Long ago, before I moved to Europe, I wrote a story that was the sports version of the Fantasy Noir trope. It wasn’t very good, and after living through my first European Cup tournament in Italy, I realized that the most outlandish aspects of the fictional tale didn’t half live up to the absurd reality of a fortnight dedicated to dozens of international calcio games watched by very enthusiastic tifosi who were imbibing vast quantities of alchohol.
Even those who don’t follow the sport avidly during the professional season get caught up in the nationalistic elements; as the wry English joke has it, why shouldn’t the Germans beat them at their national game, when the English always beat the Germans at theirs?
It was, of course, completely mad of FIFA to send the tournament to South Africa, as evidenced by the incessant buzzing of the vuvuzelas. The empty seats for the games between minor teams such as Switzerland and Slovenia – or is it Slovakia – aren’t a big problem, but the assignment of referees from countries like Mali to critical games most certainly is.
So far, the tournament has gone pretty much as I expected, as Italy couldn’t score because Lippi refused to start one of Serie A’s leading scorers, Di Natale, the team that was wearing French uniforms looked more like an African club team than one of Europe’s recent powerhouses, and the English team was the focus of more delusional fantasies than the average Victoria’s Secret model. Fantasies about their abilities, I hasten to add; I don’t think anyone of any persuasion wants to think about Wayne Rooney in lingerie. I had The Netherlands, Brazil, and Argentina before the tournament started and so far they’re all still in the running.
I am convinced, however, that there is a high-fantasy component to international futbol. There is no way you will ever be able to convince me that Argentina’s magnificent Unfrozen Caveman Striker, aka Carlos Tévez, is not a half-orc.