Spain was playing Portugal; I didn’t know I was watching a big match, neither did I know that it was a Group B match. I was at Forty Thieves Bar in Diani.
The place heaved and creaked with the energy of an old ship. There were fans everywhere; men with beers in hand, men with women in hand, men with their hearts in hand, men with strained faces in hand. It was a big deal because apparently, Ronaldo was playing.
I know Ronaldo, of course, but I didn’t know Diego Costa. I had never heard of him until he scored once and twice and I thought, “Isn’t that guy Arab?” because of his beard. I turned to the person I was drinking with and asked, “Isn’t that guy Arab?” and she shrugged because she also only knows Ronaldo. Everybody knows Ronaldo.
Forty Thieves started feeling like the Colosseum in the old Roman Empire where gladiators duelled to their death. When the ball landed on Ronaldo’s feet, even the waiters stopped dead on their tracks.
Everything stopped. Even the waves form the ocean quietened down some. There’s something about that Ronaldo guy. He moves men. And women – some for different aesthetic reasons. Later I would see a video of two kids – a boy and girl – who were standing before him just before they sang their national anthems before the match, their mouths opened in disbelief when he acknowledged one of them. So he’s a bit of a god, that man.
The only footballer I would like to meet is Rudi Voller. I don’t know if he’s still alive but I remember when I was a child, I’d hear the commentator screaming his name on Football Made in Germany on Voice of Kenya: Rudi Voller! Rudi Voller! Rudi Voller!! Amazing football from Rudi Voller. My goodness, what a game from Rudi Voller. Rudi Voller! My word! Simply phenomenal. Simply breathtaking! He seemed to be the soundtrack of my childhood.
I also think commentators are a big part of football’s subgenre. They are dramatic, they hype, they colour moments and they are extra: A brilliant goal, what a brilliant goal, remember the name, Wayne Rooney Or, Aguerrrrrrrooooooooo, I swear you will never see anything like this ever again, goodness gracious me, it’s amazing the goal is still standing, Or Rooney!! It defies description! How about ‘sensational’? How about ‘superb.”
FOOTBALL, NOT SOCCER
I don’t watch football but at least I know better than to call it soccer. I never know who is playing for which team. Transfer windows are things I read on Twitter.
When guys are getting their knickers in a twist about a team like Liverpool, I never know what the big deal is. Champions League, Premier league, FA Cup, La Liga. These are things I care little about. I like Jose Mourinho, though, because he never smiles and he doesn’t seem to care about what anybody thinks of him.
And he wears the hell out of his suits. People tend to fear him. That’s enough for me. I don’t care if he loses or wins.
There is a fallacy that a man should drink beer and watch football. And pee against a fence. (This I can do and do when called to it by nature.) Some people wonder how it is possible that you can be male and not love football. They wonder what constitutes your manhood if you can’t drink beer and take a side – Manchester United or Arsenal. (I will go with the latter, but only because I once read a moving article about Thierry Henry’s legend.)
The other day Nigeria was playing Argentina and I left the bar before half-time because I felt like I couldn’t stay up that long. In that case I might as well watch a ballet dance.
I never could understand the amount of emotions football lovers invest in this game. I had a friend who would literally fight you if you said something he didn’t like about Manchester United. He knew everything about them; right down to how many kilograms the players weighed.
He kept stats in his head. He remembered matches played years back. He bought expensive Red Devil jerseys when we were just students and could hardly feed ourselves. I bet he thought Old Trafford was a promised land. When they lost, he would walk around like a bachelor buffalo kicked out of a herd, spoiling for a fight. If I told him, “relax, it’s only football,” he would tell me, “Biko, you can’t pick a side when your hobby is crocheting.
So go make me a sweater.” He started a life in Canada and an hour ago we Face-timed and asked him which team he’s gunning for and I was surprised by his lukewarm response. He no longer bothers with soccer much.
FEEL NOTHING FOR WORLD CUPS
I feel nothing for World Cups. I will only watch a match if I have to, but I won’t plan my time a around it. I will never wake up early to watch a match, or stay up later than usual.
If I have slept through a World Cup semi-final without nightmares I think I can sleep through any match. But I try to watch the finals because everybody watches it and it’s more of a responsibility for living on planet earth.
For the finals I try to support the underdogs. Unless the underdogs are an Arabic team or a North African team. Or Italians. I have a soft spot for Brazilians, though because to them football isn’t a game, it’s a performance - football is theatre.
I also rather like the Germans because they are precise and they gave us the Mercedes. Surely, anyone who builds a Mercedes must know what they are doing off or on pitch.
Following the events of this past week, though, it would seem the Germans do not know what to do with a ball.