Published On: Sun, Jun 17th, 2018

It’s not the winning that counts

Chris Morvanby Chris Morvan

You can tell when the World Cup is on because suddenly the world goes Brazilian. People who you know for a fact have never been within 1,000 miles of Rio de Janeiro have got that distinctive flag flying from their car. And why do these people feel the need to declare such an unwarranted allegiance? Because Brazil are always good and are quite likely to win the tournament again.

Distinctive flag, did I say? With the greatest respect to whoever designed it back in the 19th century, it looks like something a teenager knocked up on his laptop when he was supposed to be revising for a maths exam. It’s green with a yellow diamond  shape (sorry, rhombus) in the middle, and inside that a blue globe which I dare say is supposed to represent the planet Earth, and running around that like the equator is a white band with the words Ordem e Progresso – order and progress – on it.

Contrary to popular belief, the green does not represent the country’s natural leafy splendor. And that, presumably, is why the flag has not shrunk, unlike the Amazon rainforest, which has been reduced by 270,000 square miles since 1970, according to Wikipedia, although admittedly I haven’t been out there personally to check.

So what do Brazilians do when they’re not chopping down trees? They play football, obviously. Good, free-flowing football. And they win tournaments, which makes them popular with those whose own country is not going to do so. In 2018 that includes the Netherlands, who failed to qualify, as did the USA and Italy.

It’s tough being a sports fan when your team is no good – and I should know, because I’m an England supporter. It seems like only yesterday that the UK pop chart was headed by a song about “30 years of hurt” since the glory days of 1966 when the Jules Rimet trophy was in English hands. It’s now 52 years of hurt, and if the present England side wins it this time I will eat every Brazilian flag in St Maarten.

What England teams have demonstrated over the years is not that they can beat anybody on their day, but that they can lose to anybody. The sheer unpredictability of the country’s performances is staggering.

That is not to say the current Brazil football team are going to win it in style, because apparently they’ve got a rather negative style at the moment. But they’ve got their usual quota of gifted midfielders and strikers, so we sit and expect to be entertained.

Even if you have no interest in the sport, there is no harm in indulging in a little playful xenophobia, surely. In the United Nations of St Martin there is ample scope for dissing foreigners of a different stripe from one’s own.

Take Germany, for instance. Why do they always have a good chance of winning the World Cup? Couldn’t they be useless now and then, just to cheer the rest of us up?

Given my confidence that England will struggle to get out of their group (there are groups of four who all play each other and the overall winners go through to the knockout stages) I am making contingency plans for my country’s inevitable early exit. But who to support when they’re gone, that is the question.

France, sure, why not? My ancestors came from there, they make the best wine and those Merguez sausages are the tastiest thing since Brigitte Bardot. And they have a pretty good team, but that’s not the point. That would be as bad as jumping on the Brazilian bandwagon.

So, who else? I know a very nice Croatian woman and they’re in it. Then there’s the Macedonian restaurateur, but her country is to football what Donald Trump is to diplomacy, so their top players are watching it on TV like we are.

Choosing a team to support when you have no real reason to do so involves irrelevant factors. Not being actually English but born on a British island, the six-year-old me, having discovered football, decided to go with Chelsea, for no better reasons than that I liked the color (royal blue) and the name (no idea – maybe because it’s got sea in it). And as it turned ou, Chelsea did me proud at first with a team laden with gifted mavericks, before hitting a lengthy rough patch involving relegation and financial hardship. Then along came a Russian billionaire who fancied buying a football club and we became Chelski, attractive and successful but derided by fans of less affluent clubs.

But I’m no fair weather fan. I was there when we languished in the second division and the team was populated by charmless aggressive types bought to kick their way back to the top.

And so, on reflection, my cynicism and lack of faith must be overridden by loyalty and although my car won’t be flying the cross of St George, nor will it sport Le Tricolore.

As we eloquent sports fans say, “Ing-lund!”