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heroes and saints: the world cup of perving

My brother in law started this one off by saying that watching the Portugal vs. Ivory Coast match was enough to turn a straight man gay. “They were like gods,” he said. And although I’ve never been one for football worship in any way, this World Cup I know exactly where he is coming from. There has been some spectacular beauty out there on the pitch, not only defined by an Grecian physique or a Roman nose, but a divine masculinity of classical athleticism and gymnastic skill.

portugal vs. ivory coast

Sometimes the harmonisation of the team can turn a game into an all male performing art. Germany’s play, especially in the Australian and English matches, was elevating to watch like a ballet or opera. The Portuguese, against North Korea, made the game look too easy, and the players’ pride and joy was so potent that it spread throughout the whole country for a moment. Slovakia vs. Italy was operatic in its passion and hate and despair.  But sometimes the performance never gets there. Nigeria vs. South Korea was just boring. It’s been hard to enjoy watching England play, with their absence of pride or enjoyment. They are the antithesis of New Zealand’s enthusiasm and sportsmanship. So heroic were the Kiwis that they made defeat look like triumph.

Friends of mine will think it is most peculiar that I have gone soccer mad. I’ve never actually been averse to the football of Europe, and I even pretentiously thought of it as a culturally superior game to the gang-banging thick-necked vulgarity of rugby league, the sport which predominates in my home town. Of course the reality is that soccer in Europe isn’t classy at all, but populated by thugs and spivs and corruption. Just check out the suits on the Slovakian coaches… gangsters minus the style.

One contention I have had is the nationalism which comes with sport. “Love just one nation, and the whole world we deny” as Michael Franti says. Flying the flag and all that rot… it’s loathsome. However, being an expat gives a context to your national identity, and it also helps to spread your nationalism further. Not only am I an Australian, but also a Kiwi (by continent), a German (former resident) and a Portuguese (by adoption).

Another of my former aversions to spectator sport was its irrelevancy. But at last, now I get it :- it’s the diversion itself from all things worrying and important that gives it substance. Football is the opium of the people.

If you don’t understand what the all the fuss is about, but would like to take the trip and forget yourself for 90 minutes, here are my beginner’s watching tips: First you need to focus. You need to keep your eyes on the ball at all times, in the same way you work your concentration when trying to see a 3D picture. Relax, allow yourself to be hypnotised. Anticipate the moves of the players. Become the player. Once you can focus easily and re-focus when distracted, you’ll be able to start checking out what’s going on on the wider field, but to get started it’s imperative that you get into that focussed zone. It’s a quiet trance-like state which will have you feeling the pace, snapping at the refs, and emoting loudly when there’s a goal or a near goal. Second. Watch the violence. Slapping about the opponent is a essential tactic. It’s a messy side effect of desperately trying to get the ball off them at high speed and even though it’s against the rules, it’s actually a serious device. Actually, no, not serious – just like two 7 yr olds brawling. Stepping on a foot, gouging an eye, tripping them up – it’s all part of the fun. I can hear you’re about to object so let’s rush to #3 – Theatrics. Pretending you are hurt is another significant scheme of the game. It wins your side time and if you are convincing enough you might persuade the ref to give out a yellow card and/or a free kick. But I don’t really think they are all bunging it on – certainly a kick in the shins with studs and a knee in the ribs would have me writhing on the ground and crying like a baby too – it’s just funny how un-tough these guys can be when they want to be. Apart from these three characteristics of the game there’s not that much more you need to know. There are some rules, but they aren’t really important, nor particularly interesting. You can pretty much commit the rest of your brain to perving.

cristiano ronaldo for armani, and jesus navas, spain

Starting with the Portuguese team. Over here we are rather familiar with the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo on the tele and magazines and everywhere else. With undies and without. But in his native habitat he is something special. He is a star. And who can’t be moved by that dazzling smile even when he misses a goal? He’s a terrible show pony, but hey, he’s entertaining.

vincenzo iaquinta - italy

He’s perfect, but that’s nothing when compared to the Italians. Watching an Italian football game is a lot like being in Italy itself: so many spunks you don’t know where to look. Cannavaro, di Natale, Iaquinta – I wept with them at the end of the Slovakia match – so sorry am I to have to kiss them goodbye this week. Ditto the Kiwis, not just pretty but so nice! Helping up the Italians after elbowing them to the ground… so sweet.

fabio cannavaro - italy

It’s not like you have to hunt too hard because there are cuties in every team. Rodriguez of Argentina, Navas of Spain, Honda of Japan. Bendtner of Denmark. Van der Vaart of Holland. Even those mean slavs have a few hotties, like Kopunek. The German team is a little overloaded with looks. There’s Cacau, Aogo and Boateng for starters. And here’s the bottom line. Maybe I’m a little biased, but none of the players I’ve singled out is a slouch on the field. To state it plain, they are not there for their looks. Sure, some like the blessed Cristiano and the revered Rafael Van der Vaart are savaged when they play less brilliantly than usual… but that’s the whole problem with being a saint. Just one miracle will get you the title, but for the rest of your career you cannot get away with being a mere mortal.

–alas! only a very human, an all too human, beauty.

cacau, germany

I’ve got a radical idea to make the game even better. To make the players purer and worthy of worship. To give the sport all the nobility it aspires to. Freedom from corruption and cheating… Don’t pay them. Like in the Olympics, let their talent, not their price, speak for itself. Would Beckham have played so well without the riches? Yes. Were Pelé or Maradona as good as Ronaldo, even though they didn’t earn anywhere near as much? Of course. Better, many would argue. Would kids in the Bairros still dream of being Kaká or Messi? You bet. Would a rose not smell as sweet?

a beautiful shot by annie leibovitz for louis vuitton. maradona, pelé and zidane.

Note: Obviously none of the photos are mine. They have come from a variety of sources, but in no case (except Leibovitz) was the photographer mentioned, so I cannot credit them although I wish to. Copyright owners include SIC and Getty Images. The photos use here is for non-commercial purposes.


  1. Maria Silva June 29, 2010 1:39 pm Reply

    Hi Emma, I’m glad to know that you’re enjoying the World Cup! I hope it is for the love of the sport and not only to admire those ‘gods’! On this side of the world I’m actualy deprived of sleep, trying to watch as many games as I can. And guess what – I’m loving every minute of it!!!!!!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 30th, 2010 at 1:08 am

    I feel a bit guilty when I look at the clock and it´s time for another game… “but it´s research emma, research, very important”. x

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  2. Fred June 29, 2010 7:33 pm Reply

    Perving Pitch or a Football Field…sure beats cricket!
    A truly universal sport where our ‘preconceived’ ideas of national character and pride are realized in front of our very eyes!
    Italians with their theatrics, French with a local ‘revolution’ and the Germans with their precision tactics… and the list goes on. This is about more then the World Cup, it’s national bragging rights for the next four years and beyond!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 30th, 2010 at 1:06 am

    so true! let´s not mention england…but look at the way Japan play – like samurai!

    [Reply to comment]

  3. Allison June 29, 2010 11:37 pm Reply

    First, I love your blog-I am visiting my ‘mother land’ in the fall and I love reading your perspective.
    Second, I love that you wrote about the World Cup having played soccer my whole life.
    Third, I have to say, I fell madly in love with you and your blog when you mentioned (and quoted!) my favorite musician, Michael Franti. You are the coolest chick ever.
    Thank you for your awesomeness.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 30th, 2010 at 1:12 am

    wow allison and thank you for yours! Michael Franti is god. I wonder if he plays soccer?

    [Reply to comment]

    Allison   Reply: June 30th, 2010 at 2:13 am

    @Emma, as a matter of fact he DOES play soccer! I took photos of him doing so right before he played a show on June 5th. I will share them with you on your FB page!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 30th, 2010 at 8:31 am

    please please do. x

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  4. Emma June 30, 2010 4:50 am Reply

    Ah, and if this were yester year, I would be asking for photos of Henry and Freddy Lundberg. But now I’m just showing my age.

    My theory for the shite performances this tournament came down to money. Maybe the FPF/FA etc. need to pay their boys more, that there be a bigger carrot, buy their motivation. My, how Ronaldo plays well for Madrid, but can’t keep a pass for Portugal. Could also be that they are tired, bless.

    Just a thought.

    Força Portugal.

    [Reply to comment]


  5. Fletch June 30, 2010 12:27 pm Reply

    Hmmmm … nice female slant on a men-only thing. Most of them are probably card-carrying RADA members and certainly do NOT bring that ancient profession into disrepute.

    Many moments of near-glory have dissipated, and from around about 10 this evening I have completely lost interest. I shall now attend to the small household chores that Maria has been reminding me to get on with for some considerable time!

    Both, England and Portugal flattered to deceive, and it will be another 4 years before they can attempt to make up for it on the world stage. Perhaps a good showing in Euro2012 will go a long way towards easing the disappointment.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: July 1st, 2010 at 8:30 am

    yeah, suddenly I´m not rushing down the road to watch matches either. very disappointing yesterday. 🙁

    [Reply to comment]

    yozzee   Reply: July 5th, 2010 at 3:04 am


    Hi Emma I’d be interested to know your views on womens football teams, but for now…To update I’m really disappointed to see Spain drag themselves through to the semi finals. Paraguay deserved to win and imo were cheated by match officials.

    Germany, Holland, Spain and Uruguay in the semi’s.

    I’m guessing it will be a Dutch v Deutsch final. I know who I want to win 🙂

    [Reply to comment]


  6. Fletch June 30, 2010 12:32 pm Reply

    Thank you for that terrific shot by Leibovitz which I hadn’t stumbled across before. They were all ‘class’ footballers, and they all carry a bit of ‘baggage’. But that’s what makes them human …

    [Reply to comment]


  7. Délio Faria May 10, 2012 10:30 pm Reply

    I can’t believe it… Pele and Maradona in the same square meter?!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 11th, 2012 at 12:54 am

    I know, that’s partly why it’s so cute.

    [Reply to comment]

    Délio Faria   Reply: May 11th, 2012 at 1:28 am

    @Emma, True.. Sparks must have spread all over the place!

    [Reply to comment]

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