On Loyalty


World Cup 2010

A director’s take on the 2010 World Cup.


England’s sole victory in 1966: I will only support England if I know England is going to lose. (Photo: National Media Museum.)

The World Cup operates as a get-out-of-jail-free card for soccer fans. For nine months of the year, our moods are, to an extent that is profoundly unhealthy, determined by the fortunes of our team: win on Saturday against a rival and we believe that this week is the week, we will close that deal, call that girl, our desires will actually actualize. After a good performance on Saturday, everything is attainable. The converse is equally true; lose a match and that’s it for all your hopes and ambitions, completely up the spout.

This clearly is no way to live, and every four years the World Cup comes along and offers the possibility of promiscuity without consequence—a spot of “who do you want to be today?” “Oh today, I fancy a bit of Brazil, I feel like feeling like a winner.” Tomorrow, on the other hand, it’s all “come on you, North Korea” because who, in the end, doesn’t want North Korea to triumph? If I had to support England, the country of my birth, games would have to mean something to me. The pleasure of the not meaning it is one of the charms of the World Cup.

Also—and this may be a more personal reason—I spend nine months of the year loathing all of the England players. I accuse them of terrible crimes, of having profoundly flawed characters; I have been known on more than one occasion to be delighted when they are injured. I cannot find it in myself every four years to care for those for whom my dislike is so integral to my being. Especially when there is the potential joy, no matter how unlikely, of seeing them get absolutely leathered by the mighty Slovenia.

This rule will be suspended when England plays the USA. I am English and live in America, or at least in Brooklyn, so my normal dislike of England is offset by my desperate anxiety that we (see how quickly it comes) not lose to America.

There are also other exceptions to this rule. If the majority of supporters in the bar where I am watching the game are anti-English, in the supporting-another-team way rather than for any kind of xenophobia, then I will become an England fan simply because I like to be on the side of the fewer cheerers.

I am also entirely free to support England if I know England is going to lose, and most likely on penalties. In three out of the last four world cups which England has actually managed to qualify for, they have lost on penalties to Portugal, Argentina, and Germany. In all of these games, I have desperately wanted England to win, secure in the knowledge that they didn’t really have a chance.

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.