After my worry-free World Cup in 2010, when the ‘oranjegevoel’ had come back to me, 2014 should have been all about the return of my fascination for Brazil. Could it be more special for the greatest tournament in the world to be held in the greatest footballing nation in the world? The country of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, of joga bonito, white beaches, palm trees and smiling people. But long before the first kick-off, I found out it was all an illusion, created by Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and FIFA-boss Sepp Blatter.
In 2014 Buitenkant Voet, the football blog I had started a year earlier with my friend Ruben van Vliet, was doing great. We had thousands of pageviews every month and during the World Cup we sometimes even had tens of thousands, and our writer’s team was ten men (and one woman) strong. Nobody made any money from it, and we had a lot of fun, but we also had a serious amibition: Buitenkant Voet had to be everything Dutch football journalism was not. This led to a mix of absurdist humor, (semi-)literary celebrations of our football heroes and longwinded analyses of obscure clubs. But when the World Cup approached, we jumped onto something else which was wholly lacking in Dutch sports media: criticism of FIFA.
In April, I kicked off my anti-World Cup crusade with a piece titled (roughly translated) ‘This will be the most fucked-up World Cup ever’[i], followed by months of think pieces. Brazil turned out to be the country of corruption, human rights abuses and rubber bullets. Meanwhile, Sepp Blatter was lining his pockets. I was far from ready to boycott the entire World Cup, but I also wasn’t ready to ignore these malpractices. Now that I’m rereading the article mentioned above, I can see how I summarized my stance as follows: “So, enjoying this World Cup? Yes. Closing my eyes to FIFA’s scandalous practices? Never.”
In hindsight, the World Cup of 2014 struck a delicate balance between my experiences of the years before and those of the years after. The obsession from 2006 was back in full force, because I opened my laptop after nearly every match to write another piece and got swallowed up by my phone screen to tweet my opinions. The enjoyment and oranjegevoel of 2010 remained intact, because the Dutch team again provided us hope of glory. Besides, there was plenty of beautiful football all around. But the unease of 2018 and the resistance of 2022 were also present. I saw heroes like James Rodriguez, Robin van Persie, Lionel Messi and the now fully unleashed Germans, but I also saw villains like Blatter and Rousseff, and the cowardly silent Seleçāo, consisting of millionaires who didn’t speak up for the rights of their people.
My World Cup experience was a mix of pleasure and disgust, I was part football fan and part critic. And most of all, I was an (aspiring) sports journalist. I wanted to do my job well and show people what was going on, but this couldn’t get in the way of football. Football was more important than all else. And so, I didn’t just write about weapons dealer Condor making millions off this World Cup, but I also reminisced about my notebook from 2006, wrote about why the Dutch would never achieve success without Virgil van Dijk, and how I watched football with my then-girlfriend.
As the final approached, both journalist and activist slowly got pushed away by the football lover. I now lived right above the bars where I had partied and mourned in 2010, so I visited those even more often. And while our victory over Mexico left a sour taste in my mouth because of Robben’s dive to earn a penalty, Louis van Gaal’s psychological warfare against Costa Rica won me over: this was another Dutch team I could thoroughly enjoy. For a while it even seemed like this squad could achieve the unthinkable, but in the semi-final, Argentina proved to be too strong.
Luckily, the day before had pumped so much dopamine into my system that our loss didn’t pain me that much. Because on that 8th of June, I witnessed a match that would’ve been a horror show for the Netherlands in 2002, but now led to cheers in many a living room. The tables had turned. Germany now gave us the most beautiful football of the tournament while the Brazilians had defeated Chile and crowd favorite Colombia with a hideous playing style and a lot of luck. Germany was swinging and Brazil became the new Germany. Or the new, old Germany, or something. Some people feared Luiz Felipe Scolari would beat Die Mannschaft like he had in 2002, but things didn’t quite turn out that way. Without their injured star players Neymar and Thiago Silva, Brazil was humiliated in front of their own people: 7-1.
It was a small measure of justice for all the ordinary Brazilians who had been abandoned by their politicians and football stars. The Germans finished the tournament in style by beating Messi et al. Practically the entire football world was happy for them.
For me, this World Cup was not what I hoped it would be. If 2010 was a carefree honeymoon with my loved one, 2014 should have been our homecoming and the start of a wonderful future together. Instead, I started to realize she had some pretty nasty character flaws. I also started to find out about her not so unblemished past. Was I even still in love? I wasn’t sure, but I wasn’t yet ready to give up on her either. Maybe I could give it another go, and we could still have that future! Only in 2018 did that hope turn out to be false…
[i] Bakker, E. (2014, April 9). Dit wordt het kutste WK ooit. [Article]. From Buitenkant Voet: https://www.buitenkantvoet.com/2014/04/09/dit-wordt-het-kutste-wk-ooit
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