Brazil 0 Netherlands 3
I wake up at 3:00am in a foreign city in a foreign country – you’d perhaps call it Sydney, New South Wales – and make preparations to leave, knowing that if I stay here in my hotel room to watch the 3rd vs 4th place game, the most pointless of any and all matches in world football, I could end up missing my flight, and wouldn’t that be tragic. Thanks to the airport rail link, the one thing that Sydney has that I would take with me back to Melbourne if I could, I get to the airport super early, and eventually realise that to actually get to a screen I have to go through security first, which is a pain in the arse since it’s too early for me to check my luggage in. Once that’s sorted, I have to decide which of the two thrilling options with televisions to choose from, a place I can’t even remember now and a place purporting to be a brasserie. I order a mediocre cherry Danish and a hot chocolate from the brasserie, and plant myself in front of one of their screens, and I think I’m the only one watching at this point in time, but there are others who will flit in and out, though clearly I’m the one paying the most attention. Despite being a decent size Panasonic with some OK looking speakers next to the screen, the sound is muted on all three available televisions, so we have to deal with live text commentaries and with this match being done by John Helm, I have to imagine his voice in my head, which I can cope with. But this approach gets me into perilous territory when the SBS crew come in for their half time analysis and I’ve got Zeljko Kalac’s voice in my head and I feel stupider for the experience, but also more sympathetic because after all, I have to deal with this only once every four years or on the odd occasion I bother watching the Champions League, whereas he has to deal with it all the time. I also realise that if this was the old analogue age, the TV could have been an old boxy white ex-hospital rental set like one of my old TVs from the 1990s and we would have been richer of the experience, not worrying about non-existent sound, just being glad to be able to see the game at all through the static that SBS seemed to be best at suffering from and with the screen going on a vertical stroll while someone searched for the vertical-hold dial. A couple of, I think, Arab boys – I could go all Tsiolkas and say they were definitely Arabs, but this is the real world and I can’t make them into what I want them to be, and therefore don’t assume to know how they identify themselves – turn up for a little while, and one of them mentions to his mate that he’s got a fiver I think it is on there being more than 3.5 goals in the game, and I tell him that’s not a bad bet considering the way these games usually end up, and he tells me that gambling is a bad habit and that I shouldn’t get into, it, but here we are, eh? Since that period in the mid 1990s when I lost all the money that I won on poker at the blackjack table on Casino Games on the Sega Master System II – and who said video games had no educational merit? – I’ve never gambled, except for the odd raffle ticket at a state league game, and even there I’m wary of the winning ticket just coincidentally almost always being a different colour from what was being sold around the ground. Still, with the Dutch off to an early two goal start, he seems to be on to a good thing. Every now again there’s a paint thinner kind of smell which wafts through which is exactly the kind of odour you want to experience in a food court, especially at this place which has so many ‘French’ things on the menu, including Gruyere, croissants, pain au chocolat and croque monsieurs and madames, but I have very little time to think about what the French speaking family behind me think of all this – and I won’t call them French, in case they identify as being Swiss French, Walloons, Bretons or Quebecois – because I’m still trying to figure out what artisan butter is and how it differs from regular industrial butter, my penchant for over analysing restaurant menus coming to the fore again, and I try to justify it by thinking that some of these menus have literary pretensions, at least in terms of the creative ways they try to avoid calling something a toasted ham and cheese sandwich even if that’s exactly what it is. But back to the live text commentary, which is littered with mistakes and subsequent corrections too many to mention, but here are two of the pick of the bunch – ‘thread has been dropped’ and ‘eye axe’ – which send me into the kind of sedate mirth not seen since the 1990s Media Watch heyday of ‘look dear, their spelling is slightly off and their headline doesn’t mean what they intended it to’ levels of drollness. But back to the game, which the Dutch finish off well after the Brazilians had spent forty odd minutes pissfarting about, and I’m still perplexed by the Dutch fans in the crowd with their orange El Presidente/M.Bison suits – are they ironically celebrating Latin America’s dictatorial atrocities? I’ll leave that to the cultural theorists to sort out I suppose, while I ponder the significance of the one yellow card for diving in this world cup being handed out in this game. It’s probably nothing.
Germany 1 Argentina 0
I go to bed at 9:00pm in the hope that I’ll be able to get up for the earlier 5:00am start, but it’s not until 5:38am that I’m shaken, not stirred from sleep, and once again I’ve missed a huge chunk of the world cup final, though I still haven’t beaten my personal best from 2002 where I missed just about the entire game due to some sort of fever, where remaining conscious was an elusive and futile business. I have a Monte Carlo biscuit during the last five minutes of the first half, hoping misanthropically that the game has been appalling and that I’ve missed nothing of note, but that turns out not be true, all while I’ve got Silver Springs going through my head. The second half is good at first but then deteriorates, with the Twitterverse torn about whether the game is dull or whether it’s merely ‘cagey’, the single most overused word at this world cup. Meanwhile I’m wading through testimonials honouring Les Murray, one of which I take offence to for the sake of accuracy and pettiness and because I can never let go of a grudge and the awful feeling that if necessary I should be the one person that says ‘well, but here’s the thing…’. So instead of being focused on this game and the potential legacy of this largely outstanding world cup, even as the result is yet to be finalised, I’m obsessed by more immediate things such as mortality’s gaze, and yes Carl Sagan was right that we are small, so small, but where he saw it as endless possibility and wondrous complexity I’m seeing it as the incredible weight of oblivion approaching my once relevant club, and not for the first time. These are phases I go through, where doubt and forlornness takes over, especially now as the world cup final drags on and there is space and time to think while we head towards the seemingly inevitable penalty shoot out, where even Martin Tyler’s intonations have altered to show that he thinks it will end up there, too. But then a moment arrives worthy of this world cup, as Mario Gotze finishes off a regulation piece of build up play with sublime skill, shaking us out of our cynical assumptions, and now we realise again that there is colour in this game, there is blood on Bastian Schweinsteiger and the disturbing voyeurism of cameras fixed upon crying children, and while this is not Kevin Carter and starvation and vultures, it makes me feel uneasy even if it’s only football and even if I don’t even like children, a social position not helped by having some kid kick me in the back of the seat for half my flight home yesterday. The game over, the cameras are on the winners and their joy, but the voyeurism is still there, this time switched over to Lionel Messi, a great player but largely ineffective in the knockout stages; they are following him everywhere as he attempts to remain stoic.
Photo of the sublime Carl Sagan courtesy of Javier and Flickr.