A Month on the Sofa

John Lanchester

29 May. Everyone I know is obsessed with Roy Keane’s tournament-ending public diatribe against the Ireland manager, Mick McCarthy. ‘Who the fuck do you think you are, having meetings about me? You were a crap player, you are a crap manager. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are manager of my country and you’re not even Irish, you English cunt. You can stick it up your bollocks.’ Mark points out that ‘you’re not even Irish, you English cunt’ is like something out of Beckett. Andy wonders whether ‘you can stick it up your bollocks’ is an Irish expression or a stroke of inspiration on Keane’s part. Myself, I take a more Derridean/psychoanalytic view and think this is a classic example of an aporia: since it is physically impossible for McCarthy to stick something up his bollocks, what Keane is actually signalling, in making an unfulfillable request, is that he doesn’t want to play in the World Cup.

In the evening, to a Waterstone’s gala dinner. The first speaker is Henry Cooper. He says something relevant, apropos Mike Tyson: ‘when someone goes arahnd bitin’ people’s ears off and punchin’ refs, that only tells me one fing: ‘e doesn’t want to be in the ring.’ Precisely.

Cooper’s other good remark, about the desperately low quality of opponents for Audley Harrison, the boxer whom the BBC has paid one million pounds: ‘they keep on diggin’ up dead bodies for ‘im to knock dahn.’

30 May. First day of the Second Test against Sri Lanka. Was away for the First Test so this is my first chance to see some cricket this season. But at eight in the morning, a South African gardener rings the doorbell and starts carrying enormous rolls of turf through the house. It turns out today is the day M. has booked a whole set of heavy-duty gardening jobs. The garden is right beside the sitting-room so he will be able to watch me watching the cricket while he does heavy manual labour. Bollocks. I decide that I have the strength of character to butch it out and watch the cricket anyway. Besides, it’s raining in Edgbaston and there won’t be any play until after lunch. Do some work, go out for a coffee, back in time for the start of play and – disaster. There are now three hard-working South Africans in the garden. One I could handle, two is marginal, three is no-go. They would probably take an interest in the game, come over to the door to ask how it was going, proffer opinions about the state of the game etc, all while I just sat there. Damn. So I go upstairs and self-righteously listen to the game on the radio. Sri Lanka are all out for 162.

31 May. France 0 Senegal 1 in the opening match. This is officially the biggest shock of all time, though the previous winners have in fact won the opening game only twice in the last seven World Cups. Globalisation fact: all 11 Senegal players play in France; only one of the Frenchmen does.

1 June. Cameroon 1 Ireland 1. The boys are heroic in the second half; Cameroon are skilful and, as they were in the 1990 World Cup, physically enormous.

Mark tells me about Roy Keane’s alleged description of his Man United colleague Juan Sebastian Verón, the most expensive player in the Premiership: ‘28 million pounds of Argentinian shite’.

2 June. England 1 Sweden 1. England play well in the first half but fall apart in the second. They lose their shape, are reduced to wellying the ball endlessly forward, and seem exhausted. My source in Japan told me months ago that the heat and humidity would be a big problem for us, and it looks as if he is right. As Bobby Charlton said about Mexico in 1970, ‘you get used to the altitude, but you never get used to the heat.’

The underreported truth is that England are challengers not for this World Cup but for the next one, in Germany in 2006; and perhaps for the European Championship in 2004. The average age of the current team (minus goalie Seaman) is 23. But they need to find some left-footed players before then. This is the second tournament they’ve gone into without one in midfield, and it is a bit like trying to drive a car with one wheel missing.

Objectively speaking, 1-1 is an OK result, especially since the Swedish coaches went to college with Eriksson and they can all read each other’s minds. But we needed to sneak a win here to go through, I feel. The Argies will be too good for us, and then we will be vulnerable to their reaching an arrangement with the Swedes in the last group game.

3 June. It’s amazing how tenacious historical patterns are in football. National traits seem to survive despite all the personnel being different. Brazil, for instance, are supposed to be no good, and boring to boot; they only just squeaked into the finals, narrowly ahead of mighty Honduras. Their coach Scolari is supposed to have them playing dreary percentage football. But against Turkey they play the most exciting football yet seen in an already very exciting World Cup. Ronaldo looks back to form for the first time since before the final in 1998. Despite being four years older he still looks eerily like Bugs Bunny. He has one of those faces which make it hard to imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s older. It’s hard to imagine a 60-year-old Bugs Bunny double.

Another historical pattern was that we haven’t beaten Sweden since 1968. But that’s no comfort going into the Argentina game. We haven’t beaten them since 1966.

5 June. Germany 1 Ireland 1. Have to go out today, so set the video to tape the game and take steps not to hear the result until getting home (i.e. leave the car radio at home on purpose). But I’m so proud of myself for being able to use the video timer that I get the time wrong and tape two hours of daytime TV. So I have to watch the highlights instead. It’s probably just as well since I’m not sure my nerves could have stood this, with Ireland scoring in the second minute of extra time. How much of a prat must Roy Keane feel?

6 June. Argentina 0 England 1. Hard to calm down after the game. In fact I have to have a nap in mid-afternoon to decompress. Partly I suspect because I watched it on my own. When you do that you concentrate harder and it takes more out of you, as Ian Hamilton said: ‘I don’t play football any more, but you should see me watch it.’ Underlying this is the point that a football match isn’t a spectacle but an experience: you don’t look at it, you live through it.

This was England’s best performance for years – since beating the Netherlands 4-1 at Wembley in 1996, perhaps. The Argies are one of the best teams in the world; before today, in fact, they were my tip for the World Cup. And England outplayed them. Amazing. Two small things that helped: the Sapporo Dome is temperature and humidity-controlled, which helped us to run around so energetically; and, from his time in Italy, Eriksson knows many of the Argentine players better than he knows our team. This always helps the underdog (as it did, the other way around, in Sweden v. England).

Six people on the field are completely bald: the ref, Pierluigi Collina (alopecia); Rio Ferdinand (fashion); Sol Campbell (ditto); Danny Mills (male pattern baldness plus shaving); Juan Sebastian Verón (fashion); Trevor Sinclair (fashion). Four of the Argentine players have absurd poodle perms: Pochettino (who gives away the crucial penalty), Placente, Sorín, Ortega. But we win the battle of the stupid hair, thanks to Beckham’s mohican and Seaman’s ponytail. ¡Olé!

8 June. Thanks to Italy’s 2-1 loss to Croatia – a defeat helped by their having two entirely valid goals denied by the Danish linesman, but never mind – the Cup is going into its third round with Italy, Germany, Argentina and France all facing a realistic chance of elimination. That’s never happened before.

This, finally and belatedly, is a justification for Fifa’s policy of expanding the Cup. They took the number of teams up to 24 in 1982; the reasons were essentially political, to do with soliciting votes from the Third World. The result was 1. that there were too many duff teams and 2. there was a problem in then reducing the numbers to 16 for the knockout stage. Only eight teams would be knocked out. The structure of the Cup came to involve six groups, with the two top teams going through, joined by the four third-placed teams with most points. This system encouraged boring, cagey football, with canny sides having one eye on the points table at all times, rather than simply setting out to win their matches. Now, however, thanks to the gradually improving standards of world football – due in no small part to globalisation, with most countries’ best players now playing in the world’s best leagues – Fifa have been able to go up to a Cup of 32 teams. This means that only the top two teams in each group go through, which in turn is making the football at the group stage much more competitive and interesting.

9 June. At the last World Cup the cameramen would often, when Brazil were playing, focus in on Ronaldo’s blonde girlfriend in the crowd. What we didn’t know, but is revealed in Alex Bellos’s terrific book about Brazilian football culture, Futebol (Bloomsbury, 256 pp., £9.99, 6 May, 0 74755 403 x), is that he went on to marry a different blonde, Milene Domingues, who had the distinction of being the Brazilian champion at keeping a ball bouncing in the air without touching the ground. Her record was 55,187 times over nine hours and six minutes. She married Ronaldo in 1999. ‘She became a particularly unconventional footballer’s wife not simply because she could enjoy kickabouts with her husband but because her close-to-body ball control was better than his.’

Things to worry about before the Nigeria game. 1. (again) the heat. The kick-off is mid-afternoon, and there’s no Sapporo Dome air-conditioning. 2. the precedent of Euro 2000. We went into the final game there also needing only a point, against a team, Romania, we thought we would beat without too much trouble. We had just beaten a team we hadn’t beaten since 1966 and were on a resulting high. On Wednesday we need a point against a team we should beat and are on a high from beating a team we haven’t beaten since 1966.

On the other hand, the Nigerians apparently haven’t yet been paid by their national association. That can’t be good.

11 June. France 0 Denmark 2. Ireland 3 Saudi Arabia 0. Hee hee. What smug twerps the French have been, both on the pitch and by not rebuilding the team after winning the Cup in 1998. They didn’t even look as if they were trying all that hard until the last half of this, the third game. A bit like not bothering to vote for Jospin say I.

John was watching the game in a local French café called Gastro. On the final whistle he commiserated with the owner. ‘Of course,’ shrugged M. le Patron, in a what-do-you-expect way, ‘most of the team play in England.’ Superb.

The Irish record in World Cup finals is a thing of smoke and mirrors, really, since in two tournaments they’ve only won one game – they’ve done as well as they have thanks to draws. So this result was a big deal; it’s very difficult to go into a game knowing you need a multi-goal win to be sure of going through. Wonder if Keane is still telling people that McCarthy is a crap manager.

Photographer came from a newspaper today. He is jaundiced about football thanks to the amount of time he has spent covering hooligan stories abroad. Talks about how horrible they are and how preferable it is being in a proper war zone (which he often is). He said one of his happiest moments during Euro 2000 was when the Belgian police waded into the English fans with water cannon, riot sticks etc. These are startling things to hear from such a quiet, decent, mild-mannered man. It would be truly wonderful if there were no trouble attached to England’s presence in this World Cup.

Current favourite names: Pape Bouba Diop, Stig Tofting, DaMarcus Beasley.

12 June. Nigeria 0 England 0. One of the strange things about football is that it can be simultaneously tense and boring. This game was close to unwatchable for the degree to which it was both. The England team visibly struggled in the heat and humidity. Saturday is awfully close for their next match. Still, at least the Argies are out, and we should – should – beat Denmark. And they will have almost a week to get ready for Brazil on the subsequent Friday.

Sir Alex Ferguson, before the tournament, was saying obnoxious Scottish things about wanting Argentina to win because he wanted Verón to vindicate himself after his disastrous season at Manchester United. In the end Verón was a joke, and if Sir Alex thinks the English press have been unfair to him he should swot up on Spanish and take a look at what they’re writing about him in Argentina. Nobody likes admitting being wrong but with successful football managers this approaches a pathology. Partly I suppose this reflects the intensity with which they hate the press. I’ll never forget the atmosphere of the post-game press conferences when I used to write match reports – electric with animosity and anticipation. The managers, straight out of the dressing room, would try to say as little as possible, all too aware that nothing good could happen to them in front of the press; the only meaningful event that could take place was for them to let something slip which would then be plastered all over the back pages.

Rio Ferdinand had another huge game. He was in Japan on a post-season tour with Leeds last June when a loony ran amok in a school and stabbed 23 children, of whom eight died. Ferdinand is from Peckham, where Damilola Taylor was murdered, and spoke prominently about that, so he and Alan Smith went to the school to express their condolences. This is exactly the kind of thing that English footballers tend not to do, so good for him. This was his first time back to Osaka since then.

Mulling over what the photographer said about hooligans, it occurred that part of what is so awful about them is that occasions like this are supposed to be the most benign form of nationalism. It is nationalism in homeopathic doses. So people who take it as a good opportunity to hurt and frighten foreigners are being not just stupid and malign but are trying to kill an idea, the notion that we wave our flag without hating people who wave a differently-coloured one.

Conversation at home:

M: When’s that Martin Amis book coming out, the one about Stalin being a bad man?

Me: Not sure. A Waterstone’s bloke told me he’d seen it in some list and it had one of those one-word titles.

M: Stalinbad.

14 June. Last games of the first round, and the show goes on with South Korea and Japan going through at the top of their groups. Neither group was all that hard, but still it’s pretty amazing, and you would have got astonishing odds on this set of results two weeks ago. John points out that teams with conspicuously long hair have been big losers: the Argies, the French, the Portuguese.

Try to watch some of the cricket from Old Trafford today, but it’s completely ruined by the rain. By 4.30 they have played only 13 overs – about an hour’s cricket. This is underrated as a reason for the game’s current lack of popularity. In the last six years I’ve had tickets to Lord’s for one day each season, but have twice missed the whole day because of rain. That said, I was also present at the most extraordinary day in the history of Lord’s, the Friday of the West Indies test in 2000, when 21 wickets fell on the day and part of all four innings were played in one day for the first time in more than a century of Test cricket. But people just aren’t prepared to invest the time, not least because, as with all investment, there is a risk of total loss. I love cricket, and watch Test matches on telly whenever they’re on, but I live a mile and a half from the Oval, where the best county team in England play, and in the four years we’ve been here I’ve never gone to see them once. I’d rather have it on the telly in the background, and tune in and out as the game changes.

Alex Bellos has a chapter on different football variants in Brazil, including a type played with a giant ball and cars – ‘autoball’ – and a version of five-a-side which was livened up by letting a bull loose in the middle of the field. This game was called Footbull. Perhaps the MCC should let some bulls loose at Old Trafford.

Look up the real title of ‘Stalinbad’ on Amazon. It turns out to be called Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million. Hmm.

15 June. England 3 Denmark 0. England are good, Denmark are very weak, and make mistakes which are instantly converted into England goals. It looks as if we may be benefiting from having been in such a tight, competitive group; our concentration is visibly better. Owen and Heskey both score, and all our goals are from open play, just as I knew they always would be.

Seven baldies: Mills, Ferdinand, Campbell as before, plus Dyer (fashion), Tofting (male pattern baldness), Gravesen (ditto), Bogelund (ditto). Tofting and Gravesen look so alike, and so thuggish, that they have been compared to the Mitchell brothers in Eastenders.

In the afternoon we go to a wedding in Covent Garden. The whole area is full of pissed-up England fans, all of them happy, but in a loud and drunk and aggressively extrovert way which does not feel all that far removed from violence – and certainly, if Denmark had won, would have been distinctly menacing. On our way to the reception after the service, a group of fans outside a pub notice our hats and frocks and general post-wedding demeanour and begin singing ‘Denmark’s going home’ at us. The fact that we have obviously just been to a wedding seems to have made us, in some hard-to-define but nonetheless very real sense, Danish.

16 June. Ireland are heartbreakingly unlucky to lose on penalties to Spain. The Spanish team are technically skilful but they stop playing after going 1-0 up and Ireland are the better team for most of the game and extra time. The Swedish ref looks like a ski instructor but has a very good game, with the bottle to award two penalties to the Irish, both deserved, including the overdue first one this tournament for shirt-pulling. But when it comes to the shoot-out the Irish miss three penalties. Woe, woe . . .

I watch the game at John’s because this is where I watched the last Ireland game, which they won. So it immediately became a superstition that I had to go to his for Ireland games. Jackie was in the room when Ireland scored so she then had to stay there for the rest of the game because she had demonstrated that she was good luck. Owing to the tension she stood by the door for the penalty shoot-out and that is probably why Ireland lost.

England games, on the other hand, I have to watch on my own, because that was how I watched the Argentina game, and the method proved its efficacy when we beat Denmark. As a tournament like this progresses you develop more and more superstitions. If your team has a long run, by its end you’ve practically invented a whole new religion. There are no atheists on sofas.

17 June. Brazil 2 Belgium 0. Without being anywhere near as wonderful as they were in the earlier rounds, the Brazilians go through to set up Friday’s England v. Brazil game – which is great, since England v. Belgium would have been a bit of an anticlimax. So the competition’s best attack will come up against the competition’s best defence. It’s in the afternoon, which will help Brazil big-time.

Both Ronaldo and Ronaldinho have been playing in attack for Brazil. In Futebol Alex Bellos points out that Ronaldo was once himself known as Ronaldinho, because there was already another Ronaldo in the side, as well as a Ronaldão. When the current Ronaldinho came along, this could have meant that Brazil were fielding Ronaldão, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Ronaldinhozinho: big Ronald, normal-sized Ronald, little Ronald, and even littler Ronald. Instead the former Ronaldo dropped out, the new Ronaldo became Ronaldinho Gaúcho (after his place of origin), and the former Ronaldinho was promoted to Ronaldo, a title he still holds. All this is gripping. But what I want to know is, why are so many Brazilians called Ronald? Surely it can’t be anything to do with Ronnie Biggs? Or did he fit so easily into Brazil because it was already a country of many Ronalds?

At about six o’clock in the evening, the Test match that has been running since Thursday in a rain-affected, off-and-on, basically boring way, with England so on top that there was no real drama, suddenly becomes a thriller. Sri Lanka, batting out the day for a draw without great difficulty, suffer a mini-collapse, and then, at almost seven o’clock, an hour after the notional end of play, lose two wickets in two balls to set up a frenetic finish. England need 50 from 36 balls, which should be difficult under Test conditions, especially given that Sri Lanka have in Muralitharan the world’s best spin bowler. But Trescothick and Vaughan marmalise the Sri Lankan attack and win without trouble; a famous victory.

Four and seven-eighths days of tight, tense, dull cricket followed by ninety minutes of tortuously suspenseful climax. I’m not sure if this is what is great about Test cricket or what is wrong with it. Only two thousand people are at Old Trafford to see the end of the game – this on a day when play went on until 7.30, and admission to the ground was only £5 (as opposed to about five times that to see any Premiership side play football). There was plenty of time for people to pop over to watch some cricket after work, but they couldn’t be bothered. Now that is a problem.

18 June. Japan go out, narrowly, to Turkey, but their co-hosts South Korea go through, deliriously, against Italy, thanks to a golden goal three minutes from the end of extra time. The Italians tried to sit on a one-goal lead for most of the game, and then conceded an equaliser in the 88th minute. The commentators do a tremendous amount of sermonising about this old habit of theirs, how they deserved it, how they always do it, and so on. The odd thing about this talk is that it is true. The Italian national team does, historically, tend to sit on a lead and kill an important game, when they have the skill to go and win it. Many footballing traits have nothing to do with people’s real psychology, but in this case it does seem to me that a strain of caution in the Italian character comes out in this aspect of how they play footy. A pity for them, since it’s 20 years since they won the World Cup, and they have certainly had the talent to do better than that.

While I am spouting mad theories about national characteristics, I would like to expound here my theory that German sides’ tendency to win big games right at the end, and often unjustly, is connected with the way German speakers have to wait for the main verb at the end of a sentence, thus developing habits of patience and concentration. That characteristic German goal in the 80-oddth minute is a verb.

20 June. Saw the 1970 England v. Brazil game, famously the best ever played, on the Beeb last night. Fascinating for several reasons, one of them being the pace of the game, which was, by modern standards, exquisitely leisurely – and all the better for it. You could see the skill more clearly than you can in the modern game; it was less of a demolition derby. In those days a player would cover about four kilometres in a match. Now it’s around three times that. Broadly speaking, that means they had three times as much time. The other thing was how good England’s passing was, and their first touch; better than any England side since. The ideal thing with first touch is that it is so good you don’t even notice it. The ball comes to a player and bang, it’s under control. England in 1970 were like that, even players who are now remembered as cloggers, like my old hero Alan Mullery.

Yesterday, Surrey v. Glamorgan at the Oval set the following records: highest score by a team in a one-day game (438); highest aggregate score ever in a one-day game (867); highest ever individual score in a one-day game (268 by Alistair Brown, in 160 balls). It gets a mention in today’s papers, but barely. World Cup news has been on the front page of the Guardian almost every day; the victory over Sri Lanka was on the 12th page of the sports section.

As for tomorrow, I’m calmer than for any of the previous games, mainly because I don’t mind the thought of losing to Brazil. (No other national team in any other game has quite the same status as Brazil, the feeling that they incarnate the spirit of a particular game.) They have better players than we do; but it is possible that we are a better team.

David Beckham has flown his hairdresser out to Japan, allegedly because Victoria noticed that his mohican was looking scraggly. (As opposed, of course, to completely twuntish.) There is a theory that he is going to try out a whole new hairstyle for the Brazil game. I hereby predict that he won’t, because no footballer would be sufficiently unsuperstitious to change his ‘do in the middle of a winning run.

21 June. England 1 Brazil 2. I have been banging on about Seaman’s weakness over free-kicks for years. When I wrote match reports I saw him caught out a couple of times – and then there were things like Gazza’s free-kick in the 1991 Spurs v. Arsenal FA Cup semi-final, and Nayim’s goal from the halfway line in the 1995 Cup Winners’ Cup Final. And now he lets in an absolute lulu. Oh dear – I don’t much like Seaman, but he doesn’t deserve this. (But what does that mean? He let it in, after all. I suppose what I mean is, he doesn’t deserve to take all the blame for England’s exit. The other day I heard someone reply to one of the commentators, who had said a player ‘should have scored’: ‘No should about it, Ron.’)

A woman calls into a post-match phone-in and says that if Beckham or Owen had taken that free-kick, everyone would be going on about how it was the greatest piece of skill of all time. Which is true. The reality is that they were better than us, and showed it especially clearly when they were down to ten men. After the second goal, it was as if England suddenly and completely stopped believing in themselves; it took away their feeling that they could win.

NB Seaman had the longest hair of any England player. Brazil fielded only one baldie, the great Roberto Carlos at left back.

Remember what David said about sport: ‘I’m not interested, but I often wish I were, given that, as you know, the mind is always in pain.’

22 June. South Korea beat Spain on penalties, and Turkey beat Senegal with a golden goal. They go through to play Brazil and, surprise surprise, Germany in the semis. Wonder what odds you could have got three weeks ago on a Turkey v. South Korea final. There’s some conspiracy-theorising over the fact that Italy and Spain both had perfectly legitimate goals disallowed in their games against Korea. I go for the cock-up theory myself, since host countries don’t need bona fide corruption to be helped by referees; but this is an area where Fifa is damaged by its less-than-pristine reputation.

Franz Beckenbauer was unimpressed by the Germans’ performance against the USA: ‘if you put all the players in a sack and punched it, whichever player you hit would deserve it.’

See Mark in the evening and he disabuses me of any reasons for being cheerful about how England did and their prospects for Euro 2004 et seq. His main points are: 1. that we’ll never have such a clear-cut chance, 1-0 up against Brazil, with Argentina, France and Italy out; and 2. there’s no way of knowing how young players will develop, even when they look brilliant – Des Walker was a genius in the 1990 World Cup defence, exactly like Rio Ferdinand now, but he never again played anywhere near as well.

Mark also points out that there are only four matches left – and that includes the third/fourth place play-off. Waah.

24 June. Wimbledon begins today. Men’s tennis on grass courts died some years ago, when racket technology made the serves so fast the game was reduced to a bad cartoon of its former self. Today, a normal ‘rally’ consists of a service winner; a good ‘rally’ is one in which the service return gets back over the net and forces a volley, and if that volley is then returned, the exchange gets onto the Ten O’Clock News. It is less interesting than Iain Duncan Smith, or watching a bowl of mayonnaise curdle on a warm afternoon. And then there’s Henman, all traces of personality removed as if in a Swiss clinic, and replaced by his unspeakable self-celebrating fist-clench after every winning point. Imagine being forced to watch two whole weeks of this. I’d rather spend a fortnight trapped on a desert island with Dick Cheney.

25 June. South Korea go out 1-0 to Germany in a major snooze of a semi-final (unless of course you’re German or Korean). So the list of teams beaten by Germany on their way to the final is as follows: Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Paraguay, USA, South Korea. In terms of overcoming difficult resistance it’s not exactly Operation Barbarossa.

Ronaldo has had his hair shaved into a triangle at the front of his head. It looks deeply stupid. An article in the Evening Standard points out the growing facial resemblance between Anna Kournikova and Boris Yeltsin.

26 June. Impossible to imagine a more different 1-0 result than Brazil’s win over Turkey. It’s a thriller – not quite the ‘masterpiece’ which David Lacey in the Guardian says this tournament has lacked, but still a very good game. The Turks are vastly better than England were: consider the fact that after Brazil went down to ten men, England didn’t manage a single shot on goal. Mind you, Brazil could have won by a bigger margin if their forwards, especially Rivaldo, hadn’t taken the high-risk, high-glory route every time they were near goal, instead of passing to howling, raging, significantly-closer-to-goal colleagues. They’d better not do that against the Germans.

The final will be the first ever Brazil v. Germany game. Amazing that in seventy years of World Cup football the two teams who have dominated the competition have never played each other. Also, in this case it’s the most attractive team in the competition against the most boring. It’s your classic, never out-of-fashion clash of good v. evil. Like everybody else, I want Brazil to win, though this does bring back the memory of the 1974 final, West Germany v. The Netherlands, when I was the only person in a school of 500-odd to support the Germans (which I did as a fuck-off, connected with the fact that I was born in Hamburg). Now I want the same outcome everybody else does. This can only reflect a deterioration of the moral fibre. As Roy Keane was fond of telling his Ireland team-mates, ‘only dead fish swim with the current.’

30 June. Brazil 2 Germany 0. A good final – the best in a long time. Ronaldo scores two goals, thus winning the title of Golden Boot. There is no Silver or Bronze Boot.

I spend the night uncomfortably and semi-insomniacally, wondering what can replace the World Cup-shaped hole I now have in my life – on previous experience, the symptoms are a little like the Post-Holiday Blahs. Half-dreaming, and recycling conversations from earlier in the day about the Order of Merit and BB3 (that’s Big Brother Three), I suddenly have a brilliant idea. OMBB: Order of Merit Big Brother. All the members of the Order of Merit are put in the Big Brother house and are voted out one by one. The winner gets, I don’t know, made a saint, or something.

According to this week’s gossip e-mail from Popbitch (www.popbitch.com), Roy Keane’s dad is called Mossie, and lives in Cork. When his son sends him cash from England, he goes to the pub and spends it without bothering to exchange it into euros. This practice has earnt him the nickname Sterling Moss.