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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam