Much like free alcohol and street magicians, World Cups do funny things to people. Every four years, the planet spends an entire month going a little bit doolally.
We couldn’t tell you how deranged Lima is right now or to what level of unhinged Dakar might be. Or even how berserk Rabat currently is. But we know how barmy things are getting around here (quite).
Incidents tend to occur that just don’t at any other time. We’re talking about the symptoms of World Cup Fever. We’re about to experience a global pandemic and none of us have been inoculated. That’s the metaphor we’ve gone for in this introduction and we’re sticking by it.
Here are 13 things that only happen during a World Cup...
1. Being patriotic doesn’t feel *that* weird
For a few glorious weeks, it’s okay to be truly proud of being English. Sure, it’s fine to take pride in hailing from Albion for the other 47 months too, but normally that whole St. George’s flag-waving carry on suggests you might be the sort of bloke who corners people by fruit machines and starts tedious one-way conversations with such classic openers as, “I’m not a racialist, but…”
We’ve all got an entire month where we can wear England shirts and sing Vindaloo with as much gusto as we like without people thinking you’re the kind of folk that have a deep-seated fear of those Muslamic ray guns that you get nowadays.
2. You’ll watch a game so terrible it’ll make you question your sanity
World Cup 2014. Japan vs. Greece. A game that kicked off at 11pm on a Thursday night. Knackered, you made it through 84 turgid minutes before realising that no matter what happened in those final six minutes – a Georgios Samaras overhead kick from 25 yards, Kensuke Honda choke-slamming the referee through the turf, Jose Holebas mutating into a goose and serenely flying out of the stadium – nothing could’ve made the last hour and a half worth it.
A similar thing could be said about Iran’s stalemate against Nigeria in the very same tournament, as well as the entire sodding squib that was South Africa 2010. Skip back further to 2006 and Switzerland’s no score bore draw with Ukraine was so dull it seemed like it had to be some kind of clever, satirical art installation destined to later be played on a loop on a two-storey high screen for a month at the Tate Modern.
3. You’ll watch a game so incredible it’ll make you question your sanity
On the flip side, you will witness 90 minutes of phenomenal sporting excellence so damned entertaining it could make a grown man weep.
1994’s Romania 3-2 Argentina, 1998's Argentina 1-2 Netherlands, 2010's Ghana 1-1 Uruguay (with Uruguay winning 4-2 on penalties), 2014’s Germany 7-1 Brazil and Spain 1-5 Netherlands… These games all reheated our cold, cynical hearts. God bless football.
4. Fair weather fans rear their ugly heads
Bless ‘em, they mean well. And, provided they’re honest about the depth of their knowledge - great. Bandwagon types should be welcomed into the pub and educated.
And there’s no one group better equipped to do just that than you and your endlessly knowledgeable mates, all wise sages with impeccable viewpoints and a deep cultural and historical understanding of The Beautiful Game. In return, maybe the football novice just buys you all a couple of pints, eh? Seems a fair trade.
It’s the ones that try to blag it that you need to watch out for. Copying things they’ve heard other people say, spouting outdated nonsense, moaning about ‘too many foreigners’ during the bloody Argentina vs. Iceland game. Basically your dad.
5. It’s perfectly acceptable to start leaving work whenever you like
You don’t need to work in HR to know that during a World Cup it’s absolutely fine to walk out in the middle of doing something at 2.30pm on a Tuesday afternoon because it’s Peru vs. Denmark in half an hour and you’ve got a fiver on Christian Eriksen to bag first.
Because all that happens to those fools who diligently stay in work is they email a bunch of people who won’t respond because they’re all at the pub, knee deep in Peru v Denmark.
6. It’s perfectly acceptable to burn effigies of innocent 23-year-old men in the street
It’s not fair to lay the blame for England’s collective failure solely on the shoulders of one poor kid who tried his hardest. But that second-choice full-back’s missed penalty sent us out and the only way he’ll learn and grow from the experience is if we all lose our minds as a nation and systematically dismantle him for slightly miskicking a ball once. Because it’s the Middle Ages apparently and we’ve got an insatiable and macabre blood lust to satisfy.
7. Suddenly, footballs stop being made properly
Footballs. Spheres made of vulcanised rubber covered in synthetic leather. They’re pretty standard and they all behave pretty much the same when kicked. Except when it’s World Cup time and FIFA decide to introduce a ‘new ball’.
To all intents and purposes, a pretty ropey bit of kit.
2010 was perhaps the zenith when it came to carping about the way the
corner shop floater Adidas Jabulani moved in the air. But that’s just the latest in ball-based controversy. The football world has moaned about the official ballon since the sixties when the Custodio Zamora ‘Crack’ caused a stir because of its ‘uneven panel distribution’. 2002’s Fevernova was called ‘that crazy bouncing ball’ by Gianluigi Buffon, while four years later the Teamgeist was deemed too unpredictable to, well, predict.
This year’s Adidas Telstar 18 has caused no beef as yet. But that’ll all change the first time a free kick with a bit of swerve goes in. Then watch it kick off. Literally and metaphorically.
8. You consider buying a £75 Colombia shirt out of misguided excitement
Normally you’d consider fifteen quid as ‘a bit pricey’ for a t-shirt. But when the World Cup comes around and the competing nations’ shirts get released, you go all giddy and think it’ll make you look exactly like James Rodriguez. Tight, brightly-coloured polyester shirts are not a good look on paunchy office workers from Reading. Don’t do it.
9. A bang average player gets a big money move because he has 3 decent games
Pundits love the phrase ‘shop window’, don’t they? And there’s no bigger shop window than a World Cup. For your middling journeyman, however, it’s the golden ticket. Simply string a few decent performances together against some Championship standard opposition, catch beady Big Sam’s eye and bag that dream move to a provincial Premier League outfit.
REMEMBER THE NAME!
10. You become obsessed with a country you've never thought about before because you pull them in the office sweepstake
"Mate. Did you know that Serbia has excellent natural and climatic conditions for all sorts of different agricultural production? Yeah, it actually has over five million hectares of agricultural land, of which nearly 3,300,000 hectares is arable. Plus, they're one of the largest exporters of frozen fruit to the rest of Europe."
11. Co-commentators unconvincingly tell us all about players they’ve never heard of
Martin Keown, Danny Murphy - we’re looking at you. There’s something almost heartening about Mark Lawrenson’s unique brand of nihilistic disinterest in the gantry, isn’t there? But your Murphys and your Keowns… There’s nothing cute about listening to them being wrong about something for the fourth time in five minutes.
Worst of all, though? They’ll roll out some stat or pony opinion they’ve clearly nicked from Wikipedia or Twitter.
"He should be doing better from there for me, Reza, er, Ghoochannejhad. Who, um… represented Iran at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and is the seventh highest all-time goalscorer for Iran with a total of 17 international goals. Citation needed."
12. Unrelated product branding goes MENTAL
Come on… There’s no excuse for this kind of palaver, is there?
If PES made condiments.
13. You’ve finally got something to talk about enthusiastically with people you’ve otherwise got nothing in common with
“Up to much this weekend?” “Get up to much last weekend?” “Up to much this week...?”
Talking to other people is often a quite dreadful and unavoidable chore. Not so when it’s World Cup time, though. People at work, shopkeepers, that bloke you said hello to on the train once about a year ago and now you have to make polite conversation with him every time you see him, which seems more than should be statistically likely… Even if they’re not football fans, most people will be following events in Russia. So you’ll have something to chat about. At last!
“Get up to much thi-” “SAUDI ARABIA EGYPT THREE ALL DID YOU SEE THAT MADNESS THAT SCREAMER FROM FORTY YARDS INCREDIBLE I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE THAT RED CARD THAT’LL START A WAR THAT WHAT WAS HE THINKING ETC ETC ETC…”
Yup, World Cup Fever is a Helluva disease. The only known cure? A disappointing Quarter Final penalty shootout defeat. So us England fans should be alright, then.
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