Shrill World Cup memories this year

14:39, June 24, 2010      

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I'm really enjoying this World Cup - even though, as an Englishman, I haven't seen much to cheer about from my team or any hint that Capello's boys will end up lifting the trophy.

In fact, England have been about as useful as a feather jockstrap - but hope springs eternal.

I console myself by reflecting that I am not alone in pinning my hopes on a lackluster team - several other nations have also under-performed.

Italy being held by New Zealand to a one-all draw has got to go down as one of the lowest points in Italian football, while Germany losing out to Serbia was another shocker. And, after the dysfunction in the French dressing room, that saw a players' training-ground strike follow a run of poor form, well few of us expats can be happy with our teams right now when we gather around our Beijing TV sets.

Nevertheless, I can't stop watching the greatest show on earth because, whether the football is sublime or ridiculous, the competition that comes around every four years is not to be missed and can never be forgotten.

For those of us who watch the tournament in each new incarnation, it becomes a sort of milestone by which to measure our lives.

I was a one-year-old in 1966 when England won the World Cup and my dad assures me he plonked me in front of the telly for the final, a classic encounter with West Germany that I got to watch again on the silver screen in my school 10 years later when England's legendary manager, Alf Ramsey, visited us for a motivational talk. We all cheered him when he arrived as if he had won the cup that morning.

Other World Cups have left their mark.

I was a schoolboy in 1978 when the whole class was allowed to listen to the final on the radio during a geography lesson and I can still remember Argentina scoring on their way to the title and the BBC playing a snatch of the Argentine coverage in which the commentator screamed the longest "Goaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!" in history.

Four years later, I was a snotty nosed punk rocker when England beat France in such style, as they leapt out of the group stage, that I got something pierced by way of celebration.

And my poor sister was silly enough to get married in 1990 in the middle of the World Cup and had to suffer the indignity of all the men slipping away to huddle around a TV set. We watched England lose in the semi-final to West Germany and wept, along with the heartbroken Paul Gacoigne.

In 1994, I was camping out in the Canadian backwoods and somehow managed to find a radio so I could listen to Brazil beat Italy on penalties.

Each World Cup has left indelible memories.

And this one will be no different.

Hopefully, the memories that will last the test of time from 2010 will be the ones in which I am sitting in a pavement skewer-eatery, drinking beer and watching the games surrounded by Chinese people displaying a love of football that I had not previously known existed.

Or maybe, 20 years from now, I will remember 2010 as the World Cup where people in my community sat up late, outside, on hard wooden chairs around a table-top made from an old door and a massive old TV set. Where bare-chested men and elderly women, with dogs at their feet, swatted mosquitoes and shared a laugh under the light of the street lamps.

Beijing has given me plenty of lovely World Cup memories but I'm worried that 2010 might stand out in my mind as the World Cup in which the monotonous vuvuzela horn killed the singing and party atmosphere typical of the four-year fiesta and replaced it with the din of a giant beehive.

I was starting to hate those plastic horns until I read in METRO last week that 90 percent of the ones sold in South Africa had been made in China - specifically at five factories in Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces.

With China unfortunately failing to qualify for the tournament this time around and with Chinese people so clearly loving the beautiful game, it was great to read that the country is not completely missing out on the party - in fact it is benefiting hugely by getting a direct economic benefit at a time when many factories have scaled back operations because of the economic downturn.

Now, when I hear the sound of the vuvuzelas, I'm trying not to hate them but remind myself instead that I'm hearing the sound of money pouring into the country.

With a little luck, in 20 years time, when I look back on a lifetime of World Cups, the vuvuzelas will have faded from my memory.

Hopefully, the ringing in my ears will have faded by then as well.

Source: China Daily(By Earle Gale)


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