were also responsible.

Comments are closed.

Website design by Getpixel