The money has poured in but the game is still beautiful at heart


It’s here, it’s finally here. The World Cup, the greatest event in the history of the planet. The most important thing to happen to us every four years. My brain is filled with visions of my team lifting the coveted trophy once again, as my mind wonders from the mundane to the sublime.

“Is there a match on?” some ask innocently? ‘Yes.’ Sure it’s only the minor issue of a bunch of overpaid, supercilious assholes – well Sergio Ramos and many a latino player, kicking a ball around the place in a corrupt host country, nominated by a bunch of praetorian officials, with 3.2 billion people watching on across the globe, exhibiting ferocious enthusiasm and expertise.

In 2014, 1 billion people watched the World Cup final between my team- Germany and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro, the biggest live event of the 21st century and I can’t help but think to myself, what the hell were the other 6 billion people doing? Someone must have forgotten to count a few punters on the streets of Lahore, Mogadishu or La Paz, peering at a telly outside some cafe.

Who counts these things anyway and more worryingly, how?

Anyway, back to Russia. Eight years after winning the right to host the World Cup beating England on a staggeringly perfidious day in Johannesburg, in 2010, we’ve arrived at the World Cup again- without Ireland. Again.

England, who invented the modern game, who were uniquely poised to host it with dozens of world class stadiums, fantastic infrastructure, endorsing celebrities like Prince William and David Beckham and a soccer-mad populace, were screwed over. Russia, who didn’t have adequate stadiums or infrastructure won the bid and England only go two votes.

The FBI got involved, and one of the largest investigations of international graft and money laundering in American history which, as the New York Times described, would  ‘expose decades of deep-seated rot and corruption in global soccer.’

Racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, dozens of arrests -all over a ball.

It’s difficult for non soccer fans to fathom the magnitude of interest in 22 men playing over a ball, especially when its roots are so simple.

The first known team game involving said ball- made out of a rock in this case, occurred in Mesoamerican culture 3000 years ago. According to the history, the ball symbolised the sun and the captain of the losing team would be sacrificed to the gods. Kind of similar to what happens if the German team loses.

The world’s oldest football clubs were founded in England from 1857 and, the FA Cup was founded in 1871 as the world’s first organised competition, formally legitimising professionalism in 1885. Recently, CIES Football Observatory algorithms figures found that the French team are worth €1.41 billion, England worth €1.39 billion and Brazil worth €1.27 billion.

The estimated transfer value for all players participating in the World Cup is €12.6 billion. Money, money money. Just look at Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui getting sacked on the eve of the tournament because he failed to mention that part about moving to Real Madrid to his monied overlords. It’s like the allies getting rid of Eisenhower before D Day.

It’s all about club football now with coaches earning up to €20, compared to Joachim Low, Germany coach, getting a measly €3 million. I know Irish people love the Spanish team, but I don’t. I hope they screw up.

I support Germany, to a point of obsession. I’ve been a fan since 1982 and I watch most of the matches in Germany. Like most German fans, it’s about being better than we were last time round, but we are hard on our team. None of this Fields of Athenry stuff when we’re losing.

The political shit storm surrounding Mezut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan being photographs with controversial president Turkey Erdogan in May could cost us. Although Turks have been living in Germany for decades,  happily side, by side, proud German fans, of which 70,000 odd are traveling to Moscow said enough is enough. Booing the pair in the two underwhelming warm up matches and potentially bringing their ire to Russia with Low.

This could affect the performance of the the rest of the team. Its scary stuff.

But enough about politics and money, once you take them out, what’s left is pure joy. Germans call football ‘die schönste Nebensache der Welt’- the best distraction in the world.

If you ever win a World Cup, everyone is happy,  no matter how young or old. There is nothing in the world that compares.

There’s a man in Bangladesh, who made the longest German flag in the world- it’s 3.5km meters long. It took him four years. Who does that- only for the beautiful game?

It doesn’t matter where you are, once you’re on a football pitch, be it in  South Africa, Brazil, Germany, be it made of sand, stone or grass, its a place where people come together for a unifying experience.

Its simplicity, accessibility and togetherness make it so special. Most people can can afford a ball, and anyone can play it. Some say football is a matter of life and death. I say it’s much more important than that -for the next few weeks anyway.

So here’s to the World Cup. Let it be glorious, let it be peaceful.  Let us be kind to the Russians and them to their guests.

Lets us enjoy it as a global community and let the best Mannschaft win.