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So it’s World Cup time, as you might possibly have noticed. Here is the thing: I don’t care about football. Or, more specifically: if I was going to care about football, it would make a whole lot more sense to play it myself than to watch it on TV. In fact, football was the only sport I found enjoyable when I was growing up – inspired, I suppose, by my dad and brother’s passion for the game – but as I approached adolescence, I quit trying to join in games with boys at youth clubs due to their tedious sexism, and not many girls seemed interested in playing it, and it was on the agenda at school maybe once a year, if I was lucky. And so that was the end of it.
Football is cast as a universal game, and it is played all over the world, and has the capacity to break down barriers and to unite communities. But despite the sport’s supposed universality – and laudable attempts to rid British football of racism, homophobia, and sectarianism – media attention still focuses disproportionately on men, and there’s a long, long way to go before that is liable to change. This, then, together with my general lack of interest in being a spectator, is why it’s not my world.
But now, here in Berlin, it’s a bit hard not to get swept up in it all. Every tiny café and kebab shop has dragged an enormous wide-screen TV out into the street so that their customers can watch the match while they bake in the heat. There are flags everywhere, particularly attached to cars. I guess I got over my initial wariness at seeing so many German flags – a symbol that some experience as loaded due to its appropriation by far-right extremists – when I realised just how many people in my neighbourhood were flying them proudly alongside Turkish, Palestinian and other flags.
So then I found myself getting sucked into the World Cup too. Last weekend I went to a dinner party where they were showing the England vs USA match, but I didn’t go near the TV. The following evening, however, I was online when I heard a lot of cheers and car horns outside. I figured Germany had just beaten Australia, but in fact they’d just scored a goal ten minutes in. I opened up a tab for the matchcast, which prompted me to take breaks out on the balcony every so often when another goal had just been scored. Each time, there were cheers and car horns and fireworks, and also my downstairs neighbour merrily firing a gun. Um, hooray!
On Tuesday I went into a small Turkish bar with the Berlin Welcoming Committee’s bandmate, to watch Brazil vs North Korea. Her knowledge of World Cup trivia rivals my Eurovision expertise. She prepped me for the match by showing me a clip of Maradona’s legendary 1986 goal, although what I appreciate most about it is the enthusiasm of commentator Victor Hugo Morales (THANK YOU GOD! FOR FOOTBALL, FOR MARADONA, FOR THESE TEARS!).
Then Serbia beat Germany on Friday afternoon, although to hear the celebrations in my part of town you’d have thought Germany had won after all. People draped in Serbia flags danced in the street; I watched as a few of them gradually piled into a car and moved off, delightedly meeting and greeting another carload of Serbian fans as they did so, with one passenger leaning out through the sunroof to wave a flag. Goddamn, everybody was so happy. It didn’t feel like anyone was going to cause a riot over the game.
So that’s why I find myself interested in it, I guess: because people here are happy, and it’s a social thing. Tonight, I’m going to go to a Polish bar and watch Brazil vs Côte d’Ivoire, and will quietly cheer on Côte d’Ivoire, primarily because their flag is the same as the Irish one only upside down. Because my criteria for supporting a team is somewhat arbitrary (I supported North Korea because, like, they could do with something nice happening to them), but then supporting a team just because you come from the same country or the same continent or you speak the same language or you think the players are hot seems a bit arbitrary to me, too.