Even though I don’t watch much football I love the World Cup because it’s my passport to total freedom. I can nip off to the pub, slob indoors on a sunny Sunday afternoon, leave supper before we’ve finished eating, let alone before the dishes are done. And where normally that kind of behaviour would at the very least get me a dirty look, during World Cup season it actually gets me brownie points.
Why? Because it’s a sign that I’m being a Good Dad. It worked in the old days with the Rat. And now it works with Boy. Mothers are absolutely potty for their sons and will look fondly on any activity that makes them content. So whenever I slink off to the TV, wearing an expression that says, ‘You know I’d really much rather be strimming the nettles/scouring the roasting tray/clearing up cat poo but the boy wants me to watch with him’, I don’t merely get away with it. I’m viewed almost as a saint.
The games I like best are the ones when England aren’t playing. Apart from being less stressful, it means you can multitask — tweet, check your emails, wade through that blockbuster Ulysses Grant biography that you still haven’t finished — and usually the audible excitement of the crowd, or your son, will alert you if anything important is happening on screen.
Sometimes, though, your son isn’t watching either. As anyone with teenagers will know, the younger generation is quite incapable of staring fixedly at a single screen. They need distraction from all that concentration. Boy is always on Facebook when he watches; Girl is always on Snapchat. Still, the good thing about football is that even if you miss the goal, they’ll replay it from different angles 30 seconds later, so long as you can bear the wait.
But which team to choose? This is another dilemma I enjoy about the World Cup because one can be fickle and peevish and capricious, like Caligula trying to make up his mind whether to give a particular gladiator the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down.
In the run-up to the World Cup, for example, there were lots of articles in the newspapers telling us how much we should loathe Russia and the Russians because Putin is Hitler. But this hysterical guff — which I don’t think has been borne out by what so far seems to have been a successful, enjoyable tournament — just had me rooting for the underdog. When the Spanish goalie failed to save that penalty for the second time, I had tears of joy in my eyes. Yes, they may be evil Russkies, whose wicked wiles brainwashed 17.4 million innocent dupes into voting for the hell of Brexit. But gosh, it’s a beautiful and moving thing watching a team with Cristiano Ronaldo in it get humiliated by a bunch of whey-faced no-hopers resembling Dolph Lundgren with TB.
Argentina v. France: that was tricky too. Do you support our national enemy? Or one of our other national enemies? I was rooting for Argentina on account of the nice libertarian chap on Twitter who keeps wanting to invite me over to ride some of their legendary horses. But do you know what? When France won instead, I didn’t feel sad one bit. I feel very sorry for the French, on account of their country being brought to the verge of total ruination by issues we need not discuss here. So I don’t begrudge them their gobbets of final happiness before it all ends.
Uruguay v. Portugal. This is where tactics come in. Obviously, you want Portugal to lose because even though our nations have a special bond forged through port, they’re also a bit good and you want them out of the way by whatever means. Boy and I pretended, though, that this wasn’t the reason. We rooted for Uruguay, we decided, because they are small and their shirt is a really nice shade of blue and because I like the film The Battle of the River Plate.
Enough football. I wanted to raise briefly a topic broached last week by m’learned colleague James Walton — the BBC’s hilarious new documentary series The Fourth Estate. Well, I think it’s hilarious. With its moody Trent Reznor soundtrack, its cinematic production values and a cast of hacks who all fancy themselves as the new Woodward and Bernstein, it clearly wants us to see the New York Times’s crusade against Donald Trump as a modern replay of Watergate, only with an even more evil bad guy....
But the charges just aren’t going to stick. What this documentary really is is an intimate portrait of progressives in crisis, as they scrabble desperately for ever more fanciful conspiracy theories to try to bring down a president who is the living repudiation of their every false value and, indeed, the reason why their business model is failing. Couldn’t happen to nicer people.