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And They're Off to a Standing Start

Who will win the World Cup? McDonald's, Coca Cola and Budweiser. And the Chinese, who are the ones making all those shortly to be discarded fluttering plastic national flags...

The Cross of St George flutters from vans and cars and from the bedrooms of houses and that can only mean one thing: the British National Party Conference is on. Unless it is the World Cup which has brought them out. It is one of the few occasions that we allow ourselves to literally wrap ourselves in our own flag without inviting the withering scorn and unpleasant associations it would seem to attract in any other month, in any other year.

If hope springs eternal, expectation diminishes with experience. This time, England is engaged in a carefree flirtation with the prospect of success. We are donning the air of casual insouciance, while preparing ourselves for imminent disappointment. This will change if we reach the quarter finals. Then, all realism will be cast aside like an empty beer can. Until that happens, we are acting like we are not that bothered.

It is, however, the time in which even people who don't watch football start watching football. These fair weather fans will follow the tournament until England get knocked out, or the tennis begins at Wimbledon, whichever comes first.

It started with a television programme so awful that it was right at home on ITV. This time, it was not their fault. It was the opening ceremony of the World Cup 2014.

Worst. Opening. Ceremony. Ever.

It looked like the local cafes had been raided for people who were not up to much and at a moment's notice they put on the show right there. Mostly, it involved people on stilts, which in choreography circles is the international sign that they could not think of anything else to do.

The climax was a performance by Jennifer Lopez and a woman who looked just like Jennifer Lopez. To avoid any confusion, they dressed exactly the same, in a costume made of tin foil, about the size of a credit card, and had been to the same hair technician who only knew one way to dress hair - BIG. The hair had to be that large so that it could be heard by the people in the back row, which was more than could be said for those watching at home.

Whether it was a blessing that we could hear not a note of the two Jennifer's performance we can only hazard. My guess is that we got off lightly by not being able to hear the gentleman who was accompanying them who appeared as though he had stumbled into the arena by mistake after folding up the deckchairs on his patch of the beach.

Of the opening match of the England team's campaign, much has been said. Expert opinion rains down on such occasions like a thunderstorm of clichés and truisms. England lost their opening encounter. They were probably blinded by the dazzle coming off their luminous pink bootees.

There was an England goal, after which the manager Roy Hodgson tried to celebrate by waving his arms about but was hampered by gravity as he had strapped the world's largest watch to his wrist. Grandfather clocks come in smaller sizes.

An England team physio was so excited (or surprised) that, in the celebratory tumult, he broke a bone and was stretchered off to receive the attentions a substitute physio who was called off the bench to replace him on the bench.

In the television studio after the match, Thierry Henry, a French man, managed to outplay his English compatriots by speaking their language better than they did. Roy Hodgson was shown looking tired, saggy, old, deflated. To be fair, he probably looked that way in school.

Steven Gerrard, interviewed on the very pitch he had just lead our boys to valiant defeat said "Oh well, ya know, erm" to a series of questions while catching his breath and wiping the sweat off his face and probably would have preferred to be shaving his head with a cheese grater.

He stood before a wall of corporate logos for products that personified the beautiful game's ethos of fitness and athleticism: burgers, fizzy drinks and beer.

Who will win the World Cup? McDonald's, Coca Cola and Budweiser.

And the Chinese, who are the ones making all those shortly to be discarded fluttering plastic national flags.

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