They were talking soccer everywhere, the world over, but nowhere as much as in Thailand.
Even the eyes that were continually glued to the television sets that showed only images from Russia had to unglue themselves from time to time to watch the news channels streaming the coverage of the efforts by Thai and international crews to try and rescue the 13 young footballers trapped for two weeks in flooded caves in Thailand.
Eventually, the whole team was hauled to the surface, to the wonderment and praise of all the world. The courage of the young survivors, and the grit and ingenuity of the rescuers, were saluted as exemplary.
We are still to get the full story of the miracle of this extraordinary feat, but I am certain it will not be long before books start showing up in stalls and movies start screening about this amazing episode.
Some people were already suggesting that the boys be airlifted to Russia to watch the final stages of the World Cup tournament, but that may be too hectic to arrange for now. At least we know the youngsters would enjoy the closing matches in the warmth and comfort of their homes, surrounded by very relieved families.
Which is a far cry from many soccer teams that were in the competition in Russia but had to bow out of the contest through elimination. We have seen footage of teams arriving home to be met with rotten tomatoes and stones because they did not bring the Cup with them.
Football is a kind of disease that has infected almost the entire world and whose highest fevers are registered globally every four years when this contest takes place.
The malady feeds on the frenzied nationalism of hordes of supporters who revel in the emotional overkill that grips them and whose jingoism is pandered to by a shamelessly dishonest media industry.
We all have to compensate for our shortcomings, and if that compensation can be delivered by 11 young men chasing and kicking a bag full of air while we sit, watch and shout ourselves hoarse in support, so be it.
The media encourages the feeling that, where we have all failed to cover ourselves in glory, somehow these young lads will do it for us.
It is this kind of disingenuous media that made the English believe they were winning the Cup, despite all the evidence that showed their eleven to be lacklustre, flatfooted and ordinary. When they were knocked out by a plucky and technically superior Croatia, it was a huge pleasure for more than half of mankind.
The English learned a long time ago to make themselves perfectly unlovable, a quality that today is contested by many other societies in the world.
But probably the greatest saving grace coming out of Albion’s ouster is that the world will not have to put up with another half-century of vain English media deifying ordinary mortals as it did with the likes of Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law, Bobby Moore and Gordon Banks and others of the dubious 1966 win. Ten years from this week, people should be able to ask, “Raheem who?”
It is telling that most friends who lived, studied or worked in England refused to support their former hosts, mainly because of their noisy self-praise.
Although, to be fair to them, they are very little different from the French for those who have lived in France. The same noise, the same vanity, the same sense of superiority. Only, we do not understand what they say, so it’s okay.
As far as the Africans who went to Russia are concerned, they demonstrated a pedestrian grasp of the game, hinting that we need to work harder than we are doing right now, before the Chinese join the Japanese and Koreans in the Asian football renaissance.
Yes, the Chinese are coming, and in a few years’ time we should witness their arrival. Our countries will have to work extra hard if we are to avoid irrelevance in world football.
Unless, of course, we limit ourselves to the creation of the Lukakus, Mbappes and Kantes that we can continue exporting to Europe. Or, we can use our footballers as our avengers, like those players who went to see their president before they flew to Russia, and promised him formally that they were coming back with the Cup. Revenge for all the lies the politicians tell us.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]