Take it from a football obsessive – it’s fine not to care about the World Cup

Remember that most of those caught up in World Cup “fever” are faking it.

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It’s often said that the worst day to be single is Valentine’s Day. The thinking behind that is obvious, but as someone who’s been in a relationship for the past 12 years, and married for nine of those, I can say with assurance that being in a couple doesn’t necessarily mean spending 14 February in loved-up bliss. Take the most recent Valentine’s Day, for example – instead of being at home with my wife I was in Portugal, with three other men, watching football. 

Which brings me on to the World Cup and specifically to those without even a modicum of interest in the tournament, or football in general, and who currently find themselves unable to move for live coverage of games between nations that previously existed solely as holiday destinations. People who are left wondering why members of their family and close group of friends have suddenly taken an interest in Costa Rica’s “left wing-back”.

I think about these people whenever a World Cup comes along. There’s something about being on the inside of a bubble that makes me reflect upon those on the outside. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What are they making of it all?

As of writing, 14 matches have been played at this World Cup with another 49 to come before the final on 15 July. From a domestic point of view everything has been cranked up to 11 following England’s 2-1 victory over Tunisia. Strap yourself in folks, it’s going to be some ride.

However, I have always understood that for some – the non-interested – this must be a tricky and difficult time. Football seems to be on all the bloody time but at least in the summer everything around it calms down. Not in a World Cup year, though. Then the outpouring of football – actual as well discussion of – sweeps over the globe like a tidal wave, engulfing everything in its wake. It must be disconcerting if you hadn’t come out for a swim in the first place. 

I’m sure most “outsiders” just get on with things. Many will have been in this situation before and are aware it passes eventually. Some may even see it as a benefit; after all, people are generally in a better mood when a World Cup is on and that can only be a good thing, especially if one of those people is, say, your boss. 

But for others it must be a bewildering grind – especially in the era of social media. A minute does not pass these days without someone on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram mentioning the World Cup, discussing the World Cup… celebrating the World Cup. I should know – I’m one of them.

There is however one practice I would never engage in. It’s not got a name but, for the sake of this article, I’m going to call it “Idontgetism”, and without realising it you’ve probably come across a few examples already during the current tournament. I certainly have and it’s made me pound my keyboard in frustration on each occasion:

“I don’t get people who aren’t into the World Cup.”

“I don’t get people who aren’t into football.”

“I don’t get anyone who isn’t watching Spain versus Portugal right now.”

What “I don’t get” is people who suffer with Idontgetism.

I’ve loved football since childhood and as an adult it has become the centrepiece of my professional life, being as I am a national sports journalist. It has also consumed aspect of my personal life, leading as it has to me spending countless hours, not to mention hundreds of pounds, following my team, Liverpool, in this country as well as abroad. A week no longer passes without me watching, writing and thinking about football. It’s an obsession. An addiction. 

Yet despite this I fully “get” people not being into football, because as much as it consumes my thoughts and emotions I recognise it’s only a game – 11 people against 11 people with the aim to put a ball in each other’s steel-framed net. And they’re all wearing t-shirts and shorts, and something called shin pads. And in some cases, they’re getting paid millions of pounds to do so. Stop and think about it for a second and it’s a bit bonkers. A waste of time, even. 

I would largely dispute that last point, of course, but, equally, I appreciate football can be reduced to such an extent that, for some, it becomes meaningless bordering on a nuisance. And to them I say ignore the Idontgetism brigade because, by and large, they’re full of crap. 

Idontgetism speaks to the wider, long-standing practice of one-upmanship that takes place every time a World Cup is on. Suddenly there’s all these people out there who are obsessed with football, who simply must watch every game and, most annoyingly of all, can’t get how everyone else isn’t as absorbed by proceedings as they are. 

It’s an arms race: show-offs trying to prove they love football more than the next person, the same people you don’t hear a peep from when it’s February and Huddersfield Town versus Bournemouth is showing live at their local pub. They seem to be able to live without football, then.

I understand that the World Cup provides a different context entirely. One of its unique qualities is the ability draw in casual fans, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I watched England’s game against Tunisia in a bar in Shoreditch and was surrounded by people who I know for sure wouldn’t dream of going to a match in person or returning to this same east London venue for that February tussle between Huddersfield and Bournemouth, but equally it was nice to see so many take so much pleasure out of Harry Kane’s winning goal. The sense of collective joy was up-lifting. Sweet, even.

But please spare me the faux passion and, worst of all, the shock horror that there are people out there who don’t feel the same as you do. Of course there are, and thank God there are because, quite frankly, it would be weird and unsettling if everybody was into football. 

One of the things I love most about being a genuine football obsessive is that it’s an experience not everyone feels. If everybody felt the same way as you did about something it would not be the same thing and therefore would no longer be worth being part of. A club with infinite members is no longer a club. It’s just life. 

So if you’re not into football – if you don’t “get it” – embrace that and during the next few weeks, as St George’s Crosses pop up everywhere and your mother, father and partner are pondering the fitness of Egypt’s best player (Mohamed Salah, in case you’re wondering), remember that most of those caught up in World Cup “fever” are faking it. Come 16 July, the day after the final, everything will go back to normal and Idontgetism will be a thing of the past, only to re-emerge for the next major international tournament (which, in case you’re wondering, is the European Championship of 2020).

On a personal level, I’m more than happy to admit that I’ve already missed a few matches of the current tournament and plan to miss quite a few more. Denmark versus Australia doesn’t particularly grab my attention, likewise Serbia versus Switzerland. I may even skip England v Panama on Sunday and instead spend time with my wife. 

And I feel totally comfortable expressing that because I’m totally comfortable with my grasp of and passion for football. Unlike some, I genuinely “get it”.