The money people, FIFA and the Qatari rulers must have been full of glee after the final on Sunday. It was indeed an exciting match. All of the hype played itself out, the major superstars, Lionel Messi for Argentina and Kylian Mbappé for France, had a hand in or scored all of the key goals. Even the Fox TV idiots felt vindicated and shut up they could not. They were full of something else and I stand in it regularly on Brooklyn sidewalks. And there was a penalty showdown, just the right recipe for fair weather television viewers.
Personally, I had no dog in the race because Morocco was gone and the contest was between two big shots. If push came to shove, my tendency was for the southern hemisphere team, but I have too many memories of 1978 when the Argentinians knocked off Johan Cruyff’s Dutch team in that World Cup final in Buenos Aires. There were voices around then, ones that reminded us that the very stadium where this happened (Estadio Monumantal) was a round up center but a few weeks prior for the people who soon were to became or had already become the disappeared (Los Desperacidos) during Operation Condor, conducted by the military junta and their death squads against our side. The US Government was no idle bystander in this horror which lasted from 1974 to 1983. The estimate of murders was between 10,000 to 30,000 people. Go Argentina! And then of course there was the France and Algeria bloody episode, which probably taught the Argentinian generals more than they needed to know. And for those who aren’t aware or don’t remember, the Roland Garros tennis stadium in Paris was used as an internment holding pen during WWII for resistance members and refugees whom the French government conveniently handed back over to the Nazis. Roland Garros is where they still play the French Open tennis tournament. But excuse me for mixing up politics with sport.
Still as a football follower, this World Cup was an enthralling contest. It’s difficult to forget Saudi Arabia beating the eventual champs in one of the opening games, Japan getting to the knockout stage, and Morocco giving the business to Spain and Portugal. Even the US showed a bit of promise. Croatia beat Brazil, and the Dutch played hard against Argentina, perhaps the dirtiest and toughest match of them all. A powerhouse team like Belgium might be on its way down, some old war horses like Germany and England are simmering, and then there are those that could well improve, like Japan and the US (See Alexi Lalas).
I have to admit, I felt for England. This is because I remember that the first World Cup I ever followed was in 1966, when England won for the only time. As a naïve kid, I believed they would continue (winning that is). My childhood heroes were Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves, Gordon Banks, Geoff Hurst and Nobby Stiles. Nobby Stiles was a defensive midfielder who didn’t have too many gnashers and a face only a mother could love.
England has never repeated that moment of defeating West Germany in the final at Wembley and it may be that they will never do so in my lifetime. There is something tragic here, and it is not connected to my youthful enthusiasm for that winning squad or that I am an unconfessed English fan (I am not). It’s more like the Rolling Stones song called The Hand of Fate. I just feel sorry for the poor bastards.
One thing that seemed more noticeable…these football players play in a select community, albeit a very privileged one. Most of them know each other from the European leagues. For example, when Harry Kane, the English striker, missed his penalty against the French goalie Hugo Lloris in the quarter finals, it is worth knowing that they are teammates on Tottenham Hotspur, an English Premier League club. They have both played hundreds of games together. There is something quite fascinating and odd about this. The same is true for most top international players, for Moroccan, Brazilian, Argentinian, German and a whole host of other footballers from different nationalities. This is not Club Med (Dead), where money alone allows one automatic membership. The criterion for joining is the ability to exhibit a remarkable skill set. These professionals might be spoiled lads, but they are extremely talented and, for now, are in a unique minority. Our job as football fans should be to broaden that community. There are plenty of Lionel Messis in the barrio or ghetto and the world will probably never know about them. That’s our task, as members in the struggle for building a new society, one where I hope football plays a role. Let a million flowers blossom.
And I would be remiss if I ignored our punishers at Fox Sports. In the grand finale, the panel shared Chad Ochocinco’s favorite moments of being a spectator in Qatar. These included driving a 007 type Maserati or Ferrari car that sped across the water (a kind of “Q” invention), riding a camel, dressing up in full Arab gear, holding a fighting falcon bird, shopping at the spice bazaar, and surfing down a sand dune. Of course, all of these treats would have been available to anybody who had the dosh to get to Qatar and watch a match or two. Chad looked foolish, but didn’t sound quite as inane as Rob Stone (the Big Kahuna on the panel) when he embarked on a ten-minute gush about the wonderful job FIFA did, while bowing to the Qatari owners. That was pretty unbearable. Meanwhile, Alexi Lalas (my favorite) reminded us that we got what we paid for, first class soccer from first class presenters. Merry fucking Xmas.
What I saw this time around is that there is a sophisticated football audience in America, and it is not just made up of immigrants, who have always been savvy about it all. The US football team has been around for more than a generation, and their supporters are sincere and quite knowledgeable about the game. This makes the Fox Sports presentation even more insulting, since their bozos are intent on explaining things through the prism of how it all relates to other American sports in lowest common denominator terms. One cannot treat intelligent fans with such contempt. America’s salvation in the world of football will only come with international inclusion and exposure. These talented young men and women here need to play in the real world, and forget about all of the other baggage that they are told comes along with being an American. I remain somewhat hopeful about this, despite what Alexi Lalas says.
The next World Cup is in four years’ time. I can’t promise you anything, except if Rob Stone and Alexi are there, Hard Crackers Magazine will try its utmost to fill that void. Perhaps we will be in a better place, beyond imagination. After all, we have our own different goals.