Fighting through June humidity to conquer inevitable lethargy. It certainly affected the writing this weekend, which slithered into a wall like the plague of slugs at our door, hit a barrier of salt and melted into yellow crud.
Fortunately, I seemed to find some resolve by yesterday evening, and battered out 750 words in the chess novella. But there is a new, rather major , and perplexing distraction. The World Cup.
I’ve had a strange relationship with football over the years, and despite my proclamations that I wasn’t interested this time around, and I didn’t care, I soon found myself sucked in.
Why? I hate footballers – they are a bunch of pandered-to, thunderingly overpaid, vain, aggressive, borderline rapists (going purely by what you read in the papers; which are bastions of truth, of course). Most of them don’t seem to be interested in playing football, more in acting to try and con the referee, appealing for red cards, blaming each other – never mind what they get up to off the pitch. They seem to represent everything that is wrong with modern society – anti-role models for the consumerist generation. And don’t get me started on the fact that football is now dominated by big business, with clubs in the pockets of Russian oligarchs, season tickets costing the better part of a year’s salary and advertising ubiquitous to the point of nausea. Football’s importance elevated to absurd proportions.
And then there’s football fans – the majority of whom I have no doubt are fine upstanding folk, but there are a minority, impossible to ignore, who are a bunch of loutish, belligerent thugs and drop any good-natured atmosphere down into a mire of violence and bigotry. Growing up in Glasgow, a stone’s throw from Hampden Park, and above two pubs, I witnessed more than my fair share of the dark side. Seeing Rangers and Celtic fans in the city centre, charging each other en masse, replete with broken bottles and knives is an image I’d sooner forget.
So, why watch the world cup? Apart from 1990, I’ve watched every WC since 1978. I can’t pull myself away from it, and it’s all down to the typical childhood experienced by so many boys. When I was a boy, football was omnipresent. All of my friends played it. Every single day at school, we would play two, maybe three times, and then after school a kickabout in the park or the street, or on the cobbled back alley behind my house amongst the bins, head-high weeds and broken glass. We lived and breathed it. Everywhere I went, my football came with (the mythic unburstable ball), dribbled up the pavement, bounced off the walls. A constant commentary played in my brain – one world-cup winning run on goal after another.
1982 was the year that sealed it. I do recall the 1978 World Cup, ‘on the march wi’ Ally’s army’ and all that. But I was only 7 years old. Espana ’82 was the one that started it all; was the reason why I’m sitting writing this blog entry with Brazil – North Korea on the TV in front of me. It was the colourful pageantry of it; the Panini sticker album collection; the thrill of watching Scotland score against Brazil. And after all those school playground half-hours and lost summer afternoons tackling and passing and calling for the ball – trying and imagining you were replicating the style and athleticism of real football players. All this long before the cynicism of adulthood, and before the full corporate takeover of the game, was enough to keep some of the magic of childhood locked away in there, so that every time I watch the World Cup, a tiny pocket of that life returns to me.
Epitomised by our mini-tournament, played between a handful of local schools – would’ve been summer 1983 – which we won. And, perhaps it is down to a photo I have of that day (combined with the rose-tint of nostalgia) – all of us celebrating our win, but it brings back the feeling of camaraderie and the dirt and scuffed shoes, the sweat and joy, the raw emotion of it – the best form of time travel. Going back to days that seemed carefree and simple (even if that was never really the case).
I just have to peel away the layers of prejudice that have built up over the years, and find myself on the grass of Maxwell Park, in a fine Glasgow drizzle, kicking for goal. Then I understand why I watch it. It’s the hypocrisy of adulthood – where one can profess great morality and rectitude of purpose, but actions are coloured by childhood, by one’s formative experiences. And little affects like the emotion of youth.
Justification for wasting time, when I could be writing? Well, I am writing this while watching football, and it’s only once every four years…