Adiós, World Cup, and thanks for the memories 11

Well, World Cup 2010 is over, and what a tournament it was. There were lots of upsets, and lots of surprises. This Cup left some indelible impressions on me; chief among those is the one caused by my lumpy futon, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m talking about the stuff memories are made of.

Of course, you simply can’t talk about WC 2010 without mentioning the ubiquitous vuvuzela. One thing that drew more commentary than it warranted (not that that’s going to stop me from commenting further) was this yard-long injection-molded plastic trumpet. By my lights, vuvuzelas are a lot like children – taken one or two at a time, they’re merely annoying; more than that, however, and they become a motivation to kill. Surely, if Satan has a marching band, it will be composed largely of vuvuzelas.

My one consolation here is that bagpipes are insanely expensive and largely out of reach for your average drunken yobbo.

Another thing that struck me was the level of vitriol this enormously popular game provokes in some people. The most common complaint I heard is that soccer’s boring. Of course, most of the people I heard voicing this opinion were weaned on American football, which is typically 45 seconds of mayhem followed by 10 minutes of beer and truck commercials. And I have to admit, it’s hard to compete with that for excitement. In fact, about the only thing that even approaches that level of stimulation is golf, or perhaps reading federal tax codes.

Some football lovers compare the beautiful game to jazz, with its ebb and flow and emphasis on improvisation. To me, though, a soccer match is more like four years of high school — it seems to go on forever, and if you score even once, it’s a huge deal.

Another highlight of this Cup was Paul, the German octopus who accurately predicted the outcome of eight out of eight matches – including the Germany side’s loss to Spain, which knocked them out of the tournament.

The fickle Germans loved Paul – until he accurately forecast the loss to Spain in the semi-finals. Once that happened, public opinion turned against the prescient mollusk – in fact, he even started receiving death threats. But that’s the nature of fame, I suppose – one day you’re the toast of the stadt, and the next your adoring public wants you lightly breaded and fried, with a little lemon aioli.

Actually, this whole Paul the game-picking cephalopod thing puzzled me from the start. Why did the Germans have an octopus predicting games, anyway? Apart from U-boats, I don’t recall them having much of a seafaring history. It seems to me that they’d have something with a more Prussian personality doing their prognosticating — like maybe a badger with a toothache.

Also, I can’t help but reflect that it’s too bad they didn’t have Paul around predicting outcomes in 1939; he could have saved the world a lot of trouble.

Another thing that made an impression on me was the English commentators and the way they butchered Spanish names. A perfect example was the way they pronounced the name of the midfielder who scored Spain’s Cup-winning goal. For the entire final match, I thought they were talking about “Auntie Esther.” I found this confusing because I actually had an Auntie Esther. She was a sweet old lady but she wouldn’t have been much of a footballer – what with the oxygen tank and everything. Hell on wheels when it came to bingo, though.

One last thought while we’re on the subject of names. If it’s true that our names influence our destiny, then Gerard Pique should thank his lucky stars his name is not Bijay.

Those who can, do; those who can’t, watch 4

Every four years I come down with World Cup fever. For three years and 11 months I am pretty much unaware of all sports, but then the Cup comes around and I get a little crazy.

People who know me are amazed by my fervor, and I have to admit that I am, too.  I was never much of a jock growing up and my few brushes with organized sport were all disasters.

My humiliation started early (I refer to athletic humiliation; romantic humiliation started a lot later but was no less crushing). When I was in grade school I played baseball for my school’s Little League team. I’m pretty sure I earned my spot solely because they needed a minimum number of warm bodies to field a team; it certainly wasn’t due to my innate skills or that mysterious yet apparently desirable quality the coach called “hustle.”

The highlight of my baseball career came when were thrashing another team so soundly that it became an embarrassment to our coach. When our score began to resemble one more befitting a basketball game, he decided to give the opposition their best possible shot at scoring — he put me in to pitch.

My time on the mound was over nearly before it started. On my first pitch I hit the batter in the head. I didn’t have much of an arm and I honestly don’t think the batter even noticed that I had beaned him. But the ump saw it, so I was out.

I got older but not better. In junior high I played basketball for a YMCA team. I did not think it possible that a sports career could be shorter than my tenure in baseball (seriously – subatomic particles created in hadron colliders have longer lives) but I was wrong.

My hoops career ended before I ever stepped onto a court; in fact, it ended when I went to buy the cup that was required of all players. As I recall the experience (and the years may have embellished my memory) I was being helped by a blue-haired lady who smelled of Tareytons and My Sin. When she asked me what size I needed, I panicked. Size? Compared to what? Sure, I had showered with other guys in gym class, but apart from one or two classmates who had apparently inherited Clydesdale DNA, the cold water rendered anecdotal evidence useless. Before she could clarify that she meant waist size, I was out the door and halfway home. So much for roundball.

College was no improvement. I was strong in both beer drinking and Frisbee tossing, but the small university I attended had programs for neither. I was also potential Olympic gold in what would one day be Mike Phelps’ best event, but sadly I was a terrible swimmer.

I think it’s because I was such a washout myself that I enjoy watching others –  young people who are in prime physical condition and at the top of their chosen game – performing in ways I can only dream of.  Wait a minute … I’m thinking of porn. Still not a clue about sports.

Sacre blow! France sings les bleus as soccer team melts down 3

The World Cup is heating up and boy, is it ever entertaining. There’s fights! There’s temper tantrums! There’s cursing in several languages! And as if that were not enough, there’s even some soccer being played.

The biggest news for lots of Americans was the US side being sent home Saturday by the Ghana team that did the same thing to them in 2006. Note to US team: aid to developing African nations does not mean giving a soccer ball to everyone you see wearing a red jersey.

But next to the hair pulling over the ubiquitous vuvuzela, perhaps nothing has provided more entertainment than watching the French team self-destruct. To paraphrase Voltaire, if they did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them (which is sort of an existential conundrum, since Voltaire himself was a frog).

The French disconnection started at halftime during their 2-0 loss to Mexico. Mon dieu – France, losing to Mexico? It was like Cinco de Mayo all over again, only without the beer commercials.

French striker Nicolas Anelka, apparently unhappy with coach Raymond Domenech, suggested to him, “Go fuck yourself, you dirty son of a whore.” While this probably sounded pretty awesome in French, it was enough to get Anelka sent home.

A few days later, the petulant French team refused to practice, and instead spent the day in their room, playing Edith Piaf records and pouting. That would seem to be drama enough for anyone – anyone but the French, perhaps. Senior French Football Federation official Jean-Louis Valentin was so pissed he tore off his beret, threw his Gauloises to the ground and declared he was returning to Paree.

Even a pep talk from Domenech had no effect.  “I tried to convince them that what they were doing was an aberration, an imbecility, a stupidity without name,” he said later. Here’s a tip for Domenech: work on the pep talks, Ray. While “a stupidity without name” probably sounded great in French, it’s not likely to motivate your players to win games – it’s more likely to motivate them to put Icy Hot in your jock strap.

The French lost their next match to an underwhelming South African side, and went home in disgrace. Domenech reacted by refusing to shake the hand of his African counterpart. Way to keep it classy, dude.

The French humiliation not only caused a national uproar, it also cost the team some serious advertising francs. Credit Agricole SA and hamburger chain Quick ended advertising campaigns featuring team members. But if Midol were looking for spokesmen, the French would be an obvious choice.

Confused about the World Cup? Just wait till you read this 4

I’m a huge fan of football. And so, with World Cup 2010 in full swing, this is an exciting month for me.

I’ve been a football fan for literally as long as I can remember. And by that, of course, I mean that the Cup started a week ago, and a week is as about long as I can remember. Before I was a football fan, I was a Grateful Dead fan; you can draw your own conclusions.

Anyway, for those of you who are new to “the beautiful game,” as it is sometimes called, I have assembled a few pointers.

The biggest news in World Cup action this week was a foul called against the US side during their match against Slovenia; the controversial ruling deprived the Yanks of a goal and subsequently a much-needed win.  Good news, however – according to FIFA rules, the call is not officially final until Joe Barton apologizes for it.

Some of the terminology used in soccer can be confusing; allow me to clarify. To begin with, the game is rightly called “football,” although in this country it is sometimes called “soccer,” or more often “elitist Euro-fag-ball.” It’s called “the world’s game” because the entire planet has taken it to its bosom. The entire planet except for us, I mean. But then, we’re the country that stages baseball games that we call (without irony) the World Series — and then don’t invite any other countries in the … you know … world.

Vuvuzela – Perhaps no aspect of this Cup has generated more commentary than the vuvuzela. No, this is not a country in South America; nor is it a part of a woman’s body (oh, grow up – I was referring to the uvula). It is a long plastic horn that has roots in South African culture that stretch all the way back to the early 2000s. It emits a sound that has been compared variously to a flatulent elephant or a BP spokesman.

Many fans despise the vuvuzela, claiming that its sound is distracting. Chief among the haters are long-time fans of English Premier League football, a refined lot who are accustomed to the more Shakespearean cadences of what are known as  “terrace chants” – refrains of encouragement such as “Posh Spice takes it up the ass” that once welcomed Manchester United’s David Beckham to the pitch.

Speaking of chants, fans of Mexico’s “El Tri” are fond of chanting “Puto! Puto!” at opposition goalkeepers. If my high school Spanish still serves, this means, “If it please God, may our team prevail in this contest.” The language of Cervantes is indeed a beautiful one.

Ghana – Unlike “vuvuzela,” this is a country, and not the sacramental herb adored by Rastafarians and fans of String Cheese Incident. To muddy the waters further, the team’s colors are identical to the Rasta colors of red, gold and green. I spent 90 minutes (not counting stoppage time) waiting for Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz to take the pitch, or for the entire team to wander off in search of donuts and some Bob Marley music.

Royal Bafokeng – Apparently this is a stadium, and not a World Cup “special” being offered by Rustenburg hookers, as I had reported earlier. My apologies.