World Cup Fever

Not even cricket and certainly not baseball can claim to host a really planetary event. Sorry America, but the REAL World Series is the 2006 Soccer World Cup, this time in Germany, starting on Friday the 9th of June and lasting for four glorious weeks until the final on Sunday the 9th of July. This is the world at war, without hopefully any gratuitous injuries.

Now England last won the World Cup in 1966 and don't we know it. The surviving members of that team are still national heroes and the fuzzy black and white television coverage of the game is still endlessly wheeled out. Funnily enough, a surge of little Englishmen and women appeared exactly nine months after that match -- the welcome result of post match celebrations at home.

To add to the joy, we beat the Germans in the final, and I don't want to talk too much about the rivalry with our Teutonic brethren, but we do have a past. In 1990 we lost to the Germans and a friend of mine, a great big bear of a man, burst into tears the following morning while reading the newspaper coverage on a commuter train. Everyone understood. He was comforted by other sobbing men as a tide of English tears built up.

Football is tribal. And please note that our team is English, not British. This year, I think the Scots will go and play golf and the Welsh will organize a male voice choir while the World Cup is on - you see, their national teams didn't qualify.

But you might be surprised to learn that YOURS did, yes, the USA has made the tournament. Now, I must be diplomatic here, but unlike the American President, the American team is unlikely to set the world on fire, mainly because of a shortage of top-class opposition in your neck of the woods.

However, the English team has a two fold task. To beat the Germans and to win the World Cup -- in that order. It's a mighty mountain to climb. Millions of women will become football widows for a month. Creative sick days will double. Every pub in England will be full for the duration of each match. And if we go on to win the tournament -- you won't see a Mercedes around here for years.

by Simon Bates