The first World Cup of football I watched with my young sons may have changed everything.
It certainly changed what we do every Saturday morning. We were hooked. One son hooked on scoring goals, the other on naming every flag on a world cup ball I scored at the bottlo.
When I say football I mean the foot-only code, the beautiful game, “soccer”. The game that can induce, just as easily, euphoria and disgust, as whole nations sweat all game to see not a single goal.
Sure, mix FIFA with Russia and you get a one-two corruption combination for the ages. Perhaps the only thing more farcical is playing it in 50 degree heat in Qatar next time round.
In fact, guess who is Vlad Putin’s special guest for the World Cup? Yep, disgraced former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, who is serving a six-year suspension following FIFA corruption revelations in 2015.
And I know, Russian anti-government journalists get killed on a regular basis and the nation’s laws include a homophobic ban on “gay propaganda” (i.e. preaching inclusion).
Yep, kids’ fingers are right now busy stitching souvenir Russia 2018 balls somewhere in a south Asian sweatshop so they can be fed into the gaping maw of Western consumerism.
On-field we see grown men collapse into faked paralysis from a finger on their elbow, while on the streets outside others bash each other senseless.
Why in the world would the world care so much?
Well, there’s the colour and the pageantry, the flags, and the players’ kits.
The World Cup’s history means many of these matchups have deep stories of devastation and triumph feeding their narrative.
There’s the geopolitical joy of watching now-independent nations take on their former colonial masters.
Watching major events in public with strangers and sharing your common joy is a beautiful thing.
And getting up at unsociable hours to wrap up in doonas and watch games with some close mates or family is a ritual with its own appeal, one you don’t forget.
But mostly, it’s the game. Oh, the game.
It’s the skills, the drama, the precision. The heartbreaking failures, the genius of teamwork, and the sheer brilliance of an individual who can turn a match on its head.
Commentator Martin Tyler said it best, in May 2015. It’s the second leg and Barcelona were trying for a miracle Champions League comeback against Munich. The incomparable Lionel Messi, with a lightning crossover, had just buried Jerome Boateng in a shallow grave inside the area, then at full speed found an improbable angle to chip the great Manuel Neuer and bring hope to Catalonia.
First Tyler exulted, then he fell silent, and then he nailed it: “Only football can make you feel like this.”
So, Australia to surprise everyone by drawing 2-2 with France, who I would pick as the eventual champion, were it not for the power and brains of Germany, who will probably make fools of us all.
But don’t listen to me. No sooner had I picked Kylian Mbappe to be the player of the tournament than he went down with an ankle injury at training this morning.
Which raises an interesting philosophical question: if a soccer player cops an injury in training, with no referee to see it, does he make a sound?
We know this World Cup won’t have the scenic joy of Brazil. Or the wretched din of the 2014 vuvuzelas. But Russia has anointed the “Spoons of Victory” as its “official noisemakers” for fans.
And it will have the beautiful game.