An open letter to Fifa’s inspectors
10 September 2010
Dear Fifa inspectors
Welcome to the home of football! In what must be the highlight of your trip around the world to decide which country should be appointed host for the 2018 World Cup, you have arrived in England for a tour of our football venues.
You have met Cleggy, the little substitute in Downing Street. You have been to a reception attended by some of the A-listers backing the English bid – Becks, Babs Windsor, Hugh Grant and Paul the Psychic Octopus. The nature of English league football has been explained to you by some of its leading local proponents: Drogba, Fabregas, Petrov and Ngog.
In the unlikely event of all this glitter failing to convince you, please bear in mind the true reasons why, after over half a century, the game should now return to where it all began. There is, first of all, the matter of history. Naturally self-effacing, the English are reluctant to mention that this nation actually invented the game. In the Middle Ages, entire towns would wage football against one another over several days, the winner being decided on a simple body count. The word “goal” is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon for “corpse”.
We are a passionate race, gentlemen. Some might argue that now and then our enthusiasm for football has got out of hand, but mingle among the good-hearted fans of, say, Leeds, Millwall or Cardiff, engage them in light-hearted banter about rival teams, and the cheery partisanship of supporters will soon provide you with an unforgettable experience.
Yet our fans are at ease with foreigners, having realised that the fewer English players a team has, the more likely it is to win matches – not being English is now an important part of the English game. In 2018, English fans watching two teams of foreigners playing against one another will find it entirely natural.
Supporters also know how to enjoy themselves. There is no dreary blowing of vuvuzelas. Anyone trying to start a Mexican wave is likely to get beaten up. Instead, a glorious musical tradition, forever changing and developing, is celebrated with such classics as “F*** off, Spurs/ F*** off, Spurs/ F*** off, Spurs”, “Did the Ripper get your mum?” and “F*** all, you’re gonna win f*** all.”
In the recent World Cup, Fifa discovered to its embarrassment that it is easier for a camera to see whether a ball crosses a line for a goal than it is for a middle-aged man, out of breath and standing in the wrong place. Gentlemen, no such problem will exist at the England 2018 World Cup. Such is the nation’s obsession with reality television that the English only feel truly alive when they are on camera. In response, the last government ensured that no street, alley, mall or hotel lobby escaped the eye of a CCTV camera. When it comes to the surveillance of anyone or anything which may cross the line – man, woman or football – England now leads the world.
Talking of which, there is the question of off-the-pitch entertainment. As men who travel the world, staying in lonely hotels, you will appreciate how important this can be. Footballers visiting these islands can be assured of an exciting time wherever they are staying. Just as the chanteuse Lady Gaga has recently revealed that she can reach sexual completion through thought alone, so the same thing can be achieved by many English women with the help of the simple phrase “Premiership footballer”.
So close is the link between the beautiful games on and off the pitch that an innocent, middle-aged Swedish manager was caught up in a vortex of adultery, that England’s most famous footballer is widely known as “Golden Balls” and songs used about his intimate marital life were sung by football fans at matches.
Gentlemen, English football is an extraordinary and unusual sporting feast. It’s time to invite the rest of the world to enjoy it, too.
Independent, Tuesday, 24 August 2010