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  • Jacob Sweetman: The Sportsdesk and other animals


Jacob Sweetman: The Sportsdesk and other animals

Another argument ensues as the Sportsdesk finds itself divided on the subject of the World Cup.

Regular readers will know that the cat is an aged and cynical animal integral to the Sportsdesk. Using his singular tools of bad breath, claws that could still cut glass and a mean streak wider than Mark Hughes’ thighs, he keeps me grounded and delights in my contradictions and hypocrisies. He has an innate knowledge – born of a tough life prowling the streets of Kreuzberg – that (in contradiction to the misty-eyed idea that everything before used to be better) everything has always, actually, been pretty shit. It is all just more shit now than ever before.

He is a wise old animal, and he knows his football. Watching the Arte documentary about the 1974 clash between East and West Germany in Hamburg he batted his eyelids as Jürgen Croy talked about how much this single game meant to the players themselves, about how they wanted to show a positive side of their derided country to the world. This wasn’t about money or about personal glory. This wasn’t about step-overs and the baubles that come, nowadays, with the undreamed of excesses and wealth of the modern game, but something simpler. It was about togetherness and brotherhood, community and the ability to give a tiny bit of pride to the people, the millions of faceless people, that stood behind them.

The cat purred in agreement. It is a shame, he implied with a twitch of his tatty nose, that nothing is important in international football any more.

And, of course, he was probably right. Croy was a man for whom community meant something. He turned down the chance to play for the GDR’s biggest club sides because he wanted to stay at home in Zwickau, manning the goal for his home and for his people. That was reward enough in itself. Yes Croy loved Zwickau, and Zwickau loved him. The car plant workers of the town threatened to strike if he was sold against his will. He would stay there forever more.

The cat liked that, and he pointedly turned his back when a young Uli Hoeneß appeared on screen, smirking dismissively, saying that he was happy because the West Germans had got “the easiest group”. And while Hoeneß will be watching the 2014 World Cup from his Bavarian prison cell, the cat will be abstaining, or so he says.

It would be impossible to find a football fan who isn’t conflicted by the World Cup this year. On the one hand it is an aberration, a trampling over all of the ideals of football in the name of a dictatorial state without a state, a cheap excuse for boorish nationalistic tubthumping for the millions who couldn’t give a monkey’s about the game for the next four years. It is riding roughshod over the people of Brazil whilst those at the top cream ever more off out of slush funds and sit in the VIP seats, smugly looking down like emperors over all that they survey.

But it is also still the game’s biggest festival, the chance to see the best players playing in an all dancing, glittering revue. There will be moments of melodrama and of uproarious passion. There will be pirouettes and agricultural lunges, flashes of both mindlessness and brilliance. If there is a polar opposite to the self-satisfied arrogance of Hoeneß it would be in the seeming joyous innocence of his successor Thomas Müller. If there could be a more romantic end than of Didier Drogba lifting the cup in the name of the country that he did so much to unite in the face of an otherwise ignored civil war then I would be happy to see it.

Once every four years I think to myself that it would be great if I had the moral fibre to say no to FIFA, if I had the wherewithal to focus on the things that do matter in my community, to think about something more important and less grubbied by the stinking palms of Sepp Blatter. My boycott of Coca Cola and McDonalds doesn’t appear to have brought them or the recipients of their insidious benevolence to their knees, it is merely a justification, allowing me to enjoy the spectacle of the game without the claws being raked down my back, both literal and metaphorical, of the cat and of my conscience.

The cat his turned back to the TV as Croy reappeared and padded his way across my lap. His look said “This used to mean something, you know”, But it is only a game, I say, and he plunged a contemptuous claw into my thigh. And he was, of course, right.