There is nothing like the sight of a man, mere seconds ago a formidable athlete, now rolling around on the ground in agony because someone touched his shirt to tell you that the football/soccer World Cup is upon us. The big Fifa party has rolled into Brazil on a wave of money and I, for one, have quickly got caught up in the sporting event, even though I know it is fundamentally wrong to spend all that money on 64 football matches in a country as economically and socially screwed up as Brazil.
There have been, at least in the first week of Brazil 2014, plenty of goals, which has helped tilt the balance in favour of sport. Sure this goal-glut will undoubtedly dry up the further the tournament progresses into the knock-out stages, but for now this is a pleasing sign. The goal celebration d'jour this World Cup seems to have been lifted from some frenzied rom-com, where the goal-scorer runs towards the substitute's bench with his arms spread, while everyone on the subs bench runs toward him, with their arms open. Eventually they fall into each other's arms and form a big sweaty pile of tattooed men with day-glo boots on all legs sticking out of the pile. I'm not sure being at the bottom of a big sweaty pile in Manaus, in the middle of the Amazon jungle, is a wise idea.
The signature haircut of Brazil 2014 is the semi-Skrillex shaved-sides with a Morrissey quiff on top. Or, to put it another way, a number two all over with some kind of small dead mammal perched on the crown. This haircut is the mullet of our times, at least in the parts of the world where the mullet isn't still the mullet of our times. This is a haircut that, at best, is in danger of looking like an epic comb-over fail, so in the heat and humidity of Brazil it must take a team of stylists working feverishly through the half-time break to get the players back on the field in a fit state to play.
Before the tournament, the pundits who know everything about football/soccer warned us that the Brazilian heat and humidity would play havoc with the game - and not just on a hairstyling level. Based on what I have seen so far, from the hottest and sweatiest parts of Brazil, the heat and humidity are making the game a better spectacle. When 22 men have perspired 50 per cent of their bodyweight by playing for 80 minutes in 30-plus degree heat and 80-plus per cent humidity, the last 10 minutes become much more relatable for those of us who have trouble getting through a Sunday afternoon kick-around at the park. Suddenly there are a bunch of guys goal-hanging at one end, too buggered to run back and defend the other end, where there are also a bunch of guys goal-hanging. The ball gets punted back and forth between these two groups like a very large game of table tennis, which is great fun to watch in between the stoppages for cramp.
Anthem-wise, an interesting early trend has revolved around the countries where the crowd (and the players) carry on singing after the music has finished. This seems to be quite a big deal among the South American teams/fans, where they are a lot more fervent about their anthem than we are about God Defend New Zealand. Then there are the Argentinians, where no-one in the crowd seemed to be actually singing, in favour of carrying on with the partying and flag-waving while making a kind of droning sound.
A more disturbing trend has been the number of men dressed as women sitting in the stands. This seems to be a more specifically European trend in football/soccer-watching couture, with the Dutch leading the way and the English not far behind. I'm working on the idea this is somehow a nod to Brazil's Mardi Gras but that is a difficult idea to work on when you're comparing the Brazilian carnival to large, beer-drinking men in dresses.
Skill, passion, goals, sendings off, dodgy haircuts, men in dresses, men rolling around on the pitch in badly-acted agony after someone touches them in a bad way, goal-line technology, giant flying bug creatures on the pitch - seriously, what is not to like about the Fifa 2014 football/soccer World Cup? Apart from Fifa, obviously. And the repressive Brazilian Government. Putting aside those rather troubling things, this is still the beautiful game and long may that beauty last.
Until the knock-out phase, of course, when it becomes all about not losing rather than winning with beauty. But that is still a week away so, for now, I will enjoy it while I can.