June 07, 2010

I always used to give a snort of derision every time I heard football being referred to—on TV and only when I had stumbled briefly upon the wrong channel—as “€˜The Beautiful Game.”€™ 

“€œBeautiful….???!!!”€ I used to ask the television set with a look of abject revulsion on my face after whatever had happened to be in my mouth at the time had gone splattering all over the kitchen table. For what could possibly be less beautiful than twenty two ugly, vicious, ludicrously overpaid, and crazily uneducated louts thumping a bladder around a football pitch in an ultimately scoreless game presided over by another twenty-two thousand ugly, vicious, ludicrously underpaid (this time), and crazily uneducated louts before being summarized unintelligibly by two more ugly, vicious, ludicrously overpaid (once again) and crazily uneducated louts?  

Any ideas? No, I didn”€™t think so somehow.

But a funny thing started to happen to me as I trawled my way pornographically through the tabloid newspapers this week in preparation for writing this article. I began to see—slowly but surely, hardly daring to believe the strange shift I was miraculously undergoing—just what a truly beautiful team of young ambassadors we have representing our great nation in South Africa this summer in the 2010 World Cup. 

Beautiful on the outside, sure, that more or less goes without saying. Just look at players like Rio Ferdinand or Wayne Rooney if you don”€™t believe me. And as for the W.A.G.S (that stands for Wives and Girlfriends in case you”€™re from America and therefore not familiar with the abbreviation), well I”€™d have to say you”€™d be hard-pushed to find a more classically beautiful, uncompromisingly erudite and almost horribly sophisticated group of young women anywhere in the world today. I mean it.

“He found an exhaustive reading list compiled by Ferdinand himself that featured Shakespeare, Nietzsche, some Dickens, some Goethe, and what else? Oh yes, the early works of Marcel Proust, to name but a few.”

OK, so we”€™ve established that the English football team is beautiful on the outside—fine—but how about on the inside? How about the minds of the players—can they be beautiful too?

The simple answer is, yes, they can. And here’s why.

I happen to have it on good authority that Captain Rio Ferdinand has, in the weeks and (who knows?) months leading up to The World Cup, imposed a series of draconian, almost Fransiscan measures to ensure his team is properly equipped for the task ahead. Sadly, our beloved captain injured his left knee Friday and won’t be playing in South Africa next week. But his imprint will still be seen in the actions he took leading up to the games, such as insisting on a complete shunning of all material possessions, a requirement to have a working knowledge of at least one of the black South African languages (ideally two) and—listen to this—a strict obligation to read no less than one book every week. And not just any old book, either.

A certain investigative journalist of my acquaintance (who can”€™t be named) recently gained access to the locker room at the England training camp in Austria and told me he was astonished to discover the kinds of books that were scattered about the place. Inside each of them he found an exhaustive reading list compiled by Ferdinand himself that featured Shakespeare, Nietzsche, some Dickens, some Goethe, and what else? Oh yes, the early works of Marcel Proust, to name but a few. Ferdinand has apparently been quizzing his team on the books at the end of each week and is said to become furious if he thinks anybody has been remiss in their literary studies. (Wayne Rooney, incidentally, loves reading and is said to have taken particularly well to the new regime.) In an attempt to cover up this new secret weapon of theirs, the players have been instructed by their captain to deny vehemently any knowledge of its existence. Oh, they”€™ll deny it alright. In a recent post-match television interview, mid-fielder Frank Lampard became visibly flustered when approached on the subject and started angrily protesting that he had no idea what the interviewer was talking about (yeah, right).

So now do you see? These are not ordinary men we”€™re talking about here. These are men of culture, men of breeding, men who know the difference between right and wrong. Men of honour, for crying out loud. Yes, that’s right, men of beauty—beautiful men!

Oh, and here’s another one for you: the way they talk isn”€™t exactly ugly either. 

“€œWell I”€™ll be damned,”€ I found myself saying in a faraway voice as I listened to Steven Gerrard being interviewed on TV recently, almost all trace of a Liverpudlian accent inexplicably banished from his lips. “€œHas Rio Ferdinand been making his team have secret elocution lessons as well??”€

As for the English football supporters, well, you don”€™t need me to tell you how beautiful they are. 20,000 of them are set to travel to South Africa during the World Cup. It”€™ll be like The Summer of Love all over again. 20,000 beautiful people with flowers in their hair—trust me, that is a shit-load of beauty by anyone’s standards. My only worry is that the host nation won”€™t have adequate resources to cope with so much beauty during such a short period of time. Oh, well. I wish them luck.

And of course, finally, it helps to have a manager with a fluent grasp of the English language, and we are extremely fortunate—in Fabio Capello—to have such a manager. Although, quite why he is SO good at English remains something of a mystery and not least, one suspects, to Capello himself. OK, so he may not be beautiful to look at necessarily—he”€™d be the first to admit it—but he can consider himself something of a biological freak when it comes to his absolute mastery of a second language. What was it, two years ago? He couldn”€™t even speak a word of English but now listen to him! Watch his face very carefully next time you see him interviewed. Look at his eyes—there’s a certain magical twinkle in them that seems to say: “€œYeah, yeah. I know. I am brilliant at English and yet I can”€™t believe how brilliant I am.”€ He’s riding high on a wave of linguistic genius, and he knows it. 

Ah…..beautiful. Just beautiful. Ferdinand or no Ferdinand, I tell you, with so much beauty pouring in and out of the England camp over the last two months, I would be flabbergasted—I repeat, FLABBERGASTED—if England didn”€™t end up winning the World Cup.


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