I am a World Cup-aholic. Life will be on hold for the next month as I drop all other considerations and plan each day around every single one of the 64 matches in South Africa to ensure I don’t miss a kick. Being a Welshman, I have never had a team to support in the World Cup finals (Wales last qualified in 1958 when I was a baby), so I watch as a pure football lover, entirely neutral and just wanting to gorge on the feast. The international match is football in its finest form, untainted by the might-is-right predictability of club football with its millionaire mercenaries and leveraged debts; and where else but in international football could you get the intriguing cross-cultural possibilities of, say, North Korea v Ivory Coast, Paraguay v New Zealand and Switzerland v Honduras? Since I’m not involved emotionally due to the perpetual absence of Wales from the global party, I am relieved of the tensions of partisanship and can sit back and enjoy the tournament for its own sake, wanting only the best and most deserving football to triumph. That usually means Brazil or Argentina, and I will particularly relish their matches plus those of the lesser South Americans – Uruguay, Paraguay and, my secret favourites, Chile.
As for England, well of course like every Welshman worth his salt I will be wishing nothing but torment, catastrophe, humiliation and fickle Acts of God on them. How obliging the Almighty has been over the decades! However, even this visceral, bone marrow reaction would abate if England would only play entertaining, creative football (which they never do). Wayne Rooney is their one world-class player, feared by the other 31 finalists, and he alone makes Capello’s rather mechanical England worth watching. I like the fact that England compete as England in the World Cup instead of the names they usually go by in most other sports (Britain, Great Britain, United Kingdom – names that subsume and thus erase the possibility of a Wales). I like the fact that English people are encouraged by the World Cup to embrace Englishness – a gentler, kinder, more liberal identity than that conferred by the militaristic, imperialistic, money-grubbing baggage of “British”. I like the fact that I’m in a win-win situation: if England lose (especially in a penalty shoot-out) I ululate with orgasmic pleasure; but if England should actually go and win the thing then that too will delight, because achieving such a pinnacle under an English banner would only dilute the English people’s attachment to had-its-day Britain and thus loosen the chains that bind Wales.