It’s been a tough writing week. First a bout with gout – and there’s no poetry intended. Poetry will never blend with gout unless a budding Edgar Alan Poe is standing by ready to launch a new name-sake horror epic while his old Raven croaks “Nevermore!” I am not a stranger to gout but the current occurrence seems to have exploded from ambush rather than using the more casual method of a small hurt gradually expanding to close to the tears of pain.
This time it started big and at the exact moment that Messi missed a penalty shot in soccer’s World Cup. Not, unfortunately, a mere sympathy pain twitch for the world’s greatest footballer but a big toe reacting as though stepped on by a Clydesdale. And if you’re asking “whose Messi?” or “what’s the World Cup of soccer?” you would be wise to check your passport to make sure you’re still on Planet Earth. I mean, for goodness sake, it comes around every four years as wide as the Olympics in its embrace.
It’s not like the baseball World Series, named after a defunct newspaper The World and confined to teams playing in the United States. Actually, I guess the baseball World Series is a good idea; the sort of competition President Donald Trump might invent to make sure America is great again every year.
But I digress from the beautiful game played in one form another since the beginning of time and developed into a cheaply equipped team sport in every country where Great Britain flew the flag of its once world embracing Empire. The empire is long gone, the Union Jack no longer flies in every sunset and in this World Cup year of 2018 it’s a red cross on the white background flag of St. George that flies over the English team. If Scotland, Ireland or Wales had made it to the Cup in Russia, they would be playing under their own flags, singing their own national anthems. Alas, only England it made through the preliminaries so the three nations that helped make Britain great can only sit and watch the young Lions go for broke.
While most sports are now played around the world in their myriad forms in most countries soccer is undoubtedly the most popular – especially in countries less than rich in cash for luxury sports. Every four years new names appear on the final roster to challenge for the title of world’s champion. Some flash in the largest sports’ fishbowl in the world then slide back into obscurity to never again reach a World Cup final – but to always remember the year they did. This year Mexico and South Korea soccer players have guaranteed their nations notes in soccer history by defeating favoured to repeat world champion Germany and knocking it out of the tournament early.
Every four years we, the watchers of the beautiful game, observe with courteous good humour the presence of Egypt, Panama, Morocco, Costa Rica, Korea, Japan, Iceland, Australia, Nigeria and wonder how they got there and why Canada seems always to be with the stay at homes.
Well, we did make it once in back in 1986 – all the way to the Big Dance. We cheer ourselves a bit by saying 32-years isn’t really a long time and we are (in the always popular jargon of a losing team), “in the rebuilding process.” In 1986 the World Cup was in Mexico; in 2026 it will be in Canada, USA, and Mexico so who knows– with an eight-year target to aim for maybe we’re due for a repeat. I mean if Iceland with a total population of 334,349 (2017 count) of which 171,033 are males can make it we should be able to at least qualify. I should mention Commonwealth cousin Australia is pushing well ahead of us. Our family friends from down under have been to world cup five times. For their first visit in 1974 all team members were amateurs and didn’t get out of the group stage. But they were back but no longer an amateur side in 2006-10-14 and of course Russia 2018 where I think they acquitted themselves well but didn’t make it through to the final 16.
As you are reading this half of the 32 teams lining up at the start line have already packed their bags and gone home to watch the final week of competition. Some, like Iceland, would be welcomed home jubilantly thankful that their small nation had done well when tangling with giants on the World Cup stage. Others like Portugal and Argentina who flew home after losing games Saturday would be less joyously received. A few would be losing coaches, or managers as they’re called in soccer; a few players will take sudden retirement and the others will take the rest of summer off to permit egos to recover with a multitude of “if only” stories – and then started preparing for 2022 in Qatar.
Should be an interesting Cup four years from now considering the close relationship between soccer crowds and beer. It is an offence to be intoxicated or caught drinking liquor in a public place in Qatar – which should make crowd control easy and fans in air-conditioned stadiums a little quieter than normal. With a bit of luck I hope to be around for FIFA World Cup 2022, Qatar – without gout. I would like to say cheering for Canada but the experts forecast it will be at least 2026 before our National round ball kickers can muster a team capable of competing with best in the world.
No forecasts for where I’ll be by 2026 but 94 plus eight……!! Shudder.
While I’m waiting I can prop my right foot on a cushion, click on the magic screen and hope the nation, my “old country” England, can win it all this year. They have been in the fight for supremacy since the first World Cup in 1930 – but have only won it once, in 1966. Brazil won the first and has won four more since for a world-leading total of five. Germany and Italy have each won the cup four times. Argentina and Uruguay, twice.(Uruguay, who defeated Portugal 2-1 Saturday, was the first winner in 1930).France, England and Spain have lone cup victories.
Any bets on the last team standing on July 15? No, only hopes for my old country – and that this damn gout will forget my right foot big toe for the duration and beyond.