Category Archives: Glancing Headers

World Cup 2010

For a variety of reasons, I ended up watching the World Cup Final on a TV tied to a tree at the soccer fields in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn
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Who ‘We’ Are When the Whistle Blows


Chelsea’s Drogba and Kalou fly the Ivoirian flag. But Kalou was very nearly a Dutchman…


The fleet-footed Chelsea forward Solomon Kalou might permit himself a wry smile as he stands at attention for L’Abidjanaise, the national anthem of the Ivory Coast, when Les Elephantes face Portugal in their World Cup opener on June 15.

Were it not for the stubbornness of former Netherlands immigration minister Rita Verdonk, Kalou would have turned up at the World Cup in the other orange shirt – as a Dutchman. By turning down attempts by the Netherlands football authorities to fast-track citizenship for Kalou in time to pick him for the 2006 World Cup, the conservative Verdonk actually spared his parents a major headache: the Dutch that year played a group game against an Ivory Coast squad that included Solomon’s older brother, Bonaventure.

But the episode is simply a reminder that international football often demonstrates just how fluid and fungible the notion of nationality can be. In the same 2006 World Cup, when Croatia played Australia, three players in the Croatian squad were actually Australian, while seven of the Socceroos were eligible to represent Croatia. Continue reading

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The World Cup as War by Other Means

‘Just don’t mention the war” was the cardinal rule when hosting German guests at Fawlty Towers, the eponymous hotel in the ’70s British TV sitcom. But it has never applied to England football fans: whenever their team plays Germany, they taunt the opposition with a ditty (to the tune of The Camptown Races) with the lyrics: Two world wars and one world cup, dooh-dah, dooh-dah …

The English are hardly alone in linking football and war. When Holland beat Germany in a Euro ’88 semifinal, literally 60% of the Dutch population took to the streets to celebrate, many of them chanting “Hurrah, we got our bikes back!” That was a far larger crowd than the one which celebrated Holland’s victory over the Soviet Union in the final of the same tournament days later, but the bicycle reference said it all: Dutch people had had their bikes confiscated when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands 48 years earlier. Those who fell/rose cheering from their graves, wrote Dutch poet Jules Deelder, while a veteran of the underground resistance enthused: “It feels as though we’ve won the war at last.”

Payback for wartime humiliation was also the Argentine narrative for Diego Maradona’s notorious “hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup (and the “goal of the century” he added later in the game). Sure, Maradona used his fist to prod the ball over Peter Shilton for the opening goal, but for a country still smarting from the wounds of the Falklands/Malvinas War four years earlier, England had to be beaten by any means necessary. As Maradona said afterwards: “We knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys (in the Malvinas), killed them like little birds. And this was revenge.” Sure, Maradona had cheated, but so had the British, in Argentine minds, by sinking an Argentine warship outside the zone of exclusion around the islands, killing some 323 sailors. Jorge Valdano, who was on the field that day, knew Maradona had cheated, but said “at that moment we only felt joy, relief, perhaps a forced sense of justice. It was England, let’s not forget, and the Malvinas were fresh in the memory.” Continue reading

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The Shebab, the Shahids and the Champion’s League Final

The Shebab gunman on the left appears to be a Gunner, i.e. an Arsenal fan…

In honor of today’s Champion’s League final, I republish my op ed that ran in the National a year ago.

What was most fascinating about the photograph of the Somali gunman who was part of the crowd dragging the body of an Ethiopian soldier through the streets of Mogadishu that appeared in newspapers last year was his shirt. It bore the number 13, beneath the legend “Ballack”. This particular fighter was declaring his fealty not only to the Islamist Shebab movement, but also to Chelsea football club and its newly acquired German midfielder.

That image reminded me of a 2002 story in the London Sunday Times, in which Hala Jaber painted an extraordinary portrait of a group of young Palestinians training to be suicide bombers. Amid the tension of the boys steeling themselves to kill and be killed, one of the fighters ran in with “very important news”: Manchester United had beaten West Ham 5-3. “David Beckham two score. Very good Manchester,” Jaber quoted him as saying, adding: “The announcement was greeted with unanimous pleasure, amid further calls of ‘Allahu akbar’.” Continue reading

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The Liverpool-Iraq Connection

Both Liverpool FC and Iraq were acquired with borrowed money Continue reading

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Will the Last One Out of La Liga Please Turn Out the Lights…

The future of the once might Spanish league, warns my mate John Carlin, is as a feeder league to the nouveau riche English clubs Continue reading

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Waxing Brazilian on Euro 2008

The lesson for South Africa is clear. Our talent pool is so piss-poor that Brazilian coaches won’t help — we need to learn from the Europeans and import Brazilian players! Continue reading

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90 Minutes of World Peace

When Chelsea and Man. United contest the Champion’s League final this week, gunmen from Mogadishu to Gaza will be glued to their TV sets… Continue reading

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Spare Us More ‘Globalization & Football’

The claim that Egypt’s Cup of Nations win “proves” that stronger domestic leagues make stronger international sides is not born out by football’s bigger picture. In fact, the teams that do best internationally are those with weaker domestic leagues Continue reading

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My Dinner With Dalglish

Well, not mine, Fernando’s. Brilliant video piece on the passing of the torch among Anfield legends Continue reading

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