2-8: Shhhh ... Don't Jinx It
[00:00:05] David Goldblatt: Welcome back to Game of Our Lives. I'm David Goldblatt and we are in the quarter finals of the World Cup. Uruguay France and Belgium Brazil first and then England Sweden Croatia Russia. We're going to be hearing a lot more about those games. But first and foremost of course we need to talk about how those teams got there. And no game is more on my mind, as you can imagine, than England versus Colombia in the Round of 16. I have lived, and I have to tell you people I was prepared to go to my grave without it, to see England win a penalty shootout at the World Cup. I'm still buzzing. And with me as ever is Al Jazeera's Tony Karon and producer Raja Shah.
[00:00:49] Raja Shah: Hello hello.
[00:00:50] Tony Karon: How's it David?
[00:00:51] DG: How is it?! How is it? Man I'm on the ceiling. Tony, you’re back in South Africa. You have been in the air for much of the last 24 36 hours. Did you manage to catch all of the games?
[00:01:04] TK: No I'm still quite possibly going to go to my grave without seeing England win a penalty shoot out at a World Cup.
[00:01:12] DG: Well fortunately we do have someone who actually saw the game. He's a presenter of the BBC radio series Museum of Lost Objects. He's a short story writer. He's got a novel in the works. He writes about football, culture and he's our editor. Kanishk Tharoor. Kanishk lovely to have you on the show. How are you?
[00:01:30] KT: I'm well. I come in peace David.
[00:01:33] DG: Now Kanishk is usually behind the scenes on Game of Our Lives keeping us on a sound editorial footing, fact checking, keeping us generally on the straight and narrow. But one of the key features of this World Cup for me has been our WhatsApp group I'm sure you've got one that you're on. And Kanishk I would say has probably been the leading force in the A B E zone. Anyone But England. So Kanishk what's your issue with the England football team?
[00:02:03] KT: Oh my issue with the England football team. Well I would just say first of all that you know I think during the match itself passions ran a bit high, and I might have been a bit intemperate from time to time in our Whatsapp group. But you know my issue with the England team is more that as an Indian, as somebody who comes to watching these World Cups without really a national dog in the fight. I have always watched them with a general interest in the fortunes of teams that represent sort of geopolitical underdogs. And it's difficult for me to feel that England deserve to win much more. I mean I think about a century ago they maxed out their quota of triumphs really. Anything beyond that is just luxurious.
[00:02:49] DG: So I'm hearing you, I'm hearing you Kanishk. I'm hearing you. Look for sure, until England as a society and as a culture looks the consequences and meaning of empire properly in the eye with the kind of fidelity to truth and emotional honesty that the Germans have managed when looking at their past, I understand. We are entitled to post-colonial opprobrium for the rest of time. But but given that, put that aside if you can for one moment, is there nothing about this England side that you find in any way unusual or attractive by comparison to what we've had over the last say 10 12 years?
[00:03:32] KT: Well you know if their conduct during the game against Colombia shows us anything it's that England are not that different from everybody else. There's this I think you know there is this hackneyed idea that English football culture is somehow distinct from other places. That there's a sort of robust courage and honesty that is built into the British game. But we saw in the way that let's say Harry Maguire with his sort of guileless, over proportioned face threw himself to the ground from time to time. Or Jesse Lingard with his quite clownish face dived and stamped as well. They're as schooled in, if not the dark arts, the theatrical arts. And sort of necessary theatrical arts that come with so much of football these days. That exaggeration, play acting, managing the referee. These are not somehow foreign to the English game. They are very much assimilated into it. And maybe that's one way this young, seemingly more diverse, more I won't use the word cosmopolitan, but let's say progressive English team, is very much part of the rest of world.
[00:04:33] DG: Yeah I mean for sure and it's good that we've caught up. I mean I think we've been there for some time. I recall Michael Owens superb penalty against Argentina in 2002 where he brilliantly tricked Pochettino into tripping him up in the area and then immediately turned round to look at the referee. And what do you know? We won a penalty. I seem to remember even the Argentinian press saying afterwards in banner headlines "they've learned." So yes in some ways it is a more normalized team. What do you feel about it as a South African and a rootless cosmopolitan too, Tony? How are you feeling about this England team?
[00:05:09] TK: Well actually what Kanishk was saying was reminding me of how this team in some ways is the negation of this idea that's been prevalent in a lot of the more sort of bigoted, the more nationalist English press for years. That they're too many foreigners in the Premiership. There are too many foreign players, they're mostly foreign coaches. Because guess what the reason England is able to compete at the level it does, the reason that we may in fact finally be looking at a New England, you know Billy Bragg's proverbial New England, is because of the presence of all of those players for decades. The foreign players and particularly the foreign coaches. That's what England is now. So this is a negation of Brexit. Let's be absolutely frank. This is a negation of the Little England idea because Little England, if it was a football team, would be rubbish. We know that. So I share Kanishk's you know concerns about jingoism. I mean in some ways this is still going to be celebrated by the "No Surrender to the IRA" crowd who are still sporting the Crusader gear and so on. But you know in reality what this represents about-
[00:06:13] DG: Well hold on have you seen- where's the crusaders? Two things. First of all the blokes wearing the crusader gear are not necessarily the people who are singing about the IRA. I think that's unfair. There is definitely carnival albeit slightly cheap fancy dress dimension to the England crowd. Just because you've got chainmail on in 33 degrees heat does not mean that you are a neo fascist. I mean actually that lot haven't put in a really serious showing since the game with Ireland back in 1995 when they tore up the stand and chucked wooden benches onto the pitch in Dublin. That's not to say they're not absent. But this is what I'm finding with so many critics, forgive me gentlemen, that you have an essentialized model of England. You have a model of England that is stuck in the past and England is so much more complex and diverse than you seem to be giving it credit for.
[00:07:03] TK: Well David, David-
[00:07:04] DG: Remember the Brexit vote was 52 48 people.
[00:07:07] TK: Exactly.
[00:07:07] DG: 48 is a very big chunk of the country.
[00:07:08] TK: You're saying we're stuck in the past but we're stuck in the past of that 52 percent that voted for Brexit two years ago. That's not very long ago.
[00:07:17] DG: Yeah of whom of whom about half a million have already died. You are saying that's England? Well what I'm saying is that it's a contest. Those people don't own Englishness. You know. There is an alternative conception of Englishness that is available to us. And that's what's so amazing about this trip for the English football team. Is that it is a rare protean moment for Englishness in the wider culture where something that is hidden suddenly kind of bubbles up to the surface. And you know I mean I'm not the only one making this kind of claim you know. I'm also hearing noises on the right and the center and other people have their take on it. I don't think the Tories and I don't think the right can claim, they can't commandeer this England.
[00:08:00] KT: UKIP were happily tweeting about it.
[00:08:02] DG: And weren't the reactions brilliant? You know football's coming home they tweeted and like a hundred people tweeted back, yeah you wouldn't let it across the border.
[00:08:10] KT: Listen David I agree completely that there are multiple kinds of Englishness and new ones coming into being and that awareness of the multitudinous of Englishness should be a consolation to people within England. But from the outside, when you are still bringing your fans who sing "Rule Britannia Britannia rule the waves" at football stadiums, and when you're sending us movies with Gary Oldman giving us hagiographies of Winston Churchill it's very difficult for people on the outside world really to have that much sympathy.
[00:08:40] DG: Are you seriously saying the English, the British film industry is responsible for that Churchill movie? Gary Oldman- where, where's the money and the scripts? Come on. This is the United States.
[00:08:49] TK: Yeah that was, that was Hollywood.
[00:08:52] DG: There's no way you can lay that one- Hey we've got, you know you want nostalgia, you want rose tinted interpretations of the past, you want utterly mendacious accounts of English history? We got them no problem. But that one you can't lay on us.
[00:09:07] TK: But actually I am prepared to concede to David that- and I will get behind England on the principle that this is a battle for the soul of Englishness. And I'm on the Billy Bragg side. So I really want a new England to emerge on the football field and I think this could be the repudiation of the Brexit spirit. This could be the inclusive cosmopolitan England that takes its place in a humble way among the nations. Because the humility was a big part of this team. Absolutely no question. This was not an arrogant English team that barged in with all sorts of presumptions. This was a team of like we're not going to do very well. We're no longer a football superpower if we've ever in fact been one. We are going to take our place and do our best. There's something commendable about that. There's something likable about this England team for someone who doesn't like England.
[00:09:53] KT: And yes I think I think one of the greatest English traits is that admirable kind of self deprecation that has preceded every match so far. And it is quite endearing actually to see the sort of very cautious enthusiasm creeping in. I have a lot of English friends and I'm happy for them. And it's quite amusing to watch them sort of experience optimism and euphoria and then immediately back away from that in fear. And I find that, I find that a very endearing and very English characteristic.
[00:10:21] DG: Kanishk as a connoisseur of the political and cultural meanings of these encounters, I want you to speculate for a moment. Let's imagine shh England win against Sweden. Let's imagine Russia beat Croatia. England versus Russia. Who do you back?
[00:10:37] KT: I’d back England to be very honest. I think it's quite amazing that probably, and maybe I'm trying to jinx them right now, but I think it's quite feasible that England will reach the final of this World Cup, completely unheralded before the tournament, but they'll reach the final of this World Cup without facing a single team, with the exception of Belgium's B team, that's actually better than them. If there exists a kind of cosmic register of justice, in my feeling an England loss sort of helps it tick in the good direction every time. But as much as I'm not well disposed to England's sporting success I do think this is quite an interesting, lively, talented young team that has a lot of the kinds of qualities that are completely absent in this Russian team that they'll face. Or might face I should say. So I think it's entirely possible that we'll get revenge for Skripal in the semifinals of the World Cup.
[00:11:38] DG: Raja, you've been terribly quiet I notice in all of this. You're keeping, playing your cards as ever incredibly close to your chest. Not always terribly active on the Whatsapp group I might note. Where do you stand on the England national football team?
[00:11:51] RS: Well you know it would be tempting to share some anti colonial solidarity with Kanishk. I guess both as an Indian and an American. On the other hand, you know, I was trying to think-.
[00:12:00] TK: You could share it with me too.
[00:12:01] RS: Fair point.
[00:12:02] TK: I'm South African we were also colonized by the Brits.
[00:12:06] RS: Eh, that's shakier ground to be on. But anyway, I would say you know on the other hand I was trying to think of the podcast equivalent of happy wife happy life, and the best I could come up with is happy host happy show. So I don't know, I think I'm for whatever reduces the number of irate WhatsApp messages I get at six in the morning from David Goldblatt. So I'm team England on this one. Sorry Kanishk.
[00:12:34] DG: We've talked a lot about England. Let's talk a little bit about Colombia. Kanishk what did you make in particular of their response to the penalty?
[00:12:44] KT: Well I mean listen in general I thought the Colombian approach to the game was disappointing. You know I think the World Cup produces for me as somebody who's interested in backing typically non European countries, it produces so many moments of tragedy. It already has. But I found the most tragic moment of that game to be the fact that it was Carlos Bacca who missed the decisive penalty. I mean this is a guy whose story is just amazing. He made his professional debut in Colombian football at the age of 22. That is incredibly old for football at the top level. And before that into his late teenage years he was not really attached to a team. He was selling tickets on a bus in the exerbs of Barranquilla. He was selling fish that his father would catch, his father was a fisherman. This is somebody who comes from deep poverty. And who came into the game at a time when so many footballers were already living gilded lives and have all the PlayStations and fancy cars already in their late teens. He came into the game against many odds and persevered. And then for him to be the guy who loses it to England is just, I know it to me it confirmed that there's really no justice in life or football.
[00:13:58] DG: Yeah that's for sure. Tony, did you have any thoughts? Or no you didn't see the Colombians so what do you know? There's no point no point asking you about them. Enough of this dilly dallying. We still have eight games to go. It's time to think what to watch.
[00:14:13] RS: All right and David before I play the What to Watch bumper I just want to read a listener tweet. This is from C underscore Villarreal came in over Twitter. Who says love the Game of Our Lives podcast but please get rid of the What to Watch jingle. It's worse than Willy Caballero in goal. And I know you know, fair enough. People on the Internet. Everybody's entitled to their opinion. But then I scroll down and what do I see is a reply from David S Goldblatt. Thank you for listening. I hear you. Which I saw that and I mean this is how I find out. You know I will say we know we actually commissioned a bunch of these jingles and we have some other ones but I would just like to point out that ever since we started playing this jingle, the England national team has had one of their best World Cup runs in a very long time. So I think it would be very dangerous to start messing with that at least for at least for the next few days.
[00:15:04] DG: Yeah well while the run while the run lasts we'll hang in there.
[00:15:07] RS: All right. So for C underscore Villarreal, this is for you.
[00:15:10] (What to Watch bumper plays).
[00:15:16] DG: For today's what to watch I have decided to call up someone with whom I can commiserate. A man who has been spending much of the last three weeks in dark rooms gathered around screens, losing all sense of space and time, endlessly eating takeaway food to get through this World Cup, Iain Macintosh. You may have heard Iain on the Totally Football Show which he founded and of which he is a regular guest. He's also the host of the Totally Football League Show which covers everything outside of the EPL, from the Championship all the way down to League 2. And I talked to him earlier this week right before England Columbia was set to kickoff.
[00:15:54] David Goldblatt: There we go. He's on. Hello!
[00:15:57] Iain MacIntosh: Hello David Goldblatt.
[00:15:59] DG: Hello Ian.
[00:16:00] IM: How are you?
[00:16:01] DG: I'm well man how are you? I'm slightly nervous actually.
[00:16:04] IM: Are you? Why are you nervous?
[00:16:05] DG: I'm nervous about England.
[00:16:06] IM: Oh.
[00:16:07] DG: I’m in a state of nervous excitement. And unreasonable and unwarranted optimism.
[00:16:13] IM : See I've gone through optimism and out the other side into deep set pessimism.
[00:16:18] DG: And what takes you so deep down the pessimism hole?
[00:16:20] IM: There's decades of trauma. You know I've been here before. We've all been here before. We've kidded ourselves that a couple of good results is going to make up for history and destiny and fate. We're England. We're going to shit ourselves just when it gets important.
[00:16:35] DG: Now I know you've been covering the World Cup with similar mania to the way we have been at Game of Our Lives. I wonder do you know what day it is today?
[00:16:45] IM: This has been a recurring problem for the past three weeks trying to figure out what day it is. I'm missing school runs and you know all the normal real life stuff like putting the bins out.
[00:16:54] DG: Have you taken a look at reality at any point?
[00:16:57] IM: Not really.
[00:16:58] DG: Have you put your head above the parapet?
[00:17:00] IM: Not really. We at the Totally Football Show we live with the wonderful people of Jazz FM in a two stories underground basement studio in the center of London so we've not seen much sunlight. We've not seen many people. We're just here in the basement watching all the football.
[00:17:16] DG: Iain, to the business at hand. What should we watch of the quarterfinals? What's the one for you that you really want to be focusing on?
[00:17:26] IM: Well of course Belgium Brazil is probably the standout game because you have two squads overloaded with individual talent but neither has really found they're groove as a team so far. Neither has proved particularly likable either. Which is an interesting thing. Usually, usually everyone likes watching Brazil don't they? That's the team you fall in love with when you're a kid. But there's something about this lot, they're a bit disagreeable.
[00:17:49] DG: Yeah and a lot of play acting, some pretty sharp elbows. Didn't you think though that final goal for Belgium was a moment where they surely came together as a team?
[00:18:00] IM: Oh god the fact that they could go from one end of the pitch to the other in about 15 seconds. The fact that Romelu Lukaku can be so responsible for that goal without either scoring it or indeed touching the ball at any part in the process, that is what Belgium should be. That's their marker that's where they should be playing. And we just haven't seen quite enough of that. They're a really strange team. They're at times beautiful and at times hideously hideously flawed.
[00:18:26] DG: Rather reminds me of their shirts which sometimes I love and other times I feel that they're a collection of argyle socks running around the field. If you had to put your money on it, who do you think might creep through of the two in?
[00:18:39] IM: There seems to be something remorseless about Brazil at the moment. A kind of Terminator style grinding their way through games. So given that Belgium is so horribly vulnerable on those flanks and given the damage Brazil can do in a moment I think they might just edge it. But I wouldn't be surprised if it went to extra time.
[00:19:00] DG: As a final thought Iain, we've been enjoying Russia 2018 and we've all been getting to know Russia in all sorts of ways that we didn't perhaps expect, the next big tournament on the horizon is Euro 2020. And it doesn't have a single host. It's going to be played I think in nine countries right the way across Europe from Dublin in Ireland all the way to Baku in Azerbaijan. How are you feeling about that prospect and how might it compare to a more traditional tournament like this?
[00:19:30] IM: I'm very sad about it to be honest David I don't know if you know everyone feels the same way that there are obvious benefits to having a tour, that everybody gets a little piece of the pie. But the thing I've always loved about a tournament is it opens up a country that you might never have really considered before. It can also, as we've seen this summer, it can put a human face on a country. And I don't think there's ever been a more important time to put a human face on Russia given everything that's going on elsewhere in the world. We're getting to know the cities and getting to know the history and those people who are going over there are getting to know the people. And that's always been one of the most beautiful things about tournaments. I was in France for 2016 and it was wonderful. The French could not have been friendlier, more welcoming, opening their arms to the whole continent. And this coming not that long after horrific terrorist attacks had shaken the country to its core.
[00:20:23] And suddenly you had this, you know it's hard to describe without falling back on old tropes like festivals, carnivals of football, that kind of thing. But it's true. You have these massive almost population movements into France staying in whatever hotel you can get. Testing out the local transport system, getting from game to game. It's all part of the adventure. And we're not going to get that this time with games pinging about from Baku in Azerbaijan to Wembley in London for the final. I think it's a bit of a shame.
[00:20:51] DG: I agree. I think something is lost in the process and particularly we're in a moment where the idea of Europe and Europeanness, which was always the purpose of the exercise, is more questioned than ever before. Iain it just remains for me to say thank you for being on the show.
[00:21:10] IM: It's been a pleasure gentlemen. Take care.
[00:21:16] DG: You can follow Iain on Twitter at IAIN MACINTOSH. That's I A I N M A C I N T O S H. At Iain Macintosh. Okay guys. What else are you interested in during these quarter finals?
[00:21:35] KT: I think France Uruguay is quite interesting as well. I mean I think you know it's the test of this new generation of Uruguayan midfielders. The Bentancurs and Vecinos and Torreiras of the world. And whether they can really hold back France is quite interesting. Because this pipeline that Uruguay has been generating for the last 10 years is quite phenomenal for a country of its size right. And this is its chance to show that it's really up to something.
[00:22:00] TK: Yeah they do they play like a team. They play like a club team. You know people who know one another really well, they understand one another’s games. And you know I have to say Martin Caceres has been one of the most probably the most impressive right back I've seen at this tournament.
[00:22:14] KT: Surprising because he was for a while recently he was not with a club. He couldn't get a gig. And he's he's probably one of the older players and the senior players on the team now. But it's been quite inspiring I mean again this is- as an Arsenal fan I have limited interest in this tournament now sadly which is a sign of the times. But this young midfielder Torreira who is likely to join Arsenal has been really interesting to watch in that busy bustling Uruguayan midfield. And he's going to have to be really up to something if he's going to hold back the Pogba and Kante and all those wonderful attacking players that France have in the team.
[00:22:52] TK: And then David, question for you. Who does England lose to in the final?
[00:22:58] DG: Well you know I have to say from your mouth to God's ears on that one. Or the other cliché is that if you'd offered me that at the beginning of the World Cup I'd have bitten your hand off. I'm going with France. I've been going with France all along. I've got money on France. I think if Uruguay don't have Cavani playing, and he looks like he's injured, I just don't think Uruguay have got enough to get past them. Belgium Brazil. I mean both are great. Both could win. Both could beat France. I just think France, I just think France are going to edge it. So France versus England is my prediction. And yeah then we'll probably lose.
[00:23:43] TK: Hundred years war.
[00:23:44] DG: OK enough. Complete lock down on speculation. I don't want to jinx this any further. It's time to go. This show has been a production of Al-Jazeera's Jetty Studios. Recorded at the Sound Town studios in Bristol UK with music from Bang Data. Subscribe to the show if you haven't already. Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like it please leave us a review. You can follow us on Twitter at at Game of Our Lives. It just remains for me to say Kanishk Tharoor thank you so much for being with us.
[00:24:20] KT: Thank you.
[00:24:22] DG: And I forgive you your Arsenal addiction. Tony Karon thank you so much for being with us. Enjoy South Africa.
[00:24:29] TK: Hasta la vista la Victoria siempre.
[00:24:33] DG: And the most fastidious and wondrous man in the world Raja Shah.
[00:24:36] RS: Wow. High praise.
[00:24:37] DG: Thank you very much.
[00:24:38] RS: Thanks David.
[00:24:39] DG: I'm David Goldblatt and we'll see you on Tuesday.
[00:24:42] KT: I hope you enjoy the celebrations after you win the World Cup David. This is me trying to jinx you as much as possible.
[00:24:49] DG: You know I never say never never to anything you know. Trump, Brexit, XXXX. You know where does it end? If all of these things are possible. Anything is possible!