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Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

"You're never alone during the World Cup". It is the global competition enjoyed by many different communities. Simon Inglis invites you to join his.
 
There were two billion of us that day in July 1998. One in three of the global village's entire population, it was reckoned, tuned in to watch Zinedine Zidane break 176 million Brazilian hearts in the last World Cup final. Maybe you were one of them. Or maybe you were one of the 75,000 lucky souls who managed to get into the Stade de France to see the game live.
 
You're never alone during a World Cup.
 
There had been 2.7 million of us that month, travelling from French city to French city, watching the tournament unfold, eating up miles and pizzas 'to go'. Maybe you were one of them. Seven of us were in a minibus, heading south from the Channel Tunnel to see England beat Colombia at Lens. There we sat, with three of them, from Bogota. We gave them flags. They gave us their bright blue and yellow wigs. Beckham wafted in a free kick. You could almost hear the roar of 20 million English throats from across the water.
 
In a community hall in west London there were over 200 Jamaicans watching their reggae boys beat Japan on a faltering TV. Half had hardly watched a football match until that summer of '98. Cricket was their game, they said, until, that is, the World Cup sucked them in. Like it does.
 
It took 777 matches involving 193 nations to decide who would go this time. At one of those qualifiers, between Turkmenistan and Taiwan, only twenty spectators turned up. As many as sat around our neighbour's television for the 1998 final. And just as memorable for those few who were there.
 
The law of averages tells us that at least two or three of the 17 million individuals who saw the qualifying matches live will have ended up dead by the final whistle. Somewhere out there two or three families will curse the World Cup.
 
The laws of football, meanwhile, tell us that maybe a hundred players who helped their countries qualify will spend the World Cup embittered on a beach, or bruised on a treatment table. Broken bones the physiotherapist can heal, as he and his patient digest the latest scores in their quiet medical room. Broken hearts take longer for the ones left behind.
 
There must be a billion television sets in the United States of America. But there was only one of me, running from bar to bar in Buffalo, to find one, just one showing the World Cup in 1990. When finally I found it, in the late evening gloom of an almost deserted sports bar, it was as if the tournament was taking place on another planet. Twenty four hours later I was in Boston with 50,000 Greeks and Argentineans, all waiting on the wild-eyed Maradona. Fellow travellers, I could have hugged them all. Well, the nice girl from Buenos Aires who shared her umbrella with me anyway.
 
The 64 matches of the World Cup we are about to embrace will each mean a million different things to a billion different people in every possible setting you or I could ever imagine. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from Guatemala City to Gaza City its mesmerising narrative will silence guns, strain voices, wake babies, spark friendships and bury quarrels.
 
For 31 days, whoever you support, however much or little you care, when the World Cup is on, you are never alone, even when you are alone. That's football. That's the World Cup.

 

 

Simon Inglis, May 2002

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