World Cup and the peculiar spectating habits it bore

Richard Wigglesworth

England’s Richard Wigglesworth is tackled by France’s scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili (lower) during the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarter-final match France vs England at Eden Park in Auckland on October 8, 2011.

Photo credit: Franck Fife | AFP

If you want to enjoy the atmosphere of a key World Cup match, go to a bar; if you want to watch the football, stay by the TV set at home. For last Saturday night’s quarter final England v France match, I did both. For me, it was a game of two haves – in more ways than one.

For the first half, I went to Kengeles. (With bar-going such a fickle activity, how is it that the Lavington Kengeles has maintained its popularity since it first opened in 1998? But that’s another story.) It was certainly very popular last Saturday night; as I had been warned, it was packed. It was also raucous.

I didn’t fancy pushing my way through the noisy throng in the main bar to find a standing place. Instead, I thought I was lucky to find a spare seat in the inner bar – until I realised that the coffee machine was blocking the lower part of the TV screen over the bar. But there was another smaller screen on the wall to my left. On that one, I could make out the moves of the players but not the moves of the ball.

As the two teams came onto the field for the national anthems, I could tell by the cheers that greeted them that most of the Kenyans around me were supporting the French side. French? Yes, but most of the French players had ties with Africa – 13 of the squad of 25. And most of the 13 were in the starting line-up.

Mind you, I didn’t feel as outnumbered as I once did when England were playing Cameroon in the quarter finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy. My wife and I were staying at the house built for the billionaire and arms dealer, Adnan Khashoggi, in the Ol Pejeta game reserve. Although one wall of our bedroom was lined with video gear, there was no broadcast facility. So I watched the match in the staff canteen. I was the only mzungu there.

Clearly, none of the staff were supporting England. Until seven minutes to full time, Cameroon were leading 2-1. A penalty scored by Lineker made it 2-2. He scored another and the winning penalty in extra time. As the staff voiced their frustrations, I kept quiet.

There is a marked difference in supporting behaviour that I have mentioned before; it must have been during the previous World Cup in Russia in 2018 – another knock-out stage disappointment for England. If a European side is playing an African side, it is likely that any European watching – other than a national of the European side – would likely be supporting the African team.

But a Kenyan watching a match between any African team and any European team would likely support the African one. It seems Africans are not so caught up in nationalistic rivalries. An Englishman, for example, will support any non-European team playing, say, Germany, France or Spain.

Anyway, watching the second half last Saturday, I cheered to myself when Kane scored the equalising penalty; I groaned when Olivier Giroud made it 2-1; I groaned even louder when Kane blasted his second penalty attempt over the bar.

But I went to bed trying to console myself that I would wake up to see Ben Stokes’ excitingly new England cricket team consolidating their lead over Pakistan. There’s a French connection I can make here.

 I once took Lilian, a French girlfriend, to a tense cricket match I was playing in at the beautiful Sir Julian Khan estate in the English midlands. After opening the bowling – a strenuous fast bowling stint – I wandered over during the drinks break to Lilian sitting on the boundary. ‘Are you enjoying the match?’ I asked. ‘Yes, very much,’ she said. ‘But when does it start?’

John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: [email protected]

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