I wouldn’t ordinarily describe myself as a football fan but growing up in a football friendly household has given me an appreciation of the game, the enjoyment of a live match and an understanding of the offside rule.
I did pick out a team to follow when I was younger, which was Nottingham Forest. Brian Clough was manager at the time and they weren’t bad but I chose them purely based on the colour of the shirt; red happened to be my favourite colour at that time. Unfortunately I didn’t happen to see one of the other, slightly better and more consistent, teams who play in red such as Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal. Perhaps if I had I would have maintained interest in my team and become a dedicated fan. So I’m not a massive football fan. Except when it comes to the World Cup.
However, whenever the World Cup comes along I develop mystical powers that transform me into a football expert. I become confident that I could manage, play and analyse the game better than anyone else. This is in spite of knowing less than half the names of my team’s players at the start of the tournament. But my familiarity with names increases the more I watch as does my telepathic connection with the players, which gradually merges into a sort of collective consciousness. And so, the “World Cup We” is born.
Here are some examples: “We played really well overall, but just couldn’t get the ball in the net often enough.” “Our defence was lacklustre and so we let them score.” “Our hopes of going through now depend almost entirely on the actions of others.” If you hadn’t already guessed, yes, I am an England supporter.
But this is not a strange phenomenon that only affects me, almost everyone following the tournament with a team in contention does this. I work at an international organisation and so there has been a lot of banter and bandying of the “World Cup We” about the corridors and communal spaces as colleagues take it in turns to encourage, celebrate with, or, far more frequently, mock one another.
I hadn’t even thought about the strangeness of the “World Cup We” until it was pointed out to me. I watched the Holland v Australia game with a couple of Dutch friends and when I congratulated one of them on “their” win she laughed at me and said she had nothing to do with it and I’ve been thinking about it ever since then.
And it is strange that millions of otherwise disunited people, with nothing in common apart from a certain pocket of the globe they have some kind of link to, somehow unite into an ant-like communal consciousness, whose very sense of well-being rises and falls with the success of 11 men on a field.
So how does this even happen? I guess the obvious answer is that, for most of us unable to actually play and win the competition ourselves our only alternative is to tap into the ability of those representing our country and live vicariously through them. We are riding on their coattails, for better or for worse, and are often dragged along the muddy football pitch in their wake.
The other collective “We” on a grand scale, with which most Brits our familiar, is the “Royal We”. I don’t know exactly why the “royal We” is used but I suppose it is to signify the Queen speaks not only for herself but also for her subjects. In a similar vein, I, along with my national unit of course, use the “World Cup We” for the same purpose to express contestations, congratulations, and commiserations on behalf of all England footballers and supporters across the globe.
The pull of the “World Cup We” is too big to fight and we just need to accept that it is our destiny for the duration of the tournament and beyond to feel the victories and humiliations of our nation’s chosen players. So however “We” fare, “I” shall endure the taunts of my colleagues and hope some day to have my revenge. (Although today I did get a pity pastry from an international rival, which I wasn’t too proud to eat!)
I wonder if my absorption into the “World Cup We” means everyone else has exactly the same questions about why this happens running through their minds right now?