Friday, July 21, 2006

Venue 2
Under a Canopy in the Back Yard of a Housing Cooperative, Sheffield, Yorkshire
France 1 (3) Italy 1 (5)

It starts off with a stereotypical argument that divides the community: we shouldn’t watch competitive sports; we should encourage cooperation. Suggestion is that everyone should get their own ball, then there’d be no fighting over it. (Suspect England already use this technique.)

They’re right of course. The World Cup does promote the use of tired national stereotypes. But they are wrong too, because tonight it’s Italian Fascists vs Multicultural French Existentialists, a vital and current socio-political battle, and by a freak coincidence I am visiting The Norm.

The Norm and I watched France beat Italy in Euro 2000, when we were both living in Oakland. When Trezeguet slammed home the winner for France, The Norm performed a celebration half-way between a Haka and Tyson on speed. After the veins in his neck settled down he explained himself: “You don’t see any black players playing for Italy, but you can’t tell me there are no blacks in Italy, or no good black players in Italy.” Then he necked a pint.

Unfortunately The Norm has not explained his position to the Existentialists at the Housing Co-op, who are predominantly supporting the Fascists. This is beginning to look like the Spanish Civil War.

The Norm and I consider breaking ranks and crossing Sheffield on foot to watch the final in a bar, but decide it’s way far from the park where we’ve lounged the afternoon away, sipping Tin, eating Halal chicken, and listening to Bangra and Reggae performed on an open stage. (Note to Tippa Irie: The only people known to shout “Roots” and “Reggae” in public are trustafarians. Stop it).

1 min: Italians try to kill Thierry Henry. Cameras focus on respective managers. Marcello Lippi is doing his impression of an Italian grandfather who could tell you what he does for a living, but then he’d have to kill you. Presumably he loves his mother and would do anything for her. Raymond Domenech is doing his impression of a fashion mag editor. He is concerned about the drape of the French shirts: they’re cut on the bias.

7 mins: The Penalty. Zidane hands in an application for the vacant position of god with his impression of a languid cigarette-smoking French football genius. He waits for the keeper to move, sips his sauvignon, then dinks the ball off the underside of the bar. The ball bounces over the line and back out. Technically, you’re not allowed to be that cool unless you’re French.

10 mins: Co-op 7-year-old told not to support France, because he shouldn’t like them: it’s genetic apparently. They were right about effects of competitive sports then.

12 mins: Toddler stumbles by, stomps on some cables while talking to a flower and the World Cup vanishes. Existentialist adults who dislike competitive sport dash over and place flowerpots over cables to prevent recurrence of toddlers.

19 mins: Things get complicated. French goalkeeper Barthez does his impression of a French mime artist doing an impression of a French goalkeeper out of his depth in a World Cup Final. Dwarfed by the goal, eyes bulging, he steps forward. Hesitates. Is clearly lost. Header soars past him. Net bulges behind him. Superb impression. Not sure what it means though. Meanwhile Italy have scored.

Zidane’s application for the vacant position of god is accepted, and He takes a break from Gitane-smoking introspection to explain the meaning of life.

He sprays improbable passes around with languid ease, holds off challenges with supple strength, plants headers with finesse, plays on despite injury, and with 10 minutes left, there is a sense of inevitability in the air. He is omnipotent. It is within His power to express Himself through a final defining act. It is not a question of if, but how.

79 mins: How: Materazzi tweaks God’s nipples then sledges him repeatedly. God walks away. And away. Then turns. And waits. Then plants a perfect header in Materazzi’s chest. It’s a divine act of unbridled savagery and the ref doesn’t see it. Nor does the linesman. Nor does the fourth official. Materazzi goes down, stays down and waves his hands around a lot, doing his impression of one of Italy’s hardest defenders, whining. TV replays the Divine Headbutt, repeatedly. God has been caught on video dishing out answers, and the word goes out through an earpiece to the fourth official. Result: God is sent off. Obviously it’s not possible for sophisticated violence to mar the World Cup Final; that would be too much like life, and Coca-Cola would never advertise again. Besides, FIFA is committed to stamping out racism in football, not headbutting it.

85 mins: The Norm and I have decided Italy will win the World Cup on penalties.

87 mins: I’ve gone off football. Again. Crack open another Warm Tin and do my impression of a Self-Medicating Angry Englishman.

87-1/2 mins: Tin sinks into synapses. Realise God is a poet in the Romantic tradition. That headbutt spoke to me. It said: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."

89 mins: Marvel at The Headbutt of God in replays. It had pace and power, and was planted with heavenly timing. If there are any kids reading this at home, you’ll notice God waited until all the officials turned away, then He allowed Materazzi to step onto the header before He planted him. Notice too how He got His body behind the header, maximising the force. Excellent technique, and I’m sure you can get away with it in school games, because they won’t have video replays.

Warm Tin, Extra Time, Warm Tin, Penalties: Barthez reprises his impression of a French mime artist doing an impression of a dwarf goalkeeper. It’s extraordinarily complex, and like a Samuel Beckett play, I’m not sure I understand entirely what it meant. But Italy win on penalties and stop just short of oral sex in their post-match coital throng.

It Really Is All Over: The World Cup is over. Italy won but failed to perform sexually. Third-generation Italians will be waving their heritage around all over the place.

Brief sense of loss. The World Cup is over. Then joy. The World Cup is over.

I can have my life back. Can’t remember what I was doing though. Seem to have misplaced The Wife. Open another Warm Tin. Wife said she’s pregnant. Best sort something out then: Zidane shirt for the baby.