The World Cup is over. A certain team won. Another team didn’t, and inevitably there will be much scratching of pundit-heads and stroking of pundit-chins in an effort to find out why. Geniuses far and wide will claim they know the answer.
They will all be wrong.
How do I know this? I know this because, just as I knew the truth about how Germany beat Brazil, I am privy to the secret. I, alone among the billions, know why tonight’s result turned out how it did.
The clue is, once again, hidden in the commentary. We lay-people tend to see commentators as little more than an ignorant medley of barely-comprehensible ex-players and bitter journalists who want nothing more than to be the very people they’re vilifying. We think of them as fools and knaves, sexists, racists, incapable of pronouncing any name other than their own, sometimes too bored, drunk or over-excited even for that. We rarely recognise them for the colossi they are, bestriding the world of broadcasting like enormous priapic centaurs firing arrows of truth and mystery directly into our dumb collective cerebral cortex. We aren’t privy to their mysteries, their rites, the initiations, potions and scrolls that have sustained these Illuminati of the airwaves for countless years. Andy Gray. The Alans Hansen, Green and Shearer. Phil Neville. Rio Ferdinand. These are the true heirs to Paracelsus, Maimonides, Hermes Trismegistus, Newton, Franklin, Dee. We listen to them with half an ear, a quarter of a brain, dismissing their comments as inanities, never noticing the profundities that lie beneath.
Which is why few of us will have spotted the key moment of tonight’s match. It didn’t take place on the field, on the bench, or even in the stands. It happened midway through the first half, when Mark Lawrenson, the Sage of Preston, suggested that it might be an idea for Perez to sacrifice himself for the team.
We shrugged. We always shrug. Meh, we thought, maybe he’s right. Maybe Perez should, indeed, adopt a slightly different position and style of play, one which will limit his own opportunities to create and score, but might benefit his team. We failed to understand the significance of the comment.
Lawrenson was not speaking idly. Lawrenson was referring, as any true student of the game will know, to the infamous Copa America final of 1352, played in San Agustin, Columbia, between teams representing extinct tribal powers from the Northern and Southern fringes of the Andes. (There is a common misconception that football was invented by the British and exported worldwide in more recent centuries, an ignorant theory which ignores entirely the role played by then one-thousand-year-old Gary Lineker in the eighth and ninth centuries). 3-2 down and with the ninetieth minute drawing ever closer, the Inca captain, Yupanqui, fell to his knees and, faking a head injury, beseeched the referee for a moment to recover. Stumbling over to his bench, he gave the pre-arranged signal and, to the astonishment of the thousands in the stadium and the millions watching on pre-Columbian Sky Sports, eight substitutes staggered onto the pitch straining under the weight of a gigantic stone altar. The referee had by now noticed something was awry, but was powerless to intervene as Yupanqui strapped himself to the dull grey slab and produced, as if from nowhere, an eight-inch chef’s knife. He lifted the blade. It glittered in the sun, and plunged with the precision and certainty of a hundred Robbie Savages down and into Yupanqui’s heart. With his last breath, the dying captain reached into his bloody chest and thrust the still-beating organ skyward, a final, decisive offering to the great god Inti.
Inti smiled upon the gift. The body had hardly been cleared from the pitch when the Inca equalised, a towering header from a towering centre-back. And in stoppage time, as the seconds ticked away, a mazy run and cross produced a fine winning goal from the man who had replaced Yupanqui as captain (the Inca were not, incidentally, allowed to bring on a substitute following Yupanqui’s demise, as the laws of the game clearly stated that only substitutions of living players were permitted). Neither of these goal-scorers had even approached the Tairona penalty area at any point in the previous ninety minutes, and one was, it subsequently emerged, playing with a subdural haematoma resulting in complete blindness. Nobody was in any doubt that it was Inti that had won it for the Inca.
And so it might have been for Argentina. Any number of gods would have welcome Perez’s red, pulsing heart. Thor, Osiris, Baal, David Icke – each would have had the power to swing the game in Argentina’s direction. But watching their bench closely in the last half hour or so, I didn’t see so much as a penknife. The Germans, I noticed, were fully equipped with all manner of blades, altars, wicker men, crucifixes and ready-to-light funeral ships. Not for them tense final minutes and fortune in the hands of unsmiling deities. No doubt their sacrifices had been selected in advance, lots drawn, methods chosen.
And Lawrenson, who had already suggested, apropos of an inadvertent handball, that Tony Kroos should cut his arm off at the shoulder, told them all about it. There must have been someone on the Argentina bench with a radio or live text commentary or just a mobile phone to pick up text messages from friends with helpful ideas. “Perez might think about sacrificing himself for the team”, he said, and not a single member of the Argentina squad picked up on the significance of the comment. Things could have been so different.
Meanwhile, I forsee a growing trend for this manner of stacking the odds in one’s favour. Slow, weary Tour de France team-mates will have far greater impact in their deaths than they managed during their lives. Lower-order batsman will find new and devastating uses for the stumps they’re so hapless at defending with the bat. In relays, athletes and swimmers who have already completed their legs may find a bloody and significant role still to play.
Don’t be surprised. And if you can, get into the ceremonial knife business, because whatever starts on the TV screens and twitter trends ends up on the streets. You heard it here first. Sports Day will never be the same again.
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