Friday 20 April 2018

Diverse takes on the World Cup whet the appetite

Steve Staunton in action against Italy during Italia '90.
Steve Staunton in action against Italy during Italia '90.
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

I probably stopped really caring about the World Cup a decade ago, but it remains an undeniably enjoyable, exciting month, even for casual observers. And I can fully appreciate why others get enthusiastic: it's all so huge, dramatic, colourful, historic.

To whet the mood for the just-begun 2014 version, I tuned into two quite different but equally good takes. Team 33 is a podcast spin-off from Off the Ball (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 7pm), and it's great fun. As well as analysis, predictions and so on, they take a skewed view of other aspects – the stuff and nonsense that makes sport a richer experience. Memorable pundits, a guide to the best guides, sticker albums, songs, villains ... as said, great fun.

And there's an infinity of things they could cover yet. I've already tweeted them to do "worst post-World Cup purchases" and "unlikely lookalikes", so if you hear those mentioned, the credit's mine.

More seriously, Newstalk's Sunday Show (11am) looked at the World Cup's cultural impact. In Shane Coleman's capable hands it was predictably lively, interesting and even surprising.

Simon Kuper, author of two books on football, described the tournament as a bonding event for countries, as much cultural as sporting. Small nations like Ireland, he said, don't have to win it out; beating England is as good.

Journalist Frank McNally agreed that it's just escapism, on one level, but a "brilliantly lit month" every four years, all the same. He still remembers things like the flurry of ticker-tape at Argentina 1978, and recalls Italia '90 in the same way as cringey wedding photos.

Our own Ian O'Doherty said: "Even at the time, Italia '90 was ridiculous – but that doesn't make it wrong." That tournament was his "apprenticeship as a curmudgeon", aghast at the "critical mass of uncritical thinking".

Again, though, memories and affections are warm. "We will love this World Cup, despite Fifa's horrible nonsense," he said. "It gives us a sense of the possible."

Which brings us to Bosnian journalist Sasa Ibrulj. His country was destroyed by a horrendous war 20 years ago; today it battles floods and economic crisis. Naturally, then, World Cup participation is "a huge thing for Bosnia; it's something to celebrate".

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