And how has it been for you so far? After watching 48 games in 15 days you are probably too exhausted and too dazed to take it all in.
And how has it been for you so far? After watching 48 games in 15 days you are probably too exhausted and too dazed to take it all in. The World Cup in Japan and South Korea is only halfway through but already it's had an explosive effect on cultural perceptions here and in the host countries.
In the first instance, the English supporters abroad in Japan seem to have finally accepted that a foreign football tournament is not an excuse for a re-run of a war that goes back nearly two generations in their family history. There have been no sightings of khaki uniforms from It Ain't Half Hot, Mum or chants about the Burma Road. The hurt and violent memory may still linger for old soldiers, but not for the young, Rough Guide generation of fans back-packing across the Japanese islands.
Of course it has helped that more than 1,000 hardcore English hooligans have been denied the right to travel, so we shouldn't go kidding ourselves that the jubilee rock party's anthem, All You Need is Love, has been taken to heart.
What has, from many personal accounts, also made a difference this time round is that the English fans are claiming that they have been "made welcome" wherever they've been. This is a strangely English notion, that travel brings with it an expectation of hostility. Well, we've been always told to expect the worst when bumping into Parisians or New Yorkers.
A good part of this welcome from the host countries is because their youth have hungrily devoured Western influences from sport, music, and fashion. Several of the players in the Japanese team have dyed hair, having witnessed the tonsorial antics of England's David Beckham and Sweden's Freddie Ljungberg in the Premiership, which is screened live in Japan.
When cultural values are shared on such an intense level it is difficult for the previous stereotypes to get a look in. So, just as the English are delighted to be greeted by a nation which finds them cool and non-aggressive, the Japanese and Koreans are charming the English by not conforming to their previously impenetrable façade. As the cameras have panned across the oceans of Asian fans packed into the stands, the term "inscrutable" cannot really apply to faces inserted into plastic football "balaclavas", or daubed with paint, or simply lit up with open emotion. "By God, they're as funny, excitable and normal as us after all," will be the mutual confession.
This embrace also extends to Senegal whose vibrant players have suddenly become both icons of African power and assets to the Premiership, with at least two already signed up for Liverpool. And fans and coaches alike will be looking in the atlas to find Costa Rica (it's between Nicaragua and Panama) because of the fantastic football played by a small nation.
Back home, the World Cup continues to dominate our life. News bulletins lead with match reports or injury updates. Hours of the television schedules are filled with live coverage and highlights. Political and corporate life has very nearly had to take a back seat. Who really cares what Tony Blair's aides said to Black Rod?
The unyielding face of capitalism has even been brought to book, with workers allowed time off to watch the games, either at home or in the canteens. The unfortunate dustmen who found themselves sacked for stopping to watch the England-Nigeria game can expect swift reinstatement, as there isn't an industrial tribunal in the land that will find against them. Mark you, their employers did say they had been sacked for drinking on duty.
At community level, the tournament has boosted local economies, as pubs and restaurants fill after matches for discussion. In my small town, the one dedicated gay pub has been packed with straight men because it has an early-morning licence to serve drink and show the games. And the sales of replica shirt and boots must be astronomical, although there will be some retail hiatus this lunchtime while England play Denmark. When defeat comes, of course, the mood may darken, and the frivolity will be reclaimed by old buttoned-up codes.
In 1990, the year of Gazza's tears and "Nessun Dorma", the World Cup transcended the class barrier in Britain. Perhaps now it's changed our view on the world.Reuse content