Football, Sport 2

The Heavy Sleeper’s 2018 World Cup Diary

Friday, June 15, 1.00am
Russia 5 Saudi Arabia 0

My excitement levels are muted for this tournament for all sorts of petty reasons. Most petty of all, I’m thinking of 2014 and what was meant to be a half-arsed series of match reports to pad out my South Melbourne blog, which somehow became a standalone series beloved by dozens and resolutely ignored by thousands, and whether I could ever hope to recapture the carefully cultivated joyful spontaneity of what I assumed would be the first and only time around the block for the Heavy Sleeper. After all, why repeat myself, especially when sequels of almost any sort end up being at best pale imitations? Then there’s SBS’s treachery to their own reputation and Australian soccer as a whole when they sold their World Cup rights and what was left of their soul to Optus, in exchange for Stoke vs Watford at two o’clock in the morning. But even mandatory snideness shouldn’t prevent one from being grateful for what you do have, because 2022 will be a human rights, corruption, and heat-death afflicted abomination, and at least in 2018 we can avoid the heat-death, probably. For those in line at the broadcast access checkout serving patrons with 25 matches or less, watching the opening match is even more non-negotiable than usual, even though Russia vs Saudi Arabia is the equivalent to the loaf of supermarket brand sliced white bread that helps put local independent supermarkets out of business and also like the dollar milk that steals profits off farmers that you’d dearly love to pay more for but your internet connection sucks and you have to share that internet connection with other people and maybe you also don’t want to give in to THE MAN just because everyone else is going to do so, and just because Mel McLaughlin tells you that’s just the way it is, sans the implied but nevertheless inferred Bruce Hornsby piano riff. After all that, there is a game to be had, but I am tired, and I’m thinking that maybe I should’ve had that iced coffee from the vending machine at Flagstaff station, even with its ten teaspoons of refined sugar, but I didn’t and I’m getting drowsy. I seem to think that I’ve missed the anthems but I manage to focus in long enough to the game to become aware that there is a game on. The Saudis in green fade into the grassy background, looking less like witches hats than not being there at all. I see the first goal go in for the Russians, and what I assume is their second but is actually their third, and then I drift away, floating in and out of consciousness, and I start to dream of different games with the same teams, one with the Russians up 3-1, another where the Saudis pull back two late goals to make it 5-2. Clarity comes not from SBS’s post-match wrap-up, consumed half-consciously, but from the news reports on breakfast TV later that morning.

Saturday, June 16, 4.00am
Portugal 3 Spain 3

Someone has to pay SBS’s bills, and goodness knows it’s not going to be a career student lying on the couch in Sunshine West who’s probably watched ten minutes, tops, of the still nominally public broadcaster’s English Premier League coverage these past couple of years. It would’ve been nice to be able to watch Egypt and Uruguay at the Heavy Sleeper friendly hour of 10:00 in the evening, but since SBS would rather I watch Sydney vs West Coast instead, your correspondent reluctantly acquiesces to one of the necessary outcomes of SBS’s Faustian pact. I’m hoping like hell that my body clock can overcome its proclivity towards the comatose. I think I wake up at some time around 1:45 or 2:15, and I just know that if I fall asleep again I will not wake up, but at 3:40 or thereabouts I’m about to drift off, but luckily my dad makes sure I make it from the bed to the couch, even though I’ve put my woollen jumper on inside-out. After consuming the remaining biscuits and the last of the coloured flavoured salts in the bottom of the box of BBQ Shapes, then a Monte Carlo, and finally a somewhat watery variation of a well-known banana flavoured formulated supplementary food drink, I am awake enough to watch our one carefully rationed World Cup match for the day; I am also fuelled somewhat by the overnight schadenfreude of many an Optus stream carking it across this big brown land of ours, the incoherent and helpless rage directed at that telephone company making my own disgust at SBS seem entirely reasonably by comparison. During the Portuguese anthems I ponder whether the Portugal players should be standing in order of facial hair type ala a video game character creation suite, but I’m also concerned about the overly emotional and slightly inebriated looking Portugal coach Fernando Santos. Meanwhile, there a few better drunk anthems than Spain’s ‘Marcha Real’, the lyric-less song perfect for drunken “la la la la la” singalongs. The game, thankfully, is a ripper. Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty is soft, but that’s one of the things which Australian players need to improve upon, reminded as I am of my dad’s recollections of bulldozing forwards like Gary Cole who would stand up in a tackle no matter what. The difference between the two teams is pretty clear to a tactical novice like me; one team is an actual team, and the other is carried by Ronaldo, the team-sheet filled out by players with single names like Cedric or Pepe, who regardless of their pedigrees, sound like they picked up off the street. Ronaldo, pound-for-pound if not the most-despised footballer in the world than seemingly the hardest to love, is so far ahead of his teammates, that even regulation passes by him to teammates already in position go squandered. Spain equalise, but fall behind again thanks to a goalkeeping error, and then equalise again by a free kick drill a Victorian state league side would be embarrassed to concede from, were they ever in a position where their opponents were able to pull off such a move. The go-ahead Spanish goal is a volley hit so sweetly that I at first assume it’s tucked itself into the bottom corner, only to see upon replay that it’s hit both posts. At this stage I can’t see a way back for Portugal, Spain controlling tempo and possession, but the Spaniards have been careless enough already in defence during this game, and late on they give away a free kick in prime Ronaldo real estate. The only time I’ve ever been surer of a free kick going in was round 23, 2006 in the Victorian Premier League, when an unfit Con Boutsianis took forever to come off the bench for Oakleigh to take a free kick against South Melbourne. Back in the present day Sochi, Ronaldo is aware of the moment and provides the necessary theatre, standing over the ball, taking in deep breaths, psyching himself up like Goku waiting to unleash a Kamehameha. The free kick is perfect to such a degree that it sails in to goal so delicately that everyone can see it and yet do nothing about it, not goalkeeper David De Gea and not even Sergio Busquets, the man at the edge of the Spanish wall who cranes his head toward the ball in vain as it sails past him. For a few moments my habitual cynicism is cast aside at the glory of the moment, and of the game that can make us feel this way. I want to talk to everyone about the beauty that exists in this world, about fleeting moments of art and grace.

Saturday, June 16, 8.00pm
France 2 Australia 1

The location for the viewing of this match is not Regurgitator’s comfort of a lounge room in suburbia, but the South Melbourne Hellas social club. Following an honourable but nevertheless unwelcome loss – South is dangerously close to the relegation spots – the South faithful retreat into their clubrooms, separated into those who have booked tables and the set menu, and those who would prefer to sit closer to the bar. Being in the former category, we have a decent enough view of the main screen. It’s hard to pay attention to the game when you’re being plied with tender roast goat among other food, and it’s harder still to make out the commentary in a crowded room, though in this case it’s probably for the best. Appreciation of the finer points of the battle before us is also obscured by your two-pot-screamer correspondent being plied with an uncharacteristic amount of scotch and cokes. Still, I can make out that the Socceroos are holding their own, albeit giving away fouls in dangerous areas. Being near clueless about any of the French team, I can only go on stereotypes and put France’s sluggish start down to Gallic arrogance and that well-worn chestnut of them being slow starters at major tournaments. Halftime arrives, and everyone seems happy with the performance so far. Then a midfield miscalculation leads to Josh Risdon both fouling and not fouling Antoine Griezmann in the 18 yard box. Not being a follower of any soccer league above the Victorian top-flight, the use of the video referee in a soccer context is almost entirely foreign to me. I am familiar with video refereeing from the NFL, where its use suits the stop-start precision-pedantry of American football. I know of it from occasionally watching the NRL, where its use has become near mandatory in making scoring decisions, in a conspiracy possibly involving the collusion of a famous fried chicken franchise. I also know it of course from watching cricket, where what was meant to be something rare and occasional is now a tool to be judiciously deployed by the teams themselves as well as the officials. And there’s the use of it in the AFL, where the previously invisible and ignored cases of the barest of fingertip touches of the ball on its way through goal are now rolled back and forth in a video booth ill-equipped to deal with the desired precision. For now, the less said about golf and the official involvement of its television audience in adjudication of the rules, the better. In all cases, the introduction of video technology in officiating is promised as a necessary step of last resort, to be employed with a light touch; in almost every case we get to the point where the corpse of the spirit of the game is thrown onto the coroner’s table and dissected to the nth degree, to the point where we no longer recognise the sport, let alone the specific incident under examination. The more I watched the replays of Schrodinger’s Penalty on the big screen, the more I had doubts about whether the initial decision of play on had been correct. But whether it was or wasn’t the correct call is beside the point; we are accustomed to sport being a chronologically linear affair, each potential action leading to one and only one possible subsequent action, in turn becoming a random but precise and irrevocable series of outcomes that at the end of the 90 odd minutes we call a match. VAR as applied to soccer cleaves at the very fabric of the sport’s space-time continuum. When decisions made and action played out after a referee’s non-decision are later considered null and void by someone either playing God or the writer of a cheesy Star Trek: The Next Generation time paradox episode, we feel cheated on cosmological but dramatic levels – the nature of existence itself is rent asunder. Back in the time-line the VAR gods have decided is the one we’re all going to live in, Griezmann’s penalty shot is unstoppable, remarkable power and precision off a single step. The room is angry, but mostly deflated, until Samuel Umtiti tries to touch the ball with his hands through for a rushed behind. Mile Jedinak’s penalty sends the room into rapture, and it looks like maybe we can get something out of this game. But the French eventually get a hold of themselves, and a beautiful move through the middle leads to goal line technology providing an acceptably definitive answer, even if we have to wait until the next day to be told it’s an own goal credited to Aziz Behich rather than a goal belonging to Paul Pogba. Truth be told, had we won or drawn, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. In the end the Socceroos achieved that highest of Australian soccer accolades, the honourable loss; which even if we don’t want it, we at least know what to do with it.

Sunday, June 17, 10.00pm
Costa Rica 0 Serbia 1

A man travelling from Egypt makes a false declaration on his quarantine form about not having any food. Having failed to talk his way out of the situation with customs officials, he receives a fine which he says he will challenge in court. A woman returns from Vietnam after getting surgery to insert buttock implants; she is later found to have been internally concealing 52 pellets containing heroin. The program’s epigraph tells us she is later jailed for a term of four years, six months; judging by how many times I’ve seen this episode of Border Security, she may well have served her prison term by now. My brother notes that DCI Banks is unusual for a British detective series, in that the title character seems to be a full-time detective, instead of a gardener, cook, or priest who solve crimes in their spare time. I’d note the obvious exceptions to the rule, but that would be ignoring the spirit of the observation, which has a quantifiable validity. During an ad break my brother goes on to note that Isla Fisher is in that new Tag movie, and we ponder the unlikely scenario that her character in the film gets to use a broad Australian accent to claim “barleys”. The Sunday night Law & Order: Special Victims Unit repeats grind on, reaching the early Season 2 episode dealing with a pre-September 11 honour killing of an Afghan woman. Then there’s the Family Guy episode where Brian offers to give up both of his kidneys to save Peter’s life, a premise so nonsensical even the writers give up on it two thirds of the way in. Thanks to social media, I have an inkling that Serbia have taken the lead at some point during their game against Costa Rica, but most of what I can deduct from my Twitter timeline is that Optus’ service is still sputtering at best. The initial glow of schadenfreude having worn off, I’m now mostly amused by people demanding their $15 back, when less than a week ago at least some of them would’ve been talking about what great value Optus’ offer was.

Monday, June 18, 1.00am
Germany 0 Mexico 1

The clips on Rage this evening seem to be exclusively made up of what I assume the kids are listening to these days; they thus offer only confusion to someone whose interest in popular and semi-popular music stalled around a decade ago, before retreating into buying second hand CDs of 90s alternative bands from Savers. Every time I switch onto No Reservations hoping to glimpse Anthony Bourdain in Kerala, there seems to be a commercial break on instead. I’ve also reached the point where the lack of variety in its games means that I’m finally bored with Vs Arashi. Sex Box USA, with its disturbing premise and even more disturbing relationship advice, makes me wonder if we’d be better off going back to the days when television networks stopped broadcasting after a certain point in the evening until the following morning. But the world no longer sleeps, especially during this month especially designated for a lack of sleep. Without adequate television programming to entertain us in between games, we rely on the anger of the sleep-deprived to amuse us. Mere plebs with no vested interest in the ongoing Optus catastrophe are excused to a degree for their expressions of rage. Less forgivable are the attempts at social media one-upmanship employed by Australian soccer’s various broadcasters: whether from SBS, who have tried in Orwellian fashion to convince the Australian public and themselves that less could somehow be more, or at the very least, the same, all while offering to buy back at least some of the farm; Robbie Slater on behalf of himself but by virtue of his employment also a de facto spokesman for Fox Sports, who forgets or ignores that his employer’s private business were given $30 million out of the public purse, and had perhaps some of this largesse been directed towards SBS it may have seen this situation avoided; and of course the Optus people – sans Mel McLaughlin, who seems to no longer be available to talk about how wonderfully futuristic this all is – who are promising to fix this mess, to an increasingly disbelieving crowd. Still, while some blame Optus for grossly overestimating their ability to deliver on their promises, and others blame SBS for selling out their football legacy – ironically while that self-same SBS pay tribute to the late Les Murray ad nauseum, upon whom much of that legacy rested – a John Stensholt article published in the middle of the night searches for a first cause in this mess and finds Tony Abbott. It’s hard to argue that the former prime minister’s reneging on his promise to not cut funding to the ABC and SBS hasn’t contributed to this situation. But while Abbott is not blameless in this affair, a digression into a cosmological discussion which could well discover that “it’s turtles all the way down” would see us miss some salient points.

First, that the World Cup seems to have been a loss maker for SBS no matter how much or how little they paid for it in recent years. Second, that no other commercial free-to-air network has seemingly shown any serious interest in taking up the rights themselves, suggesting a natural cap in soccer’s local popularity – even at its peak in the four-year World Cup cycle – that is lower than we’d perhaps like to admit. Third, that the altogether reasonable conclusion that could be drawn from a combination from points one and two is that the sports broadcasting model is creaking under the combined weight of its unsustainable girth and its pending obsolescence. After all that, I manage to get through the anthems, and the frantic opening minutes of the game. At some point I’m aware that Mexico is in front, but that’s where the story ends, like a little kid desperate to stay up to see in the New Year but succumbing to slumber at the last moment. Heavy Sleeper by name, heavy sleeper by nature.

Monday, June 18, 10pm
Sweden 1 South Korea 0

By Tuesday morning, and not even a third of the way through the group stage, we were a nation so apoplectic with rage at the state of our access to the World Cup, that most of us were able to do little more than hammer Optus on social media. Who would save us, and would they do it soon? Now certain pundits will tell you that Australia is not a true soccer football nation, but boy oh boy did this week prove otherwise. If we weren’t so obsessed with football futbol, would a free-market advocating, sport-illiterate prime minster have used his unearned sense of cultural authority to intrude into the affairs of a private business to get the tournament back on to the screens of a public broadcaster? Thus let there be no doubt whatsoever that our love of futbol o jogo bonito is second to none, with the necessary disclaimers that we only really care once every four years, a claim easily verified by perusal of television ratings numbers, attendance figures, and the fact that only a small few were angry enough to whinge about SBS selling out its World Cup Copa Mundial rights when the announcement was actually made, and not just a couple of days before the tournament was due to begin. Nevertheless, for our suffering, the man in the top hat got us back every game via SBS for us to gorge on for the next 48 hours. For our sins in not giving a stuff before that however, the gods added the proviso that we had to endure the horror of Sweden vs South Korea, an abysmal game in which not only did we have a portent of what a 48 team tournament could produce, but also made me think that maybe we need to go back to 16 teams, or for now at least down to 30. Sweden attack like they’re trying to copy something they’ve seen on TV, like a little kid circa 1991 trying out kung fu moves in the backyard that they saw on a Bruce Lee movie played from a battered VHS tape. You can recognise what they’re trying to do, but the execution is a mess; most notably, Sweden’s forwards refuse to shoot on their non-preferred foot. The Koreans are worse, looking mostly like they’ve never played the game before except for the goalkeeper and that one guy who can run really fast only to blast his cross-field passes out for a throw in every single time. The game is decided by a correct VAR decision probably applied incorrectly – after all, the Korean counter-attack following the referee’s non decision was still in motion – and though I will continue to have my grievances with VAR’s mere existence, this cackheaded sequence of events at least allows my personal hero of this tournament thus far to win the day. Sweden’s number four, Andreas Granqvist, is a centre-back being played at left-back, repeatedly beaten for pace by his opponents, who also seems to have the lust for battle  and surly demeanour which would make him feel right at home in the Victorian state leagues, and I’m glad that he puts away the penalty for his team’s win for those reasons alone, as well as the fact that it undoes all the hard work of the Koreans’ “all Asians look alike to Europeans” training methodology. Look buddy, we all watch K-Pop and the original Korean version of The Good Doctor, so give whitey some credit.

Tuesday, June 19, 4.00am
Tunisia 1 England 2

To my own surprise, I manage to wake up ten minutes before kickoff, which is enough time to stumble towards the kitchen to get the box of Pizza Shapes. My dad has already prepared my liquorice tea so we’re all ready to go, except for the fact that it takes me a little while to figure which team is which, before realising that the team in the Buffalo Bills colour rush red looking strip is England, and that the team in white is Tunisia. If on a graph where the X axis is the degree of England’s apparent competence and the Y axis is the degree to which Tunisia hasn’t even turned up yet, England’s early one goal lead after dominating the early proceedings sits at the coordinate position of (0, 0) precisely. Tunisia then warm up a bit and get themselves a goal via the penalty spot, and it looks like they’re right back in this. But then they do stuff-all for the rest of the game, which is heading to an inevitable draw, especially as Harry Kane is tackled twice in such an aggressive and obvious manner which neither referee, his assistants, nor the VAR gods seem to have noticed, all while also suggesting that Kane may have a post-football future as a jobber on the independent pro-wrestling circuits. But Kane eventually gets his reward through happening to be in the right place at the right time, and England deservedly win what has been at best a game of middling quality; a welcome result which puts England a step closer to getting out of the group stage, so they can be eliminated in some hilarious fashion in the knockout phase of the tournament.

Tuesday, June 19, 10pm
Colombia 1 Japan 2

In the intermission between one night and the next, on the train on my way to see my retinal specialist, two young men are talking to each other about probably nothing of any importance; but then I catch on to the fact that one of them is an employee at an Optus store, and I begin to eavesdrop, such free entertainment being part of the appeal of public transport. The one who works at Optus is telling his friend about the mess that the higher-ups have caused, and how furthermore, so many people turned up to the store where our man in question works trying to get their free / complimentary / probably many conditions apply Fetch boxes that the store ran out, and the aforementioned employee wanted to say to those customers who missed out to come back tomorrow, because “where am I going to get more Fetch boxes now, am I going to pull them out of my arse?”, which is the kind of talk which is passable on a Melbourne train but not in the situation where such language may see you get fired. Then the two blokes started talking about how neither of them had really watched much of the World Cup except for the Socceroos, and the inference seemed to be that they probably didn’t really like soccer anyway, which would be news to those pundits who claimed that we were a true-blue football nation. Meanwhile, closer to kickoff for this game, for which we owe Malcolm Turnbull nothing as this match was already one of the 25 crumbs left for us mere plebs before everything went to hell, I am really getting the irrits with Lucy Zelic’s attempts at hyperwog authenticity with her pronunciation of “foreign” place names; then I remember the time – probably 15 years ago now – where Nick Theodorakopoulos had to reprimand one of The World Game’s newsreaders, possibly Mieke Buchan, for her refusal to attempt pronouncing a Greek team or player’s name a news segment, and I find myself momentarily forgiving Zelic her crimes. After all, Lucy’s only following in the steps of the self-righteous pedantry of one of her mentors Les Murray, who wrote about these matters in his autobiography on pages one hundred and forty-five and one hundred and forty-six. This being the world cup of penalties, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some madman wants to give one away three minutes into the game and get himself sent off for it as well. Then we lose three whole minutes in between the awarding of the penalty and the taking of the penalty, and yet the existence of these minutes where nothing happened and which we will never get back because tradition or something, with only an enlightened few willing to conceive of an alternative world, won’t be considered as big a problem as the occasional sub-par but nevertheless understandable decision from a referee. As the first-half wears on, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be surprised with how well Colombia comes into the game despite their numerical disadvantage, but Japan look cowered, and concede as much from the consequences of their own fear-induced disorganisation as from a dodgy referring decision. What’s astonishing about the second half though is that Japan come out fearless, and they boss the game from there on. Of course one part of us says that they should be bossing the game considering they’re a man up in hot, humid conditions, but there’s the other part of us which doesn’t want to discount Colombia’s implied pedigree. That Japan’s winning goal comes from a corner is as disorienting as their dominance of the second half, because we’ve been told for how many years, even by the commentator in this game, about how the Japanese always struggle with the physicality of non-Asian opponents. Most astonishing of all, I’m unequivocally happy for Japan no matter what caveats you want to put on the circumstances of this victory, whereas I’m almost certain that if the Socceroos had done the same, I’d find myself doubting such a win’s validity as a possible turning point toward greater things.

Wednesday, June 20, 1.00am
Poland 1 Senegal 2

Following the end of the early game the choice lies between sticking around an hour for Poland vs Senegal, or going to bed and hoping to wake up in time for Russia vs Egypt. The decision is made easier by having made some preparations in advance, by having bought a large iced coffee from the bakery during the preceding afternoon. Besides, who isn’t intrigued by the possibilities contained in thousands of Poles invading Russia instead of the other way round? But first there’s an hour to kill and absolutely nothing on television worth watching, not even ironically, and that goes for the one dayer between England and Australia on a concrete driveway at Trent Bridge where England are 0/150 at a rate of about eight runs an over. But I stumble on channel 23 which is simulcasting channel 200 which is the ABC’s jazz station, and things are not so bad, because at least I get to hear Bird of Paradise. I’m not expecting great things from Poland vs Senegal, but neither am I expecting something horrific. In the spirit of compromise the two teams attack with a modicum of gay abandon, and mostly not very well, focusing obsessively on things like which precise blade of grass to place the ball for a corner which will be delivered atrociously rather than actually trying to do smart, normal, supposedly simple things which may lead to a goal. Thank goodness for accidents then, like the own goal which helps Senegal take a (I guess) deserved (shrugs shoulders) lead, but since I only brought a regular strength iced coffee and not its double strength variant, I’m struggling with this game. Senegal double their lead with comical coming-in-off-the-sideline antics, which in my increasingly comatose state I’m all for, but that means the likelihood of my making it through the remaining half hour are diminished. But I fight sleep until Poland pull a goal back, which gets me across the finish line even as it does nothing for Poland right now, unless progression from the group is decided by goal difference, which as someone who will probably end up as misanthropic bureaucrat fixated on what’s technically correct rather than on what’s just, would be a just outcome of procedure.

Wednesday, June 20, 10.00pm
Morocco 0 Portugal 1

An ancient Chinese sage – I believe it was Mick Malthouse – once said that the ox is slow but the earth is patient. It feels incredibly satisfying that having waited for the ox, those of us refuseniks who didn’t give in to the demands of the future have been vindicated for our stance, at least for the rest of the group stage; and since after that mostly only good teams are left, who cares about what comes afterwards? By that stage the staggered mid-season bye rounds of the footy will be over and we can get back to caring about a different kind of sporting incompetence and national handwringing*, and if you listen to the ABC’s footy broadcasts, you’ll get even more wisdom from Mick Malthouse, which is pretty damn convenient if you ask me. And to think that those turkeys in the Liberal Party want to sell off the ABC, who the hell listens to what Young Liberals have to say anyway? I came into contact with some of them back in 2003 at Melbourne University, and they were such wretched, twisted people that even Young Liberals from other university campuses despised them. Meanwhile, after the repeat episode of Think Tank where one of the contestants guesses “Brisbane Strikers” as the answer to the question “what is the nickname of the Brisbane team the A-League?” it becomes quite clear that the rest of tonight’s free-to-air offerings are pure garbage – even the Simpsons repeats – so I try to catch up on some sleep before kickoff in the early game. The Moroccan defender assigned to keep watch on Cristiano Ronaldo at the corner – and I assume also the ball – loses both, and Ronaldo does the business, in fact basically the only thing he’ll do for the whole game. So what? It’s enough to get the win here despite Portugal being trash. Morocco show a lot of pluck and daring, but do they get any shots away to trouble the Portugal goalkeeper? Maybe one, but that’s about it, and thus as entertaining as Morocco are, and as eye-gougingly hard to watch as Portugal are, there is only going to be one winner. Morocco’s Nordin Amrabat is particularly fascinating to watch, not just because of the scrum cap he’s wearing following a concussion he received in the previous game – a cap which he later discards during the early parts of this game. Now I’m no medical doctor or even the other crappier kind of doctor that gets to wear a special hat and robe that one time because they read some books and wrote a vanity project on the aforementioned books while on the taxpayers dime, but there’s probably no firm evidence out there that those kinds of helmets actually do anything to prevent or ameliorate the effects of concussion, but professional sport is all about ignoring medical evidence which shows that the long term wellbeing of its participants is often cast aside for some infinitesimal chance at achieving glory. Besides, we’re all much more concerned in the here and now about the players who pretend to be injured rather than those who choose to believe they aren’t.

*VIC, TAS, SA, WA, and southern NSW viewers only. Viewers in NSW/ACT, QLD, please check your local guides.

Thursday, June 21, 4.00am,
Iran 0 Spain 1

I am woken at roughly 4:00 by my dad who asks me if I want to watch the game, which a day ago would’ve seemed like a rhetorical question, but I’m beginning to feel the effects of compromised sleep and also feeling nauseous. I soon find myself on the couch with a cup of weak and lukewarm tea, not really feeling up to it, and then I realise there’s this sick low buzzing sound coming from somewhere which isn’t helping matters. Suddenly I realise that the sound is coming from the television and that the sound is vuvuzelas, hundreds or even possibly thousands of them. Now I wasn’t bothered by the vuvuzelas during the World Cup in South Africa, but here they emit a persistent, dull, noxious moan that is nearly unbearable, though if Mike Patton had released that sound as an album 15 years ago, 20-year-old Patton fan boy Paul Mavroudis would’ve seriously considered buying it from Missing Link. The game isn’t much better, because Iran have parked the bus from the opening minutes, and Spain’s efforts to break down the Iranian defence doesn’t have an Alexander the Great in its ranks, at least not tonight. The game going nowhere, there’s time for a desperately needed toilet break during the first half, knowing that I’m not going to miss anything, and I don’t. Spain finally break the deadlock in the second half thanks to finding that the Gordian Knot of Kazan is best untied by accident, the Iranian defender’s tackle rebounding the ball back into the path of the credited goal scorer. That the goal is scored by Diego Costa, a Brazilian playing for Spain named after an Argentine, is fitting in a lazy ancient prophecy kind of way. After conceding the goal Iran feel the need to chase the game and as is so often the case they actually look OK doing that, which makes you wonder why they didn’t to do that in the first place, considering they had three points in the bank from their first game and the other fact that Spain’s defence has looked a bit suss whenever it’s been tested so far this tournament, taking into account the small sample size at hand. Iran in fact do score, and the celebrations are wild, the game turned on its head and you wonder what their approach will be from here on in, will they go back to sitting deep and compact or will they get some confidence from scoring and continue to take the game up to their esteemed opponents. Oh, wait, there’s a VAR review, none of that counted, goal disallowed for offside, wordy speculation declared null and void, everyone back to your couches, Spain wins, onto the next game.

Thursday, June 21, 10.00pm
Denmark 1 Australia 1

It’s a race against the clock and the vagaries of Melbourne’s public transport network as it functions after the end of the evening peak for me to get home in time for kickoff. At Spencer Street station I have to pull that logistical manoeuvre where I have to catch the Werribee line to North Melbourne, and hope that the Sunbury service going through the loop is delayed long enough that I have time to dash up the steep platform six ramp and down the just as steep platform four ramp without killing myself. Fortunately the various variables align themselves in such a manner that it all works out more than fine. When I get home I find that mine and Donald Trump’s favourite film is on, that of course being Bloodsport. With twenty minutes until kickoff in the Denmark vs Australia game, Frank Dux breaks the bottom brick to demonstrate the dim mak technique, and I’m wondering whether I will be able make myself switch over to SBS, because when else do you get to watch a movie of that calibre on free-to-air television except for the last time it was on, and does it even matter that you obviously also already own the DVD and dubiously acquired mp3s of the incredibly underrated soundtrack by Paul Hertzog? The first fight day in the film features Stan Bush’s rendition of “Fight to Survive”, a song better than just about any national anthem out there, and a perfect segue into the World Cup game itself. Those at home who had “three seconds” in a “David Basheer reference to Princess Mary” sweeps would’ve been happy with the start of this match, but the rest of us saw erratic defending from the Socceroos which lead to a Danish goal and all of us wondering how a team that can’t score goals from open play or even semi-open play is going to get back into this game. Fear not, because two of the three defining characteristics of the 2018 World Cup are ready to come to the rescue, they being VAR and another penalty; if only there was some way we could’ve squeezed in an Optus buffering reference in there without it being a colossal misfire of a sentence padding out space until returning to what’s happening in the present moment. Honestly, by the letter of the law it was not a handball. Let’s break it down piece by piece. There is no such thing as “unnatural position” as regards the handball law, and even if there was, how do you jump really high without lifting your arms? More crucially for the law as it is actually written, the handball is clearly not deliberate, indeed Yussuf Poulsen’s arm is moving away from the ball of its own natural volition. More to the point, breaking it down in this way is exactly what the VAR officials should be doing, but instead they apply the spirit of the law as it is generally applied these days, that if the arm happens to be somewhere not next to your side or down your pants you are a monster who deserves to be punished for their crimes in perpetuity, including possibly putting handball offenders onto a public register where they have to inform their neighbours of their criminal past. So the spiritually correct decision is made after the fact rather than the technically correct one which was made in real time because the audience is too stupid to know any better, but as Camus wrote in The Plague – which I’m only a third of the way through, so forgive me for not having got the entire message of the book yet – “stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves”. Level at the break and everyone is kinda happy I guess as long as Robbie Kruse is soon banished to a permanent Socceroos exile, perhaps even to a plot of land on St Helena during national team matches just to make sure, though I’d put the Tim Cahill fan club on a ship out there first. During the obligatory halftime punditry I’m a little surprised that Craig Foster is almost apologetic about the handball decision, but also pleased – I’m thinking maybe Foz has become self-aware at just the right moment, recognising that his hyper-parochialism damages his credibility as a football analyst and ambassador for Australian soccer. Later events show that moment of self-control to have been an aberration; easy come, easy go.

Switching back to Bloodsport during the break, one wonders at first what VAR would’ve said about Chong Li’s use of crushed salt to blind Frank Dux, followed by wondering about how the Kumite officials missed that in the first place. At least we are able to fit in Dux’s triumph over Li and the awarding of the ceremonial sword which he dedicates to his dying shidoshi.

Do any of the Socceroos happen to have at hand a dying shidoshi who has trained them in the ways of football and life to such a degree of excellence so as to inspire them to fight with inspiration? Alas, no. Daniel Arzani looks good when he comes on, but everyone else’s skill level is not nearly good enough to punish a Danish side which is worse than lacklustre in the second half. After my quip about the Socceroos and honourable losses, people will want to know what I think about the comparative place of a frustrating draw in a game we should’ve won, but that would miss the bigger picture: that we missed the chance to become Unofficial World Champions, an opportunity which doesn’t present itself very often. Heads should roll, but everyone will look the other way.

Friday, June 22, 4.00am
Argentina 0 Croatia 3

Even for those whose current employment status can best be described as “nebulous”, watching the entirety of the World Cup is a near impossible task. It’s almost always the wrong time zone for Australians, most humans are not by nature nocturnal, and even then there’s so many things that can go wrong – like the free-to-air rights holder offloading most of its rights to a paid streaming service which doesn’t even work properly. Even under normal, less compromised circumstances, you’re doing well if you’re regularly watching two World Cup games live overnight. For someone like myself, who has no learned practice of staying up late for anything – not overseas soccer, not parties, not even guest programmers on Rage – the World Cup is a rare opportunity to play the night owl, albeit from warmth and safety of the couch rather than out on the town. But that lack of practice catches up with you at some point. So while I had the best of intentions after watching Denmark vs Australia to skip France vs Peru in order to watch the later Argentina vs Croatia match, I found myself waking up at 6:30, well after the conclusion of affairs in the last of the overnight games. These things happen, you get disappointed for a second, you see the goals on the breakfast news programs – if the local television networks can be bothered showing stuff other than the Socceroos action during their sports reports – and you move on. But in this case, during the early afternoon I found myself in Ian Syson’s Footscray apartment, for what was meant to be the latest in our series of semi-regular catch-ups of vague improved psychological well-being value; of vague value because I’m not sure how much improvement in mental health you can get from a couple of depressives meeting in a small sixth-story flat, though it must be said I do enjoy the company. I almost never intend to watch television at Ian’s house, no matter how many times I’m asked to come over to watch something – except for that one time we were obliged by an out of state visitor and by social curiosity on my part to watch a rugby league State of Origin match, and boy I did get a good look at the “Lapsed Queenslander” phenomenon on that night. I took a seat next to the window overlooking Footscray, and Flemington and Kensington beyond that, the sunlit window radiating just enough heat for me to embody my spirit animal; that being an indoors-only cat. The chair I’m on is in a strange position, next to and slightly behind the television which is almost but not quite in the corner of the room, so that when television is turned it on, I can’t see the screen from my vantage point. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest – and neither is my decision to move to actual proper viewing position as some kind of nonsense protest against Optus – because I’m here for a chat about serious and unserious things. Soon enough my host – who has an Optus set-up of some sort – puts on a replay of the Argentina vs Croatia match, and he watches and listens and I just listen. Since television is neither ice hockey nor lacrosse, being behind the focal point – in this case the screen – is not a place many people will be familiar with, and you may be surprised with how loud the volume emanating from the back of a television can be. In between our playful slander of everyone not in the room, what comes through most clearly is the crowd noise, the sound of hatred and vitriol directed at anything and anyone. It is the sound of perpetual disappointment. I catch the sound of the moment where Enzo Perez misses that sitter for Argentina during the first half, a moment which the Messi apologists will use as proof of Lionel’s burden, and the kind of moment Messi’s haters will ignore. There’s bigger questions here about how it all came to this, and especially how someone so admired became someone whose character is now so tainted, even leaving out tax avoidance and human growth hormone allegations and whether his former cherubic appearance was an illusion of our own making. There’s no time for that now however, as halftime arrives and it’s time for me to leave, not least because I’ve already seen Croatia’s goals on a highlights package somewhere else today, and I don’t really need to come into contact with them again.

Friday, June 22, 10.00pm
Brazil 2 Costa Rica 0

Expectations are low for this contest, but at least Costa Rica start promisingly enough, grafting a couple of chances early on. But after that the most notable thing about this game for most of its duration is that Brazil – the nominal “home” team – is wearing its away kit. Because there have been several occasions during this tournament where teams have seemingly worn away kits even while being the designated home team despite there being no obvious clash with their opponent’s “home” kit, speculation begins to wander. First to FIFA: are there still people out there watching with black and white TVs who FIFA feels obligated to continue accommodating? Then to the kit makers: are they just trying to sell more shirts, especially since Brazil conveniently has at hand a special edition replica of their 1958 World Cup winning kit? Or is it perhaps a more straightforward answer here, that Brazil’s home kit has blue shorts and white socks, and Costa Rica’s home kit has blue shorts and white socks, and that if Costa Rica wear their mostly white away kit it wouldn’t be a clash but neither would it have enough chromatic clean air, and thus we resort to what is a very common sense solution, which if we had any collective memory we would recall has also been used at the World Cup for some generations now, at least as far back as 1994. That doesn’t explain what happened in Denmark vs Australia, but that’s a problem for two nights ago.  Here Brazil soon becomes ascendant, but they remain unlovable thanks to persistent fouls and the cynicism in their play which we supporters allow every other nation to indulge in except for Brazil, because we’d rather remember Pele’s 1960 Brazil, 1970s colour television Brazil, the romantic failure of Socrates’ 1982 Brazil, even 1990s Nike ad Brazil, even if we weren’t alive to see them and especially if we remember them wrongly – look, both teams even wearing their away kits in 1974! So while we the global audience only want Brazil to succeed on our terms, we struggle to feel any sympathy for the Seleção, not even when little Neymar Jr pulls his shirt over his eyes to cover his face, trying to find the one place where the world cannot see the anguish and distress of being under so much pressure to succeed and being unable to do anything about it. There is so little public sympathy for Neymar and Brazil that even the VAR is more beloved, especially when it catches Neymar in the act of diving for a penalty. But loved or loathed, Brazil are the better team here, and though it takes nearly forever, they get there in the end because they are the better team; love can wait until later.

Saturday, June 23, 10.00pm
Belgium 5 Tunisia 2

In a sleep deprived state you may think to yourself what possible point of animosity could there be between neutral Switzerland and pretty much anyone else in the world, even Serbia, but that’s what you get for SBS shutting down The World Game Forum nearly eight years ago now. So all the potential flashpoint storylines that would’ve been known to me then are now a mystery, and thus I decided sleep was the better part of valour. More fool me, missing out on one of the better games of the tournament, and much else besides. But it’s also a bit like this, though it might be sacrilegious to say so, but just like there is such a thing as too much jazz and too much chocolate, all these things I love in small and medium doses respectively have become too much, the nuances becoming blurred and indistinct. Even a dose of low quality state league soccer on a dreary day at a dying club – who have a replay of Romania 3 Argentina 2 from 1994 inside their clubrooms, just to prove the point that their best days are well behind them – can only do so much to cleanse the soul and recharge the desire to watch some proper soccer. Belgium vs Tunisia holds little promise, and when the Belgians jump out to a 2-0 lead I’m just about ready to call it a night, little sign of even prurient interest in how ugly this could get, maybe give the entire World Cup a miss for a night, the need for more Heavy Sleeper content be damned. But Tunisia do absolutely the wrong thing and score a goal to nominally make it a contest, and I decide to stick it out even though it eventually becomes a rout anyway. At least the Flemings and the Walloons and the Congolese look good doing it, though I have my suspicions that they’ll get found out sooner or later.

Sunday, June 2, 4.00am
Germany 2 Sweden 1

This report was originally going to be a mini-treatise on how the World Cup needs the brand name teams in it and it needs them to do well, which began with “Here is the problem with the World Cup, in a nutshell: there are a lot of trash teams in it. Now you could reduce the number of teams to make it a more exclusive affair, but then it’s much less of a World Cup then isn’t it? You could, as FIFA have done in the past and will continue to do, increase the number of teams to be both more representative of the world but also make sure the big names that are most likely to win these things on the proviso they make it to the finals actually make it. But whichever way you look at it, more teams equals more trash, and in the end the ultimate blame for that must not go to the trash teams which made it this far, but to the supposedly good teams which didn’t because they couldn’t get past Sweden. Even worse though…” but that was all based on some insincerely held opinions and I’ve long given up trying to play the kind of devil’s advocate antics made famous by every sullen teenage boy with an unhealthy obsession with “reason and logic” and – this is just a guess here – a John Frusciante solo album collection that’s way too big, which is anything more than three physical albums and a download of Smile From the Streets You Hold. I set those limits for no particular reason. Sweden aren’t much chop, but everyone is here to see if they can do the business and get Germany eliminated from the tournament at this early stage, everyone having a chip on their shoulder about Germany for some reason or other. Sweden take the lead from one of their counter-attacks, which seem to be the only way they’re going to score, but one way is better than no way unless you’re Bruce Lee or something. Germany equalise early on in the second half, but then do that thing where every routine and spectacular attempt alike fails to get the winner. When all hope seems lost however, there’s that free kick with the mesmerising combination of a lot of daring, a wall so flimsy it was not worth the bother, and a goalkeeper who took one half-step the wrong way before readjusting not that it would’ve made a difference. It made some people very happy, even me, if only because it justified getting up for the game.

Sunday, June 24, 10.00pm
England 6 Panama 1

But all joy is fleeting when your club is officially in the relegation zone over halfway through the season. At that point nothing else matters, the world is a vampire, it doesn’t matter if we all die, so if you want happy times for the rest of this diary, you’re out of luck unless Hellas start pulling their finger out. I left Lakeside straight after the whistle at just before 9:00, hoping by some miracle at least that I could get home before 10:00, if not to watch England vs Panama, then at least to watch a Law & Order: SVU repeat before Japan vs Senegal. As luck would have it, I was still only as far as sitting on a metal bench on a platform at Spencer Street at 10:00, and when I got home circa 10:30 I found that a one day cricket broadcast had supplanted the reassuring sound of Dick Wolf’s cash register. So it was over to England vs Panama, a game which had England fans jubilant and even believing, and everyone else questioning – less with the sincerity of a small child’s curiosity about how the world works than with the not-really-as-clever-as-they-think sarcasm of a teenager – how the USA could possibly have finished behind David Lee Roth’s car. And before you question whether Panama-Van Halen jokes have been has been done to death, would you rather have seen mention of Panama hats of tax havens instead? No, of course not, everyone prefers remembering Diamond Dave doing his spin-kicks and rhythmic gymnastics routine. By the time I’ve turned the TV on, England were already 2-0 up, soon to be 3-0, and you know the rest. The highlight, apart from the Panamanian wrestling, was Panama scoring a goal, meaningless in the greater scheme of things, but which nevertheless unleashed – wait for it – PANAMANIA! among their fans, who will have a fond memory to take home with them. When you have all sorts of social media busybodies questioning your very right to be sharing the same stage as some of the most hallowed names in world football and (unnecessary jibe) England, those moments are special. Trust me, South fans know.

Monday, June 25, 1.00am
Japan 2 Senegal 2

A university colleague once asked me how I managed to get through an undergraduate degree without caffeine, to which I must’ve replied with something self-deprecating but also smug; and though the smugness has disappeared somewhat since then I hope, I persist with the straight-edge-lite idea that I can function in wakefulness required situations without caffeine, despite ample evidence that’s not the case. There being nothing good on television to fill out the time between the end of early game and the beginning of the following, I took a quick catnap on the couch, hoping that it wouldn’t turn into a three or four or five hour stretch, and what do you know, I woke up with 15 minutes to go before kickoff in this game. Good timing, yes? Well you would think so, before I rationalised that I was still a bit tired and that I didn’t have to watch this match, what did it matter anyway, and so I went to bed. And then once in bed, all warm and cosy, I started thinking differently for some reason, and got out of bed after ten minutes and went back to the couch, rationalising that this had the chance of being a decent game, and as for the lack of sleep, “as long as I get 31 hours sleep tomorrow, I’m cool”, to borrow a phrase from Larry Miller. Senegal scores first thanks to a goalkeeper cock-up, then Japan equalise through a nice finish and we have a great game on our hands, and I want to say that I’m impressed with the pace of Japan’s movement and passing across the ground, everything seems so crisp out there, but here on the couch everything just gets hazier, and I’m wondering if I should start entering the world of grown-ups caffeine with instant coffee from a tin or just go straight to whatever it is that truckies use to get them across the country and back.

Tuesday, June 26, 4.00am
Portugal 1 Iran 1

Football nations sometimes find themselves and their national culture as a whole defined by a single player and the role they play on the field. For some nations it is the attacking midfield lynchpin; for others the out-and-out striker; and for others still, the midfield enforcer. For Iran, the national personification seems to be defined by the role of the goalkeeper, at least from what I could gather from a pretty erratic Iranian documentary I once saw called “I Am Nasser Hejazi”. So this game became all about Alireza Beiranvand, whose story has already been told much better everywhere else, who started this game nervous as hell but came out of it an almost-hero. Heart-warming stuff all around, enhanced by having someone eminently hateable for the role of villainous penalty taker in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, much like Iceland’s goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson won momentary fame for saving Lionel Messi’s penalty earlier in the tournament. We cheer them on because we want the underdog to succeed on at least some level, and if it’s at the expense of someone famous enough to satisfy our tall-poppy cutting tendencies, so much the better. Portugal had taken the lead with an unstoppable shot for Ricardo Quaresma, but they haven’t been convincing at pretty much any stage of this tournament no matter how much or how little possession they’ve held, in this case controlling proceedings as much because of the over-caution of the Iranians. Enter VAR, upon which the Heavy Sleeper has exhausted all of its anger and insight, but which this column feels duty bound to make one more comment on before we get back to bashing SBS and Optus after the end of the group stage. In 1998, Eels released their one unquestionably brilliant album, Electro-Shock Blues – the follow-ups ranging from the enjoyable to the barely passable to the most recent records not being worth the effort even for fans – which contained the song “Cancer for the Cure”, based on the germ of an idea that the cure (not clearly identified) may be worse than the disease (whatever that was). Such is the nature of VAR, which has been brought in to cure the disease of poor and uncertain decision making, but which while doing so will only magnify the scale of incorrect decisions a thousand fold. Here we have two instances of the present folly of the increase of the in-game bureaucracy, whereby Ronaldo is cited for an elbow he’s supposedly thrown at an opponent and which if he is found guilty of the charge must sent be sent off. Somehow the officials conspire to find a middle-path, finding both guilt and abandoning the supposed necessity of dismissal, which will result in the charge of conspiracy from viewers around the world instead of the more likely one of incompetence. Me, I can’t see anything wrong with what Ronaldo’s attempted to do, which is get in front of his opponent, while others watching find clear and obvious grounds for his ejection from the game. Much like a famous argument about who has the right to a New York parking space, so much of this comes down to personal whim, and where some see obvious malice in Ronaldo’s actions I see only the theatrical, exaggerated movements typical of a player who is supremely aware of everyone’s focus being on him at all times. Then Iran get their own favourable VAR decision, another questionable handball penalty call, the result of an intellectual process as indecipherable as an ancient druid reading animal entrails to divine the correct future course of action. Mystifying and infuriating as this process is, VAR is here and it’s not going anywhere, so the best we can hope for is enough refinement in its processes to achieve the elimination of most incorrect decisions and the magnification of the most heinous mistakes, until such time as we have Minority Report style mutant precogs to tell us who won the game before it was even played. The one saving grace here is that probably the right team in this match got to progress to the next stage, because as Iran learned the hard way, there are not yet “do overs” for the mistakes made by players when they miss open goals.

Wednesday, 27 June, 12.00am
Australia 0 Peru 2

No catnap needed here in the lead-up to kickoff, just restlessly sitting through an episode of Archer, which I otherwise never watch because for mine H. Jon Benjamin can only ever be Ben Katz; and then after that the background noise of the Big Bang Theory episode where Leonard buys a dining table. And then on to the game itself, which follows a familiar script; a solid effort, even dominance in general play, only to be outdone by a sublime piece of skill preceded by the hint of an offside and thus the officials are to blame, and not us. Then more solid effort, more dominance in general play, and then a goal conceded via a deflection which means that divine providence is to blame, and not us. And so the Socceroos’ World Cup journey comes to an end again, in much the same way it usually does: noble efforts which end in honourable losses, missed opportunities which end in self-deceiving draws, and rear-guard actions which fall short. I may not know what the right questions or answers to a nation’s existential football might be, but give me this much credit: I can recognise obvious patterns. Thus we have the de rigueur re-realisation that while we are a competent football nation, competence can take us only so far, and that when something more than competence is required we’re revealed to be a nation with strikers that can’t score goals, midfielders that can’t create quality chances for them, and defenders who are out of position at the most crucial moments. And then come the familiar recriminations about who should coach us and who should teach us, whether we’re on the right path, and whether we’re near or far from something better than what we’ve achieved. The Socceroos and Australian soccer as a whole have become an avalanche of clichés thundering down the mountain of our unrealistic expectations, along the way collecting snowball truisms, hoary appeals to national character, and a persistent yearning for magic-bullets and messiah figures. Robbie Slater, having laid some of the media groundwork which lead in part to the previous Australian coach leaving, now argues for an Australian coach. Previously perhaps only possibly characterised as being too passionate about the national team, Craig Foster has become an automated Aussie cliché bot, spouting strange approximations of Australian national identity as it exists in 2018; thus we get references to Villers-Bretonneux and what the French owe us, and comparing Mile Jedinak to Ned Kelly. And then there are those who I can only assume don’t actually pay any meaningful attention to soccer in between World Cup cycles, who contributed to the persistence of the cult of Tim Cahill and the idea that the key to our getting out of the group stage lay in a 38 year old who had played an hour’s worth of football in the past six months, and whose inextinguishable self-belief held the nation to emotional ransom because no one with any authority had the heart to tell him that it was time to move on, because maybe they also secretly believed Our Timmy could accomplish things which mostly only happen in the movies, and only rarely in real life. Meanwhile the French and the Danes collude for the sake of a mutually beneficial dullness, Aussie Bert becomes just Bert again, while those of us who will remain switched onto Australian soccer in between the quadrennial carnivals of increased local interest prepare for the joy of the temporarily postponed administrative reckoning.

Thursday, June 28, 4.00am
Brazil 2 Serbia 0

Woken up by my dad at 4:15, and while you can never tell for sure, it doesn’t seem like we’ve missed anything important. Very latent sense of Orthodox Brotherhood makes me sympathetic toward Serbia, but they’re not doing anything, and Brazil are in cruise control, the same cruise control they’ve been in for the entire tournament probably. After halftime dad and I are encouraged by the Serbs pulling their finger out for about twenty minutes, but it only serves to resemble a more competent Australia – sure, the passing and movement is slicker, but the same sense of fear of success is there, but that’s probably just overthinking things, finding excuses for a team that probably isn’t good enough. Of the same period of play my dad says <<δεν φτουράει>>, and he’s probably a lot closer to the mark than any longwinded and technically minded commentary – just don’t ask me to explain what that phrase means, because my physical dictionary has something about shovelling, Google Translate says something about hurting or sucking, and Bing Translate has nothing to say on the matter at all. Not that it matters, because I know what my dad means, even if I can’t explain it you, and even if some examples of that phrase’s modern usage are also way off the mark; because once Brazil get their second goal, thanks to a Serbian defender clearing the path of potential obstacles so that Thiago Silva gets a free header in the six yard box, my old man’s prognosis of the Serbian situation is proven to be true.

Friday, June 29, 12.00am
Senegal 0 Colombia 1

The intent as always is to stay up and watch the whole game, but it’s never that easy, especially when you’ve just come off your biggest workout in nearly a decade; in other words, passing a ball around the Lakeside Stadium futsal court for five minutes and then spending another 20 minutes taking shots from the halfway line aiming for the crossbar, getting creases in my Dunlop Volleys. I manage to wake up at about the 74 minute mark, just as Colombia take the lead. Expecting Senegal to come out all guns blazing after that I’m left disappointed. Switching over to the other channel, I see that Japan have lost but also won, and they’re happy, and so I go to bed. It’s not until the morning that I come to see that they progressed to the next stage through use of some very dark arts, but isn’t that more Senegal’s fault? I mean, when you have a bloke manning the near post from a corner, surely you want him to do more than just lean on the post like he’s waiting for a mate out the front of one of the shisha and billiard joints near Sunshine station?

Friday, June 29, 2018, 4.00am
England 0 Belgium 1

Got up at 8:30, well after this game had finished, but managed to avoid seeing the score in between getting from the bed to the couch, and thus decided to spend some time watching the last half hour of the replay. It looks like Belgium have just scored, so whatever unconscious interplay existed between space and time which helped me catch the only goal of the previous game, it’s gone. I have no intention of checking Twitter or any other social media, lest it wreck the suspense of a game that neither side was sure they even wanted to win, but I do check to see if I’ve got any messages, and what do you know, there’s the score right there thank you very much unsolicited Google alert. Not much being one for replays anymore, I change channels and watch the episode of Star Trek: Next Generation where the children of the Enterprise are abducted by a race of people who are unable to have children of their own, even though the acting is wooden, and I already know the meaningless and predictable outcome: that Wesley Crusher is going to remain king of the space nerds until they give him a proper send-off in Season 7.

Sunday, July 1, 4.00am
Portugal 1 Uruguay 2

At some time just after 10:00PM the night before, having listened to the Pies over the Suns, I know that if I stay up to watch France vs Argentina that I’ll fall asleep pretty early on. Thus I take the chance that I’ll be woken or get up on my own in time for the start of Portugal vs Uruguay. It’s a big risk for the Heavy Sleeper to take, but I’m woken by my dad and I get up, except that’s just a dream, a fact I only realise when I wake up for real at 3:55 and realise I’m the only one awake. Still, good timing and all that thanks to some tidy work by my subconscious. A mini Snickers and some Pasito later, I’m feeling ready for what this game has to offer, although I quickly become aware that for the sake of watching this game I’ve missed one of the all-time great World Cup matches, provided that you can measure these things in terms of the quantity of goals and not methods more closely related to gymnastics style scoring systems. Anyway, it isn’t always an either/or situation. There’s many reasons to look forward to and many ways to enjoy a game, and an unabashed display of evil is certainly one of those. In a World Cup whose headline acts are all evil in some significant way – the tax dodging, growth hormone taking faux-cherub; the tax dodging android who mimics genuine human emotion; the other, other tax dodger, and potential systemic corruption perjurer; the one who fell over a few days ago and is still rolling around; Germany; Tim Cahill – and yet how can we go past Uruguay for a whole team’s commitment to pure evil? It would be easy to focus just on Luis Suarez’s street urchin brand of evil, but the entire team subscribes to an ethos of bringing the game into disrepute in each and every game. When Bruce Springsteen sang “I guess there’s just a meanness in this world” he could just as easily have been talking about the Uruguayan national football team as singing about the justification used by a semi-fictionalised spree killer. Here is one of the few national teams of any note which plays with two talented strikers and not just an assortment of forwards, and yet it steadfastly refuses to win by more than a single goal. If they go ahead, as they do here early on through a marvellous Cavani header to finish off a brilliant sweeping move, rather than press home the advantage they decide to sit back and gift a mediocre side like Portugal the ball. When Portugal get the goal back, Uruguay kick into gear again and score another stunning Cavani goal. When Alvaro Recoba said back in 2005 that Uruguay have a divine right to be at the World Cup, he wasn’t just saying something to mess with people’s heads, though that was part of it, nor was he saying it because of arrogance, though that was there too; he said it mostly because he and Uruguay as a nation believe it. It’s an idea which probably holds them back, but it’s also one which probably helps them get further than they should. The game ends, and Craig Foster starts talking about conquistadors in his post-match summary and I change the channel quickly just in case Foz’s soliloquy makes any accidental sense.

Sunday, July 1, later that day
France 4 Argentina 3

Having missed the goal feast, I can at least break my admittedly arbitrary rule around watching replays, and wait for the replay of this match to start. But that means having to skip through the replay of the pre-game stuff as well, where there’s a random North American, David Zdrilic has too much spray tan on, and where the Foz looks like he always does – horribly and obviously impatient while waiting for other people to stop talking. So while pondering why no one seems to have made any connection between Lucy Zelic and SBS Woman – because this thing goes way before Les Murray – it’s over to Rage, Man Fire Food, Mass For You At Home, and whatever else is on at that time of morning that isn’t explicitly trying to sell me something.

The game finally starts and there’s a sense of foreboding all centred on Lionel Messi – even just by noting that his family is here – and there’s the unmistakable vibe that the end is near, something that will be amplified whenever something goes wrong for Argentina in this game and the cameras quickly go to his alternately stoic or frozen reaction. France look about as a good as a team can when they’re both super talented but also in more route one mode than even 1980s Wimbledon. It gets them the opening goal, another penalty, and fair enough. Argentina have all of the ball, but look incredibly clunky, until Di Maria takes matter into his own hands, and Mercado gets in the way while and scores by accident. But there’s not much suspense here, because I know when the goals are going to go in, and all that remains is the how. Thank goodness for Pavard and his all-superlatives-will-fail-us mix of art, physics, and improvisation, reinforcing at least this much: even if there have been too many penalties, too much VAR, too much handwringing in trying to see where greatness will come from when so many of the brand name teams and players either aren’t here or are underperforming, that the game will still provide moments like this, and Russia 2018 has done so in spades. The third and fourth French goals are less convincing from an artistic point of view, but aesthetically they have the awe inspiring and terrible feel of a landslide. Argentina’s consolation goal will probably do every other team that has to face France more harm than good, serving as a potent reminder against complacency, which would be a strange thing to have a World Cup, don’t you think?

Monday, July 2, 12.00am
Spain 1 Russia 1 (Russia wins on penalties)

Being the stage of the tournament where there’s only two games a night – when there are any games at all – every night from the group stage on is another Sophie’s Choice which, not having read the book or seen the film I presume is about this very issue. I blame Optus, who if they were able to keep their side of the bargain would’ve prevented the majority of Australians from having to make a choice between choosing which game to watch, instead of having to make do with either staying up and falling asleep during the midnight game or waking up late during the early game going by normal people time – normal time being Australian Eastern Standard Time, and not whatever it is that they’re doing in Perth – which reminds me of the Richey Edward’s lyric fragment of a lyric fragment “I would prefer no choice: one bread, one milk, one food, that’s all”, which pity poor James Dean Bradfield having to get into a song even if that record was by far the best thing the Manic Street Preachers had done in over a decade; yet as enjoyable as it was, it was still a rehash of better days. Much the same could be said for Spain who were engaged in slow motion tiki-taka, rehashing their glory days in an unbelievably inferior fashion, like a tribute band or a tribute band to a tribute band who also happened to be the original band themselves. It all looks familiar, but there’s no energy, no hunger, no cutting edge, like watching 1970s dinosaur rock bands going through the motions to a boomer audience who’ve paid top price in order to try and recapture their youth, yet who will go home before the second encore which is where Hotel California gets played; or so I’m told. Here we have an own goal – another one – which gives Spain the early lead and the apparent licence to do nothing after that, a dangerous game, because as bad as any team is – and Russia is garbage – there’s always the chance that they could level the game, and they do here through another garbage VAR penalty decision which only serves to prove that no one knows the handball law anymore, and we may as well change it to align it with whatever interpretation is being implemented rather than what should be implemented according to the rules. The two goals are the only blips of interest, except for spotting one time future South Melbourne Hellas coach Roberto Carlos in the stands. At some point around the 75 minute mark I fall asleep, and thirty minutes later or thereabouts I wake up during the early stages of extra time, and I assume that nothing has happened, and nothing continues to happen, then there’s the shootout which Spain lose, and does it even matter to Spain? Like when Chuck Palahniuk had the teenagers in his short story Zombies avoid the question of “to be or not to be?” by giving themselves defibrillator induced lobotomies, it’s like Spain were both there and not there, and also neither of those options. Alternatively, Spain are like those who’ve achieved enlightenment but haven’t yet left this mortal coil, living in the accomplished daze of their own supreme satisfaction, one that’s hopelessly remote from those of us still doomed to run to a standstill on the hamster wheel of existence.

Tuesday, July 3, 12.00am
Brazil 2 Mexico 0

Mexico has become to World Cup Round of 16 exits as Scotland were to group stage exits, back when Scotland used to make regularly World Cups, and yes kids, that was a thing. All that remains here then is to see how Mexico exit the tournament, because fate demands it regardless of any stat which shows that at multiple points in their shared history Mexico has beaten Brazil. Thankfully for the purposes of entertainment, Mexico come out all guns blazing, taking the game on, creating chances. It’s not going to work, but it’s fun, though thoughts then go to the security guards hired for all sporting events, who have to have their back turned for the entire contest, which is fair enough if they’re not interested but it seems rather cruel if they are, because can you really say, yeah I was there for that big event but I didn’t actually get to see any of it? Anyway, Brazil eventually build up enough momentum to start controlling the game and go on to win of course, and unlike the last World Cup, Mexican goalkeeper Ochoa can do nothing to prevent Brazil from scoring. And while we are all thankful that Brazil are looking like Brazil again, playing some very nice soccer, the whole thing is tainted by Neymar’s antics, of which enough has been said elsewhere but I’ll chip in with my own two cents. Of course diving sucks, and I understand that kind of opinion is informed by the remnants of an inheritance of Muscular Christianity, of class and race prejudice, of my own cultural solipsism. Be that as it may, Neymar’s faking has reached the stage where even people who would normally look the other way are finding themselves unable to defend his behaviour. And look, I get it to a degree, you play to win, you do what it takes to win, and Neymar is the kind of player liable to be hacked and kicked and crunched by the opposition, and it’s not like it didn’t happen four years ago against Colombia. Still, the whole thing is deeply unedifying, because for the first time in a long time, Brazil are kinda actually watchable, more than watchable, indeed they’d make worthy winners, and yet we have Neymar complicating things for the neutral viewer or at least for the viewer who doesn’t want England, Croatia, or Russia to win. Maybe that’s selfishness on our part, because soon enough quite a few people (though not me) who watch the World Cup and complain about Neymar are going to tune in to that bastion of sporting integrity, the Tour de France, and pretend for three weeks while they sit up to watch the landscape that everything is legit.

Wednesday, July 4, 4.00am
Colombia 1 England 1 (England wins on penalties)

Me and dad are ten minutes late in getting up for this game, but we haven’t missed much; we could’ve missed the whole of the first half and we wouldn’t have missed much, my old man noting that “we’re drowsy, but they’re sleeping”. As per their loss against Brazil four years ago Colombia look cowardly, while England look more than slightly inept but at least they’re having a go. When England score from yet another penalty, Colombia remember that they can, nay, should play, and even if all hell doesn’t break loose, it at least looks like there’s a game  on now and something worth fighting for. All of a sudden there’s twenty minutes which have past where England haven’t looked like touching the ball, and you start wondering where was this from Colombia before they fell behind? I understand teams being conservative, I understand the unflattering cynicism of necessity, but why would one middling football team be so obviously afraid of another middling football team? And then Colombia equalise – there’s something not-quite-right for me about England conceding from corners, but really that’s just old fashioned oblique stereotyping that should have no bearing on anything – and the game goes to extra time and penalties, and me, my dad, and everyone around the world plays amateur soothsayer before each shot. England win the shootout, and there’s all this minor consternation about Martin Tyler’s Ingerland persona emerging, as if this was a big secret and as if I didn’t tell you about this four years ago; perhaps I’m less upset by this because I have the television volume down low so as to not wake up the rest of the house, which is much more of an issue in 2018 in the Heavy Sleeper’s Sunshine West headquarters than it was in the 2014 Altona North equivalent. You people can be happy with the finish to the game and the drama of the penalty shootout if you want, and you can be upset that Tyler and the It’s Coming Home crew are happy, but I’m frustrated at the two and a half hours I’ve spent here watching this comparative dross which is entirely Colombia’s fault, two and half hours which I would’ve wasted anyway, but at least I could’ve remembered to turn on the Xbox so I could continue downloading the 20gb update to Star Wars Battlefront II for my brother. Everyone has their regrets.

Saturday, July 7, 12.00am
Uruguay 0 France 2

The constituent parts of most Heavy Sleeper entries are made up of these ingredients: references to bands that were last relevant and/or good 20 years ago; references to whatever books I’ve been skimming through that week; references to the kinds of food that many of us of favourable metabolism can get away with overindulging in our teens, but which we’re supposed to have given up by our mid-30s; clever comments withheld from Twitter and the instant but fleeting gratification of a social media audience, for the sake of brokearse Shoot Farken glory, which in 2014 manifested itself in the form of a t-shirt; finally, comments based on the five minutes or so where the game at hand had my undivided attention. These elements are poured into these diary entries not out of a quest for an aesthetic ideal, but to cover up rampant ignorance of any and all of the teams competing in this World Cup. Each year my knowledge of world football becomes ever slighter, and my reliance for any semblance of insight comes ever more from information gleaned from social media. Who are these players and coaches? What are their tactics and methods? I don’t know! And yet I write, confused and frightened by football’s modern age. But at least this is free! At least no one has been harmed! But back in 2010, things were very different. In a shady arrangement involving a sub-contractor further sub-contracting, me and two other blokes were asked to write up research dossiers at twelve pages apiece on every team competing in the 2010 World Cup. These were intended not for some wishy-washy news outlet, but for SBS itself. So there’s me, assigned lesser known teams like North Korea, Slovenia, and Algeria, for which I’m to compile factoids, select three of the most notable players for extra focus, and figure out what formation they’re likely to play based on whatever I think their squad will do. I write things like “the North Koreans are a well drilled outfit who rely on compact defence and explosive counter attacks utilising their exceptional speed”, which are probably true but also meaningless in their obviousness. I get paid cash money for compiling a few of these dossiers; I email them to the next person up the chain of command, who does likewise; I stay up through the night watching the games of course, because it’s the World Cup, but I’m also obsessively watching the studio segments, waiting to see if any of my insights will get used. South Africa being the World Cup of Ned Zelic and individual brilliance, imagination and fantasy, and more “obviouslies” and “for mes” than you can poke a stick at, I can’t remember anything of mine ever getting through to broadcast, and fair enough as well, though you the taxpayer ended up forking out for it. Back in the present, knowing even less than what I did eight years ago, I fall back on the prosaic musings of one of my most recent accidental soccer teachers, the veteran championship winning Victorian soccer coach Chris Taylor; pragmatic to a fault, his dictum of victory lying in winning the key moments in a game rings true here. In a game of few chances, France take theirs, whereas Uruguay are denied. It’s reductionist thinking to be sure, chiselling down football to its very essence, excising the unnecessary and the ephemeral, and if necessary also the beautiful; but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Saturday, July 7, 4.00am
Brazil 1 Belgium 2

Writing on this game days after the event, the memory of it seems even blurrier than when I was watching the game. Watching this game on an hour’s sleep before the previous game, and maybe an hour and a bit in between the end of that one and the start of this one is not ideal, but like Belgium I at least start off well. I’m aware of the two goal lead they’ve opened up and how they’ve done it, and that Brazil is creating plenty of its own chances, to no avail until it’s far too late. But much of that recollection is reconstituted from concentrated forms found later and elsewhere, in social media commentary and condensed highlights. If watching the World Cup on television is a vicarious or imitation experience, what does make watching the World Cup but needing the recollections of others to fill in the gaps of what you thought you saw but can’t remember?

Dulle Griet (aka Mad Meg) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1564)

Sunday, July 8, 12.00am
Sweden 0 England 2

After the footy finishes everything becomes a blur of novelty flavoured Tim Tams; the closing scenes of Jean Claude Van Damme’s awful but strangely watchable Pound of Flesh; the video for Queen’s “I Want To Break Free”; third round matches at Wimbledon; and a 20 year old episode of SBS’ The Movie Show, where Margaret Pomeranz is interviewing Antonio Banderas around the time of the release of one of his Zorro movies. They are references that are so erratic that I’m confused about what year it is, and yet if you’d created a novel or a film or television show set in the future, and needed to make broad brushstroke references to the cultural milieu of “the past” as it existed circa the years 1995-2015 for some godforsaken reason, you would probably do it like that. Adding in references to England getting past the quarter-finals of a World Cup though might throw the audience off; but then again, because as an esteemed novelist/filmmaker/script monkey your majority American audience/market would likely have no idea about soccer or at least not enough to know better will believe your assertion that England as home of the English Premier League must also have one of the world’s best national football teams. Watching England as a neutral know-nothing, I can’t tell if anything significant has changed for England, except for the results. The players look happier, the manager looks dapper, yet on another level it’s all so familiar. Plenty of people have concurrently remarked – or afterwards stolen the joke from somewhere else – that England progressing through to the World Cup semi-finals based almost entirely on set piece goals is the most Sam Allardyce thing imaginable, and therefore also the most English football thing imaginable; it seems so absurd precisely because it requires so little imagination, yet here we are.

Sunday, July 8, 4.00am
Russia 2 Croatia 2 (Croatia win on penalties)

Before the latest edition of the self-declared Original Melbourne Derby, the replay of this match plays on loop in the South Melbourne Hellas social club. A group of gawk-eyed and gaped-mouth Croatians – probably fathers of the Melbourne Croatia men’s under 20 team playing outside – stare at the television screen next to the bar in wonder. I buy a burger and chips and head outside to watch the sputtering uncertain future, leaving this strange present moment to those who can appreciate it far better than me.

Wednesday, July 11, 4.00am
France 1 Belgium 0

There are people making this all about Asterix vs Tintin, ignoring the fact that Asterix himself actually went to Belgium in order to compete against the locals in a contest involving kicking the arse of the Romans. The ignorance of this fact makes you wonder about the declining standards of education, and whether or not we should rethink knee-jerk reactions for and against the teaching of western civilisation; after all, if neither side is versed in the most important parts of the western canon as understood by ten year old boys, what is the point of even having a western civilisation?

Then again, what is the point of football when it’s played like this? Having gotten up at 4:23, I see that it’s still 0-0, and who knows if anything’s happened? Well, you people who got up earlier know what happened, which apparently included an intangible something, but from here on in almost nothing happens. This is the world of the dead end of two teams desiring only to counter attack, not out of fear and not because they couldn’t play another way had they been coached that way, but because they’ve been instructed to take the maxim of using karate or judo or kung fu only for defence and never to strike first to some bizarre extreme. There is no longer such a thing as midfield, either in terms of a playing unit, or a tactical or spatial sphere of battle. The field is like a handball court that’s far too big, the game is played like the tide washing gently back and forth. If this is the future of soccer, then I’m happy to live in the past; hand me my Bob Dole shovel, and I’ll be off.

Thursday, July 12, 4.00am
England 1 Croatia 2

Not that it matters, not that it even should matter, but this is a nightmare scenario. For petty, nonsensical, and deeply personal reasons, I don’t want either of these teams to progress, but one of them must go through, and I’ve arrived on the couch just in time for the start, but I need to go for a drink and to the toilet, and by the time I get back I miss England’s goal. Then we wait for the inevitable, though it takes its sweet time getting here. It began with England’s goal, and continued with their maintaining an unconvincing though ongoing threat, which evolved into gradual and then total retreat against an opponent that had forgotten how to play, and then pure capitulation once Croatia equalised. After that, it was wounded prey against ascendant hunter, and like any good nature documentary, the suspense of who would win was kept up until the latest possible moment.

Sunday, July 15, 12.00am
Belgium 2 England 0

Too tired to stay up for this. When I woke up the next morning the replay had just started on SBS, but I switched it over to the Amazing World of Gumball and had no regrets.

Monday, July 16, 1.00am
France 4 Croatia 2

Phone turned off for the night, and short uneven bursts of sleep from 11:00PM to 1:00AM, trying to keep up a poor man’s guard watch. Close enough to kickoff I go and wake up my dad, who arrives about five minutes into the game. Most everyone seems so enamoured with this tournament, and yet I feel that, try as I might, I preferred the last one so much more, probably because I arrived here with so much hostility built up over the last couple of years, and no matter what went right, or regardless of the good games and pleasing moments, there was a mental barrier I could not overcome, and as the tournament wore on I only got more fatigued, not just physically, but also emotionally. There was SBS and its trade for 30 pieces of silver; there were those who defended the whole arrangement and then became the generation who bought more shoes and you got what you deserved; there were so many irredeemable egoists on the field, that it was hard to sympathise with anyone; and there was the VAR which still got things wrong, and even when it got things right it got them right in ways too wrong to imagine. There were the countless set piece goals, the countless penalties, the countless own goals, and the absence of open play heroics, like an alternate universe almost exactly like our own but without a crucial element, like an Earth without a moon. And there were those extolling the virtues of Russia, and look how nothing went wrong, like every totalitarian and near-totalitarian regime hosting a major event hasn’t pulled off the same public relations stunt. Even Martin Tyler’s presence wore thin, which felt wrong, like becoming sick of chocolate. But all glibness, snideness, and cynicism aside, what does the World Cup mean to me? I guess it’s the one thing my dad and I can share without guilt, without posture, without an impenetrable cultural distance between us. My dad is 71 years old, a near lifelong smoker and drinker, and former punter on the trots and dishlickers; born into poverty in the middle of the Greek Civil War, with a dead father before he was two; out of school by grade six so he could work in order to pay for his sister’s dowry; ending up living halfway across the world, away from almost everyone he knew, in order to try and make a better life, not only materially, but away from the gaze of the junta; sixty years of manual labour, in agriculture, marble cutting, brickmaking, and carpet laying. I’ve experienced none of those things, and that’s my good fortune, but it means we have little in common, our discussions on poetry, politics, and even the soccer history we shared being understood so differently, that there’s little to any common ground. But once every four years the World Cup comes along, and in our common ignorance of world football affairs but in common union for the night vigils, for the tea and biscuits, for the simple pleasure of sitting on a couch that was almost too big to get into this house and which has a floral pattern last seen un-ironically three decades ago or more, there’s a sleepy bond. I don’t know if my dad will be around to watch the next World Cup, I don’t know if I’ll be around, so here’s to France and Croatia and the referee and Pussy Riot serving up a classic of wonder goals and lots of them, magnificent accidental blunders, goalkeeping hubris, controversy, deception, speed, athleticism, power, and cunning; none of which redeems the tournament or the game as whole or the politics which plague it or anything to do with humanity though goodness some of you hope so badly want and hope for it to do so, but at least it was entertaining; and in the end that’s the least we can ask for, and the most we can reasonably expect.

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  • Savvas Tzionis says: June 19, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    The AFR blaming Tony Abbott. Vaguely confirming that they are classic Neo Liberal non nativist types (unlike the Oz)

  • Doppelganger says: June 22, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    Re overt pronunciations: