Yellow loves the Green

Long ago a song chronicling days spent in a guiltless tavern, said: We’d fight and never lose/ For we were young and sure to have our way. The winners and losers of the first round of the soccer World Cup possibly lie printed, clearly, on a chart near you — the names are mostly predictable, the bets have been worked this way or the other. But the song keeps coming back reminding us that the ironies of the spectacle are never too far.

Thirty-two teams came into the finals. And about 175 others couldn’t cut it. Consequently, billions of people are fence-sitters, television watchers, beers guzzlers and amateur punters who never fight to lose. Because the best bet, for non-participant observers like us, is shifting loyalties. Sit back. Relax. Your country is nowhere near the horizon. You have so many to choose from, so much to pick on. So you, the great Indian supporter, can shift your loyalties often. Like you do every five years under some constitutional obligation. Shift according to the game’s predilections, shift according to the game’s eccentricities. Fight only to win.

Pele said England is the favourite long before Fergusson and Erikson fought over an injured Rooney. We quickly prepared two paints — white and red — to paint walls, torsos and faces in St George’s Cross. But as Rooney’s leg dilly-dallied, the high optimism dwindled, we quietly changed to a deeper red, added a navy blue and kept the white intact. France would make a comeback we argued, old horses die hard, Zidane’s receding hairline is no indication of his form and Henry is great in Arsenal. Then, the French team has nine Blacks, the republic’s delight, so we should stick out our necks. But alas. As the finals began, the blue and red paled quickly, the Eiffel tower looked shapeless. So the red became orange, the blue became black. White turned chrome. This is the German year, we said with panache. The Germans will, with military precision, march their way to the last four. They resemble a pack of straight-faced marauders on the field. And, to top it all, no player with mixed ethnicities. How can in right earnest they be supported? But they are Germans, boss. Whatever they do, they do well. A safe bet.

What about Italy, Holland, Spain, some erstwhile champions, some eternal dark horses — never to be taken lightly, but never to be fought bets on either? And the oddballs. There was once the Danish dynamite, then the Cameroon Lions. The Mexican waves in one round, dancing with Ghana in another. You bet for the day, the scorer or the score but never open your cap for them, never ever take a vow in their name.

But all of these make about 7.8 per cent of us. The rest are all fans of Brazil. Socialist Lula’s Brazil is the meek’s answer to the mighty! The retired leftie’s last hope. The communist’s only pension. Or maybe sheer black magic! But Brazil is the fairest of them all. The United States of soccer. Everybody imitates them. Everybody wants to be like them. So every leftie, alternativist, anti-US archie would take a deep call every night in front of the television — the fairest of the beautiful game or the ugliest? For them, the answer is blowing in the wind. For the soccer fanatic, however, the answer stops at Ronaldo, little Ronaldo, Adriano.

What about Iran, America’s current nemesis, UN’s abhorrent child? Or one of Africa’s lost countries, besieged by AIDS, poverty and malnutrition? But we never fight to lose, so we never fight for them. Livin’ la Vida Loca.

Eventually, loyalties will narrow further down. The support system will become less coagulated. The choices will become easier. And the mighty shall raise the cup. As the mighty have always won the world. And Il Divo’s cup anthem would ring out loud and cheerful: (This is) The time of our lives.