The Rubbish Trumpet World Cup 2010 is gathering momentum: just when it seemed the entire tournament would lifelessly vanish in a droning blaze of goalless draws and perfectly spherical balls shooting vertically into the high altitude ionosphere, all of a sudden the football playing representatives of the various nations have become reanimated and started to entertain. In today's game featuring Mexico ripping out the wane heart of France there was even the astonishing novelty of hearing the sound of singing: above the sound of a billion bees came the sound of Mexican triumph, victory over the French and trumpet bearers together in the simple yet so relieving sound of celebratory chants from human voices.
The trumpets were also silenced yesterday, when the host nation were soundly thrashed 3-0 by a farming nation smaller than Moldova and condemning them, almost certainly, to being the first host nation to be elimated before the second round. I know I shouldn't take such smirking delight at such a fact, and I have nothing against the badly named country in itself ("South Africa" is a description of a location, not a name, much in the way that the "Central African Republic" is a description of a country and its political system rather than a proper name for a nation. For the record, I would name them "Gun Trumpet" and "Superland" respectively), but for their efforts in reducing all crowd noise from the varied joys of the sound of thirty-two nations' unique support to the constant steady menace of approaching insects I feel they deserve a swift booting from the tournament. Mind you, FIFA deserve a bit of a slap too for standing idly by. I've decided not to call them FIFA anyway, as the acronym is French, and so from now on I'm going with the English version, IFAF (or, for the pedant, IFoAF).
But controversies within a World Cup are part of the fun. I've accepted all remaining games will be soundtracked by a ghastly buzzing and don't really mind, just as long as this unique part of South Africa's apparent culture doesn't stray beyond the tournament; I also clearly enjoying moaning about it as much as possible. I'm enjoying this new football, widely accused of being too round and having a mind of its own, and thus responsible for every bad kick or goalkeeping fluff. I'm mightily impressed by IFAF throwing out thirty pretty girls from a stadium because they were wearing orange and therefore promoting an unoffical brewery - the consequences, of course, being days of news and coverage for the unofficial brewery. And most of all, I'm loving the fact that Maradona is back, as de facto Argentina coach, and looking meaner than ever. Snappily dressed and with a gangster beard, he struts about the touchline, flicks stray balls to players with occasional fancy flourishes, and gives brilliant press conferences where he says stuff like: "[Pele should] go back to the museum", "We all know how the French are", and (after kissing and hugging his payers upon a 4-1 victory) "I still prefer women. I am dating Veronica, who is blonde and 31 years old." Oh, Maradona.
So, things are getting better and I hope I read the signs correctly that indicate a promising World Cup ahead. However, like most things, improvements can always be made. The quality of the football is a matter for the teams and although integral to the enjoyment of the tournament is mostly beyond IFAF's (oh, ok, I'll call them FIFA) control except for tweaking certain rules and introducing comedy joke footballs; however, FIFA can deal with logistical issues and make general tournament-wide innovations that can have a positive impact for the crowds and the TV viewers. So if I was the entire organisation of FIFA, this is what I'd do (in no particular order, except for number one).
1. Ban stupid plastic trumpets. Obviously.
2. Change the way tickets are sold from the second round onwards. This is from personal experience, going to two games in Germany 2006. One was a first round game between Korea and Switzerland and had an amazing atmosphere, perhaps the best I've ever witnessed. Why? Because it was full of Korean and Swiss fans who had bought their ticket in advance, knowing their teams would be playing. But the second game I saw was a second round game between Ukraine and Switzerland. And it was terrible. Not just the dire football, but the total lack of atmosphere. This was because when I - and most others there - had bought the tickets, it had just been a second round match gamble, and most people had calculated either Spain or France being one of the teams. Therefore, the crowd was full of French, Spanish and mostly curious Germans, and had a minority of Swiss or Ukranians. During the day we saw loads of French and Spanish trying to sell their unwanted tickets. So the stadium was full of people who didn't really care - not conducive to an electric game of football. I suspect this is the case, to varying degrees, for most later games. I'm not sure exactly how it could be done, but FIFA need to try and ensure the tickets aren't sold way in advance to random punters (like myself and the curious Germans) but hold back, say, two thirds until they know which teams are playing. If a country can't fill their third, then sell it to the opposition or the host nation fans. Anything that maintains the good atmosphere of the first round onto the later rounds.
3. Don't book players for taking their tops off during celebrations. Come on, FIFA, what's this all about? It's not as if they're revealing their erect ejaculating penises.
4. Ban players retroactively for diving in the box. This isn't my idea, it's derived from an idea by Justin, but video evidence should be used after games and if a player has blatantly dived in the box - whether leading to a penalty or not - they should be banned from the rest of the tournament. I'm not suggesting changing the game's result, just stamping out diving players. Because it's sickening when a game is decided by cheating.
5. Don't ban players from playing in the final just because they've picked up two yellow cards. A red card in the semi-finals, ok, fair enough, if it was something really cynical at least. But the final is meant to be a showcase between the two best footballing nations on the planet, and to have that game minus one, two, three or whatever of the best players in the world, just because of some earlier minor indiscretions, undermines the game.
6. Have the women's World Cup on simultaneously, in the same country. I'm serious. Nobody really gives a damn about the women's World Cup - especially women - but if it was to be held in the same country at the same time, then I believe it would generate a lot more interest. If the games were held in the morning, or at a time not clashing with the men's games, it would attract a lot more passing interest. No doubt some might complain it would be it the men's tournament's shadow, but that's better than being entirely invisible, and being in the midst of the world's biggest sporting spectacle would be excellent exposure for the game, and would provide a nice counterpoint. Even if in women's football, Germany always wins.
7. Declare a month's national holiday everywhere in the world. You know it makes sense.
My situation as a viewer is unchanged: still offshore Norway, still flitting between Norweigan television coverage and all kinds of internet streaming, with zero alcohol beers helping me through the matches (there have been a few where proper alcohol really would have helped). I'm realising my situation, given that I'm offshore, is astonishingly lucky, as the games fall at excellent times (as long as I'm willing to cut my sleep a little short) and the rig action is very quiet right now. Jobwise, there's a thing stuck in a hole - but you don't want to know about that. Happily, I can be here for no longer than one more week, which will see me through to the second round, where (I pray) I can watch the remainder of tournament in a succession of pubs, in a series of incoherent states. And that would be a result.