Whether it manifests itself in leaping about the streets, beeping horns, singing, screaming or painting the wife’s car the same colour as the national flag, football has a habit of turning sensible human beings into passionate obsessives. When this phenomenon spreads across an entire country, following a successful FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign, football fever can be said to have taken hold. But when love of the beautiful game and an irrepressible desire to follow every single match combine to create some unusual behaviour patterns, it is not unreasonable to question the sanity of those involved. Just a few days before Planet Football gets bitten by the four-year bug, FIFA.com takes a look at some of its most afflicted inhabitants.
Often regarded as the rightful home of the world’s most popular sport, England is also the ideal environment in which to observe the devastating effects of this strange illness. Analyses of the English workplace often pick up on an odd statistical anomaly – every four years during the summer, productivity suffers a remarkable drop and absenteeism shoots up. Nothing but a coincidence, perhaps.
This year, a survey run by Continental Tyres even went as far as to establish a top ten list of excuses that are likely to be put to use to avoid going in to work and to catch that must-see game. From stomach problems to sick kids, not forgetting food poisoning and broken boilers, what the English workforce lacks in originality, it makes up for in determination. One group of people who will not be set on ‘pulling a sickie’ are the employees of the Shakespeare Inn in Manchester. In honour of England’s presence at South Africa 2010, the pub’s manager has officially changed his name to ‘Fabio Capello’ and his bar staff have all followed suit by becoming ‘Wayne Rooney’ in time for the tournament.
Criminal to miss it
Further evidence that 44 years of hurt have not dampened Albion’s enthusiasm for the FIFA World Cup comes in the form of a Mr. Paul Hucker from Ipswich, who has taken out insurance to cover any mental anguish caused by an early England elimination. “The pressure of this World Cup is not just on the players and the managers,” he explained. “A lot of supporters suffer because of England’s performances. Penalty shoot-outs can be very difficult and I wanted to insure myself against psychological trauma.” This might not be as ridiculous as it sounds, given that medical researchers noted a 25 % rise in the number of cardiac arrests during the exciting 1998 FIFA World Cup clash between Argentina and England, a match the Three Lions eventually lost on penalties.
Thankfully, quirky statistics relating to the global showpiece do not always have negative undertones, something to which Russians can testify. During the 1994 tournament in the United States, Russian police were delighted to announce a 70% drop in the national crime rate every time the country played one of its scheduled matches in North America. The Brazilian Central Bank, however, is not quite as confident of the same positive outcome, having decided that for this year’s competition, whenever A Seleção take to the field, branches will have the authorisation to close if they so wish, thereby “avoiding any lapses in security as regards our banks and armoured vans.”
It appears that studying is just as difficult to concentrate on as working once the whistle blows for the big kick-off. In Bangladesh, students at the University of Engineering and Technology offered proof of this four years ago, when they pulled out all the stops to ensure their end-of-year exams did not clash with Germany 2006. Under pressure from thousands of the country’s brightest minds, educational authorities saw the light and moved the assessments – initially earmarked for 3 to 24 June – to 14 July; that is, two days after the FIFA World Cup Final.
Swapping confetti for crossbars
Like the Bangladeshis, the Sudanese people have not yet had the chance to see their national team perform on the world stage, but this has not stopped them from displaying their obvious passion for the event. So when a local power company in Khartoum in 2006 warned of possible electricity cuts unless residents reduced their over-use of certain household appliances, the entire city spontaneously chose to plunge itself into darkness, leaving only their television sets, broadcasting live coverage of the FIFA World Cup, to provide their homes with a little light.
One country where living rooms are certain to be well-lit this summer is Algeria, with sales of plasma screens reaching record highs as Les Fennecs' first match in South Africa approaches. So as not to miss a minute of the action, 24 years after their previous appearance in the tournament, some Algerians have gone as far as to bring forward their retirement dates, while others have even postponed their weddings and honeymoons.
As if that was not proof enough that fans are capable of all types of sacrifice, a recent American survey found that 55 per cent of fans would be prepared to fast for a week in return for seeing their team lift the FIFA World Cup. 40 per cent stated that they would be willing to forego amorous encounters with their partners for a year to obtain the same outcome, while an impulsive 7 per cent were quite willing to quit their jobs. Finally, 4 per cent of supporters surveyed claimed that they would not be averse to losing an arm or a leg in exchange for football’s ultimate prize.
If you think that you’d be ready to do anything for FIFA World Cup glory, now’s the time to prove it! What would you do in return for your heroes being crowned world champions? Take special care with your answers, as you never know what kind of peculiar promises you might have to keep in a month’s time...