New York — and America in general, since I've been traveling all this month — is such a strange place to be watching. I've been in bars for all the England games, and the fans have been pumped, caped, painted-of-face, generally obnoxious. For the opener against Paraguay I was at San Francisco's Mad Dog in the Fog, at 5:30 AM, next to a pseudo-skinhead/computer programmer who would shout, "Shut up, you yank!" and "Fucking wanker!" every time any announcer with an American accent said anything, intelligent or un. During halftime ABC told us to stick around after the game for an "essay" by one of the network commentators. An American guy turned to the pseudo-skinhead and said, with perfectly pitched sarcasm, "I think you're really going to enjoy the essay." I laughed. In response the ps started shouting at the American, "Are you stupid?! Are you retarded?!" I think the fact that he was far from his own people made him feel like he could behave like a caricature. Similar situation yesterday at Milwaukee's charmingly named The Highbury, which was full of enthusiasm, cigarette smoke, and bad soccer — yes, the general level of play from England has been atrocious. Only Beckham has looked good to me. I didn't realize he was sick. What's the deal?
Favorite games so far have been Ghana, Italy in the first round, where both played beautifully, and Portugal, Holland yesterday (I always like a red-and-yellowcardfest). Today's Australia, Italy made me think that FIFA needed to completely change the current system in which referees have absolute, flawed, subjective authority — to go out of the World Cup, after playing heroically, on a bogus penalty: it's just not right! I also think Francesco Totti (despite his improved hairstyle) should be run out of the sport for not coming clean about the whole thing. How will he sleep? Disgusting. 32 years in the desert for Australia, they finally qualify, only to go out in the 93rd minute like that, while Totti sucks his thumb?! Of course, now Australians understand that soccer is all about tragedy, not glory.
We Americans seem to be getting that, too.
Great tournament so far.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey is the author of The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup