Soccer Chat Cheat Sheet
FT magazine June 10, 2014
The key to watching England is that, in spite of all the evidence, you secretly believe this is their year
We’ve got our free wall charts from the Sunday papers. The spawn have their Panini sticker books and the endless TV shows mean that I already know the 50 greatest World Cup moments; the 40 greatest World Cup goals; the 20 best World Cup teams and England’s one greatest World Cup moment. All this and we still have five days to go.
But as World Cup devotees prepare for the kick-off it is time to spare a thought for those who are left behind by World Cup madness. As Thomas Piketty would tell you, 90 per cent of the conversation will be owned by 10 per cent of the public. So here for the soccer-challenged is a cheat sheet to get you through the month.
This is our year. You must never say it but the key to watching England is that, in spite of all the evidence, you secretly believe this is their year. Remember, however much cynicism you evince, deep down you think Roy’s Boys will pull it off. Hell, even Goldman Sachs put our chances at more than 1 per cent. Only five others did better – although they are Brazil, Spain, Germany, Italy and Argentina. Even so, if you are planning an England party, do it during the early stages.
Have a view. You need a couple of opinions, so if you want to suggest some hidden knowledge, say you cannot believe the England manager “hasn’t started with Sterling”. This will work well, unless, of course, he has started with Sterling – in which case you might want to choose someone else. Do not ask why he has not picked Beckham – this may imply you know only one footballer. Stanley Matthews is also unavailable. If you want to seem a real aficionado, you might opine that Spain are now really boring – but this is a bold play that only a true expert would risk.
The team with the best defence wins. A useful piece of soccer wisdom that is generally right; except on those occasions when it isn’t.
Deliver your predictions in a Scottish accent. This way, if you say something stupid you can pretend you were mocking Alan Hansen.
Stay nimble in your response to results. A solid performance in game one: advance straight to hysteria, pictures of Bobby Charlton and singing “Three Lions”. A truly bad result demands absurd optimism: “We can still do it if we win our next game and beat Costa Rica by 15 goals.”
We never had metatarsal injuries when I was a kid. That is because the metatarsal is a new bone that was invented in the 1990s and grafted on to footballers’ feet in order to offer an alternative to hamstring injuries. The metatarsal injury is linked to the manufacture of brightly coloured soccer boots which, although flimsy, sell really well at Sports Direct.
Oh no, Germany. Contrary to popular view, England does not always lose to the Germans. Sometimes we are knocked out before we face them.
What we need is a big old-fashioned centre forward. Every England squad has one throwback striker who may eventually score if enough long balls are sent in his direction. At some point in every tournament, the clamour grows to deploy this secret weapon because it is well known that the skilful continentals are frightened of a large caveman with a protruding forehead.
England lacks style. The shortcomings of the team are a metaphor for the shortcomings of the country. Mainland Europeans are better dressed, eat better food and lack protruding foreheads.
We don’t mind winning ugly. In fact we were unaware there was an alternative.
No, that isn’t Abbey Clancy’s husband. But that bloke is with the woman from Dancing on Ice.
No Scots. But England is always touched by the full-throated support of our neighbours. There are key differences between our teams. Scotland tend to play terribly but then pull out one fantastic performance when it is too late to make a difference. England are the same apart from the one fantastic performance.
Penalty shoot-outs. Relax, what are the chances of that happening?