The Russia 2018 World Cup is either the best world cup ever, or the best world cup, ever, depending on whom you ask.
It certainly is a cracker.
But, as a full time surf fan and only part time football fan, what does it all mean, really? You want to enjoy it to the fullest, in between surfs, but you have questions.
Who are the goodies, who are the baddies? Do FIFA officials ever put their boots on backwards? Who wears the best rashvests, I mean kits.
Which teams are Parko on the eye, and which are Tomas Hermes? Is Slater more Messi or Ronaldo? Is offside like priority? Are the referees better than the judges?
We've decided to focus only on the 8 quarterfinalists - each of which has surf in their country, by the way.
Alas we had to omit the group stage / round of 16 loser nobodies, you know footballing minnows like Germany and Spain, and surfing non-entities like Australia.
"Like Hawaiian surfing, Brazil looked amazing in 1970, and also looked fucking great in the 80's moustache-and-very-very-tight-shorts era"
Brazil is the Hawaii of the football world, its spiritual home, keepers of the flame, guardians of not just the soul, but also the beating heart of the sport. Their livery is the best (Nigeria-fauning urban millennial clones aside) and they, like Hawaiian surfing, looked amazing in 1970, and also looked fucking great in the 80's moustache-and-very-very-tight-shorts era. I mean really looked first class. Totally formidable.
Nobody really hates Brazil, as a futbol team. You could easily harbour a deep dislike for other great footballing nations like Argentina, Italy, Germany... but not so with the Seleção. So whereas the surf world's comment idiots are broadly polarised into two distinct, tragic groups: South Americans, commenting "World Shame League" at any and every opportunity (comp on, comp off, wind come up, wind not come up, underscore, overscore, webcast not working etc etc) the other, either Australian or American, "F*kin Brazzos", broadly speaking, the football fan world is generally in one, happy camp. They're most folks' at least second favourite nation, most fans 'have a soft spot' for Brazil.
However, there's a bit of an issue with their star player, Neymar Jr. What a vile little man. A gifted footballer, but a total embarrassment with his antics, his writhing around. He's unlikely to plumb Rivaldo's depths of faux-injury shame, but he's having a good crack at it. Can he alone bring down a near-century of collective goodwill? Unlikely. But...
Brazil's spirit surfer is Kelly Slater. The undisputable GoAT, although the more you see him in real time these days, the more your faith has questions.
"Like surfing in Peru, England had a noble, blazer-clad aristocratic golden era in the 1960's that everyone in the world has pretty much forgotten about, except them"
England! The England. The ENG-GER-LAND! Three Lions on their shirts, Jules Rimet still gleaming. The best team badges in Russia 2018 are the ones with no lettering at all, England, Poland and Russia (respectful hat tip to Denmark's art nouveau font though). But Russia's and Poland's emblems look at bit... dictatorship-y. England have already won this world cup, in terms of badge. Thanks very much.
England are young, they are still prone to bouts of dumb, but thankfully, they seem less full of cum than the Aiya Napa days.
There is no real star in the England team. To use surfing parlance, they're a Round 4 non-elimination 3 man heat feat Buchan, Pupo, Duru. Decent, but nothing life-changingly exceptional, nobody that's gonna make you want to change your name, take your breath away, weep, etc.
England's peak was a long time ago, in a way they're a bit like surfing in Peru. They had a noble, blazer-clad aristocratic golden era in the 1960's that everyone in the world has pretty much forgotten about, except them.
England's spirit surfer is Martin Potter. Allegedly decent a while back, which tends to get pointed out more than feels necessary. Now just kinda always there, and nobody is entirely sure why.
"Fuck Croatia," I said boldly, realising the need to intervene. "Up with Serbia!"
In France '98, the Croats were 'the Brazil of Europe'. They're canny decent today, too, but they're not the Brazil of anything. If I were them I'd tried to coin something more appropriate, 'the Hungary of the former Eastern Bloc'. Although, hang on, that's actually just Hungary. Kit-wise, they've tried to make chequerboard work, a bit like when Hurley persevered with plaid patterns for an awful long time in the bad board short era of the mid 2000's, before the garter belt.
Again, nobody hates Croatia. Well except the Serbs, who hate their fucking guts.
Bit of an aside here, but I was once in Moscow's iconic Hotel Ukraine, when a firm of about 100 football hooligans had taken over the huge lobby, long legged high cheekboned prostitutes strewn across their laps, like a conquering army between battles. We got chatting to one, Slobodan, who seemed to be their leader. He liked us, as we were English. They were Red Star Belgrade fans, in town for a match with Lokomotiv Moscow. My English friend made the mistake of thinking Belgrade was in Croatia, and started up with fond anecdotes of summer hols in Croatia. 0h how I love Croatia, Croatians are great people, mmmmm Croatians make delicious soup, etc. He laid it on thick. A mounting rage boiled in Slobodan eye's, the unmistakable pre-cursor of violence most brutal. "Fuck Croatia," I said boldly, realising the need to intervene. "Up with Serbia!" I continued, emboldened, hoping the UN bombing of Belgrade in 99 would all be water under the Danube.
Slobodan took a last swig on his beer, unblinking murdurous gaze fixed upon us throughout, put his thumb and finger in his mouth, did a wolf whistle, and in an instant the entire firm leapt to their feet and stood to attention, beers and prostitutes instantly set aside in one swift, powerful movement. Within a second, the entire lot were on their feet, and more than ready to fight, fuck, or whatever Slobodan required. He barked a command in Serbian, and they duly marched out of the lobby and into the Moscow streets to get up to god knows what. It's still one of the most impressive things I've ever seen in my life, better than the 2012 Quiksilver Pro France quarter finals.
Croatia's spirit surfer in Mikey Wright. Partly coz mullet (n' shell suit) feels quite Balkan, partly due to skills, nipping-at-heels-of-the-best vibes.
Argh Belgium. They bring out the irrational me, the old me. The instinctive dislike, the knee jerk bad bile. They are so Gabriel Medina.
Maybe it's partly the colours, the almost-German flag on its side. Their colours are horrid. Their fonts suck, their beers are way too strong. 13% beer? Is this someone's idea of a sick joke. Maybe they culturally appropriated the worst of France and the worst of Deutschland. Yuck. What else do I hate? Their badge says URBSFA KBVB 1895. They've got a fucking router wifi password on their badge. Minging. They're so ugly in every way from every angle, I bet their insides are even ugly.
This is also kind of irrelevant, and also a bit overheard in Waitrose, but I have a black spot with saying Belgian and Belgium in French. Surely Belge is the noun and Belgique the adjective? No... other way. I'll never, ever know, or care.
Player-wise, they are off the scale though. De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku (actually, not him) Dembele, Mertens, Kompany, Vermalen... I could go on. Those ugly cunts got skills, seriously. They can certainly play the game. Their weak spot is almost certainly an Anglicised Spaniard called Robert Martinez, their coach, although I'll tell you one thing; if Medina got Roberto Martinez to be his step dad and go on tour and carry his boards, he'd almost certainly be less... cunty.
Belgium's Spirit Surfer is Gabriel Medina. Very very good, one of the best, sure. But you'll never, ever have my heart.