I think I can safely say that I have never understood football from any point of view. I have no memory, when at school, of ever being taught how to play, it was just assumed that we knew. Which I didn't. Particularly, with 21 people already chasing after the ball, I had no idea what it was that I was supposed to do as person number 22. So, I was the one person at school who cheered when the weather was bad and we did cross country instead. I mean, running through a park, that I can do, maybe not very fast, but at least I know what I'm supposed to be doing.
But from a spectator point of view I also don't understand football. It is not uncommon for a whole 90 minutes of play to happen and still the object of the game - scoring goals - has not been achieved. How does this make any sense? In low scoring games there seems to be a high level of randomness about it, so people say things like team A played better even though team B won. Well, I would suggest that in sensible games - tennis, maybe, or snooker - the one who is deemed to be playing better does indeed win.
And then there's the commentary, which seems to be full of nonsensical pronouncements. 'Player C and D are going for the same ball." The same ball? Even my understanding of football extends to knowing that there's only ever one ball on the pitch at the same time, of course any two players - indeed, all 22 players - are going for the 'same ball'. What other ball would they be going for? Isn't this a level of commentary along the lines of, "Football is a game of two halves," and, "The score is nil-nil before the game begins."?
And then you hear reference to a 'difficult ball'. Which seems to be assigning to an inanimate object human characteristics. As if the ball is thinking, "I'm getting rather annoyed being kicked around in this hooligan fashion, I think I'll bring some of the laws of physics and bounce around in an unpredictable way." I mean, really?
So, I have taken very little interest in football over the years. I was in Dar es Salaam during the 2014 world cup when England crashed out in the group stage. The following morning my colleagues treated me with great kindness and concern, as if I had been bereaved, and it took me a while to realise what they were talking about. Oh, we're talking about football! Sorry, I thought we were talking about something important.I did actually put myself in front of a TV screen for the England-Sweden team yesterday but then succeeded in sleeping right through the second half. In my defence, I was quite tired....
Having said all of this, I am acutely aware that I am missing something - actually, many things - which the vast majority of the rest of the world seems to get. I have heard it said that 10% of the world's population supports Manchester United. Based on my travels around the world, if one takes a wide definition of 'support', I can believe that. One of my memories of East Africa was being stuck at Entebbe Airport in a land-side cafe for some time waiting to go airside, with the TV showing a match between Arsenal and Tottenham. In a crowded cafe with many off-duty airport workers, I seemed to be the only person taking no interest, with a large amount of cheering and aahhing over a game going on thousands of miles away.
From a teacher's point of view, I actually find that I can use my lack of knowledge and understanding of football as an advantage. When I started teaching many years ago, I thought I needed to be in touch with youth interests - watching 'Top of the Pops', for example - but rapidly came to the conclusion that this is misunderstanding the nature of the teacher-pupil relationship. Whereas a youth worker who sees youngsters for a small number of hours a week on a voluntary basis might have a relationship analagous to an older sibling, that of the teacher, who seems them for a much larger number of hours on a compulsory basis, is more akin to parent - or maybe uncle or aunt. In my experience, pupils like talking to teachers about things which they - the pupils - know about and the teachers don't. Over the course of the year this has also included various computer games - have any of my readers heard of 'Fortnight'?
I therefore turned up school on Wednesday knowing the result of the England-Columbia game - but then admitted this was only because I'd checked it on my smart phone that morning. Some pupils were trying to explain to me that you don't necessarily chase after the ball, you might position yourself to be able to take a pass in a few minutes' time. Which sort of makes sense, but sounds a bit complicated to me. Another pupil suggested that I would take more interest in the championship if Tanzania was there and yes, I concede that might well be true.
So, another week to go before everything is over. I look forward to more one sided conversations over the course of the week. Will they believe me when I say that I slept through half of Saturday's game? Will be interesting to find out, but you have my word that this is absolutely what happened......