Monday, 12 July 2010

The End of the World

Put away your vuvuzelas, stop all the clocks. The World Cup is over for four more years and real life must return. No more watching games at 4am under the doona before work, no more talk of teutonic free-flowing attack or English stutterings with Ali, the Iranian barista who has provided me with enough caffeine to help me cope with the rigours of early morning upon early morning.

I'll spare you any of my unoriginal and uninformed thoughts about the on-field action but if its OK with you I'd like to take a moment to mourn the passing of a weird and wonderful month spent watching Africa's first World Cup from wintry AFL-loving Melbourne with some off-field highlights.

A deflated orange balloon in a drain, yesterday. Aw bless.

The inability of the local press to set aside their obsession with AFL for just one month will remain with me for years to come. I'm not suggesting that Victorians should have ignored their number one pastime completely but I think that a sporting event of the magnitude of the World Cup merited better support than it was given in local rags.

Despite initially getting into the spirit with a daily eight-page pullout, the Age dropped that idea like Robert Green with a jabulani as soon as Australia departed the tournament. I'm conscious that had I been in the UK this past month I'd be sick to the hind teeth of all things football, but reducing coverage of the world's second biggest sporting event to pages 7 and 8 of the sports pages, with half of the articles sourced from press agencies is perhaps a little disrespectful of those of us who do like football.

And yet in some ways this was a blessing. Not wishing to diss the professionals but some of the journalism was a tad inappropriate. Case in point, Fairfax journo Michael Cockerill who went on a campaign of self-aggrandisement via a public feud with Australia's Harry Kewell. Overpaid sportstars don't need too much of our pity but in a week where the Socceroos were at their very lowest (after a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Germany) I don't think we needed this kind of popinjay behaviour from people employed to send the spirit of the event back home.

Cockerill's colleague Michael Lynch carried himself rather better though even his contribution was tarnished somewhat by his coverage of Spain's victory in the final. Stories of fans marching along Madrid's Gran Via, crowd calling for Spanish match winner Andres Iniesta to be made presidente and the story of someone called Raul expressing his happiness "as passing cars honked their horns" somehow feel a little less authentic when you see "Michael Lynch, Johannesburg" in the by-line.

I suspect the Age's true feelings about the World Cup are better understood through their relentlessly negative coverage of Australia's proposed bid for the 2022 tournament. Focussing on funds paid to lobbyists, gifts offered to dignitaries' partners (as if this doesn't happen with every bid for a sporting touranment) and the idea that North Melbourne might have to play Richmond somewhere else for one weekend 12 years from now is the type of parochial behaviour that holds Australia back from being a true world player in football.

Praise be then for the true football mentalists over at SBS for their unrelenting support of what they like to call the World Game. Lest we forget the one true moment of Australian footballing insanity this world cup: an incident I like to think of as the Madness of King Foz. It's hard to imagine what was going through SBS Senior Football Analyst and former Socceroo Craig Foster's head when he made this rant against Australia's Dutch coach Pim Verbeek, ("I would have walked down after the game and sacked him...") but fuck it was funny. Sadly Foz never got quite so worked up again throughout the tournament, though it was very cute to see how nervous he and Les Murray were just prior to the Socceroos must win game against Serbia.

Ultimately though the South African World Cup will be remembered chez Custard for the daily antics of Santo Cilauro, Sam Pang and Ed Kavalee and their SBS show Cup Fever. The idea of a daily satirical look at the World Cup isn't a new one - it's sixteen years since Skinner and Baddiel's Fantasy Football League and ten since Australia shared the Dream with Roy and HG at the Sydney Olympics - but Cup Fever was a huge success none the less.

This was due in no small part to the three hosts who were an unexpected dream team. Kavalee in particluar was a revelation (I'd never heard of him before) and his giddy wide-eyed impersonation of New Zealand commentators (with Rob Sitch) and a gloriously camp recreation of German manager Joachim Low will live long in the memory. Other wonderfully naff impressions including Santo's Carlos Puyol by Santo and Sam's so-bad-it's-good Kim Jong-Il ensured that it wasn't just Ed's star that shone.

There was an unnecessary laddish element to the series (the teams's unofficial fourth member being a female Chilean fan in a tight zebra patterned singlet picked out of a South African crowd and shown as often as possible) and the show would have benefitted from more female guests (I counted two in a month) but otherwise Cup Fever was always fun to watch. Repetition makes anything funnier - even the lamest of gags, of which there were many - and the various cheap-as-chips segments (Brecia's Diary, Take on My Balls, the Rivaldo Award, Kids look at Cameras, Not Even Close) were always funny and short enough to never outstay their welcome.

It's possible Santo, Sam and Ed's Cup Fever will remain a fondly recalled memory of South Africa 2010 but I hope that TV execs around the country saw something in its style, pace, editing and just-give-it-a-go sense of fun to want to apply it (and the hosts) to something else. The refreshing lack of ego and self-importance from the hosts is something rare on Australian television, and all the better for being funny with it. Congrats to SBS and the Cup Fever team for a job well done.

And that's that. Four years to go til Brazil, when a humbled England will hopefully start with realistic expectations, a rejuvenated Australia will get past the second round and maybe people in the Australian media apart from SBS will treat this most unique of occasions with a little more respect.

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