Immediately after the full-time whistle was blown on the FIFA 2010 World Cup final, a friend of mine said: “Alright, now we can get back to real football.”
You have to admit he has a point. The quality of football we’ve seen in this World Cup hasn’t exactly been YouTube material, and the final between Spain and the Netherlands was a good example of that. The only thing people will remember about the game 10 years from now will be how Netherlands tried to tackle the Spanish off the pitch.
Ask most hardcore football fans and they’ll tell you the World Cup is just a nice distraction every four years that makes the break in European club football – aka “real” football – a little less boring.
That’s because club football, with your Manchester Uniteds, Real Madrids and Inter Milans, is where the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney and all the other misfiring duds at the World Cup really come to life and display the kind of mind-blowing skills they’re truly capable of.
But though the tournament has been a little short on beautiful football, it has been full of awesome memories.
For starters, as much as we hate those friggin’ South African vuvuzelas, they’ve left a mark on popular culture as permanent as the ones they’ve had on my ear drums. It’s annoying, but nevertheless, a charming bit of local sporting culture that South Africans deserve to have their chance to toot their own horns about.
The horns have become such a cultural phenomenon that YouTube even had a vuvuzela button allowing users to watch all their videos with a background chorus of that now familiar din, which I thought was a really nice touch.
Actually, I have a funny feeling that when we watch our first English Premier League games on Aug 14, we’ll find something oddly missing from the audio … or maybe it won’t be missing at all. You know how many sad, sobbing and disgruntled England fans came back from South Africa, right?
And who can forget Paul the Octopus Oracle™, that creepily gifted cephalopod and bane of sports bookies around the world who will forever make us think twice about having a takoyaki?
As silly as the whole thing sounds, how many of you actually went to a World Cup screening in the last two weeks where there wasn’t a joke about Paul? That little tako ball has brought people together. And he does have a 100% record for World Cup 2010.
We should also remember this World Cup for the great job South Africa did in hosting it.
Before the tournament started, one of the comedians on British panel show Mock The Week made a quip that the World Cup news would sound something like: “On today’s injury list: Wayne Rooney has just been stabbed, and Gary Neville has been murdered.”
For all the jokes, and genuine worries, about safety in South Africa, this has to be one of the most incident-free World Cups ever. But maybe that has something to do with the England and Italy fans getting sent home so early too. Kudos to South Africa nonetheless.
The best memories for me however, would be – let me grab a tissue first – all the times me and my friends got together to watch the games.
I think this is the first time the World Cup has truly become available to everyone in Malaysia, be it on a 50” super space-age HD LCD TV that doubles as a decorative art-piece and microwave oven, or a tiny CRT box TV (remember those?) covered in grease at the mamak stall down the street.
I’ve only experienced four World Cups since I started watching football, starting with France 1998 (that’s how young I am =P), but I can still see how more and more people are getting in to the game thanks to technology.
And it wasn’t just on TV; a lot of people on Twitter were gushing daily about the World Cup. I was assigned to do live commentary on our R.AGE Twitter (twitter.com/thestar_rage), and it was great because you get people discussing the games live with other users, who could’ve been half way around the world for all we know.
R.AGE deputy editor Niki Cheong and journalist Nasa Maria Entaban were in Poland and Japan respectively, and they tweeted about what the atmosphere was like watching the games there. Nasa watched the Japan vs Paraguay match in Tokyo (where the valiant Blue Samurai were knocked out on penalties), and she talked about how emotional the Japanese got on Twitter.
These are the kind of things we tend to take for granted today. Back in their day, my dad and his brothers only got to watch a few of the big games on RTM, and if they missed it somehow, they didn’t have anything like the 24-hour repeats we have today. You wouldn’t be able to “vuvuzela” it on YouTube either.
For my dad, who grew up in the old “gangsta” village of Jinjang, Kuala Lumpur, being able to be a football fan in itself was a luxury, one that provided a welcome measure of escape from the difficult life he and his family had, even if it was as rare as a football telecast every once a year or so.
But as cliched as it sounds, that’s really the effect football can have on people. I’m sure a lot of you are already missing the excitement, the friendly teh tarik banter, the little side-bets, or that sense of anticipation knowing you’ll be meeting up with a few friends after work or class to watch a game together.
So it’s not always about watching superstar footballers turn on the style. As much as it is a privilege to watch great players doing their thing, it is an even a greater one just to be part of a beautiful game that unites people from around the world.
And that, for me, is what REAL football is all about.