The Fan - Hunter Davies worries about his nervous system
Why do fair-haired footballers never dye their hair black? If Becks were really a trend-setter he'd
At half-time during the England-Denmark game, my daughter Caitlin rang from Botswana. She was watching with her friend Beauty and her family. On the way to Beauty's house, her car had got stuck in the sand, this part of Botswana being near the Kalahari Desert. By the time she'd been pulled out, she was five minutes late and missed the first goal.
I was able to tell her what had happened, about Ferdinand's jammy goal, not that she had heard of him. She's not really a football fan, but it's England, innit, and you're ten million miles from home. Her Botswana friends watching with her, all women and children, were well clued up, explaining the offside rule to her and what a yellow card means. One of them was puzzled by all the black players in the England team: "Do they come from Africa?" Caitlin had to explain our West Indian connections. They were rather contemptuous of the England supporters monotonously singing the same old chant, Inger-land, Inger-land. "Why can't white people sing properly?" They were supporting England, partly because they didn't know where Denmark is. Caitlin had to tell them. At the end, they all jumped up and cheered our lads.
After the USA-Mexico game, I decided to ring my friend Dr John Davies in California. He's a nuclear chemist, a friend of mine from Durham days. I got him just getting into bed, having watched the USA live, thumping Mexico, well pleased, of course, but a bit saddened for Mexico. It would have done so much to their self-esteem to beat Big Brother. We agreed we would both miss Blanco from now on, the Mexican with the humpy back and the white boots, what a good player. I was a bit worried saying humpy backed, but John said that in Mexico the fans call him the hunchback.
I asked if he'd seen the Ireland-Spain game. Poor old Ireland, they deserved better. Spain were so fortunate. He hadn't stayed up for it but watched it later on video - except for the penalty shoot-out. His bloody tape ran out at the vital moment.
So it goes, all round the globe, where eight out of ten of the human population will have tuned in at some time between now and the final, so Fifa says. As I sit on my own in my little room in Lakeland, bog-eyed now, limbs weary, I do like to think that I'm in communion with trillions of others, excited or worried by our own team, asking the same sort of questions in our heads.
The Japanese and Korean fans who support foreign teams, how do they decide? Is it on a whim, do they draw lots or get ordered by the local authorities? You, you and you, no arguing, you will follow England, yes you may fall asleep, yes you could go through agony, yes it will be a frightening sight if ever Keown comes on, but the minute you see the camera, smile.
The Japanese players' hair, that's another puzzle. Why is everyone a blond, except for the redhead? It's fashion, innit, most people will have been saying. One starts and they all copy. But why, then, do fair-haired footballers never dye their hair black? If Becks was really a trend-setter, he'd have got out the black boot polish. He's had that soppy, semi-bleached, grown-out Mohican for, oh, it must be minutes now.
Why does Motty keep on clearing his throat? Is it to let us know he thinks he's made a joke? Why does Graham Taylor say "very much so" all the time? "It's hot this evening, Graham." "Yes, very much so," he replies. "Would you like a slap round the chops, Graham?" "Very much so." "Who's your man of the match, Graham?" "Velly Much Soo, Korea's exciting number nine shirt." He got you there. He's not stupid, our Graham.
Why is they playing like they is? I'm sure that's a question which has been asked by supporters everywhere. Each country puts its fans through it, even the best, playing havoc with our nervous systems. England especially in this World Cup. Perhaps it's all in the eye of the beholder. And as beholders of England, we are all too close, like knowing your own family only too well. When your children start to speak, managing to form a whole sentence, you think, amazing, how did they do that? You know where they've come from, all about them, so you get carried away and go around saying, "Heh, we've got a genius on our hands."
Then, later, when they do something really, really stupid, you despair, wonder what's gone wrong. By being so close, you get their bad days out of proportion, just as you did with the good days. The truth is that most children, like most of the England team, are pretty average performers. But they can have very good days.
Will England against Brazil be one of them? By the time you read this, you'll probably know. I just hope that, if Becks doesn't get us into the semi-finals, then at least he will have been at the boot polish and given us all something to talk about afterwards on the telephone.