John Lanchester watches the World Cup

John Lanchester

After seeing his first ever English Football League match, a West German football journalist turned to me and dazedly asked: ‘Is this what you have to watch every week?’ He was referring to several things he couldn’t believe about the game – its maniacal tempo and hectic physicality, as well as its tactical simple-mindedness – but mostly he was referring to what he saw as an evident deficiency of skill, and hence interest. This aghast reaction was duplicated all over Europe after England’s 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland in Sardinia, during the first round of the World Cup. It was one of the most sterile games anyone had ever seen, at times almost hallucinogenic in its dullness, and for a lot of people it summed up the tactical and technical bankruptcy that has overtaken football in this country.

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