Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tuesday Therapy

One of the more spectacular failures dreamt up by a marketing department in recent years was the short-lived plan to rename audit firm Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) to “Monday”.

The company’s rationale was to connect Monday with fresh thinking and new ideas. “Sharpen your pencil” commanded their slogan. It continued with other snappy orders, “iron your crispy white shirts, set the alarm clock, relish the challenge, listen, be fulfilled, make an impact, take a risk," Unsurprisingly, the plan was met with universal derision. Monday? You’ve got to be kidding. The idea quickly collapsed in a screaming heap and PwC quietly dropped the idea.

Although I didn’t sharpen a pencil yesterday or iron a crispy white shirt, I did have to set the alarm to get up. Monday was a first day back in work after taking two weeks off to enjoy the late-night footballfest. These World cup midnight oils are addictive. By contrast England v Ecuador on Sunday night was supposedly a cure for insomnia but even here the sight of a vomiting David Beckham made up for the poor quality of the play. What would the marketers make of that? Monday night would be Australia’s time in the midnight sun. In the office, I noticed an incredible transition has occurred while I was away. Everyone was basking in the glow of a sporting success story. Tearoom conversation was all about Graham Poll’s cards, Brett Emerton’s suspension and Ned Zelic’s slouch. Someone wanted to know why the Italians are called the Azzurri. Harry Kewell’s groin was getting an unhealthy, almost forensic attention. In short, a bandwagon had come calling while I was away.

There was even giddy talk that once we beat Italy, Switzerland or Ukraine will be a push-over in the quarter finals. It was all too much. It had little to do with football and everything to do with national pride. I fled the office early. There was no respite on TV as all stations went into adrenalin overdrive and pushed the Aussie hyper-hype.

I decided that some radical pre-game therapy was needed and went to the Dendy Cinema in the city to see Michael Haneke’s CachĂ© (Hidden). Almost ten years ago I saw a Haneke film called ‘Funny Games’ in which the director played tricks with time that kept the audience in a whirl of uncertainty. ‘Hidden’ takes this fooling with time to new levels. The plot is straightforward. A wealthy French couple’s lives are thrown into doubt and fear after they received a package of videos that shows they are under surveillance. They do not know who send them or why. Their lives are disrupted simply because someone is watching them. The film is all about frames and images, what we see and what we miss, what is real and what is fake, what is open and what is hidden. It perplexed me greatly and absolutely demands a second viewing.

At the very least it took my mind right off the big game until close to midnight. I walked over to the Pig and Whistle where the queue stretched down the street. I phoned a friend inside who pulled a favour with management to get me in. The place was packed. The crowd was filled with a belligerent Aussie pride. In the toilets I was asked ‘who did I think would win?’ I replied ‘well, my heart says Italy…” I meant to say ‘head’ and was immediately picked up. ‘Your heart?’ he replied angrily. “er…yes” The mistake wasn’t worth correcting and I quickly made myself scarce.

Fans gathered in front of the big screen and shouted their Aussie chants. When the recurring Nike ad came on with the craggy cranky character known as “History” taunting the Aussie players, the crowd shouted at the screen “Fuck off History, fuck off history” (unlike PwC, the swooshtika marketing boys at Nike are very clever indeed). The Italian anthem was booed and the Australian one was sung ferociously, off-key. Harry Kewell is shown on crutches wearing civvies. I guess he won’t be playing then. Then further disaster, TV loses the picture from Germany. Australia’s biggest game ever and for 54 seconds we are reduced to an image of the World Cup symbol and radio commentary. No-one knows where to look. The picture returns to a rapturous roar of approval.

Although Australia passed the ball around smartly, the Italians take the early ascendancy. Fiorentina striker Luca Toni (the first person to score 30 goals in a Serie A season in almost 50 years) should have scored with a header after just four minutes. He passes up three more good chances in the first half and the recalled Mark Schwarzer has to make a few smart saves. There are slim pickings at the other end with only one Scott Chipperfield effort forcing a response from Italian goalkeeper Gigi Buffon. Italy were slick and it look only a matter of time before the Azzurri (so called because they play in blue, the colour of the ruling house of Italy from 1861 to 1946) would strike lucky.

The second half started much like the first, the Australians fast and aggressive, the Italians determined, patient and economical. Then a flashpoint. Marco Materazzi fouls fellow Marco, Bresciano of Australia. The ref pulls out a red card. Italy are down to 10 men with 40 minutes to play. Immediately the Italians withdraw in their shells and the Aussies can smell blood. But a 20 period of intense pressure is superbly handled by the Italian defence marshalled by Fabio Cannivaro. Italy begin to look more dangerous again. The game fizzles out towards extra time. Then in the third minute of injury time, the Italians launch a hopeful ball for Fabio Grosso to chase down. He hoodwinks his way into the box past Bresciano. Neill lunges out to challenge and Grosso falls over his trailing knee. Penalty.

Francesco Totti is the coolest man on the field and he waits a seeming eternity before planting his kick wide of Schwarzer’s despairing dive. 1-0 and that’s it. Not even time for the re-start. Pins can be heard plummeting in the pub before a mass plaintive groaning as it begins to dawn on people that its all over. At 3am Tuesday, the wheels have fallen off the bandwagon. The crowd heads home wearily to watch Wimbledon. Tomorrow’s papers will see ‘Pies Injury Woes’ return to backpage headlines. And the football aficionados can return to the relative quiet of the quarter finals minus Australia.

Bring on Germany v Argentina.

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