Having lived in the UK for about 70% of my life, and being male, I have had to have many conversations about football over the years. This isn’t a problem for most people. Problem is, I have exactly zero interest in football. Now, I did briefly support Manchester United in 1996-7, although I think that was more a case of supporting Eric Cantona and nonsensical ramblings about trawlers and fishermen. He was French, absurd and unhinged, and completely compelling. He was the face of what I believe remains one of Nike’s best ad campaigns: "1966 was a great year for English football, Eric was born". I also, for reasons that remain to become clear to me, loved the Sharp Viewcam away shirt that season. I still have it somewhere, complete with number 7 and popped collar. You could say my support was more cultural than sporting. I liked everything around the game that season, just not the game itself.
Later in my twenties, I’d go on to fake support for Arsenal, mainly to make myself more palatable to my colleagues at the time, who I suspected didn’t like me much. In hindsight, faking unenthusiastic fandom for the club they had season tickets to watch probably didn’t make me more likeable. I'd repeat second-hand football commentary on Monday morning at the office that I’d forced myself to listen to over the weekend. This made me sound more like an alien lifeform attempting to mimic its hosts rituals than someone at the pub you’d want to have a pint with and swap views on England’s formation 4-2-3-1 formation.
I do support England always though. Always have. I blame Baddiel and Skinner for convincing me that sporting victory was even a possibility, and for getting me addicted to the inevitable crushing disappointment that comes with getting behind the team. In recent years, I’ve had to contend with the fact that many of those draped in a Saint George’s flag wouldn’t want me as a fellow supporter. But England is mine as much as it is theirs, and I’m sticking to my support.
The truth is, I’m unlikely to have to pick between England and Lebanon, my other country, whose national team is valiant (currently ranked a respectable 78, up from a low of 178 in 2011) but the closest we’ve been to anything competitive at the international level is next year’s Asian Cup. An interesting by-product of this is that everyone in Lebanon has picked another nation to support so they can join in the fun every four years. And their support is rabid, verging on the psychopathic, and often slightly delusional. I’ve always found rooting for countries that wouldn’t give you a tourist visa slightly queasy. Regardless, the flags of Brazil, France, Argentina, Germany, Italy (lol), will flutter across the country this month. While I used to find this devotion to other countries' flags off-putting, I find it heartwarming now. Hearing people in Beirut shout "I'm Brazilian" in a packed pub has subtle overtones of openness and a willingness to transcend nationalism. At least, that's how I'm deciding to view it given the depressing news cycle we contend with.
And today the world becomes all about football for month. It will be everywhere, on screens placed at awkward angles in pubs, forcing dozens of people clutching pint glasses to crane their necks at one focal point, like athe tourists trying to prop up the leaning tower of Pisa in Martin Parr's iconic photo. It'll be all over Twitter. I won't understand any of the football commentary, but I will relish the humour and pop culture commentary that will help those of us who are there for the extracurricular stuff.
So even though I don’t really care about the football, I find myself caring about the world cup. I’m happy that a record-breaking four Arab teams are present this year. I’m happy Nigeria have the coolest kit in the history of football. I’m happy I’ll have something to talk about with everyone I come across this month. And no doubt, I’ll have opinions on Panama’s defensive formation by next week!