I can’t remember the last time I was so uninspired in the run-up to a football World Cup. Maybe it’s because I’m in the middle of planning a wedding and making sure I don’t return from our honeymoon unemployed.
However, that was before last night. First, wor lass got me to stick together the World Cup wallchart from the Metro and put it up on the spare room door. Then once I sat down for the last few minutes of preview and finally the opening game, Brazil v Croatia, I was well up for it. It was an interesting game, especially in the period when Croatia led, before Brazil’s sheer quality won through.
During the game I was following opinions on Twitter. As I follow a lot of rugby fans, I found plenty of good banter. Stuff like “Come on ref, that went out on the full”, “Why is he letting so many forward passes go?”, “England playing New Zealand on Sat morning and Italy on Sat night, Lancaster will need that strength in depth”, “Croatia deserve at least a losing bonus point” and my personal favourite: “Must have been a heck of a fight in the first half, both teams already down to 11 men!”
Oh, I forgot the contribution from a Bath fan: “Watching Brazil v Croatia is like watching Glawster RFC – both teams struggling to play anything resembling rugby.” I guess you could put a lot of teams’ names in there – the Falcons, certainly.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun and games. There were a few cynical posts, like “Football: 90 minutes of pretending to be injured. Rugby: 80 minutes of pretending not to be injured”, and all the talk of waiting for a dive. Well, the latter weren’t disappointed when Fred took a tumble for Brazil’s penalty, and my timeline reflected the cynics’ joy. They, like me, presumably also weren’t impressed by several Croatian defenders embarrassing themselves by surrounding the referee after he gave the penalty, as if they had ever once in their careers seen a referee change his mind under pressure.
My counter was: “I’m waiting for an eye gouge so Nigel Owens can run on and say ‘Come on lads, this isn’t rugby’”.
It reminded me of reading a blog on the Saracens v Northampton Premiership final last week, an absolutely superb game and top level sport at its very best. At least twice in the blog, the writer mentioned football – booing from fans was one cause. It might have been three times if he had noticed, as another tweeter had, that one of the Northampton players apparently made a TMO gesture at the referee after one of Saracens’ touchdowns. Sporting? Gentlemanly?
Then of course there was that punch on Tom Youngs by Silesi Ma’afuin the semi-final. The two players had banter about it on Twitter afterwards, and for many that seemed to make it alright. I agree that Youngs showed himself to be a top bloke with his reaction, but it was still a clear punch to the face. Can we accept that, as long as the assailant and victim later laugh about it on Twitter?
You don’t see that too often in the football Premier League. Nor do you see referees being pushed deliberately. When Paolo Di Canio pushed a referee back in the late nineties he was banned for twelve matches, twice as long as Kieran Brookes was this year.
Football has its problems – foul-mouthed fans and a minority of players diving. abusing referees and misbehaving in public – but rugby is not perfect. Dwarf-tossing, anybody? I have been watching football longer than rugby, and I have never met a football fan who carries a rugby ball-shaped Harry Ramsdens packet on his shoulder, but I’ve known plenty of people who are the other way around.
Is it really necessary? Can we not just live and let live, and if you don’t have anything nice to say, not say anything at all?
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)