If you’re an Indian citizen, like me, and love to travel, like Marco Polo, then you’ll know how difficult it is. Unlike the blonde, attractive students holding American or European passports and smelling like garbage trucks, we can’t just pack our bags and waltz into any country we like at the merest whim. We need visas, and to obtain them, we need to produce documentary evidence of our entire life. It’s a little known fact that an Indian first postulated the existence of Australia, and the only reason he didn’t go discover the hell out of it was because he couldn’t produce photocopies of his last three payslips for the visa application.
Well, anyway, I went through the painful process last month and as a result, I now have a brand new Schengen visa. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, this is a visa that entitles me to visit all the countries in Europe whose heads got together for a drunken night in Luxembourg in 1985 and signed an agreement to make it easier for people visiting their countries.
I know what you’re now thinking – “Why in the world would politicians actually do something that makes our lives easier?” and I agree; it’s a valid question, but one that has an easy answer: there’s nothing else to do in Luxembourg. If you buy the Lonely Planet guide to the country, you’ll find that it has only one page, saying “Visit Luxembourg! Have a drink! Sign an agreement!” This is also the national motto, except it’s in French, or German, or whatever it is they speak there.
Getting back to the subject, obtaining this visa has changed my life drastically. When I earlier used to waste my weekends lazing around, watching sport and arguing with football fans on the internet, I’m now going through an exciting phase where I spend my weekdays looking at flight, train, bus, and ferry prices for weekend jaunts to various exotic European destinations, shortlisting youth (yes, I’m still youth, no matter what you say) hostels based on cleanliness, location and expected cute backpacker girl population and finally not booking any of them in favour of lazing around, watching sport and arguing with football fans on the internet.
These unplanned jaunts are of course, following the one compulsory trip that I needed to book in order to get the visa in the first place. Yes, you have to convince the officials at the embassy you’re applying to that you’re going to visit their country. This is especially difficult at embassies like that of Leichtenstein, because the officials find it hard to believe anyone would want to visit their country, especially after misspelling its name on the faked flight tickets.
So there I was, trying to decide which embassy I wanted to apply to, and having a hard time of it, because it meant that I had to pick a destination first, and Europe isn’t short of them. The art and grandeur of Rome, the troubled history of Berlin, the Bollywood shooting locations of Switzerland, the liberal drug-laws of Amsterdam – all very attractive options. So, it took me a lot of thought before I realized that what I truly wanted to do was get away from civilization for a while. So, I picked Paris.
Hahaha, just kidding, Parisiens! But the popular impression of France, at least here in England, is that it’s filled a bunch of rude, humourless snobs who only ever bathe when their body odour starts affecting bird migration patterns. Even then, they try their best to avoid it. The invention of Eau de Cologne (“Water from the Colon”) was allegedly one such effort.
Now I personally have a love-hate relationship with the country. I studied French in school for six years, not only because I’ve always wanted to learn more about world cultures (especially the ones that have lots of attractive, open-minded women) but also because I believed I could score more marks in it. We had a really good teacher, one Mr. Rajeev, who was terrific fun except when he got angry. He punished us by, get this, conducting the entire class in French. What a joke! As if any of us were learning French in order to be able to actually understand it! Most of the time we’d just nod along knowingly and only answer with stuff we had learnt from (a) the textbook and (b) the sub-titles of the Emmanuelle films.
Him: Avez-vous étudié pour l’examen? (“Have you studied for the exam?”)
Us: Mary porte une jolie robe. (“Marie is wearing a pretty dress.”)
Him: Ce qui? (“What?”)
Us: Le boulanger vend le pain dans la boulangerie. (“The baker sells bread in the bakery.”)
Him: Huh? (“Huh?”)
Us: Chaque acte d’amour doit inclure une troisième personne. (“Each act of love must involve a third person.”)
Him: Qu’est-ce??!!! Où avez-vous lu cela?? Voulez-vous que je vous envoie de la classe? (“What??!!! Where did you read that?? Do you want me to send you out of the classroom?”)
Us: Oui, oui, oui, oui, oui, OUII, OUIII!! (“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YESS, YESSS!!”)
Now if you’re unfamiliar with French, you probably read those lines and thought “What’s the big deal? It sounds simple enough, albeit a bit retarded.”
Ha! That’s the great illusion of French, devised by those canny Frenchmen during all that free time they gained by not bathing. The language is written one way, and pronounced in a completely different way. Here are the basic pronunciation rules:
1) Ignore any letters you find at the end of words.
2) When you encounter a vowel, exchange its sound for that of a different vowel (it doesn’t matter which one).
3) Whenever you encounter an “R”, sniff, cough, and snort all at the same time.
4) All the time, make a face like someone just farted under your nose (this comes naturally in France).
5) When you fail horribly at all the above, go back to your nice and simple English, you big sissy.
So, as you can guess, after six years of such trauma, I quite enjoy a bit of France-bashing every now and then. The English, though, take it to the next level. They abuse the French at every chance, so much so that they even publish detailed newspaper articles about their hatred, like this one right here.
I found this most intriguing, not to mention immensely entertaining. For instance, point no. 8 in the above-linked article: “French dog owners refuse to pick up the 5,840 tonnes of dog-doo dropped on their streets each year.” How in the world did someone actually figure that out? Did they pick up the dog poop everyday and maintain an Excel Spreadsheet tracking the weights? Or did they collect it all, store it in the Louvre, and finally weigh it on December 31st? These questions occupied my mind; the kind of questions, no doubt, that inspired the great travellers of history to venture into the unknown in search of answers. Thus inspired, I booked my tickets to France.
I hope to write about my trip and my findings with regards to the French (extremely annoying) and their dog poop (couldn’t see any. Ultra-efficient collection system?) at some point, but not right now, because the Rugby beckons and there are some cretins on Twitter who need to be corrected.
At about 8:45 p.m. on Tuesday night, I was running in my neighbourhood clad in an Arsenal jersey, shorts and slip-on office shoes, holding an iPhone in my hand. In short, I looked like a homeless person who had just stolen someone’s phone. But I had a very good reason for looking like this – I wanted to meet Cesc Fabregas.
“Wait, what?” you’re probably saying, “Where? How? Why? Eh?” I’ll explain.
Until now, I’ve not been a big fan of Twitter. I signed up initially only to get the id I wanted and have been tweeting only occasionally. One of its biggest attractions for me has been the fact that I could follow celebrities and read what they’re thinking and doing.
In the last six months or so, there has been a glut of Arsenal players signing up to Twitter – Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas among the first ones, and soon we had Johan Djourou, Bacary Sagna, Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie, and lot of the others on the site as well. Needless to say, I was soon following them all. In fact, I was also following some of the reserves and youth team members and it was actually quite fascinating to get insights into the lives of professional footballers and find out that they have a lot in common, irrespective of age, quality or stature. These are the things that I learnt:
a) They have a questionable fashion sense.
b) They like to take pictures of their teammates asleep on the team bus.
c) They like to eat grilled chicken at Nando’s.
d) Most players, especially the English ones, don’t have a good hold on English.
Anyway, so what all this lead to was that on Tuesday night, I’d just gotten back from the gym and was watching Manchester Utd dominate Schalke when I saw that Cesc Fabregas had sent the following tweet: “Watching my friends playing 5 a side. Some good quality. http://yfrog.com/hsneogyj“
Out of habit, I clicked on the link to see the photo, even though I wasn’t the least bit interested in seeing a photo of his friends playing football. But on seeing the photo, I did a double take. The scene was oddly familiar. So I turned to my flatmate, who was right next to me, and had the following short conversation:
Me: “Dude, doesn’t that look like the 5-a-side football pitch right next to our house?”
Him: “Umm.. yeah. Why, what’s up?”
Me: “I think CESC FABREGAS might be outside. Be right back!” (while scrambling for my shoes and running out of the house)
As it turns out, the only shoes I found that didn’t require lace-tying were my work slip-ons. So there I was – Arsenal jersey (which I’d worn to the gym), shorts, and work shoes with no socks, running on the street in desperation to see if Cesc was still at the football pitch. He’d tweeted the photo 20-30 minutes previously so there was a good chance that he’d have left by the time I went.
Panting, I reached the pitch to find a game in progress. And alongside the pitch, sitting on the grass, all by himself, was a diminutive figure wearing a leather jacket and jeans. He was watching quietly, while playing with his phone. My heart was now pounding. The photo that had been tweeted was from the place where this guy was seated, and as I approached him, it became clearer to me that this could very well be the man (boy, really) I’d watched orchestrate proceedings for my favourite team for the last 6 years. A guy who, despite the fact that I hadn’t ever met him, I usually referred to by a shortened first name. And it was this name that I used now.
“Cesc?”, I called out. And he turned. It was him.
“Yeah”, he said, and then spotting my Arsenal jersey, smiled and said “Hey!”
Then, I proceeded to have the most surreal five minutes of my life. Me (ME!), and Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal captain, World Cup winner, Footballing deity), one-to-one, with no fans mobbing him, sitting on the grass in the quiet surroundings of Swiss Cottage, London, watching a bunch of his friends playing 5-a-side football, and chit-chatting about stuff.
Me: Oh My God, it IS you! I just saw the photo you’d put on Twitter and came out to see if you were actually here.
Cesc: Oh wow! That is nice!
Me: Such a pleasure to meet you! I’ve been a big fan of the club for 12 years now and have watched you ever since you started!
Cesc: That’s great! Where are you from?
Me: India, but I’ve been here for a year and a half. Do you come here often?
Cesc: No no, first time. Some friends are playing there.
Me: Oh cool, (and then some random stuff amounting to “I know it’s been a disappointing season. Lots of bad luck. But we fans still love you guys. You’re fantastic. Blah blah. Thanks for the entertainment. Blah Blah.”)
Cesc: Yes, yes, we know. You guys are so great. We are very disappointed as well. Next time, next time, we will do it for sure.
Me: Yeah, busy summer also for you. Congratulations on the World Cup win!
Cesc: Thank you very much. It was unbelievable.
Me: Ok Cesc, I won’t bother you anymore. One photo?
Cesc: Of course, of course.
Me: Thanks SO MUCH! So great to meet you. Good luck for the Man Utd game. Please beat them!
Cesc: Hahaha, we will give our best. Very nice to meet you. Just, please don’t tell anyone I’m here, ok?
Me: Of course! Bye!
S-U-R-R-E-A-L. With a capital S.
And there were several things that struck me about him. Now here was a 23-year old guy, rich beyond most people’s imaginations, who’s been a regular for one of the world’s biggest football clubs for six years already, who has already won the two biggest international trophies, playing a key role in Euro 2008 and providing the assist for the World Cup winning goal at the 2010 World Cup. And still, he was watching a bunch of his friends play 5-a-side. And on top of that, he was willing to take time out and chat patiently to a fan who was quite blatantly intruding on his privacy. Absolutely fantastic guy, and I now love him more than I did before.
P.S.: I know he’ll eventually move to Barcelona, and it will be pretty heart-breaking, but it’s hard to begrudge Cesc his desired move. After all, he HAS been fully committed to the Arsenal cause and the fans know he loves Arsenal a lot as well. I’m just glad I got to shake his hand when he was Arsenal captain. Cheers, Cesc!
This weekend, I will be spending most of my time at the Emirates Stadium, for the 4th edition of the highly successful ‘Emirates Cup’, a pre-season football tournament that was begun with the noble intentions of (a) providing a couple high-quality warm-up games for Arsenal before the start of the Premier League season, (b) promoting attacking football by rewarding goals and most importantly, (c) making more money for Arsenal Football Club.
Arsenal have played three pre-season games so far, against Barnet, Sturm Graz, and SC Neusiedl (this is actually a football club, not some highly potent liver medicine) and won them 4-0, 3-0 and 4-0 respectively. This sounds absolutely delightful if you’re an Arsenal fan, but the delight must be tempered by the fact these clubs hire players only marginally better at football than washing machines. That said, however, wins are still better than draws and losses and to win without conceding any goals in 270 minutes of football is an unexpected bonus considering we have about 2.5 proper centre-backs in the squad. Some youngsters stood out and put their names firmly in the manager’s mind when the times comes for him to select his first team squad for the upcoming season. But there is still some time to go for that, so any discussions about squad strength must wait until September 1st, when the transfer window ends.
Immediately at hand though, are two difficult matches against very decent teams – Arsenal play AC Milan on Saturday and Celtic FC on Sunday. With utmost respect to the teams we’ve played so far, I think it’s fair to say that the Arsenal players will need to shift up a few gears in order to win this tournament, and the smart money would have to be on Arsenal conceding their first pre-season goal this weekend. Whatever happens, great entertainment is surely on the cards, because while attacking, we have looked pretty darned good so far, even while missing our two most gifted attackers, the want-away Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. In their absence, Samir Nasri has taken on the lead role, with Jack Wilshere heading the impressive supporting cast.
Apart from Milan and Celtic, Lyon is the other team in the tournament, so all the games will have some terrific quality on show. The only depressing news from the visitors’ front, that emerged yesterday, is that Ronaldinho will be missing in action from a thigh strain after originally being named in the Milan squad. I know he’s a shadow of his former self, but on his day, he’s still one of the most exciting players in the world. The way the Emirates Cup works, there are two games back to back on each day, at 14:00 and 16:20, and you can’t re-enter the stadium once you get out, so I’ll be spending 4-5 hours each day watching live football. Bliss, providing the weather holds up.
Now for the company – on Sunday, I will be watching the games (Milan vs. Lyon and Arsenal vs. Celtic) with a very good friend, who is a hardcore Manchester United fan but has a soft corner for Celtic because of some time he spent studying in Glasgow. I happened to be watching the 2006 Champions League final at his house in Chennai and the man had hung a Celtic scarf above the TV in anticipation of former Celtic legend Henrik Larsson playing a brilliant cameo. As it turned out, quite unfortunately I might add, Larsson did exactly that and I was at the wrong end of some alcohol-fuelled ‘banter’, at a time when I was already depressed because of the result. It was the worst of times. But he’s a proper football fan, by which I mean he’s extremely knowledgeable about the game but cares only for the teams he supports. The kindest thing he would wish on clubs other than Manchester United would be that their fans don’t get stabbed. For Liverpool fans, even that is doubtful.
Saturday is a different issue altogether – I will be watching the game with a girl (gulp). Now I have recounted my experiences with girls and sports once before, right here, and I feel tomorrow might witness the sequel to that experience. Now I don’t mean to insinuate that all girls are indifferent to sports. Serena Williams, for instance, can put in a good shift at any number of sports – tennis, rugby, weight-lifting, wrestling grizzly bears, etc. (The last one may not be an actual sport per se, but it should be.) It’s just that the average woman cares less about sports than she does about, say, cosmetics. The average man, on the other hand, will jump over the his mother’s burning pyre to catch the action replay of an offside decision. There are exceptions though, like Serena Williams, who has his own fashion line.
Setting the battle of the sexes aside for the time being, this friend in question, by her own admission, knows precisely zilch about football. She had expressed a wish to see a game live many times in the past (when i was boring her with football-related anecdotes, probably) and so, when I was buying the tickets, I asked her if she was interested. Out of politeness or actual interest I’m not sure, but she said that she was interested and managed to sound quite excited about it. She has also promised to “google and read All About The World Of Football” by tomorrow afternoon. Now I don’t want to sound too pessimistic but I fear that might be too stiff a challenge, even for a person of considerable talent like her.
All said and done, I think it’s going to be a cracking weekend and I’ll post a round-up of the proceedings, with photos if possible. Until then, have a great weekend and GO ARSENAL!
After two months off, club football finally returned (for me at least) this weekend, with Arsenal’s traditional season opener against their North London neighbours Barnet.
Arsenal usually begin every season with this fixture, played in very good spirit at Barnet’s Underhill Stadium, and it’s usually just an opportunity for the manager to check on the players’ fitness, give the youngsters a chance to stake their claim for the first team and get the season started on a positive note. In seasons past, I would read about the game every July and it always seemed like a fun occasion. So this year, when the tickets came up for sale, seeing as I had nothing else planned for the weekend, I decided to go.
Barnet is a borough in the north of London and was apparently famous for having a horse fair in the 16th century, called the ‘Barnet Fair’, which was the term used in cockney rhyming slang for ‘hair’. That’s why the word barnet is associated with hair and hairstyles even now. Barnet Football Club, nicknamed ‘The Bees’ because of their orange and black kits, currently plays in League Two, the fourth division in English football. On paper, the game should be a no contest but the Arsenal players were just back from vacation while the Barnet guys had been in training for a while and also, the game would feature a lot of untested Arsenal youngsters. Last year, the game had ended 2-2, so it had the ability to surprise.
So it was that on this lazy Saturday afternoon, I set out for Barnet, ticket in hand and the promise of a successful season ahead. I took the tube to High Barnet station, where I met up with a friend and together, we made the short trek to the local pub (‘The Old Red Lion’, I think) and grabbed a quick beer over random football chatter before walking down to the stadium.
The ground was tiny and as result, had the benefit of making you feel really close to the action. It seemed to be a family occasion, with lots of kids running around. There were plenty of Arsenal fans, eager to see the new signings along with the returning favourites. None of the players who were at the World Cup would be there, so the big stars on show were Andrey Arshavin, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Thomas Vermaelen, and Theo Walcott. Apart from them, the team would be made up of youngsters mainly, including the exciting Jack Wilshere, hotly tipped to play a starring role for England very soon. It’s fair to say, however, that most of the fans were curious about seeing the new signings, Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny, and finding out how they would fit into the side and playing style. I had a seat in the second row from the fence near one of the corners, so Arshavin and Traore were bombing towards me throughout the first half.
As he usually did, Arsene Wenger named a mixed team for the first half. Lukasz Fabianski in goal, the young Norwegian centre-back Havarad Nordtveidt at right-back, Koscielny partnering Vermaelen in the middle and Armand Traore on the left. In midfield, Emmanuel Frimpong was the defensive midfielder while Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere pulled the strings and fed the front three of Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Jay Simpson and the mercurial Andrey Arshavin who is as dazzling as he is frustrating. Jay Emmanuel Thomas is another youngster who’s made headlines for his versatility. (He can apparently play as a centre froward, central midfielder and as a centreback, equally comfortable in all three roles!)
Arsenal started the game on fire and I’m not even sure if Barnet had touched the ball before a great passing move saw Rosicky slipping in Arshavin, and the cheeky Russian stepped around the keeper and slotted in for an easy goal. 90 seconds on the clock and Arsenal were 1-0 up. They continued in the same vein throughout the 45 minutes, and the outstanding performer was Frimpong, the Ghanaian (who is also eligible for England) international, who looked like an absolute monster – flying into tackles, breaking up the play and giving the ball to Rosicky and Wilshere to wreak havoc. Wilshere was quite superb and Jay Simpson was the lucky recipient of his brilliance as Jack fed him twice for simple goals. Arsenal were 3-0 up at the end of a great first half for all the Arsenal fans, who would’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the team looking so fresh and fit. Koscielny looked calm and composed on the ball but unfortunately, wasn’t tested too much at all. There will be sterner tests ahead and at this point, one can only hope that he’ll be up to them.
All the players were substituted for the second half, with the new team again a good mix. Vito Mannone in goal, Craig Eastmond at right back, Johan Djourou and Igansi Miquel in the middle of the defence and rising english star Kieran Gibbs at left-back. In the middle, the ‘next Steven Gerrard’ Henri Lansbury, Conor Henderson, about whom I didn’t know anything, and Samir Nasri. Up front, Dutch youngster Nacer Barazite, who’s scored against Barnet in each of the last three seasons, and Theo Walcott were joined by Marouane Chamakh.
The second half was considerably less exciting than the first, with the players taking it easy. Nasri capitalised on a defensive error to score, Walcott had some good runs and Chamakh had some nice touches but overall there was little else of note. Mannone was replaced by Wojciech Sczezsny midway through the half, but neither had anything to do. Personally, I was most pleased about seeing Johan Djourou, who missed all of last season through injury, back in action. He seemed fit and had a very solid 45 mins indeed.
Overall, it was a glorious way to spend a Saturday afternoon and from the Arsenal point of view, it a very tidy performance to start off the pre-season. With a couple of new signings, a genuine title bid is definitely on the cards. So, hopefully, some exciting times ahead!
For the last month, I’ve led a near perfect existence, doing minimal work, watching all the World Cup matches with wide-eyed excitement, obsessing over my fantasy football team, celebrating goals like a madman, getting into heated arguments over tactics, and above all, consuming a lot of beer. Bliss. Now, all of a sudden, my days are emptier than Louisiana’s beach resorts.
After getting off to a rather slow start (the group stage produced approximately three goals), the World Cup picked up steam in the knock-out stages and thundered into one major controversy after another until finally, on Sunday night, Spain defeated the Netherlands in a match reminscent of the climactic battle from ‘Braveheart’. And amidst the joyous scenes of Spanish celebrations, fans all over the world were asking the same questions: “That was IT? That was the best football in the WORLD? Are you f*cking kidding me??”
To be fair, I can see their point. Everyone expected more from the first world cup to be held on the African continent – more passion, more goals, and more spectators stabbed on street corners. As it turned out, the biggest crime that took place in South Africa involved German coach Joachim Low’s personal hygiene. However, inspite of all the mediocrity on show, the tournament still had its moments. Now if you missed the World Cup for some reason, such as being dead, here is a quick day-by-day recap of the highlights:
June 11: The World Cup kicked off with a surreal opening ceremony that involved a giant dung beetle walking around the field. Thankfully, Sepp Blatter went back to his seat before the start of the opening game. South Africa’s ‘wily’ old manager Carlos Pereira had got them through qualifying by cleverly bidding to host the tournament and claimed that their tactics at the finals would reflect South African culture. Pundits suggested that the players would probably attack in a bold 2-2-6 formation, kidnap Nelson Mandela and demand the trophy as ransom.
June 12: South Korea beat Greece 2-0 thanks to a header from the centreback Kim Yong-Lee and a splendid strike from right-winger Lee Yong-Kim, both assisted by the playmaker Yong Lee-Kim. Their coach, Kim, claimed afterwards, “Lee can lead us to the final” leaving the pundits none the wiser. Meanwhile, England provided the World Cup with its first shock result by not losing to the U.S.A. The jabulani ball took the blame for the result, as it had fooled English keeper Robert Green by feinting to the left and inexplicably continuing to go left. The highlight of the day was no doubt the impromptu dance performance of ‘Y.M.C.A’ by charismatic Argentina manager Diego Maradona and his coaching team.
June 13: Ghana beat Serbia, the only team to have taken part in seven different world cups under seven different names, while Germany thrashed Australia 4-0 to show their title credentials and raise fresh doubts in the minds of the pundits: “How do you pronounce the name Oezil?”, being one of them.
June 14: Japan’s star striker K. Honda (full name: Kinetic Honda) scored to give them a narrow victory over Cameroon, who included in their line-up the evergreen Rigobert Song, 79, playing in his 11th straight World Cup. Elsewhere, defending champions Italy somehow managed to scrape a draw after Paraguay had gone ahead through Antolin Alcaraz. This played right into the hands of all the pun-crazy tabloid headline writers who promptly came up with ‘Italy escape from Antolin’.
June 15: Brazil played North Korea, the most mysterious team at the World Cup and all the pundits were taken by surprise when they turned out to be not so crap after all. (The North Korean team, that is, not the pundits, who were most definitely crap). News later emerged that the North Korean coach was getting tactical advice directly from Kim Jong-il (full name: Kim Jong Mentally-il) using mobile phones that are not visible to the naked eye, a technology developed by Jong-il himself. (I’m not even kidding.)
June 16: Spain, the tournament favourites, faced Switzerland in an intriguing tactical contest which hinged on which team could put the other to sleep quicker. The Spanish strategy was to pass, pass, pass and then when the opponent was lulled into a false sense of security, pass some more. The Swiss strategy was, well, to be Swiss. It was gripping stuff. Spain were the first to crack when their goalkeeper Iker Casillas tried to grab some shut-eye and Switzerland scored to go 1 up. At the 70th minute, both teams just decided to lay out some picnic mats and eat some sandwiches while television viewers switched to something more interesting, like the weather channel.
June 17: France slumped to a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Mexico while Argentina qualified for the knockout stages after thumping South Korea 4-1 and charismatic manager Diego Maradona was in a giddy mood at the ensuing press conference. The journalists kept asking him his opinions on the other teams at the world cup and he regaled them with his sparkling wit: “Greece?”, “Yes, vairy naice film. Travolta great great dancer.”, “Uruguay?”, “What?! NO!! You’re the gay!”.
June 18: The biggest news of the day was that after the defeat to Mexico, French star Nicolas Anelka had verbally abused the coach Raymond Domenech and had been sent home as a result. To make up for the loss of their star striker, the rest of the players went on strike. Tabloid headline writers came up with “Many people are not too fond of Raymond”.
June 19: England stuttered to another boring draw against Algeria. Pundits blamed Wayne Rooney, who had more shots than Lindsay Lohan during happy hour and still failed to get a goal. Meanwhile, Germany suffered a shock loss to Serbia and some surreal news later emerged that back in Germany, a psychic octopus named Paul had predicted the result a day earlier. Paul had also recommended that the team name begin with the letter ‘K’ for better luck in the following games.
June 20: Defence-minded Ivory Coast manager Sven Goran Sony Ericsson W580i lined his team up in an 8-2-0 formation to counter the attacking threat of Brazil, and it very nearly worked. Brazil got lucky when the Jabulani being used in the Slovakia-Paraguay clash decided to take the late flight from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg and snuggle up in the Ivory Coast goal.
June 21: Before the highly anticipated match against Portual, North Korean striker Jong Tae-Se was spotted crying his heart out during the national anthems. Pundits agreed that this was because either (a) North Korea did not actually have a national anthem per se and the organisers were playing Harisankar’s “Silsila Hai Silsila” instead or (b) Jong had just discovered that the world’s press had nicknamed him the ‘Asian Wayne Rooney’.
June 22: Spain won 2-0 against the Honduras, with both goals being scored by David Villa. Tabloid headline writers immediately jumped on this and came up with “Where there is a david, there is a way”. Elsewhere, the first half of Argentina vs. Greece game turned out to be so boring that Diego Maradona was forced to use the Hand of God to entertain himself.
June 23: The newly rechristened Kgermany beat Ghana 1-0 to get into the knock-out stages where they would face England, who got past Slovenia after lengthy negotiations during which they managed to convince the Slovenians that no one really cared whether Slovenia did well or not. France vs. South Africa turned out to be a proper old-school blood and guts encounter after the South Africans stabbed the French substitutes and kidnapped Raymond Domenech. Suddenly inspired, France managed to score a goal but it wasn’t enough as they lost 2-1. Paul the psychic octopus predicted that their return flight would be delayed by three hours.
June 24: In a result that shocked the footballing world, reigning world champions Italy were dumped out of the cup by unfancied Slovakia. In a touching moment, Fabio Quaglierella slumped to the field in a flood of tears and was consoled by his captain Fabio Cannavaro, who hugged and kissed his fallen soldier passionately for three whole minutes. “Paraguay!” said the Tamilian spectator in the stands, to his friend. “Uruguay?”, Cannavaro was asked by a journalist in the post-match press conference.
June 25: In a tragic turn of events, North Korea lost their do-or-die clash against Ivory Coast 3-0, and were promptly sentenced to death by their great leader Kim Jong-Il. Realizing he was about to die, Jong Tae-Se burst into tears again, and was immediately hugged and kissed by Fabio Cannavaro.
June 26: Tension gripped the football world as the knock-out stages finally began. Uruguay overwhelmed South Korea by yelling random phrases, such as “Pass it to Kim”, “Pass it to Lee”, and “Roast Dog, Yummy!” every now and then to confuse the Korean players. Inspired by this strategy, Asamoah Gyan yelled “Look! WMDs!” and scored the winner for Ghana against the U.S.A. An enraged Barack Obama shook his fist vehemently and delivered an eloquent speech.
June 27: Kgermany pounded minnows England 4-1 but the game was marred by a massive controversy, when an English player actually appeared to score a goal. “This is unbelievable!”, the pundits all exclaimed, calling for video technology to be introduced to verify that this epochal event had actually occurred. Elsewhere, Argentina beat Mexico 3-0 and Maradona celebrated with some indian dance.
June 28: The Netherlands continued their steady progress when they beat Slovakia thanks to a goal from their star winger Arjen Robben Island and set up a quarterfinal clash with Brazil, who dismissed Chile 3-0. Paul the psychic octopus stunned the bookies by predicting that one of the two teams would qualify for the semi-final.
June 29: Spain faced Portugal and Paraguay faced Japan on a day that will be remembered as ‘the day football died’, or to be more accurate, ‘the day football fell down a flight of stairs, suffered total body paralysis and existed as a vegetable for several years before its life support system was finally turned off’. Ugh. No one even remembered which teams won.
June 30: What a day of drama and controversy this was! Well, actually it was a rest day before the quarter-final stage but in comparison to the previous day, it seemed positively thrill-a-minute.
July 2: After the calm came the storm, the favourites Brazil were shocked by the Netherlands and Ghana were beaten by Uruguay in a game that featured more twists than a 1960s music video. This is how it all went down: In the last minute of extra time, the score was 1-1 and Ghana were handed a penalty after Luis Suarez handled the ball on the goal-line. As the tension mounted, Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty after the Jabulani, while approaching the top corner, was distracted by a female Jabulani on the sidelines and went after her instead. Five of Gyan’s enraged team mates pounded him to death right there on the pitch and were immediately arrested. The team was disqualified for having too few players, sending Uruguay through to the semi-finals.
July 3: In a result that was a shock to everyone except Paul the psychic octopus, Kgermany thrashed Argentina 4-0 with Miroslav Klose (full name: Miroslav Klose Encounters of the 3rd Kind) scoring two goals to take his total world cup tally to 23 million. The rest of the world breathed a sigh of relief as this meant pundits would no longer be able to use their standard analysis for all Argentina matches: “Ah! Messi.. (orgasmic noises)”. Elsewhere, Spain pipped Paraguay in yet another borefest.
July 4: The footballing world was plunged into mourning at the thought that Diego Maradona would no longer be at the World Cup. So here is a quick quiz for all of you: Which of the following Maradona facts is true? (a) He picked a nobody named Ariel Garce in the squad because he saw him in a dream, or (b) He grew his beard because he tried to kiss his dog and it bit his face, or (c) He declared that he wanted to keep Jose Mourinho on his bedside table.
July 5: The correct answer is secret option (d) all of the above. Legend.
July 6: The first semi-final turned out to be a cracking encounter. Midway through the first half, the Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst fired a rocket into the Uruguayan goal and the referee yellow carded him for violent conduct. Enraged by the decision, Gio put his launcher away and then scored a brilliant goal to put the Netherlands ahead. The Dutch cantered to a comfortable victory and booked their place in the grand final.
July 7: The second semi-final was not even played, seeing as Paul the psychic octopus had predicted a Spain victory and neither team wanted to pick up any unnecessary injuries or suspensions. “Innovative strategy from Spain”, opined the pundits, while the Germans mourned their exit. Tabloid headline writers came up with “Klose but no cigarette”.
July 8:The hostilities between Spain and the Netherlands intensified over the rest period as the teams engaged in a series of ‘mind-games’ with each other, including one in which Cesc Fabregas asked Dirk Kuyt to think of a number between 2 and 10, multiply it by 28, then add 2, then multiply by 537 and then subtract 3. Dirk Kuyt missed training the next day because he was still doing the maths.
July 10: The World Cup third place play-off was played between Kgermany and Uruguay at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, which was named after that living legend – Michael Bay. After a see-saw battle, followed by a merry-go-round battle, and then finally a giant slide battle, Kgermany finally emerged the winners. There was a heart-stopping moment in the final seconds of the game when Diego Forlan hit the bar, and ordered 27 beers.
July 11: It was finally here. The World Cup final. It was the first big meeting between Spain and the Netherlands since the Eighty Years’ War and we all know how THAT turned out. (Well, actually some of us don’t because we were playing book cricket during history classes, but let’s just pretend we do.) Pundits opined that it would be a clash of cultures, a conflict of ideologies, an intriguing contest between the well-drilled Dutch defence, nicknamed the ‘Clockwork Oranje’, and the Spanish attack, nicknamed ‘Xabi Alonso and the seven dwarves’. The Spanish stuck to their trusted eleven while the Dutch went for a more cerebral approach than usual, including renowned indian quizmaster Siddhartha Basu in midfield. This strategy backfired spectacularly because Basu ignored all of Sneijder’s passes and said he’d come back to them in the end if there was any time remaining. The match itself was a nasty, bruising encounter and it was finally decided four minutes from the end when Andres Iniesta scored to make it 1-0, triggering raucous scenes of celebrations in Madrid and the rest of the world, where revellers basked in the blissful sensation of knowing they didn’t have to watch Spain play again for some time. Meanwhile, the Dutch returned home to a reception weaker than that of the iPhone 4.
And just like that, the 2010 FIFA World Cup came to an end, leaving us with a raft of memories – tshabalala, vuvuzela, jabulani, maradona, tiki-taka, waka-waka… We will retain these memories forever, and remember them fondly from time to time, some (waka-waka) more often than the others because they involved Shakira.
Once every four years, people from all over the world, irrespective of nationality, race, religion, or cup-size, come together in a heady mix of music, face-painting and beer to enjoy watching grown men wearing shorts sob uncontrollably. Yes, it’s the FIFA World Cup! And now it’s nearly over!
Before you read the rest of this post, let me warn you that I am not, and have never been remotely close to being, a professional football player. I was, however, quite the success as goalkeeper during P.T. periods in school. I loved the position, not only because of the immense importance it had to the team, but also because it afforded me the free time and ideal location to ‘analyse’ the volleyball game being played by the girls in the neighbouring court. Now, volleyball, that is a sport with all the right ideas. They even have a beach version. Unbelievable.
But I digress, this post is about the FIFA World Cup, the most depressing sporting spectacle in the world. Now whether it’s through the marked decrease in brain activity from listening to inane commentary, the steady accumulation of fat in the bum area from lounging on the couch and drinking all day, the psychological trauma from alienating all your loved ones in favour of a television set, or all of the above, the World Cup does not fail to bring sadness into lives all over the world. Why is this? Let’s look at the hard facts: 32 teams take part and only 1 can win it – the odds are ALWAYS against one fan feeling happy at the end of the tournament. So, at the end of the month, most of them are going to be fatter, dumber and lonelier while also hurting from bitter defeat. It’s a no-win scenario. Yet, millions and millions of people all over the world tune in with hope everytime. Why? The answer is simple. We’re idiots.
Haha, just kidding. The reason notwithstanding, everyone in the civilized world, even people who are not football fans, even those who are technically deceased, even WOMEN, cannot take their eyes off the screen during the world cup month. Even if it’s a mind-numbingly boring contest between two countries so unfamiliar that they might have created by J.K. Rowling, it simply has to be watched. We just don’t seem to have a choice. It’s the bleeding WORLD CUP, innit?! And we love it!! Yes, really we do!
And now it’s nearly over. This year’s tournament in South Africa has been widely considered a grand success, both in terms of viewership and global depression. It allowed us to celebrate the likes of tiny Slovenia, who, despite having only 429 proper footballers, have now made it to two different World Cups. This also helped us view in its proper light the achievements of England, who have made it to 13 editions without a single proper footballer.
Considering that it was the first time the tournament was being held in Africa, the continent’s teams were expected to do really well. However, they didn’t, possibly because expectations from an entire continent piled immense pressure on their shoulders but mainly because they were in fact, a bit shit. Their tactics left a lot to be desired, too. Nigerian team captain Joseph Yobo, for example, sent an e-mail to FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter about the fact that the Nigerian F.A. was holding back the players’ wages until they won the World Cup and that if FIFA could kindly lend them the trophy for a few days, they could then collect their wages and deposit 10% of it into FIFA’s accounts.
The South American teams started out really well, with Uruguay (a.k.a Paraguay), a country most famous for sporting a smiley face on its national flag, was the best performer. They tried to recreate their form from 1930 and 1950, when they won the damn thing, but unfortunately for them, there were other countries taking part this time. They lost in the semi-finals, along with Germany. Die Mannschaft, as the team is known, was missing a Ballack, but certainly didn’t lack for penetration, In the end, they just didn’t have the spunk to complete the job.
The two teams that did manage to get through the semi-finals – Spain and the Netherlands, will now fight it out this evening for the biggest trophy in world football and no matter who wins, one thing is certain – a lot of beer will be sold.
For the first time since 1978, the final features two teams that have never won the tournament but unlike Spain, the Netherlands have been in the final twice before, suffering traumatic defeats each time. They were tense and nervous in those games, and have been short on confidence ever since. They claim to have overcome that problem this time though, mostly with a lot of weed and spacecakes.
Spain, on the other hand, are having the best time of their footballing history, having won the European Championships two years ago. Their primary tactic is to get the ball, pass, pass, pass and then pass it some more without ever threatening to score until their opponents, bored to death just fall down on the pitch fast asleep. At this point, Spain pass the ball around some more and give it to star striker Fernando Torres, who misses the goal with his shot. Thankfully the referee is fast asleep too, so deadly finisher David Villa just picks up the ball, places it inside the goal and then wakes him up. The only game they’ve lost so far in the tournament was to Switzerland, which is the only team more boring.
I don’t know about you but I will be supporting the Netherlands this evening. For a number of reasons, (a) my favourite ever player, Dennis Bergkamp, was Dutch, and (b) they wear orange, how can anyone hate a team that wears orange.
Above all, the Netherlands is a magical place that I have extremely fond memories of. This is because, when I recently went to Amsterdam, virtually every single person I came across tried to sell me drugs or sex. That’s an admirable attitude to life, I feel. And exactly what the World Cup should celebrate. Plus, they have lovely canals, great big windmills, lots and lots of colourful flowers and no one seems to ever be doing any proper work. Also, they snitched on that annoyingly preachy Anne Frank and gave her up to the Nazis. What a wonderful, wonderful country.
Spain will probably win tonight, and bore us to death in the process, but the Dutch, simply by being Dutch, have already won at life. I want them to have the World Cup as well, just because they want it so much, and it’ll make them really happy. So HUP HOLLAND HUP! GO ORANJE!
Ever since I moved to London, people are always asking me, “What’re you doing this weekend?”, “What’d you do last weekend?” and my stock reply is “As little as humanly possible.”
During my first two weeks here, my current flatmate and I went through a highly traumatic househunt conducted in bitter cold and pouring rain. As neither of us know the first thing about houses, interiors, or neighbourhoods, we adopted the sensible strategy of looking at the best sounding locality names. So, right away, we ruled out “Shepherd’s Bush”. We then considered “Stratford”, a name that, to us, conjured up idyllic scenes of English countryside, but were put off by the fact that its quiet surroundings were often disturbed by the piercing screams of stab victims. So, we finally settled on a flat near “Swiss Cottage”, which does not have that problem. (Our stabbers use chloroform.)
No doubt exhausted by the househunt, and loving the comfort of my new ‘bachelor pad’ (from the Latin ‘bachelor’ – “small flat” and ‘pad’ – “which has not been cleaned for a while”), I lived out my weekends in an almost vegetative state, partly due to hectic workdays (really!) and partly due to a great disillusionment with life caused by Arsenal’s by-now familiar end-of-season collapse.
After a couple of months, when I was sufficiently disgusted with myself, I decided that I needed to change my lifestyle, that I needed to maybe do some travelling. I could go relax on a lonely beach, soak up some art and culture, go upto the mountains, camp out in a jungle, whatever, it didn’t matter. I just felt like I had to BE SOMEWHERE ELSE, ASAP, sort of how Yuvraj Singh feels whenever he gets to the crease these days. And this was helped by the fact that, at around the same time, I was reading Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’, a book that makes travelling seem cooler than Jay-Z riding a tiger while reading ‘The Economist’ on his iPad.
In the book, there’s a great quote: “If I’d learnt one thing from travelling, it was that the way to get things done was to go ahead and do them. Don’t talk about going to Borneo. Book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag, and it just happens.”
Now, travelling has always been very high up on the list of stuff I want to do, two places below ‘Jennifer Aniston’ and ten million places above ‘Integral Calculus’. So I booked some tickets, got myself a Schengen visa, and packed a bag. And then it just happened.
And so, in the last couple of weeks, due to a combination of travelling (more on that later, possibly), spending some great times with friends (one of them a successful author), and working like I’ve never done before, I am now red-eyed and drained of energy all the time. With the World Cup also now underway, I can foresee a lot of fatigue in my near future. And weirdly, after all the free time I’ve had in the last few months, it is only now, when I have a thousand more important things to do (like sleep, for instance), that I felt like updating the blog!