I'm So Bored: What Happens Between World Cup Matches

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Extra Time
By Hua Hsu

Ten days into the World Cup and many of us have successfully adjusted our daily rhythms to accord with the tournament's schedule. Maybe we will sacrifice a little sleep in the morning or take an extraordinarily long lunch break; maybe we hope that witnessing some visionary passing or effervescent piece of skill will inspire us through those dim, pre-dusk hours of make-up work; maybe we merely pass out on our futons, drunk from hand-wringing.

In a sense, though, the World Cup is never not "on," even if the games only embargo six hours of daylight. There is always some new piece of data to be assimilated, some trickle of news to get us through the evenings, some arresting fragment from an unfamiliar source to be fact-checked and/or Tweeted. The shape of our knowledge is constantly in flux. That Internet is quite big, innit.

This past weekend, we were reminded that our free time is, with the exception of the rare trousers-averse striker, probably about as interesting as that of the average footballer. We spend our free time watching them work; they spend theirs amidst scented candles and atop bidets, dealing with existential stuff. If you play for England, this means spelunking the dull, expansive caverns of true boredom. Whereas England prepared for the 2006 World Cup by suffering through defender Rio Ferdinand's remarkably well-orchestrated post-Punk'd pranks, their 2010 campaign has been quiet and austere, especially given the caliber of individual involved.

Meaning: there have been no reports of England players assaulting DJs (for refusing to play Phil Collins, natch) or switching the price tags to save a few quid on a toilet seat. Instead, thanks to the discipline-obsessive micro-management of England manager Fabio Capello, the England squad is bored. "We're in a hotel, we finish training and have lunch at one o'clock, but then we have hours to spare," John Terry explained in the Guardian. "There are things to do around the training camp: mini darts tournaments, snooker and pool. But a bit of boredom kicks in. It's six or seven hours until we meet up for dinner again." As the Mirror observes, it's like something out of The Gulag Archipelago. Last Friday, Capello finally relented and "allowed a group of senior players, including (Wayne) Rooney, to stay up late at the team hotel and have a beer together." Just like in the book.

Complaining of boredom is one thing; organizing an insurrection is another. Following a listless opening match against Uruguay and then a grim loss to Mexico--the nadir of which was probably striker Nicolas Anelka (more on him later this week) cussing out manager Raymond Domenech during halftime--the talented French squad refused to practice yesterday. For all their cliquish in-fighting and their now-legendary disagreements with Domenech, the French squad have apparently summoned enough unity to draft a sort of Declaration of Rights--either a principled strike or an act of spoiled petulance, depending on your perspective.

None of these extracurricular activities (or lack thereof) fully explains just how pathetic England and France have looked during the group stage. But they offer the illusion of insight--they cushion the disappointment ever so slightly. Maybe we've just come to expect too much access to our sporting heroes at rest. Consider Ryan Babel, the Dutch winger (and part-time rapper), who recently broadcast a two hour session of Pro Evolution Soccer. With apologies to the English squad, watching a dodgy webcam feed of some Dutch footballers sitting in a poorly lit hotel room, playing video games off-screen: this is real boredom.

After all, only a quarter of a million people have watched it.
 

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Elsewhere on this blog: I wrote about the World Cup TV commercials, the vuvuzela-as-zeitgeist and the North Korean national squad. Anmol Chaddha considered the meaning of rooting for South Africa and R. Kelly's allegiances, Pete L'Official measured the dimensions of Louis Vuitton's World Cup trophy case. Piotr Orlov recounted the beauty and tragedy of Dutch football. On the anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, Anmol meditated on Mandela and the lines marked "out-of-bounds" by FIFA. And yesterday, Pete, on a quest for "authenticity," reported from up in the air. Bethelem Shoals dissected American rooting politics.

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Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. More

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Bookforum, Slate, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe Ideas section and The Wire (for whom he writes a bi-monthly column). He is on the editorial board for the New Literary History of America.
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