Hangdawg and quartered

While the World Cup scintillated early on, all that’s left now is an exclusive kennel of big dogs I can’t bring myself to love, and the lack of bite post-Suarez from the lesser teams has left one with a slightly empty feeling. The last-16 was a real effort, and felt like some of the large swathes of Swann’s Way that I’m ploughing slowly through at the moment. It’s curious how a national team – a changing organism where the constituent parts are replaced by new parts all the time – manages to maintain the knack of winning even when old players who established the nation’s might in the first place are forever reposing. The Germans and the Dutch and the Argentines and the Brazilians all had to draw from the experience of their forebears, and they all just did enough.

I love football but I sometimes wonder why I’m getting nervous or shouting at the television at men I don’t know from countries I don’t live in, hoping one might put out another. Even the French team, where I do live, seemed to care less about winning against the Germans than I did. When I turned on the news I noticed a live crowd of hundreds of Belgians dancing and singing after their team had exited to Argentina, and they were even more hapless and ineffectual than France. They seemed to be playing with the attitude that they’d gone far enough this time around and despatching themselves swiftly was the least they could do.
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I’ve not noticed any post mortem here in Paris. People seem relatively okay with a quarter final place. I was also intrigued to note the rivalry between France and Germany is less toxic than it is with England (at least on the side of the English), even if – and this is all relative of course – the French could lay claim to being even more fucked off with their neighbours should anyone be churlish enough to still hold grudges and equate military mobilisation over the last century with kicking a ball around a field.

It seems more grown up somehow, and I should know, because I still find it hard to admire German football even when it’s very good. It’s like my own shameful vestigial tail, because I always instinctively take the side of the team playing against them, and I pretty much always finish a game feeling disappointed because they always win. I’ve noticed younger people than me on social media don’t have this childish bugbear and I applaud them for it. I applaud those Belgians dancing around and singing even when their team was a load of shit, and I applaud the French, who only truly get excited about sport if it’s done on two wheels if we’re honest.
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It’s interesting how football fans have turned on the Dutch since the last World Cup (mainly because they were a bit dirty in the final and Arjen Robben falls over quite a lot), but have these people forgotten about the fact that this is the team that invented total football in the 70’s and has been punching above its weight ever since? Have some respect you fair weather loons! This low country only has 11 million people compared with Germany’s 80 million, and it’s bloody tough work trying to kick a football by a canal without losing it forever. It’s a team that has the legendary Louis van Gaal as manager – a man my friend Peter pointed out looks like a cross between an Oopa Loopa and David Lynch! If we can’t get behind him now when he makes tactical master-strokes like the one last night where he swapped starter goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for the larger Tim Krul just in time for penalties, and if we can’t cheer him on before he joins the red scum where we’ll hate him forever for his impending reign of terror… then when can we get behind him?

If any country deserves to win a World Cup for years of glorious service to football with no reward (apart from the European Championship in 1988) it’s the Netherlands. Although for Louis’ sake it would probably be better if I cheered on Germany for a bit with my record of cheering on losers.

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