Watching the World Cup in Asia

Paul Bograd

Posted on July 12, 2006

A Europhobe’s Horror

Now I have been very fortunate in my World Cup watching life.

In 1990, I watched in the taverns and restaurants of the “Ironbound”, a Portuguese and Brazilian immigrant neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A. This was far and away the best food and most knowledgeable fellow fans.

In 1994 I watched in the apartments and dachas of my friends and fellow fans in Moscow. These were certainly the most “forgettable” group of games. Not because the football was forgettable, but in the Great Russian tradition of Vodka consumption, I usually had to read the next days newspapers for the results, as very few of the viewers were coherent enough to pay attention by late in the second half of any match.

In 1998, I spent a lonely month in Manila trying to get my Filipino friends even marginally interested in the sport. In the end it was a losing proposition, and I had to install a satellite dish on my roof because no Filipino television station even carried the replays.

By 2002 things were looking up. I was living in Thailand and the Cup was being played in Korea. My time zones! Thais are great football fans. Bars were fun and exciting. My hopes for World Cup watching in Asia were rekindled after the disillusionment of Manila-based watching.

Then came 2006!!! My hopes were even higher.

Thailand was abuzz with anticipation. The multi-national consumer products were in near orgasmic frenzy to top each others promotion. Coke had a World Cup trophy-looking soda bottle. Pepsi had wrestled every football endorser in their stable to adorn every utility post in Bangkok. And Chang Beer had figured out every free trade restraining angle they could to exploit their exclusive television broadcast sponsorship. The government was beside itself issuing anti gambling warnings and the Internet betting sites were overflowing with punters. Media detailed horrors of students betting next semester’s tuition.

I had twinges of envy as my expat friends readied their nation’s flag and nationalistic T-Shirts and prepared to paint their faces in patriotic colors in anticipation of mini-United Nation’s meetings at the city’s bars to watch the action. (As an American these days, you just can’t walk around waving the flag, with your face painted in stars and stripes and wearing a T-Shirt with “Kiss Me I’m American” on the front;…Thanks a lot Mr. Rumsfeld!)

Plus, although it seemed secondary to many, some pretty exciting, super high-quality football was in the offing. All in all it was shaping up as a terrific month of athletic observation… but something went terribly, terribly bad.

Now maybe it was me, or maybe it was the 2 A.M. starting times but I fell into a “Football Funk”. Like a sleep deprived prisoner my attitude became more and more surly.

The pitiful performance of the American team started it off, and then one by one my adopted favorites fell by the wayside. My contrarian nature led me to disappointment as hopes were dashed. The Socceroos (my favorite nickname so I had to include it) from Australia crushed by bad officiating. The Ecuadorians dismissed, and the Ghanaians stopped in their tracks.

And the football went bad too; embarrassingly bad officiating; Players diving and feigning injury as if the World Cup were “The World WrestleMania Cup”.

Even the hooliganism offended me. You don’t arrest drunken English hooligans and then just release them a few hours later. Where’s the entertainment in that!

But for me, a self-appointed Europhobe, chief skeptic of the E.U., critic of Hans Blix and portrayer of the Eurovision Song Contest as the symbol of the decline of western culture, the worst was yet to come!

The last four teams… all of them Western Europeans!!!!

Come on I was on a roll!

Airbus was going into the tank.

In the great realignment of world geopolitics everyone was talking about China, India and the United States. Nobody mentioned Europe. The triumph of the New World and the Cultures of the East was at hand. But this was all put on hold as the western Europeans reasserted their last gasps of colonial desires and controlled the final four.

And for the Europhobe, they were the four worst possible representatives. Why oh why couldn’t it have been a “New Europe” nation like Poland, or even the wooden shoe people. But Germany, France, Portugal and Italy. Ugh.

I was reduced to rooting for Portugal… I mean they have sort of behaved like the third world since their Colonial days. Any nation that relies on producing wine corks as the foundation of their economy deserves my support.

But in the end, I was reduced to sitting up at 4:00 A.M. in Bangkok watching the Italians win it all. A bizarre French head butt over an anonymous insult. The triumph of a national team whose roots appear to lie in the biggest football scandal of modern times… says it all.

Maybe all in all it was not a bad month for the Europhobe to watch from Asia.

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