In the summer of 2013, I was one of a group of students who went to Nepal, on one of those volunteering programmes. When we arrived at the house we’d be staying in, we were met by a gang of Nepalese children, aged somewhere between ten and fourteen. They didn’t speak English and we all must have missed Nepalese at school; the lack of a mutual language led to a weird moment where both groups just stared at each other. The silence wasn’t an awkward one, it was inevitable – no-one spoke because they didn’t know how to communicate.
After a minute or so passed, being the bright spark that I am, I remembered that I brought a football with me; mainly for this kind of situation. I got it out of my bag, put it down and gently passed it to the group of Nepalese kids. Thirty minutes later, we were halfway through possibly the first ever impromptu match between Nepal and England (we won; they were ten years our junior so we shouldn’t have been too proud, but we were). This over-competitive match with Nepalese children is an example of why International football will always be the best spectacle our game can offer – ultimately when all else fails, two nations with nothing in common, can bond over a game of football.
Fast forward a year, I spent the (English) summer in the winter of Australia, strange timing I know. I say this because my trip coincided with the 2014 World Cup; what do you think the topic of conversation was in the hostel rooms? The hostel had someone representing pretty much every country; no matter what game was on they’d be a group of people gathered around the huge TV, split into two supporter groups and a mixed neutral section. A language barrier is irrelevant when you and a bunch of Germans are getting drunk, watching Spain get humiliated by Arjen Robben.
That incredible game, much like the entire tournament, signified the effect the World Cup has. The mammoth size of football’s popularity doesn’t really register until the World Cup; when you see two Costa-Ricans celebrating amongst an army of sour faced Italians, it starts to hit home. Obviously the World Cup would have been more enjoyable if England hadn’t been awful, especially when living in a country which actively dislike your home nation – but you can’t have it all, can you?
As the tournament progressed, the excitement surrounding the remaining countries grew. On the day of the first knockout round match between Brazil and Chile, a Chilean man walked into our hostel room – I asked him where he as from, he told me, I said ‘Alexis Sanchez’ and a huge smile emerged on his face. Turns out he didn’t really like football, but that’s what the World Cup does – millions of people back in England who probably didn’t watch a Premier League game all season, tuned in to see us lose to Italy. Next year when France hosts the Euros, England will most likely lose in the quarter finals – and millions of non-football fans will watch it. That’s the power of the World Cup.
For those that are football fans, watching your country in a major tournament creates an unusual feeling; during England’s…let’s say weak, campaign at the 2010 World Cup, the one shining moment was John Terry’s dive whilst on the floor against Slovenia. This rare feeling of admiration for John Terry demonstrates the passion the fans have for their country – we even stopped hating the racist cheat for a while. After Spain’s World Cup triumph in South Africa, Real Madrid and Barcelona players even started to get on, and to this day – Andres Iniesta still gets applauded by home fans every time he gets substituted in a Barcelona away game. I don’t know whether I’d clap John Terry off the pitch, but scoring the winner in a World Cup final would probably stop me muttering ‘cunt’ as he walked off.
That united feeling at a major tournament is what elevates International football – even when your nation inevitably loses. The togetherness of the English public after Frank Lampard’s ‘ghost goal’ against Germany, Sol Campbell’s disgracefully disallowed goal against Portugal and every penalty miss is greater than any victory we’ve ever had (maybe apart from 66). The Champions League probably has a higher standard of football, at least towards the latter stages anyway, but other than the few sides that are left; most aren’t really bothered who wins. At the World Cup final, I was bothered.
Admittedly, my enthusiasm for the biggest game in world football was heavily influenced by two factors: watching it in an Argentinean bar and having significant money on Argentina winning. As you can imagine the bar was not a happy place some the final whistle. I had money on Dortmund beating Bayern when Germany invaded England again for the Champions League final, but I wasn’t that bothered when they lost. As much as I love Champions League, it just isn’t the same.
So for all the aforementioned reasons, we’ll turn off our negativity surrounding boring Hodgson team selection, meaningless friendlies against Italy and our dislike towards any player from opposing teams – for the 2016 summer and put our England shirt on. A couple of months later, after all the excitement and hope has evaporated with every penalty miss when England go out to France, we can go back to booing the players when they return for the Premier League.