Jonathan Wilson's Editor's Note from Issue Thirteen
At some point in the early- to mid-eighties, I was given a scoreboard for my Subbuteo set. It had two wheels bearing the numbers 0-9 that would be displayed in small rectangular windows. Alongside them were slots into which you inserted black cardboard strips, bearing the names of teams or countries written in white dots, as though light-bulbs in a matrix display. The scoreboard came with hundreds of sheets of names that you had to cut out, which was fiddly and, like so much to do with Subbuteo, far too much hassle to bother with in practice.
The theory, though, was good and what was particularly memorable was that the names of countries came not only in English but also in Spanish and quite possibly other languages as well. This seemed entirely logical. We were, after all, in the midst of a run of three World Cups in a row held in Spanish-speaking countries. It felt like the language of the World Cup; we got used to seeing England referred to as “Inglaterra”. That was part of the joy of it. Perhaps it was simply cheaper for Subbuteo’s manufacturers to produce the same kit for every nation, so everybody got everything in everybody’s languages, but whether by accident or design, they tapped into that sense of exoticism.
The exoticism is diluted now. People talk about hosting the World Cup, but really every World Cup now is held in Fifaland, a tax-free generic bubble in which the name of the venue is written on an advertising hoarding by the halfway line because otherwise there’s no way you’d be able to work out where you were. Most of my World Cup will, of necessity, be spent in air-conditioned white tents in the car-park of stadiums, attempting to stay awake with coffee so weak it’s practically homeopathic. I’ll be forced to eat at the press-centre McCafé’s or at the generic burger kiosks on the stadium concourses.
Everything is homogenised, bland, controllable, corporatised. Rather that than violent or dangerous, of course, but a lot of the old magic, a lot of the sense of something unique and vibrant that you still find at the Cup of Nations or the Copa América, has gone. Given that there hasn’t been a good World Cup in terms of football since, being generous, 1998, and you start to wonder how the tournament still has any appeal at all.