Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Head Butt Around the World

(or when you care enough to send the very best)

I don't watch football and I didn't watch it this weekend (not having access to the channel probably had something to do with it. If I can't buy it in the medina, I don't see it). In truth, few North Americans actually watch football (aka soccer) and if they tell you that they do, they are likely lying to your face. And those that really do are either of European descent, got laid for the first time during their post high school tour of the Continent, or are sports freaks - all of whom you can pretty much dismiss as the fringe element.

But world tournaments have a way of bringing the lost lambs back into the fold, beguiling the uninitiated with its bits of arcana & lore (i.e., translated into sanctioned violence & beer), and secret passwords and language (little gems like "50/50 balls"). I myself have been known to watch curling during certain briars and that is a fact that I have kept hidden for years. Certainly, golf cannot be far behind. And a retirement home for the mentally feeble. So, I confess that I was rather taken aback when Mr. Cat in Rabat admitted to ditching work (not shocked at that) to go watch the games. This spawned a conversation which went like this .... how many players do you actually know? By name?
Between the 2 of us we came up with 4:
  • Pelé
  • Ronaldo
  • Zinédine Zidane
  • Thierry Henry
  • David Beckham
Now if that isn't pathetic, I don't know what is. I strongly suspect that, in the long history of football, there have been a few more famous names. I'll have to do a bit of research between now and 2010.

Now living in part of the world (i.e., the parts that don't include North America, the Arctic Circle and possibly Antarctica) that goes apeshit over football, the last few weeks have been somewhat of a learning experience for me. The most valuable lesson I learned was that if men are watching a television screen on which there are men in shorts and a soccer ball, they will ignore the very real women who walk by. This is an exciting step forward for male-female relations in Morocco. The telecasting of soccer games should be mandatory in cafés 365 days of the year.

The second lesson I learned is that football has profoundly deep fault lines and the only middle ground is a perilous chasm which destroys the weak and unsure. You are for a team or against it. The enemy of my friend is my enemy ... pithy pithy pithy blah blah blah bullshit. But, not giving a rat's ass who won, I found it interesting to watch allegiances shift as favourites were knocked out ... which leads us to the final game (which again I did not watch but heard the play-by-play via Mr CinR on MSN Messenger). I expect those who actually saw The Incident to correct me if I have erred. In a nutshell:
  1. A nipple tweak is perpetrated by Marco Materazzi upon Zinédine Zidane.
  2. Materazzi growls something to Zidane.
  3. Zidane headbutts Materazzi.
  4. Zidane is thrown out of the game.
  5. France, unable to bear another significant loss to their team, caves during the penalty kick.
This is pretty much it, right? And now the internet is awash with theories as to why it happened. Did Materazzi call Zidane a "dirty terrorist" (to which the former responded, rather ingenuously, that "I don't even know what the word means." I guess he wasn't kidding when he said that he was "ignorant")? No one's telling. I asked a large-ish number of people here whether the headbutt was justified and what could Materazzi have said that would validate Zidane's reaction. The overwhelming majority of men and women I asked (all the women, by the way, felt it was inexcusable & shameful) felt that the headbutt was necessary because the Italian team had been goading Zidane all day. Wow. Secondly, the uniform response to my second question was that a comment about one's mother - in the last heated moments of the World Cup - obliges you - the seasoned professional, on the cusp of retiring from a brilliant career - to ram your head into the diaphragm of your opponent. Wow. So just to reiterate, the following events are acceptable if you make a few amendments:
  1. A nipple tweak is perpetrated by Marco Materazzi upon Zinédine Zidane, probably in sordid reference to Materazzi's phantasies about Zidane's mother.
  2. Materazzi makes a scurrilous comment to Zidane about his mother.
  3. Zidane headbutts the mother-loving Materazzi.
  4. Zidane, the family honour intact, is thrown out of the game, unjustly.
  5. France, unable to bear the thought that the honour of Zidane's mother was impugned, loses to cravenly Italy during the penalty kick.
... and we'll toss out words like professionalism, camaraderie, and self-restraint. There, it all makes sense to me now. Wow, injurying your opponent, jeopardizing your team's chances to win an international award, and ending your career on such a disgraceful low note trumps the Mother's Day card I bought my mother last year. Hope she appreciated it. Even money next spring she says, "Zouzou, please, just a card this year!"

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