Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Havelange

Game of Our Lives, the football podcast from Al Jazeera, is covering the goals, triumphs, tragedies and politics of the 2018 World Cup

    And then there were four.

    The 2018 World Cup semi-finals kick off today, with France and Belgium battling for a chance to take on the winner of tomorrow's Croatia vs England match in the final next Sunday.

    No matter who, we know one thing about the victorious team: It's a European one.

    This is also a crucial moment in the history of each team's nations.

    In Croatia, it's a matter of left and right: "This is a quite divided moment within Croatia, about the national team," says writer and guest Kanishk Tharoor. "The national team itself has had to bear so much of the weight of not only the creation of the nation but of the conflict that accompanied it."

    For England, the success of the national team feels like a moment of destiny amidst the political upheaval that is Brexit. The slogan "It's coming home", which alludes to the origins of the game, has taken the internet - and even one Ikea store - by storm.

    "I'm putting my fingers in my ears. I'm getting the garlic out. I'm drawing a pentagram," says host David Goldblatt, an England fan who's still wrapping his head around the semi-finals status of The Three Lions.

    In a new episode of Game of Our Lives, Goldblatt, Karon, and Tharoor analyse the remaining teams, the viral videos of the teams' fans, and the legacy that Joao Havelange left on the World Cup.

    Read an excerpt from the conversation below, and listen to the full episode in the player above.

    Kanishk Tharoor: At the same time we should also recognise that this is a quite divided moment within Croatia, about the national team. I think it is fair to say that the left in Croatia has always found it difficult to embrace the national team in so much because this is a country that came into being, essentially in 1990, or in the early 90s, and the national team itself has had to bear so much of the weight of not only the creation of the nation but of the conflict that accompanied it. And so, inevitably, I think the edges are very rough there.

    I completely accept that there are a lot of distasteful things about the nature of Croatian football supporters, of the culture of the players, but at the same time there are stories within the team like that of Danijel Subasic, right? His father was effectively Serb - he was Orthodox Christian. And he's had to endure so much. And even now in the media debate, people questioning his identity, questioning his desire to marry a Croat woman. He's endured all of this, and persevered, and has played a starring role in this World Cup so far. We've been reluctant to essentialise the English, let's not entirely essentialise the Croatians either.

    David Goldblatt:  I can't agree with you more, Kanishk. That's a really, fantastically good point. It's a very mixed bag. And Tony, you, in particular, have been pointing out on Twitter and elsewhere some of the bad ugly mob behaviour that's been associated with England's course.

    Tony Karon: I mean, the "No surrender to the I-KE-A".

    Tharoor: I thought that was brilliant.

    Goldblatt: You'll have to explain that one to the people.

    Karon: Well, the knuckleheaded right-wing England fans that traditionally chanted, "No surrender to the IRA," for who knows what reason, some of the same element invaded and trashed an IKEA store in the UK on the weekend following their victory over Sweden. Hence, "No surrender to the I-KE-A".

    Tharoor: I thought that was a hilarious scene. Obviously, it played well on social media because it confirmed many stereotypes about loutish English football fans. But at the same time, I thought it was such an exuberant pan to globalised, sort of middle-class domesticity. To go to an Ikea and happily sing, "It's coming home" in an Ikea! I thought that was quite a great moment. I mean, Ikea should use it as an advertisement themselves.

    Karon: That's funny. Is Kanishk wanting us to embrace that as an anti-globalisation riot?

    Tharoor: No, I think it's actually, it's like an homage to global, "It's coming home. It's coming home". And they're there in the Ikea and they're celebrating - they're throwing around throw cushions, and ottomans, and jumping on sofas.

    Goldblatt: Yeah, cause what home looks like in England these days sure doesn't look like what it was looking like in the 1950s. There's an awful lot less chintz and an awful lot more laminated bookcases than there used to be.

    Karon: With strange names.

    Goldblatt: There's also, on social media, the other side of the coin in England. Some really fantastic little bits of footage. And one I, you know, I tweeted out was of a Sikh wedding over the weekend where you've got the whole crew dancing like crazy to 'Football's Coming Home'.

    Or, indeed, the reports from my son who was at St Paul's Carnival this weekend in Bristol, which is the traditional Afro-Caribbean migrant zone of inner Bristol, that's been holding this carnival for 50 years. And there you know, packed into the squares and the streets of the inner city in Bristol, you've got the most unbelievably diverse young crowd who simultaneously are dancing to grime, to drum and bass, but also to 'Football's Coming Home' in a whole bunch of versions and variations and DJ sets. And that's a very, very special thing to see in this country at the moment.

    Karon: Yeah, just a note of caution in general: We know from experience of so many countries that as much as we would love to believe that, you know, football is the harbinger of all of this progress - it certainly always offers a symbol of what could be possible - but as to what will actually transpire, that remains to be fought for. It really does. I mean, Britain right now is in the throes of something really interesting because of the turmoil at the top in the Tory party over Brexit. And so, the outcomes are far from settled.

    You hope that the feelgood element that the football progress brings inspires people on the street to take back a Britain that is about inclusion, that's about a more cosmopolitan and connected identity, and that is more social democratic. That prizes the National Health Service almost as, you know, the prize of what Britishness is.

    Listen to the full episode in the player above, and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

    You can also listen on the Game of Our Lives Facebook. Follow the show on Twitter @gameofourlives

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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