I have a strange relationship with football in the way I have a strange relationship with many things (politics, religion, other people) There are just too many aspects of my life, personality and values that lead me to be snobbish about the game (I think there’s a lot of homophobia in football, for example, there’s a lot of bad behaviour, an obscene amount of money, the list goes on…)
In fact, I am one of those irritating spoilsport types who sees football stadiums in the middle of the Brazilian jungle and wonders if the money might not have been better spent on schools, hospitals, prisons, employment programmes? I guess I’m not the girl you want to be sitting next to when 11 young men with skinny chests and over-sized calves take to the field and give their all for King and country.
But it’s in the blood isn’t it? I’m English and England runs on two things, football and television. They are both inescapable. And I’m from a typically English football-watching family. Saturday afternoons were spent listening to the scores come in, Sunday dinners were organised around the Sunday kick off, Monday nights the same. Wednesday was European night, sometimes Thursday too. My mother even watches schoolboy football, which means when the schoolboys grow up and become England captains she says things like: “He tackled like that when he was 15 too.”
I don’t think my parents have been to a match since our local team went bankrupt and the ground was paved over to make way for a shopping mall (some things you never get over) but it probably made them worse. Steal someone’s football club from under their nose and all they will do is replace it with several other favoured teams, dividing their passion equally, because you can never really replace your first love.
So, like most English people, I grew up with football and I have been absorbed into this World Cup whether I like it or not and, of course, it’s strange because here I am in Colombia. Watching England. In Colombia. And it’s uncomfortable.
Do you know what the Colombians did? Before the World Cup? They got all their players in a stadium, got all together in their yellow shirts and gave them a standing ovation. They were basically dispatched to Brazil with a hug and a kiss, ten thousand times over. I wonder how the England team departed. Probably with the door slammed in their faces and a screech of: “If you don’t win, don’t bother coming back.”
Everyone in Colombia has found a way to support their team. The proliferation of yellow shirts is definitely helped by the number of cheap, fake shirts available but, even so, when even the dogs are wearing Colombia colours, you’ve got to think you are doing something right. That’s a hell of a lot of love.
When Colombia take to the pitch, the difference is obvious there too. Colombian commentators say things like: “Colombia. Our beloved national team. All of Colombia is with you. We love you. We loooooove you.” (Seriously. In the middle of the game. They say stuff like that and Colombians cheer)
Our commentators say things like: “England are definitely the second best side here,” and “Well, it could be that England are facing a long journey home,” even when there are still 15 minutes left to play and anything can happen. If it weren’t for the accent, you would think they supported the other side. I doubt we’ve ever told our national team we love them. Can you imagine a show of such collective affection? It would be unthinkable.
England fans and Colombia fans are like the stereotypical parents of old. Colombia is the mother who loves, loves and loves some more. She says: “Do your best whatever.” She celebrates every victory and plays down every failure. England, on the other hand, is the stern Victorian father. He demands success, he scolds and beats, he shows no affection. He nods when things are done well. He is silent when things are done badly.
I’m exaggerating, of course, but sometimes I do feel bad for “our boys”. I’ve seen how different it can be. When a Colombian defender makes a mistake, forcing a fellow defender – even the keeper – to produce a panicked save or clearance, Colombians clap and cheer the save or the clearance and congratulate themselves on a danger averted. England fans turn to each other and say: “Who was the idiot who gave that ball away?”
It’s really no wonder they lose. If I was Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney and I’d hauled my ass to the heart of the Brazilian jungle, following a gruelling professional season, leaving my wife and kids at home, I’d probably stick two fingers up at my home country. It’s bad enough they have 11 men to play against. They don’t need to take on another 53 million.
Yes, that’s simplistic. There are a million factors at play in football. But everything starts with the mind and it’s nice to know your nation is behind you (And your team-mates too, just look at the Colombian players choreographing that victory dance, subs included. Can you imagine Wayne wandering into Stevie’s hotel room and saying: “Alright mate, what steps are we planning for the team if we score? I mean, when we score?”)
My Colombian friends remember the darker side of Colombian football and remind me that it’s easy to get behind your side when they’re winning. And winning ain’t so great. Nine people died in Bogotá after the first Colombian victory and elated Colombians caused so much havoc, the Mayor of Bogotá has now made it illegal to sell alcohol on match day. That would never happen in England. We might not tell our boys we love ’em but we know how to lose graciously. And we would probably win graciously too. If we ever gave our lads a chance.
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.