I’m really looking forward to the World Cup — which is bizarre, given that I loathe football with the kind of intensity many people reserve for dog-owners who fail to clear up after their pets, or for the sight of George Osborne smirking. I was the sort of boy who spent football lessons at school chatting idly with the goalie, even when the goalie was me.
So, my enthusiasm for the tournament is uncharacteristic. But then it’s not the action on the pitch that I’m excited about so much as the inaction off of it. I know from the 2006 World Cup that a whole month of football, on which the attention of most of the country is concentrated, translates as a blissful 30 days of serene and under-populated public spaces for the rest of us — we soccer snubbers who couldn’t tell you how many players make up the England squad, let alone what their names may be.
Well, from June 11, the world is our prawn sandwich. Those who converse in that righteous tongue of soccerese, calling out “offside!” at random and blaming everything, from the economy to the Boer wars, on the “ref”, will cram into pubs or shut themselves in their homes clutching cut-price lager and bags of crisps the size of pillowcases. Meanwhile, those of us who remain can enjoy our surroundings afresh. I speak from the experience of seeing London transformed from hubbub to haven during the 2006 tournament.
The parks were emptier than usual. The pavements were clear. Driving around London in a gear higher than second became, at last, a possibility. It was like waking up at the start of 28 Days Later, only without the air of post-apocalyptic desolation and the clawing, bloodthirsty zombies.
Talking of movies, World Cup month is also a boom time for discerning film fans, as cinema screens fill up with the sort of releases deemed unappealing to the average football fan. You have only to look at the new works by Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Alain Resnais and Noah Baumbach.
For me, then, the World Cup is 99 per cent good news. Only one thing will undermine the joy that I feel as I stroll through this newly spacious, if temporary, Eden. That is the prospect — no, the spectre — of 2018. The thought that a World Cup may spill so voluminously onto these streets, destroying the social tranquillity with which I have come to associate major sporting events, is insufferable. It’s time for some preventative measures. The sooner I can conceal a tape recorder about my person and go out to dinner with a loose-lipped and undiplomatic FA executive, the better.