It's taken a while, but I think I sense the first signs of World Cup fever in Dumpling Towers. I've resisted taking an active interest for several months, finding it hard to get too worked up about Rooney's metatarsels, but in the past week, several things have conspired to change my mind. First, the number of England flags we saw attached to cars last week in our trip to Norfolk/Doncaster; not just one, but often two or four or even more, with the St George's Cross plastered onto wing mirrors. Cruelly, I suspect that the IQ of the owners dropped 10 points for every flag they put up. Second, a Mail on Sunday World Cup supplement that contained some interesting articles. Third, filling in my educated guesses of the results in the office sweepstake and trying to do some research via Who Ate All The Bratwurst. And finally, last night's BBC2 documentary on the legendary (over here, at least) 1974 final between the total footballing Netherlands (led by Johan Cruyff) and the more workaday West Germans (led by Franz Beckenbauer).
This was fantastic, placing the final into the context of post-war history, the counter-culture of the Netherlands -- one of the defenders wore love beads -- and contrasting football styles. I hadn't realized that the Dutch scored their only goal of the final via a penalty; highly amusing (and, Alanis, ironic) given their stated loathing of penalties. Nor had I heard of the (German) tabloid stories about Cruyff, late-night parties, complete with naked women in swimming pools, much to Cruyff's wife's dismay. Interesting also was the account of the German's defeat of Hungary in the 1954 final, which signalled their return to the world stage following the end of WW2 and helped kickstart an economic boom, and the tensions caused by their match in the 1974 opening rounds against East Germany. And much to my delight, the documentary featured extensive contributions from David Winner, author of my favorite book on football -- Beautiful Orange -- and an entertaining German sports journalist, as well as key players, both Dutch and German, from the various matches. Of course, the German players spoke only German; the Dutch players were irritatingly impressive in their command of English! But what came across most clearly was football as a force for good -- uniting countries and channeling nationalist aggression into a "safe" form. Yes, I know all about football hooliganism, but in general, that's still a minority of fans. Most supporters are able to support their team and appreciate the support given to opposing teams in a good-tempered way.
Unlike the English, the Dutch aren't demonstrating their support via orange flags on cars or bikes. Flags are beginning to appear, but mainly in shops and bars, along with banners declaring Hup Holland! Maybe this indicates that the Dutch are less individualistic in their support, happy to be represented in a more communal fashion -- or maybe they're just too cheap to shell out a few euros on some orange nylon at Blocker. Your guess is as good as mine.