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     Volume 5 Issue 97 | June 2, 2006 |

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Straight Talk

Mania, Madness, Merchandising and the World Cup!

Nadia Kabir Barb

It looks like the whole world is now gripped by World Cup fever. At least in my recent experience all I ever hear about these days is either World Cup this or World Cup that. Not that I am not looking forward to such an exciting sporting event but it feels like my brain is going numb with World Cup trivia, past and present, being bandied around me. For example, at home I have my son to deal with who seems to have suddenly become a walking, talking encyclopaedia on all things football-related. I am forever listening to stories about how Ronaldihno scored a fantastic goal in this match or how skilfully Petr Cech saved a goal in another match! Even my daughter is inundating me with terminology such as offsides, penalty shoot outs, free kicks and God knows what else.

England has seemingly gone mad on merchandising. Every time I switch on the television, there are advertisements which are promoting the World Cup 2006 by giving away football shaped cereal bowls, football mugs with tea bags or even pizzas with meatballs to represent footballs! Then of course shops are selling not only the usual paraphernalia of flags, hats, t-shirts etc but this has been extended to include even your undergarments! Now you can have your boxer shorts with the English Flag on it just to show your support literally.

It is predicted to be one of the best and most exciting World Cups to be played to date but the crème de la crème of the football world still have some truly spectacular matches that have been played in the past to live up to. The likes of Carlos Alberto, Paolo Rossi, Platini, Michael Owen and so many others have kept millions of spectators perched on the end of their seats with bated breath. In some ways the matches are a bit like soap operas as you have all the necessary ingredients. We have had tears -- who can forget Paul Gascoigne's tears, violence -- Maradonna being (or so I'm told) the king of hamming up the injuries that befall him on the pitch, drama -- Beckham being sent of with a red card resulting in effigies of him being strung up. I could go on but I think you know what I mean. I have to admit that when we were much younger (much, much younger) we used to watch the World Cup partly for the football and partly because some of the players were rather good looking. Now of course being older and much wiser, I watch purely for the game! It is definitely compulsive viewing no matter what your reasons may be for watching the World Cup.

England is now on Rooney Alert. The whole nation is waiting to find out if Wayne Rooney will be able to play in the World Cup following his leg injury. The latest scan of his fractured leg seems to indicate that Rooney will almost certainly miss England's group games as his fracture has not healed completely. According to Dwight Yorke, the Captain of Trinidad and Tobago, England has enough goal scorers to compensate for the absence of Wayne Rooney. "Michael Owen has proved his critics wrong before, Steven Gerrard is at the top of his game and Frank Lampard's goal tally is in double figures." But I think England supporters are praying for a speedy recovery by Rooney as he is regarded as an integral part of the team.

I think I am a constant source of exasperation to my family especially where football is concerned. I have this perverse tendency to support the team no one else seems to be supporting. There was the time where I supported Argentina over England and nearly jeopardised my marriage. Luckily my husband is aware of my contrarianism and was gracious enough to forgive me my betrayal and just roll his eyes heavenwards without us having to make any trips to divorce courts! There was also the time when we were in Hong Kong during the last World Cup. We had been taken out to dinner by my husband's colleague and from there we were whisked off to a bar to watch the Brazil vs. Belgium match. This was mainly due to the fact that his wife was from Brazil, and the place we went to seemed to be packed with hundreds of Brazilians. People were wearing t-shirts with the Brazilian flag, others had their faces painted and many were wearing wigs with the Brazilian colours. Obviously I like to live life dangerously as I think I was the sole supporter of Belgium in the entire place. This was due to the fact that my sister-in-law is Belgian and familial loyalty was stronger than my need for self preservation and of course my perverse sense of humour! I am lucky to have survived the match without being thrown out of the bar or escaping with all my limbs in tact. I think it is probably because everyone was so engrossed in the game that no one had the time to notice my little cheers when Belgium almost scored. Also when Rivaldo and Ronaldo scored the 2 goals for Brazil, the crowd went berserk so luckily for me my groans were drowned in the cacophony that ensued.

I know for a fact that on the days that England will be playing, people over here will be glued to their television sets whether it is at home or in the local pubs. In fact all around the world people will be sitting watching their favourite teams and players while cheering them on. I have given my word that this year I will support England while they are playing but I also have my eye on Togo and feel that they may be in need of a bit of support against Switzerland and France…What say you?

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