The Rules of the Game
June 9, 2010 | by Will Frears
If you want to have a successful World Cup you have to have one team that you absolutely want to win. Three is even better. Five is fantastic. More than seven and you'll start to have trouble keeping them straight.
Herewith, a few guidelines/ground rules:
- Everyone is required to support Brazil, it is absolutely the done thing.
- It is never ever OK to root for the oppressor over the oppressed—really, how terrible a person are you to want Portugal to beat Angola or France to dispatch Senegal? Hasn’t enough harm been done already? (And so, despite the global love affair with Obama, everyone, all the billions watching around the world, wants the US to lose.)
- You can simply follow the team of the country that issued your passport. This puts you in the category of fan, which means you must be willing to enter into arguments with people who don’t like your country about the relative merits of both soccer and national style. I would caution against going too far down this road. It leads to something that feels a lot like politics, which is much less fun than soccer and has, historically, led to many more bouts of hooliganism.
- Or you can support both your country of passport and your country of familial origin. Let's say you're Italian-American: Italy is much more likely to win than the US so the odds on your happiness have just improved. (Plus if the Italians win, as they did last time, you have something to crow about over all your friends.) This strategy merits consideration even if the country before the hyphen doesn’t have a prayer but does have a reputation for likeability and a certain grooviness among the fan base. There is nothing better to be at the World Cup than Cameroon—nobody knows anything about the place, but the word itself rolls nicely off the tongue and whenever the camera cuts to the crowd, they seem to be having a good time. Everyone likes Cameroon.
- It is perfectly permissible, and actually recommended, to begin the tournament by supporting quite a few teams. This allows you some freedom in choosing your reasons for support; you can like Argentina for the madness of Maradona and the sheer genius of Messi, and Ghana just for being called the Black Stars. (African teams always have the coolest nicknames: Cameroon is the Indomitable Lions, and the Nigerians are the Super Eagles. The host nation of South Africa is called Bafana Bafana. There are no equivalent joys for the Czech Republic.) It’s possible to be totally pro-Holland because of the tragic romance of Johan Cruyff and the dream of “total football.” (Holland is the club team of the intellectual elite. They played a version of the game in the seventies called Total Football; the basic idea of which was that any player should be skilled and intelligent enough to play in any position. They were led by the incomparable Johann Cruyff who not only looked like a Marxist theoretician but smoked like one too. They lost to West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978. What more could be asked for?) And at the same time and for reasons that make no sense, find it in your heart to want success for both Koreas, Democrat and Republican.
- If you go this route, then as the tournament unfolds, your loyalties have room to shift. If it turns out that the Serbians, about whom you had never given much thought, are, to a man, kind, decent, and also came back from three goals down to win five-three against the Germans in a game that had you bouncing up and down on the edge of your sofa and screaming “Come on you little Serbian diamond, come on!” then you have earned the right to transfer your loyalties to Serbia.
- This leads handily to the next rule: in every game you watch, you have to support someone. It doesn’t matter what you base it on—how the result will affect your team, your feelings about shirt styles, a holiday you’d like to take, a boy you once kissed on a study abroad in Paraguay, disliking an overelaborate use of hair gel—you must have a team and stick to it. You only have to like them more than the team they are playing: supporting France when they are playing Uruguay doesn’t mean you can’t cheer for South Africa when France comes up against them. Such are the joys of promiscuity. But you must always choose someone. There is nothing worse in the whole soccer world than the person who proudly announces that “I’m a football fan first, and a ___ fan second.” You’re not, you’re an a-hole and you don’t have any mates.
- The last rule: it is always always right to support whoever is playing against Germany. Gary Lineker, the boyishly handsome prolific England striker, once defined football as: “a simple game: twenty-two men chase a ball for ninety minutes and at the end the Germans win." Germany doesn’t need your help; they’ll probably win without it. This is only not true if they are playing Brazil—in which case, I refer you happily back to rule number one.
Will Frears is a theater and film director living in Brooklyn. For the next few weeks, he will be blogging about the games for the Daily.