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  • Jacob Sweetman: The World Cup is a reason to live


Jacob Sweetman: The World Cup is a reason to live

The World Cup may well be used by some as an excuse for nationalstic fervour, but in his open letter to Berlin the Sportsdesk feels that John Ricburg, on these very pages, has missed the point. It is inclusive, not divisive, and that is its beauty.

Dear John,

I felt I had to respond to your “letter to Germany”. With its implied ultimatum, the bandying about of terms like “drunken slobs”, and your lazy references to “sportsing” the sulphurous whiff of snobbery is, sadly, unavoidable. Your presumptions are as lazy as they are myopic. Frankly, your letter is full of the prejudice you so blithely accuse others of because you show absolutely no willingness to understand what people are doing when they watch the World Cup.

You don’t know why I, nor anyone else, supports their national football team, but, arrogantly, you presume you do. Nor do you realise that for the vast majority of people, whether they are regular fans or just enjoying the show once every four years, football is a means of bringing people together, not of enforcing divides. You wilfully ignore the fact that huge swathes of humanity are, however briefly, speaking the same language.

I share your fears about nationalism. My experiences growing up in England mean that I will never raise my national flag – it was co-opted and misappropriated by the far right far too many times for me to be able to revel in it, even if I wanted to (which I don’t – I was born in England, not by the grace of God, but because my parents fucked there).

But this won’t ever stop me wearing my England shirt for a match, and your implication that my doing so whilst getting drunk and shouting at a television set is a nationalistic act is offensive in the extreme.

I support the football team of the country I was born in as I have since 1986, my first World Cup. In doing so I am not using it as an excuse to finally be able to indulge my passion for hating foreigners, I am doing it because a) I support a football team, and b) it gives me a connection to my roots and to my life that, outside of sports, I rarely have.

I remember sitting on the sofa in 1986 as my father explained to me about his first World Cup in 1954. Then, a brilliant Hungary had lost in the final and were never to be seen again, particularly, he said, after the Russian invasion of 1956. And I remember his leaping off the sofa eight years later as Yordan Letchkov’s header for Bulgaria knocked out Germany in 1994. “Yes, that’s one for the fucking baldies!” he screamed. This wasn’t because Germany had lost, but because it was the triumph of the underdogs, and he taught me that it represented everything that was possible in life.

Yes, through football my father taught me about politics and through football he taught me about the world outside – something I would respectfully suggest you try doing. I learned that we are all the same, that there is no inalienable right to superiority.

You are laying the blame for the crimes of a tiny minority on the many and without asking them why they have got their cheeks painted up, without looking beyond that stupid red, gold and black jester’s hat. And your problem with the German media is just that: a problem with the German media – and rightfully so – but that is a different point.

And your example of a shameful racist attack on the Gabonese woman being the fault of football is ridiculous. What about the hundreds of similar attacks on the streets of Berlin that happen every year? Are they also football’s fault? As crows drum with their talons on the ground to bring up the worms to eat, the World Cup will always bring out the arseholes in every community. But they were arseholes before the World Cup and they will remain arseholes after it.

I suggest you leave the confines of your “favourite hipster bar in Neukölln” and get outside and talk to the people of your community and ask them why they are watching the World Cup. Listen to what they talk about in the dirtier boozers, the ones decked out with all of the national flags of the world, and ask them why they were cheering on Algeria as they beat South Korea. Ask them why they will glory in the unprecedented success of Costa Rica. Ask them why they will share in the tears of the Toure brothers, or why they sat in stunned silence at the A capella version of the Chilean national anthem.

Over four billion people will watch the World Cup Final in July and you would be as welcome to join them as anyone else. That you refuse to understand why most of them will do so, however, says more about you than it does them.

Yours, Jacob.