There was always going to be a lot of things that would be different about holding the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East. The time of year; the suitability of the host nation, Qatar; the well-publicised controversies. However, one difference I didn’t expect was the level of my pre-tournament apathy. For me, the World Cup was arriving as little more than an irritating interruption to the Premier League season. I was more pumped about the Bake Off final and Strictly returning to Blackpool than I was by the start of the world’s most important football tournament.
Had I caught a World Cup cold? It seemed a distinct possibility. The only football-related passion I experienced in the weeks leading up to the start of Qatar 2022 was a feeling of outrage that the media had permitted Sepp Blatter a platform to express his breathtakingly hypocritical opinion that Qatar had been a mistake and a bad choice of venue. In this mood of antipathy, would I even bother to watch the spectacle?
In the event, I did skip the Opening Ceremony. I always find the celebrity-synchronised-gymnastics of these kind of events tedious in the extreme––Diana Ross’ wonderful penalty kick miss at Chicago’s Soldier Field at the start of the 1994 World Cup a rare exception. But then, rather grudgingly, I did find myself in front of a screen not too far into the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador. After all, it was a quiet Sunday afternoon; it was gloomy and rainy outside; what else was I gonna be doing?
And, I am prepared to confess, I felt a mild pang of emotion when Enner Valencia’s first goal for Ecuador was ruled out by VAR––bloody VAR––and a slightly stronger resurgence of footballing excitement when the same player’s excellent bullet header found the back of the net not long after.
Had my footballing cold been laid to rest? Not quite. But I was beginning to feel some way on the road to recovery. Perhaps I just needed a spot of Vicks VapoRub and a hot toddy to aid the process?
That was Sunday.
Monday dawned with an early England fixture. A one o’clock kick-off. An inconveniently early o’clock kick-off. I felt something of a relapse coming on. But that was before Bellingham, Saka, Sterling and Rashford. A 6-2 scoreline. Who could ask for anything more. It was like over-dosing on Night Nurse for one recovering patient.
And then Tuesday. And Saudi Arabia beating Argentina. Never mind it is ten o’clock in the morning; never mind it is a cold November; never mind the Premier League is suspended for a month. This is more like it; this is proper World Cup. And then Wednesday, and Japan beat Germany. New heroes born out of anonymity; the joy of supporting the underdog; the fall of old superpowers; the rise of new ones.
I can feel the temperature rising. Almost against my will; despite my reservations; the fever is upon me once again.
© Donnie Blake
Donnie Blake gets pumped up for Bake Off, Strictly and the World Cup.
If you are enjoying the World Cup you may enjoy Donnie Blake’s fictional mysteries set with a backdrop of the World Cups in England in 1966 and Mexico in 1970––Artie Yard and a Very English Pickle and Artie Yard and the Bogotá Bracelet.