Fassbinder the Football Fan

fassbinderLast week someone on Twitter sent me a photograph of the late German iconoclast Rainer Werner Fassbinder, decked out in the crisp white livery of FC Bayern Munich. Ach, der einzige Fassbinder! A waxy faced slob who worked harder than anyone alive; a queer and dreamy aesthete who necked Bavarian beer by the steinful and counted German league football an all-consuming passion. (All Fassbinder’s passions were all consuming: this was both his song, and his downfall.) More »

Who needs football anyway?

In the end, the 2014 World Cup final turned out like the 2010 final. A scoreless match that seemed to be heading for penalties was only settled at the death when a composed, compact player managed to hold his nerve in front of goal, after everyone else had lost theirs. Last time it was Iniesta. Yesterday it was Götze. But really it was a different sort of match, as befits a different sort of tournament. The 2010 final was overshadowed by the performance of the referee, Howard Webb, who failed to control the spoiling tactics of the Dutch. This time, each side gave as good as it got and the contest had a proper shape to it. Had Higuaín’s first-half goal, which was correctly ruled out for offside, been allowed to stand, it would have been a very different occasion. But the officials got the important decisions right. Argentina fluffed each of their legitimate chances and have no one to blame but themselves. The game spoke for itself. More »

It’s almost all over

The arrival of the World Cup final is always a melancholy moment. It means no more lounging around the house in the knowledge that another game will be on in a minute. More than a month of wall-to-wall football gives way to a little bit of cricket and some desultory transfer speculation in the papers. It feels like the end of summer. Really it should feel like the start of summer – after all, it’s early July and the schools haven’t broken up yet. But when I was younger I used to resent the thought that there was now no excuse to stay indoors with the curtains drawn. I still feel like that. To make things worse, the final itself is usually a letdown. There hasn’t been a really exciting one for almost thirty years. More »

The Nicaraguan Model

There’s nothing new about children travelling alone through Central America and Mexico to get to the United States. The journey and its dangers were portrayed five years ago in the film Sin Nombre. One character, Sayra, a teenage girl from Honduras, ends up crossing the Rio Grande alone. She is looking out for Casper, a friend she made weeks earlier on the Mexico-Guatemala border. He doesn’t make it: he’s shot on the river bank by a rival, 12-year-old gang member.

What’s changed since then is a sudden surge in numbers. Unlike adult migrants, most children report to the US Border Patrol once they cross the frontier. In the nine months to June this year, more than 52,000 ‘alien children’ were registered, twice as many as in the previous twelve months. An unknown number have failed to report; died or been attacked on the way; decided that Mexico offers a marginally but sufficiently better life than Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador; or – most likely – been caught and deported by the Mexican authorities. More »

Descartes of the Dugout

Three World Cup teams were carrying a little piece of my heart: Algeria, France, Italy. When one by one they fell away, a large part of my own tournamental passion waned. As compensation, I picked up the recently published autobiography of my favourite Italian player, Andrea Pirlo, which glories in the frankly irresistible title I Think Therefore I Play. (Personally, I think a comma after ‘Think’ would have improved things no end, but I quibble.) More »

Waxen Jane

waxwork full length (low res)

A waxwork figure that may or may not resemble Jane Austen

It would be hard to draw a picture of one of Austen’s characters based on the books: the narrators offer little physical description at all (‘plain’, ‘tall’) and the other characters don’t go much further than ‘fair’ and ‘dark-eyed’ (how-much-a-year is far more significant). But Austen does tell us a lot about the way the valuation of appearance betrays prejudices. Bingley’s ardency is evident from his first sight of Jane – ‘Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!’ – and Elizabeth is as firm in her loyalty: ‘You were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room.’ Darcy considers Elizabeth ‘barely tolerable’ to begin with, but by the end declares her ‘one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance’. More »

Spare a thought for the armadillo

Sooner or later the Brazilian football team will be treated like lepers, or perceive themselves to be so. Unfair to lepers, but appropriate for an off-pitch reason. The official World Cup mascot, Fuleco, is a Brazilian three-banded armadillo. Humans apart, the armadillo is the only animal that gets leprosy. Admittedly, the evidence refers to the nine-banded kind; it is not known whether the three-banded armadillo is susceptible. It would be very hard to find out, because the Brazilian species is very rare and in danger of extinction. Fuleco’s name is a portmanteau of ‘Futebol’ and ‘Ecologia’. More »

Football v. Politics

The last time Argentina met Holland at the World Cup, in 2006, the match ended in a forgettable goalless draw. The time before that, in 1998, a meeting between the two countries produced a moment that never grows old: the exquisite winner scored in the 90th minute by Dennis Bergkamp, a seventy-yard pass that he controlled with one touch, redirected with another and flicked home with a third, a sequence that’s about as close as football ever gets to ballet. But the time before that, in 1978, Argentina v. Holland has some of the worst associations of any World Cup match. They don’t relate to what happened on the field, but to what was happening off it, in the prisons and torture chambers of Buenos Aires. More »

Institutionalised Disregard for Palestinian Life

One either rejects the killing of non-combatants on principle or takes a more tribal approach to such matters. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the global outpouring of grief and condemnation over the killing of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank is the moral equivalent of Rolf Harris denouncing Jimmy Savile.

Over the past 14 years, Israel has killed Palestinian children at a rate of more than two a week. There seems to be no Israeli child in harm’s way that Barack Obama will not compare to his own daughters, but their Palestinian counterparts are brushed aside with mantras about Israel’s right to self-defence. The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence, but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip. More »

Through the Looking-Glass

Well, it won’t be the Bite for which this World Cup is remembered after all. Something more shocking did happen. The form book turned out to be a useless guide (Brazil were undefeated in twelve games before last night). Home advantage counted for nothing in the end. Goldman Sachs got it wrong. Stephen Hawking got it wrong. I got it wrong. Everyone got it wrong. Sure, there will be people saying that this Brazilian team was there for the taking, that someone was bound to expose its manifold weaknesses. But no one predicted that result. It simply doesn’t happen that big teams concede seven goals at home against major rivals. It doesn’t happen in the Premier League or in La Liga or in Serie A. It’s inconceivable that Chelsea or Barcelona or Juventus would ship seven at home to anyone, no matter how weakened their team or how unlucky the performance. It doesn’t happen in the Champions League or in the European Championships. It’s certainly never happened at the World Cup. Before last night’s match some bookmakers had Germany as the slight favourites to win, but the margin of their victory is perhaps the biggest upset in the history of the sport. More »

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