Thursday 12 June 2014

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The World Cup

After the raging success of the WhyNotSmile Guide To The Elections (which went what I call "viral", receiving upwards of 19 hits), it has been requested that I produce a Guide to the World Cup, which is a football thing that starts today. So here goes.

We need to begin by understanding the concept of football. Essentially, football is a sport which involves 2 teams battling it out to see who can get a ball into a net the most often. To make it twice as easy, they have a net at each end of the 'pitch', but they also allow you to keep one of your team members in the net at all times, to try to stop the ball from going in.

Things get more advanced than this, of course. For instance, if you kick someone else and they fall down, then they get to have a special attempt at kicking the back into the net, called a penalty. Sometimes you're allowed to line up all your players between them and the net, to try to block the ball, but this doesn't always happen, and I'm not sure why. Also, at the end of the allotted time, if both teams have got the back into the net the same number of times, then they get to do a penalty shoot-out, and then Germany win. I'm not sure why this happens either.

Then there is the offside rule, which I'm not supposed to be able to understand because I'm a girl. In reality, of course, I understand many things which are much more complex than the offside rule, like the rules of social engagement, which appear to pass many footballers by; the reason I don't understand the offside rule is that I just don't give a fiddler's fart.

In addition to the two teams, there is also a chap called the 'referee' who runs about and tries to make them stick to the rules. Fans have lots of chants about referees, many of whom appear to be "bankers".  I assume this is why football is often played on bank holidays.

The Teams
Now, for the World Cup, there is a team from every country who want to send one, but of course they can't all play each other in a fortnight because there are, like, 200* countries who have football teams, so if they were all going to play a sort of knockout tournament where the winner of each match progresses to the next round, then there would have to be 8 rounds, but the first one would have, like, 100 matches going on, and in total you would have 255 matches, and the wallchart would just be too big for the wall.
* I don't know. I made that up.

And even worse, if you had to insist that each team played every other team, then there would be, like, 200! matches happening, where 200! means "200 factorial", and not just 200 said with a gasp, and since 200! is too big for my calculator to even work it out, we would basically be watching football forever.

So instead they have matches ahead of time to see who is good enough to qualify for the finals, and teams like Northern Ireland fluke their way through every now and then, but mostly it's teams who are actually good, and also England. I think they let England play every time because they invented football or something.
It's always important to establish who's actually still in the thing if you want to sound competent in work when the topic comes up; I once spent a fortnight supporting Republic of Ireland before being taken to one side and told they hadn't qualified that time. In some workplaces, of course, they'd just have given me Ireland in the office sweepstake (of which more later) and been done with it.

So if someone asks you which team you're supporting, you want to say the name of a country; preferably one that's good at football, or England.

The 2014 World Cup
Now, each time they have the thing (which is every 4 years), they have it in a different place. This is decided by some manner of corruption or something, rather than by my preferred method of keeping it like Eurovision, where the place that won last time gets to host it this time round. Anyway, this year it's in Brazil, and if you fancy going over to it you should probably take a paintbrush and be ready to give them hand with painting the lines on, for it is widely believed that things Aren't Quite Ready Yet. Next time round it's in Qatar, which is a real place and is too hot to play football in.

World Cup Traditions
Now, regardless of whether you like football or not, you can still get into the spirit of things by involving yourself in one of the many time-honoured traditions which have sprung up around it. These include:
  • Sticker albums: produced by Panini, these are like scrapbooks, but with spaces for stickers with footballers on them. You can often get the album for free, and then spend approximately £3800 on stickers, in a futile bid to collect them all. The stickers come in little packets, and the idea is that you swap them with your friends in school until everybody has all of them; naturally, the people who make the stickers ensure that a chosen few are really rare, and these become valuable currency in playgrounds across the country. It used to be that sticker albums were the preserve of the pre-teen boy, but now with EBay and everything, access to stickers for "swapsies" is wider, thus restoring the dream to adults as well. Note to adult males: women do not generally consider this to be impressive behaviour.
  • The Office Sweepstake: this happens in every office in the land when the World Cup is on.  Basically, you get a list of all the teams who are playing, and then throw them in a box (except usually you can't find a box, so someone cups their hands and you put them in there), and then you allocate everyone in the office a team or a number of teams. Everyone pays a pound and whoever's team wins gets to keep all the money at the end.  More advanced systems involve 'seeding' the teams, or having first, second and third prizes, but this really makes no difference, because there's always one person in the office who always wins, every. freaking. time. (yes, Alex, I'm looking at you). Obviously a challenge is presented if you have more people in your office than there are teams playing, but this can be resolved by sub-dividing the office into more manageable groups.
  • Wallcharts: a staple of every World Cup, ever, the Wallchart usually comes free with The Mirror about a fortnight before it all kicks off. Even I have been known to end up with a World Cup wallchart, and take great delight in filling it all in.  The essential components are: lots of pictures of flags; some enlightening commentary on each of the teams; and the actual Chart bit.  The Chart bit lists the various 'pools', and the scheduled matches, and there's a little space for you to write in the score for each match. Then when it all progresses to the quarter finals and so on, you get to write in the matches and the winners and stuff.  For some reason, it's all completely glorious fun.
  • Anthems: every time, some trendy band are asked to write a World Cup anthem for everyone to sing when they cheer on England to their certain victory.  It's usually crap, so then some band that no one has heard of comes out with something much better and unofficial, and everyone sings that instead. The vital ingredients are references to: 1966 (the last time England won), the hurt which has engulfed the nation ever since, curry, beer and a lot of cheering because this will be Our Year.
So the World Cup kicks off tonight, and you can now prepare yourself for every conversation you will have between now and July 13th.  I trust this helps.