Saturday, June 10, 2006



5:35am: Barrel down Hollywood Boulevard doing near 50 in a 35 zone.

5:40am: Speed past the Hollywood Boulevard Snooker Hall. Wife says, “Oh look, there’s the Hollywood Boulevard Snooker Hall, that’s one of the venues that’s showing the games, don’t you remember that email I sent you?” Vaguely remember email. Notice several cars, all doing 50 and all ahead of me, come to a grinding halt and pull illegal U-turns. I slow down, and in the rear-view mirror I see them head back to the Snooker Hall. I vacillate briefly, imagining men with more balanced relationships with their wives. Should I pay attention? Should I respond? Is this what I’m doing wrong? The momentary inner urban angst passes when I remember the Ipswich Snooker Hall on Tacket Street. Remember Tottenham supporters, Saturday morning 1979, and snooker cues. I plough forward down Hollywood, maintaining a steady 50. My wife is a 5’1” Korean-American raised in Iowa. I’m not up for fisting over some dollars for the pleasure of us standing shoulder to shoulder with some Cockney rhyming geezer with a California tan and a pseudo-underworld persona. “It’s marvellous innit, you can’t do vis in Enger-land, can you, but I do miss the old girl, don’t you?” Sorry, no, I don’t. There could be some humour in that for my wife, but it’s old and stale for me.

5:55am: Park in a side street on advise of American wearing England replica jersey (what? why?) and dash into the Grauman Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Stump up $10 each for me and the wife on the promise of squishy seats and breakfast. Breakfast turns out to be a tureen of coffee that could be sued for non-compliance under advertising standards, and some nasty looking pastries wrapped in plastic. Clearly somebody English put this all together. The foyer is empty. I imagine it will be hard for us to find seats. Everyone is inside.

6:00am: Guide wife into empty row of seats in the near-empty theater. I am not trying to fulfill some pre-teen fantasy about theatres and public sex, it is simply the nearest empty row of seats and the game is about to kick off. There are many empty rows of seats. Why do I feel like I am at a Tuesday night League Cup game?

6:01am: I am staring at the game on a 20m high screen. As with everything in America, it is big but slightly out of focus. (Must go to optometrist.)

6:04am: England score. People cheer. I realise there must be all of 20 of us in the theatre, and as with all away games we have managed to crowd together at the back. The instinct for group formation in darkness. This must be what it’s like to support Wimbledon. But with a comfy seat.

6:30am: The game drags by like a wounded animal. The fascination now is with ABC’s American commentators. They refer to Beckham as Beckett. They could be right, too: he too appears to be waiting for Godot: his performance and language are largely meaningless. His surroundings seem to mean nothing to him, and he can make no sense of the actions and gestures of his fellow man. He is the captain too: what does this symbolise? We are alone in a godless and hostile universe. Nothing has any meaning. Even symbols are meaningless.

6:30somethingam: The ABC commentators refer to England as Germany. No one raises the obvious chant of “Come on you Germans.” I suspect that I am surrounded by Americans wearing England jerseys. Or Englishmen with no sense of humour. Are they not the same?

6:30somethingmore: Sensing the early death of the game, the commentators discuss Prince Harry meeting Peter Crouch, and Michael Owen referring to Harry as “a pleasant, well-balanced geezer.” Rather than discuss Owen’s brown-nosing search for a gong, the commentators discuss the meaning of geezer. They decide neither of them knows what it means. Small crowd wriggles in darkness.

6:50am: Half-time. Wife tells me that is emphatically the worst Danish pastry she’s ever had. This clearly reminds her of her visit to England, and English food. Food is very important to Koreans: a bunch of them once rioted in Manila Airport because they got stuck there without lunch.

She tries a juice, which turns out to be Hi-C in a box. Wife wanders off, like Beckham in any second half.

Wife finds “Goal” on a table in the foyer and brings it back. “Goal” is a “special advertising supplement” to various leading US papers. So says the blurb on the bottom of the front page, on which a leggy brunette, her off-white skirt riding up over her seductive thighs, is being pawed by an older man with a Baywatch hairdo and business casual clothing. The man and the woman sit at a table in a square in Munich. Two glasses of still water in front of them, and an empty ashtray. He has taken his tie off and rolled up his sleeves. The sun is shining. She looks about to burst into tears. Money. Dysfunction. Shagging. A German ad for the World Cup targeted at Americans.

I am not sure it will work. I am not sure what would attract hordes of Americans over to Germany to watch a game they never watch at home in the comfort of their own capacious living rooms with their feet up, remote control in hand, and a fat pizza on the way over in a van. Besides, it is not at all clear they should go to Germany: they firmly believe that it is because of their efforts, and theirs alone, that Europe does not speak German. I think they might be disturbed if they found that bits of Europe, particularly the German bits, still speak German.

Inside the magazine are pictures of “Cool Castles and Hot Cars,” and there is an invitation to “Meet the World Cup Cities.”

I wonder what Frankfurt would say if it could talk.

“Help,” probably. “I am lonely. I seem to have no centre, and have lost my will to live.”

RIGHT BEFORE THE SECOND HALF: A man steps in front of the screen. The screen dwarfs him. The teams line up. Crouch is now 15m tall. The small man wears a suit. His trousers are too short and he has on a pair of winkle-pickers. He does not speak German, but demotic Cockney. He invites everyone to a special party, here, at 6am on July 4, for bangers, baked beans and beer. Crowd silent. Suspect he is deliberately performing role of cultural stereotype. Believe he may be hired Hollywood actor. No one really dresses like that. Man continues talking about cultural exchange. The second half starts behind him.

SECOND HALF: Sven’s half-time chat has had the usual effect: individual advise to all the players about what they ought to do in the second half, but the tactics seem designed to tell them to play as individuals, not as a team.

The English game is dying like a Keanu Reeves character, struggling to communicate.

There is something pathetic about Keanu, and for this he earns our pity: besides, he looks cute. The same is true of England: they are pathetic, mostly pretty, and so for the most part earn our pity. It is this pity, and the need to understand what they are trying to communicate that keeps me awake during the second half. For my wife, insomnia is the result of indigestion caused by a pastry.

The pain of watching is heightened by the sudden searing knowledge that this is as good as it can ever get for this England. This then is their tragedy: they struggle manfully, but do not prosper. As with all good tragedies, you wonder if they will become aware of their failings, and hope that somehow they will not: self-knowledge would be too painful to watch. Yet you know that the real tragedy of this scene is that the English cannot admit that this is as good as it can get, because they cannot be allowed to see it. Just as you know that Keanu cannot know he is wooden and dull, else he would never leave his trailer to stand in front of a camera, so you know that the English players have to believe they are world-beaters, otherwise they would never leave the dressing room.

Similarly, the fans cannot accept the failings of the players, because if they did the fans would never stand on the terraces and sing.

And that is essential to an understanding of why the English cannot win the World Cup: it is because the whole of England insists that they must win, and insists with all its heart that they will. That insistence hearkens back to empire.

Football, for the English, is the last bastion of empire and imperial belief. In the imperial world, the English were naturally the best, which is why we did not even bother to enter the World Cup until 1950. We have never recovered from the shock of being beaten by foreigners, and have sunk into an insistence that we could rule the world still: even when we are beaten, we are beaten only by referees, penalty-taking Germans, and the hand of god.

In this world, it is better to lose than to win on penalties; penalties are for professionals.

The empire was of course a distinctly amateur affair, held together with a lot of small bits of string, a deep-rooted sense of racial superiority, and the consistent use of dull thuggery. It was an accident of history combined with an insistence on our right to rule. It fell apart when other people questioned that right.

Just as the empire was built on nothing more than arrogance, racial thuggery, and massive overconfidence, so support for the English team, the empire’s final insistence on English dominion, exhibits its own distinctive brand of mindless optimism.

In Germany, the crowd sings the only three lines of “God Save The Queen” they can remember. It is sunny, England have just about beaten some foreigners in a foreign land, god has saved the queen, and all is right with the world. The ground is ringed with Crusader crosses. Ordinary fascism has returned to Germany's stadia.

The game dies. My wife goes to the bathroom. Crouch gets a yellow card for dissent, but this is the least of his worries. This match has exposed the poverty of his ability, just as it has exposed the lie of English potential. If the England fans ever get further than memorising the first verse of God Save The Present Monarch, they might realise that.

Then again, there is already something hollow about the anthem, an empty ring to the claims, even as the nationalists insist on their pride.

I suspect they know the Brazilians must be laughing, but I’d be more worried about the Trinnies.