Soccer’s World Cup, the most-watched sporting event on the planet, doesn’t kick off until Friday, but the papers are already full of previews, predictions, and an interminable parade of human interest stories from the game’s quadrennial tournament. Last Friday, Britain’s Independent raved, “If this World Cup turns out to be half as dramatic as the build-up, then we are in for a rare old treat.”
For days the Irish papers have been dominated by the question of whether captain Roy Keane, sent home from Japan after a bust-up with the team manager, would apologize and rejoin the squad. (He didn’t. A “negotiation skills” expert deconstructed the long, sorry incident in the Irish Times.) Meanwhile, the British papers are full of the medical woes of the England squad; according to the Independent, “their midfield has more damaged legs than an IKEA returns warehouse.” England skipper David Beckham’s injured left foot seems to have recovered, but the Sun said he’ll be sweating in Japan, wearing a long-sleeved shirt to “hide his famous tattoos. Becks has been told tattoos are seriously frowned on in the Far East, where they are associated with gangsters and members of the infamous Yakuza.” (In November 2000, “International Papers” reported that at least one bit of Becks’ body art may contain a typo.)
According to the London Times, residents of Japan, which, along with South Korea, will host the cup, are worried about the arrival of gangs of English hooligans. To calm their fears, the British Embassy in Tokyo published a pamphlet called “Advice From the British Embassy on How To Welcome England Supporters,” directing restaurateurs that many England fans will need a knife and fork rather than chopsticks, and teaching basic English phrases such as “Can I help you?” and “England are a great team.” Asahi Shimbun reported that “[d]espite an unblemished reputation abroad, Irish fans arriving for the World Cup are being unfairly categorized in the public mind with their English counterparts as hooligans.” At least one police department knew the difference between Ireland and England and prepared an Irish translation of its hooligan-interrogation questionnaire. Unfortunately, as Asahi Shimbun pointed out, “Ireland has no monolingual Irish-speaking adults. Less than 5 percent are native speakers of the language and all of those speak English.”
Because of the time difference between Japan/South Korea and Europe, many of the opening round matches will take place just before or during European working hours, causing employers to worry about absenteeism. The Irish Times reported that among employees who say they will watch the games live, “31 per cent intend to do so illicitly at work, by following matches on TV, the Internet or radio. Another 10 per cent of workers intend to call in sick.” England’s Sun announced its plan to name and shame “killjoy bosses” who spoil the World Cup party by banning televisions, radios, and the wearing of England’s colors from the workplace. The paper provided a phone number disgruntled employees can call to turn in any “meanies” who don’t play ball.
One employer that will be allowing a flexible work schedule on game days is the Church of England. According to South Africa’s Independent, “The soccer-loving Archbishop of Canterbury … has given his blessing to clergy who want to move church times on Sunday to avoid a clash with England’s first World Cup match.” The archbishop himself won’t be able to follow the action live because he’ll be presiding at “the one service in the country that can’t be moved,” a celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 50th year on the throne.