I guess it’s time to talk about the 2022 World Cup. It seems so long ago already. After all the years of build-up and controversy, we ended up getting a Christmas World Cup, and on the football pitch, it was pretty enjoyable. And yet, as often happens when there is so much football, I feel like I’ve already forgotten most of it. England went out to France, didn’t we? Kane missed a penalty in the game? Wales played in it, didn’t they? It all seems a bit like a dream. It happened at the wrong time of year, it should have been in summer. I had all the World Cup flags up at the same time as the Christmas decorations, it was like having Christmas in Australia or somewhere. Sure, I felt conflicted, like a lot of us did. This Qatar World Cup was a talking point alright, and I won’t go into all the reasons why here, suffice to say I didn’t think it should be there. One of the less controversial reasons, for me, was holding a World Cup in such a tiny space, when these days it seems like two countries is barely enough for a major competition. But it turned out this made it a lot easier for the FIFA President Lex Luthor to get to every game in time for the TV cameras to tarry on him in the stands. I wasn’t hyped for this World Cup, being held mid-season with almost zero build-up, and we’ve had so much football the past couple of years since returning from the lockdown break .There was no way I was waking up at stupid-o-clock to watch South Korea vs Ghana (spoiler alert, I was totally waking up at stupid-o-clock to watch South Korea vs Ghana). This was a World Cup during the academic year, so work would be busier than in the usually-quiet summer. And yet, once it kicked off, I couldn’t help myself, and just got carried away as usual. There were twists, turns, surprises, shocks, and it all ended in one of the best cup finals I have ever seen, with Argentina beating France on penalties in a super dramatic match, and Messi finally winning that one thing he’s always wanted (and I don’t mean Cristiano Ronaldo being forced to be his butler for a month). I drew several of the games on my iPad as I watched them, the last one being the final itself (above), and I wrote down the commentary as it was being said. This was drawn in our very festive living room, and when I drew Messi tearing it away on screen, Argentina were still 2-0 up and cruising, before the Mbappe-inspitred French fightback. What an amazing final, and my favourite moment was the goalkeeper Martinez posing with the Golden Glove award afterwards.
We put the games on the big screen at work, in our study lounge. We are a World Cup enthusiastic department, with many of our faculty and students getting right into it. I put up a big wallchart that people could check every day. When I sketched this it was not very busy, but during some of the final group games and knockout stages we got quite a few people in there. We could only get the games in Spanish for some reason, but that was fun because they not only say “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLL” as they do, but they also write “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLL” in closed-captions on the screen. We did watch the 2018 World Cup in here as well, I remember watching England beat Colombia on penalties – rather, I remember hiding in the kitchen area, unable to actually watch. On this day, I watched France vs Australia (France won 4-1).
This wasn’t just a Christmas World Cup, this was also a Thanksgiving World Cup. Above, the sketch I made on Thanksgiving Day at my mother-in-law’s house in Santa Rosa, while watching Brazil beat Serbia, with Richarlison scoring an amazing overhead kick. I wish he would score some of those for Tottenham, or any goal at all, that would be nice. The USA played England the next day, and our transatlantic family sat around to watch it (a far cry from when Black Fridays were for going early-morning shopping). It was a pretty turgid 0-0 game, a better result for the Americans than for the English, but not one to convince people what all the fuss is about with this World Cup thing.
Back home for this next one, and our decorations have started going up. We put our Christmas decorations up after Thanksgiving is over, they like the clear delineations in the holidays here. For example, if you go to big stores like Target, Valentine’s Day starts on December 26th, St. Patrick’s Day starts on February 15th, and Easter starts on March 18th. Personally I wish it could be Christmas every day, and I think that would make a really good idea for a song. Speaking of Christmas songs, the biggest surprise this year was when we discovered that Baddiel and Skinner and the Lightning Seeds had written an updated version of Three Lions, especially for this Christmas World Cup. My initial reaction was that it must surely be cheesier than a bag of Wotsits, with that chorus getting a little bit too much airtime the past few years, but was surprised to find I bloody loved it. It was very fresh back in ’96, and now it’s one of my favourite Christmas songs. “Santa says let’s play the Christmas Tree formation” Hanging up behind the tree you can see my 2006 USA (sorry, “USMNT”) shirt, coupled with my 2010 England away shirt, the only England shirt I own. I’ve owned a USA football shirt longer than I’ve owned an England one. The game on TV was France vs Poland, and the commentator was just gushing about Kylian Mbappé, the French superstar. They called him a “cheat code” and a “superhuman”, they said he’s “a postman; he delivers”, they called him not only “different calibre” but “different gravy”, confusingly, and they referred to him as “a Ferrari, but a Formula One Ferrari”, which presumably means he will have engine failure halfway through a game and throw away a lead. They also said it would be “his tournament”. It nearly was.
One of the surprises of the tournament was Morocco, who made it all the way to the semi-finals. I’ve liked Morocco’s team since they did well in England’s group in the 1986 World Cup. Back in 1986 I had no idea really who was supposed to be good or not, other than Italy were the reigning World Champions, West Germany were West Germany, Brazil were super famous, and Argentina had Diego Maradona. I did know that Morocco were not supposed to be good though, because like Iraq, Canada, Algeria and the like, they got half-sized stickers in the Panini album. Even teams like Bulgaria, Northern Ireland and Paraguay got full-size stickers, so ‘Maroc’ must be crap. They were not – they topped England’s group, beating Portugal. I remember they had a player with a festive-sounding name, called Abdelkrim Merry ‘Krimau’.This time around, they also beat Portugal, this time in the quarter-finals, but before that they also dispatched their other neighbours from across the Straits of Gibraltar, Spain. I was at home that day working on my laptop, but it was quiet so I sketched the game. It was pretty exciting, and went to penalties. Morocco’s kit was reminiscent of their kit from 1998, also made by Puma. Morocco ended up losing the semi-finals to France, and finished fourth overall, a heroic historic run. I thought they might actually win it.
Here are a couple more things. Above, a small graphic I made of Messi in the semi-final against Croatia, teaching masked youngster Gvardiol a thing or two about turning. I loved this iconic moment. And finally, a couple of Christmas ornaments I made, one saying “We Wish You A Messi Christmas”, the other replying “And a Mbappe New Year”. And it was. I’m sold (or am I sportswashed?); I think every other men’s World Cup should now be held before Christmas, a new tradition. Sure it might mess up the European football seasons, but they are being messed up anyway. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with being a bit Messi.