Saturday, 12 June 2010
Edward G. Robinson's banana kick
Having watched the first three matches of the World Cup, I've got a "little man inside", like Edward G. Robinson's in Double Indemnity, and he's starting to whisper that there's something here that doesn't square.
It's not the schedule-shredding kick-off times – "No, dear, I'm afraid I can't do the weekly shop; aren't you aware that dark horses Greece are up against ever-unpredictable South Korea?" It's not the aural migraine of the "atmosphere-enhancing" vuvuzelas. It's not even the flying FIFA logo that announces, with all the elegance of an Allied Carpets advert, the eighth ultra-slomo replay of a ball trundling disconsolately into touch three minutes into the first half. No, it's none of that.
Deep, deep breath.
It's the football. It's not very good, is it? In the second half of last night's lifeblood-vacuuming France-Uruguay match I placed my hand over my heart and asked myself a question. Is this really any better than watching Coventry City versus Everton (or, more likely in my case, its equivalent: Mallorca versus Racing Santander)? Unless I could say "Yessiree, Bob!" faster than Thierry Henry falls over clutching a random body part, shouldn’t I be doing something more satisfying, if not productive, with my time?
But I stuck with it to the miserable nil-nilly end. Of course I did.
I'm convinced that we have an image of the World Cup that's not unlike our image of our body shape: burned at some point in the increasingly distant past into non-editable ROM in our brains. For me - someone who'd be pushed to describe himself as even a late-summer chicken - that image consists of a bunch of Thornton's-fudge-coloured men wearing bleedy yellow and blue on an even bleedier Subbuteo-green pitch, strolling rings (running was a development that would only come much later) around an abject shower of lumbering Europeans. What exotic planet did these marvellous creatures come from? What was this strange magic that they wove? Did you see that free kick? It actually curved in the air! Did you see that move? Five passes and the ball never left the ground!
Of course Pele is the greatest player of all time. How could he not be? We only ever saw him play for three weeks every four years. We had to imagine all the rest while we were watching Sunderland in the mud.
Now, the world's half-decent players are so familiar to us we're sick of the sight of most of them. We're terminally over-Tevezed and all Drogba’d out. And, let's face it, not even los supercracks – those inhabitants of football's Mount Olympus who are usually referred to by TV pundits as "the likes of yer Messis and Ronaldos" - are, while playing with a group of semi-strangers, likely to come up with anything that we don't see them doing for their European clubs twice a week.
That's what Edward G's little man inside has been saying, anyway. But he's not alone in there. He has to compete with that little lad and his gaudy, bleedy blues, greens and yellows, like a watercolour in the rain. And that's why, hope against hope, I'll be there for Algeria-Slovenia tomorrow, on the off chance it might unveil, to a world enraptured, a 21st-century equivalent of Rivellino's banana kick.