World Cup – Don’t call it ‘Sportsball’

by Will Giles

The advent of a new World Cup always brings with it a few things to get irritated by: Sepp Blatter lingering about the tournament like a mad old King that still hasn’t died yet, Adrian Chiles (who probably isn’t the fundamentally bad person he’s made out to be) blithering his way through hours of pre-match patter, and, more seriously on this occasion, the Brazilian poverty that will be predominantly overlooked as the tournament goes on.

What shouldn’t be on this list, however, is having to deal with nauseatingly twee, holier-than-thou comments about the ‘sportsball’ or ‘some sort of football’ being on.

For many, the World Cup is better than every Christmas morning and every birthday combined, a halcyon time when television guides become a who’s who of the best teams on the planet, and when games like Iran v Nigeria have family occasions planned around them.

Of course, not everyone enjoys football, and the month-long avalanche of tweets, posts, articles and staffroom comments will be a genuine source of displeasure for these people. But while they can be forgiven for not liking football, they won’t be for trying to belittle it.

The most frequent attempt to ridicule the hype around the World Cup seems to be to get the name of the game and/or the competition hilariously wrong, calling it ‘sportsball’ in an entirely transparent effort to demean the game for the mass hysteria it creates. In one example here sportsball has even been turned into a verb, presumably for the purpose of differentiating the tweeter from the swathes of fans that are obsessed with the tournament.

The faux-unawareness on show turns the stomach, and it’s mainly because these tweets (and the numerous others like them) imply that their creators are of the opinion that not liking football affords them some sort of prestigious individualism. It as if they believe that, by over-exaggerating their disdain for football and lack of knowledge about it, they are guaranteeing themselves access to some sort of secret, VIP refuge, within which they can agree with other like-minded persons how positively frightful they find the presence of all things football on their televisions and Twitter timelines.

Unsurprisingly, the joke being made here is not a new one. In its original form, it’s actually very funny: Moss and Roy’s attempts to discuss Arsenal in the IT Crowd are probably the finest parodies of inane, football pub-talk, and David Mitchell doing one of his trademark rants about the amount of televised football takes the much-needed piss out of self-important Sky and BT Sport adverts.

Like everyone, it is important for football fanatics to be able to laugh at themselves – especially at a time when they’re at they’re most obsessive – and these two clips have the admirable quality of being funny to both those who like football and those who don’t.

However, once they have been retweeted for the 1000th time, they kind of lose their appeal. Indeed, you don’t become an amusing social commentator just because you’ve posted one of these videos and wanked out your own version of the sportsball joke – you just come across as tiresome and pretentious. To be fair, most of these World Cup ‘jokes’ are just used by people to express that they identify with the mild, anti-football sentiment popularised by the IT Crowd and the Mitchell and Webb Look. They may be painfully droll, but you can’t stay too angry about them for too long. What you can get angry about, however, are the comments that have an undeniably elitist tone to them.

It is one thing to mock the World Cup for the near-rabid nature with which it is followed, but it is entirely another to suggest it is a proletarian pursuit that is utterly beneath you. One tweet, which has since been deleted, read: ‘Is there sportsball on? I’ve been watching QI instead and learning something instead of watching grown men play with a ball’. Reductively describing football as ‘grown men playing with a ball’ is middle-class sneering at its worst, and it hints at a separatism that harks back to the 1930’s, a time when George Orwell described the football pools as one of the few sources of respite for the poor.

What particularly grates about these tweets is that their writers seem to be suggesting that they are not only better than everyone else because they are not watching the football, but because they are indulging in a more ‘intellectual’ activity instead, which apparently involves watching QI. What’s particularly amusing about the QI comment is that this type of person probably believes that Stephen Fry invented the term ‘sportsball’, whereas in reality he’s actually a massive Norwich fan and probably right behind England’s World Cup campaign, so there. And who’s actually learnt anything genuinely worthwhile from QI anyway?

The beauty of modern football is that it transcends all sorts of barriers, be it age, education, class or gender, and the World Cup especially is a time where you can hope to find people from all walks of life in pubs, living rooms and fan parks, cheering for the same cause. In fact, you can go halfway around the world and communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language solely by saying ‘Manchester United’ or ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’. It is a shame, then, that these tweets have quite spectacularly overlooked what makes football great.

Ultimately, football is a universal language, and the World Cup is a celebration of that. You don’t have to be part of it, but if you’re going to suggest that you need to listen to Handel’s Chandos anthems as an antidote for it (possibly the most preposterously pompous tweet ever composed), then we’re all pretty glad that you don’t want to be involved anyway. Just don’t call it sportsball.