Raise your hand if you’ve walked around half asleep because of a World Cup match. No? Then you’ve been missing out, darlings.
I’m no major football fan, but I was raised by a man who is one, and once during his youth tried his luck in his hometown’s pro club. He’s got no sons, so I was the tyke Dad toted to watch matches in Senayan stadion (now renamed GBK) on the premier league heyday of Niac Mitra and Warna Agung. And every time a major tournament was up, he’d wake me up in the middle of the night to watch alongside, sweet snacks offered as bribes.
Football is a great equalizer; I’ve heard this through the years. The game can be played pretty much in any field, and the rules are pretty easy for anyone to understand. As a team game it has its own particular dynamics that easily ignite fans’ support on field and pique their interest off-field.
Fans fervently discuss transfer deals or FIFA presumably shady dealings in picking host countries for major tournaments (there was actually an interesting book about it, which I loaned off to a beau and never got back, huh). When Cristiano Ronaldo crashed his fancy sports car one night on the account of being bored for the lack of league season, tongues wagged.
Even jerseys have their own fodder of flaming exchanges— Germany’s checkered-flag-on-chest was so cool it was half the reason the little me started supporting them in 1986, so when they redesigned it I went huffing and puffing Karl Lagerfeld as the designer be damned (p.s.: Sorry Herr Lagerfeld, and please don’t retaliate by blacklisting me from Chanel boutiques, danke schoen).
Even in recent years the WAGs (wives and girlfriends), the gaggle of long-legged beauties or celebrities in their own merit like Posh Spice, have earned their own paparazzi following. They distracted attention of media, footballers and spectators so much that coaches or committees started to ban them off major tournaments from time to time.
World Cup is a whole different ballgame, quite literally. The pre-selection starts a year prior to the Cup, and itself already draws interests and TV viewers in each respective region. Perhaps because it’s about the patriotism in carrying the country’s flag, more than just a penchant for a professional club.
I’ve seen many friends who were sincerely hurt when their national team didn’t qualify, and crushed when their team crashed in the Cup. And when the World Cup finally starts, a whole different size and scale of euphoria erupted… even in countries who have no national team actually playing in it.
Over a month ago I started seeing street peddlers offering flags and knockoff jerseys along Ambon beach streets and corners of Ubud art villages. The fact that Indonesia national team never qualified for World Cup bears no reasons whatsoever to hinder Indonesians from welcoming World Cup every four years often warmer than we do our own relatives. And this year it bears an extra value—as a breeze to cool off escalating hotheads stemming from political arena.
I’m sure by this time you’ve heard or witnessed how Indonesians were so tersely divided on the recent presidential election, online and offline. Even all quick counts pretty much showed how the votes were almost split in half, and only differed in which half they leaned onto. Clearly the holy month of Ramadhan hasn’t been too successful in prevailing more cooler heads around.
I exercised my constitutional right on July 9th but I had strong reservations for both tickets, and it was amusing to watch how usually levelheaded, self-proclaimed intellectuals– freedom fighters, no less– got hot and bothered when I attempted to objectively voice my objections on social media (there were also some sly attempts to arm-twist me into publicly supporting a certain candidate, but we’ll keep that for juicy gossip sessions when the dust settles later).
The World Cup euphoria somehow has managed to simmer down some of the perpetually self-feeding heat on social media at nightfall, when fiery spats tend to multiply, that some footie fans literally tweeted around 10.30pm to ask the political tweeps to step aside for them to enter ‘the arena’.
And for a few hours until dawn a different kind of jostling and joking would reign as battles commenced on the immaculately-manicured fields far away in Brazil, in a region that except for football and beauty pageant winners is still foreign to most Indonesians, by teams that are completely foreign to all Indonesians. For those merry hours until dawn diehard supporters of opposing presidential candidates that happened to love football, and there are many, suddenly found another perspective to pledge their allegiance to.
My ultimate wish, in this long election season, is that those moments would make many realize that regardless who you voted for, and regardless of which candidate to lawfully take office in October 20th, there are many more similarities between two Indonesians than just their political view difference (or religion, race, and native group). And if that wish comes true, then football is indeed the great equalizer, even for a nation whose team never so far qualified for it.
Come say hi if you spot me at some sports bar on the final. And Germany, the only team who mastered the art of playing as a team, would win. Mwah!
This article is originally published in the Jakarta Post.