Seeing the whole world through football-tinted spectacles

I DON'T see any way to avoid talking about the World Cup at least once in this column, so I might as well get it over and done with. Get ready for a stream of racist stereotyping.

But don't blame me for it. The problem is that the first thing I ever knew about places like Paraguay or South Korea or Morocco (or Holland or Germany, come to that) was that they were in our group in the World Cup. It'll be the same this year. By the end of July, what will the youth of Britain have to say about Tunisia or Colombia beyond the performance of their respective football teams?

In my first World Cup, at the age of 11, I obediently immersed myself in the football commentators' view of the world, according to which all foreign players (but especially Latins) were slimy cheats. Even the way they played the game - all that weaving and dummying and feinting - was indicative of a dishonest temperament. And when not hoodwinking our boys, those fiendish foreigners were falling over like ponces and deceiving refs into awarding them unjustified penalties. The referee's nationality, by the way, also became mysteriously relevant whenever he had just made a bad decision. What on earth did that Greek/Russian/Turkish referee think he was doing, giving a penalty for that blatantly Argentine/Italian/Spanish dive?

As for the British players, they were entirely different. They played a fundamentally straightforward sort of game, hard but honest; they were clean-shaven team-men. The only other team to whom we could accord a grudging respect for being anywhere near as decent was Germany, but even that became impossible after the arrival of that flailing lover-boy, Jurgen Klinsmann.

By my second World Cup, I had progressed to distinguishing between the various foreign teams. I noticed that the Germans were robotic and remorseless. I saw that the Spanish were defeatist under-achievers who never lived up to their potential. The French were cultured and sophisticated in appearance but were inevitably beaten into a pulp by more disciplined opponents. The Brazilians and Argentinians were prima donnas who couldn't care less whether their teams won or lost as long as their sex-appeal was enhanced.

That still left quite a large number of anonymous European countries (Poland, Norway, Switzerland etc.) whose only known characteristic was to be an irritant to the English during qualification rounds. But some other small countries had begun to take on remarkably well-defined characteristics. The South Koreans, for example, those pugnacious little fanatics who were ready to die for their team; or the Cameroonians, those overgrown children who became so absent-mindedly ebullient that they almost forgot they were supposed to lose.

Basically, I had acquired a handy working knowledge of all world cultures by nothing more arduous than watching a football tournament. It was as if the World Cup took place precisely in order to publicise national qualities, which was also why the only country we already knew enough about - the USA - didn't bother joining in.

Except that now, the USA has started to get involved. And this is where the World Cup, as an indicator of national identities, comes badly unstuck: because the USA, in footballing terms, are nobodies. Even Iran is tipped to beat them.

What a relief that would be to everyone. If Iran could beat the USA, it would mean that countries could no longer be summed up in terms of their football teams. It would mean that Japan could play loosely, Jamaica could play cautiously, Saudi Arabia could play irreligiously and Germany could play badly - without it reflecting on the national character of the country concerned.

Presumably, it would even mean that a British team could win the World Cup without having to proclaim their national superiority over anybody else.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project