Subtext is the key to understanding the World Cup

Only certain nationalities are cynical, and they all come from South America or southern Europe
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Already you are being sucked in. You may have sworn to yourself that this time you will resist becoming caught up in a process that invariably ends in disappointment and recrimination. Yet already, you find yourself anxiously awaiting news of feet, groins and metatarsal bones from the other side of the world.

Already you are being sucked in. You may have sworn to yourself that this time you will resist becoming caught up in a process that invariably ends in disappointment and recrimination. Yet already, you find yourself anxiously awaiting news of feet, groins and metatarsal bones from the other side of the world.

You may not be in Japan or Korea but language will be a problem. When covering World Cup games, our commentators frequently say one thing while meaning another. As when watching a sophisticated theatrical play, it is the subtext in the dialogue which matters.

Attitude. The only teams to whom this term will be applied are England and Ireland – foreigners don't have attitude but are merely arrogant, moody, fiery or naive. Confusingly, attitude can be a good or a bad thing. Scholesy, the fizzy little ginger-nut who play in England's midfield has bags of the stuff but the Irish bovverboy Roy Keane has too much of it. This is known as an attitude problem.

Balls. The weight and flight of footballs in foreign climates are often unpredictable and problematic for our lads, particularly when the balls hit the back of the net from a distance of 35 yards.

Channels. No one quite knows what channels are but, as a general rule, it is helpful to play down them and use your width.

Comfortable on the ball. This is a good thing to be, if a bit alien to the English spirit. On the other hand, if a player is too comfortable on the ball, he is known as a fancy Dan or even a fanny merchant.

Cynical. Only certain nationalities are cynical, and they invariably come from South America or southern Europe. The English equivalent of a cynical tackle is robust, physical or mistimed.

Easy game. To be honest, there are no easy games at this level. This thought will occur to commentators when England or Ireland are struggling against Costa Rica or the United States.

Efficient. To be used, alternating with well organised and playing with almost military precision, when the Germans are on the pitch. It means that they may win but it will be in a very dull and unsporting way.

Enthusiastic. A handy euphemism when an African team is playing. They are also likely to be naive, joyful or excitable.

Football brain. Oddly, this useful thing to have is possessed by very few players, and most of them are foreign.

Garth Crooks question. Posed immediately after a match, a 'Garth Crooks' is a question that contains its own answer. For example, "Luis Figo. You have just scored a hat-trick in a World Cup Final. How good does that feel?" Or, "Mick McCarthy. A 2-0 defeat against Saudi Arabia. How disappointed are you?"

Honest. This adjective is used for English players who are not very good.

Let himself down. At some point, one of our players will have what is technically known as a moment of madness. Later, one of the analysts in the commentary box will admit that he has let himself down. For reasons that no one quite understands, players for other teams never let themselves down but are merely cynical.

Little. Only foreign players are little or nippy.

Mexican waves. These used to be a good thing but, commentators have suddenly agreed, are now rather silly and naive, displaying a lack of reverence towards the beautiful game.

Penalty shoot-outs. Cruel, heart-breaking events which are always won by foreign teams who sneakily practise for them.

Skill factor. This is something possessed by foreign players such as Figo, Zidane, or Veron. When the skill factor is deployed against our lads, commentators react as if something against the spirit of the sport has occurred. "Yet another goal for Zidane but frankly, Barry, there's no legislating for skill like that."

Using his professionalism. Where other teams have cheats and divers, we have players who are experienced enough to know how to use their professionalism. It was Teddy Sheringham's professionalism that helped England reach these finals when, in the last seconds of the qualifying game against Greece, he threw himself girlishly to the ground and gained a free kick. Beckham scored and English professionalism had won the day.

Wakey-Wakey Club. This phrase is frequently used by Ron Atkinson to describe a moment when an English defender is caught day-dreaming on the pitch. "Keown needed to join the Wakey-Wakey Club there," Ron will say. Foreign players almost always belong to the Wakey-Wakey Club.

terblacker@aol.com

Comments