There is always a fair bit of preparation for a big game, and last night was no exception.
Lucky shirt hanging ready, lifts organised, drinks planned, line-up checked in advance. No, I’m not about to out myself as a moonlighting France fan. The big game was – of course! – five-a-side at Goals in west London.
There was some real skill on display, though not from me. And a few of our number are genuinely hard, turning out in shorts despite the drizzly single-figures night. I produced a hat-trick! Off a personal xG of at least ten so, you know, more work to do. But the endorphins were real.
Over in Doha, the behind-closed-doors women’s league that I watched in September has taken a pause and the schools are closed. Because the World Cup is finally here. And with it: the focus on football, per Gianni Infantino. How’s that been going?
As a long-time connoisseur of Qatari bureaucracy, I couldn’t help enjoying Fifa’s forced U-turn on beer in stadiums. If Qatar’s top brass ever genuinely intended to allow it, I’m Cristiano Ronaldo. Less amusing was the replacement of Harry Kane’s much-trailed OneLove captain’s armband with the authorised ‘No Discrimination’ cuff. And the fact construction workers are now being offered double wages to hurry and finish still incomplete accommodation for fans.
But since the World Cup is here, so are the beautiful tales it brings.
Jack Grealish celebrating for Finlay after scoring England’s sixth. Iran’s team declining to sing their national anthem, in support of the protesters in their home country — an act that caused Iran State TV to cut away to a wide shot. A little less profoundly, 28-year-old Netherlands goalkeeper Andries Noppert putting in a near-man-of-the-match performance on his international debut against Senegal, with only 45 professional league appearances to his name. And the man who selected him? Louis van Gaal, who had himself been having treatment for aggressive prostate cancer, but who is now well enough to manage his country for a third time.
Yes we are stunned by the sublime performance, the charming Bukayo Saka brace, the Weah-esque Tim Weah opener, Wales snatching a Gareth Bale point – but it is the moments of humanity that make a World Cup.
That’s why people who don’t ‘get’ football can find themselves caught up in the thing. At the Khalifa Stadium, friends’ kids had the amazing privilege of seeing great football up close for the first time — at a match England won with verve and swagger. They won’t forget that either.
When I’ve been on UK radio this week talking World Cup, people want to know — given all the negative things they have heard — whether getting this World Cup has been worth it for Qatar. Senior Qataris have been surprised by what independent scrutiny looks like. There have been embarrassments.
Yet it would have been worth it for them at ten times the controversy and 20 times the price.
You might already have heard but this World Cup was moved to winter — after Qatar won it. A bidding process was run and then, after the award, the criteria changed to fit a particular bidder’s needs. And so the World Cup final will take place on Sunday, December 18. A day of little significance to you or me perhaps, but every Qatari knows that day. It’s Qatar National Day.
In explaining Qatar over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to show the range of people who make the nation.
And even within the ten per cent of the population who are citizens, the perspectives are wide. Listen, for example, to the female footballers I spoke to in episode one of Inside the Qatar World Cup. But the global significance of the world and its cup in town to celebrate Qatar National Day explains nearly everything.
Saudi Arabia wants to host its own now but little brother Qatar got there first. And just look how Fifa does your bidding if you host a World Cup!
It may be hard to remember but what football is is a terrible kickabout and moments of human connection. Not the powerful using their power to get yet more. I’m going to spend the next month keeping hold of those thoughts.
N The sports broadcaster is a regular on BBC’s Fighting Talk and Final Score and host of the Football Ramble’s Drop In, which she took to Qatar to find out how ready it was for the World Cup. All three episodes of Inside the Qatar World Cup are out now, wherever you get your podcasts
The sports broadcaster is a regular on BBC’s Fighting Talk and Final Score and host of the Football Ramble’s Drop In, which she took to Qatar to find out how ready it was for the World Cup. All three episodes of Inside the Qatar World Cup are out now, wherever you get your podcasts