And so it is over. The bunting and the flags can be stashed away in a box for four more years. The sticker books, the Sonderhefts and the wallcharts with all of those false and faulty predictions scrawled out inaccurately on them can join them there in ignominy. The replica shirts from countries that you had the slightest, but apparently most meaningful, of connections to can go into a pile under the bed, occasionally to come out for the yearly five-a-side. And the normal, boring routines of life can return.
The endless conversations in bars with strangers will fall silent once again as the world has nothing more to talk about. The nods and grunts and acknowledgements over goals scored and penalties missed with men and women about whom you know nothing other than who they briefly, tangentially supported are over. For four more years. Four more years. It sounds as ominous as it did when Dick Nixon’s cronies and fans chanted it at his election in 1972. That rhyming refrain going around in my head hurts. Even though my liver could use a break and the cat as had enough of the fireworks, four more years seems like too long. I will miss the World Cup.
That the victorious German players managed to cap their fully deserved, and often breathtaking win with a slightly boorish and lumpen celebration at the Brandenburg Gate that revelled a touch too much in their vanquishing of others and not in their own, impeccable and often dignified, success doesn’t take too much of the shine off any of it because this wasn’t even about them (and I appreciate the contradictions inherent in this statement). Yes, the World Cup is still about winners and losers, it is still about good guys and bad guys. But it is as much about us as it is them. To enjoy the theatre one doesn’t have to love all the actors. Just to recognise what their roles are. The players are merely a part of the show.
And if we are looking for moral leadership, to focus our gaze onto a group of young, motivated millionaires, at the top of their professions, for whom an almost socio-pathological drive towards success is necessary to succeed, is probably to look in the wrong place.
I understand the arguments about the fears of nationalism and certainly share many of them. I understand that FIFA are an organisation run by a man who makes Nixon look like Santa Claus. I understand that the host nation have been ran roughshod over by a quasi-criminal organisation whose refusal to pay taxes there is tantamount to a smash and grab of heroic proportions, and that is is that country’s poorest who are screwed over the most.
Yes, I understand all of this. But still I can see something at the minutest of levels. Millions of people across the world revelled in the success of Costa Rica, and had their prejudices challenged in a fundamental way about this tiny nation which a month ago they would never have been able to place on a map. The world has slightly changed. More of its people know about Colombia and Ghana and even the USA. I consider myself lucky to have been involved in these snippets of conversations with strangers, in those unspoken moments of joy and anguish. I consider myself lucky to have learnt a little more about humanity. For good and ill.
I consider myself proud that I remain absolutely against nationalism of any kind, but can appreciate the differences amongst us all. And this has little to do with borders arbitrarily drawn on maps many years ago. People are often petty and bad winners. We are often ignorant and bad losers. But there is a universality that can be brought out in the silent majority who aren’t revelling in the glory of their nation but in the joyousness of the festival, of the party, of those ever-stretching, multi-faceted and para-lingual conversations.
I overheard a woman in a barber’s describing to the Turkish hairdresser half her age about listening to the 1954 World Cup final on the radio. They were engrossed. Their countries of origin or residence had little to do with anything and they both admitted that they weren’t football fans apart from every four years. I could have listened to them talk for hours.
In Berlin, this glorious mess of a city, the silent majority watched those goals, those misses, those tears and those injuries. They were sucked in by the beauty and the grandeur of the occasion and I loved every second of it. But now I suppose I will just have to wait for four more years.