|The 'other' football
By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2
Day 0: The "other" Michael Davies
It is one of those nightmares where you dream your alarm went off and you're already awake. You dream you got up, showered, packed, said goodbye to your ridiculously understanding girlfriend, jumped in a yellow cab and made it to JFK a comfortable two hours before your 12:15 p.m. departure to Tokyo's Narita airport. Five weeks in Japan, and the promise of the wildest, most wide-open and compelling World Cup ever.
Then those automatic doors slide open and you enter ... "The Twilight Zone."
A desk agent stares at your British passport (nothing surreal there; I am actually British).
A nervous look.
Returns with a supervisor.
Calm but all business, discreet but firm, he leans toward your ear and asks you to step away from the desk and follow him to a quieter part of terminal: "We have been waiting for you, Mr. Davies. Your name has been supplied to us by the British government. It is on the hooligan list. We cannot stop you from getting on the plane, but there will be many questions at Narita."
And then you don't wake up. It really is happening.
... Britain has passed on to the Japanese authorities the profiles of 324 people to be barred from entering the country for the World Cup.
I am Michael Peterson Davies, a television producer and journalist working for ESPN and the ABC Network in the United States. Any connection to the Michael Davies who has been banned from the World Cup is a mistake, as all we share is similar names. Please allow me access.
If you need further clarification, please contact Mr. X at the British Home Office in London at 010+44+555+555+5555 or email Mr.X@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk.
Frankly, I'm nowhere near cool enough to have a criminal record. I'm not prone to violence. When my team loses (I'm a Chelsea fan, I know from loss), my natural instinct is to sulk. Furthermore, I live in the United States and make my living as a game show producer ... yeah, me, Merv and Dick Clark. Dead hard we are, the quiz show massive.
Being British, I did the obvious thing. I called a Lord, who called another Lord, who called the Home Office, and by the time I got to Tokyo, the immigration clerk had the above letter in both English and Japanese. He then told me that no one named Michael Davies had ever been on the list.
The dog barks at midnight. International intrigue. Thank Buddha for powerful friends.
Yokohama, May 30, 11 p.m.
"Football" is my favorite word. I say it often. I say it when I wake up in the morning. Like a man lost in the desert says water. Football. Give me football.
Don't get me wrong, I love American football -- the crashing of helmets, the gaining of a yard, the sheer, manly, broad-shoulderedness of the whole spectacle.
But that's not my game. The game I love is played by whingey Italians and South Americans who fall over at the slightest touch, have hair like male models and names like Francesco and Gabriel.
It has its share of hard men too, Germans and Irishmen and Poles who'll cut you in half with a studs-up tackle. And not just the fans.
Croatians who baffle, resolute Swedes, crazy, extremely crazy but fun-loving Africans, long-ball Brits, speedy Koreans, hard-working Japanese, artful, artful but detestable French. And Belgians. What can you say about the Belgians? They're a trifle dull.
But they play football. God love them, they play football. Not soccer* ... I hate that word. But football. The other football. Some might say the original football, but more likely that title is reserved for the game a couple of ancient villages played, 30 or 40 centuries ago, with an inflated pig's bladder, 300-plus per side, no fouls, no penalties and lots of dead.
(* I'm not sure I can back this up with anything too substantial, but I'm pretty sure that, technically, soccer is only played by girls.)
I can't sleep, so here they are:
Ten random reasons, in a 4-4-2 formation, that Americans might actually want to give a crap about this World Cup
1. You're foreign. Though you're technically a citizen or hold a green card, you're still basically from somewhere else.
You're with me. Root against them. But marvel at how good they are.
3. A young man named DaMarcus Beasley. At No. 3, he's playing out of position here; he'll probably slot in for the U.S. team on the left side of midfield. He's young, gifted and quick as hell. Big European clubs are starting to take notice.
4. The rest of the U.S. squad. As The Irish Times wrote recently, "It takes balls to play soccer in America." These are gifted athletes who go virtually unnoticed most years. They play home games against Mexico with 90 percent of the crowd against them. Half of them have had to leave home to make a living doing what they love. The others play in the United States and play for conceivable amounts of money, the salaries of honest accountants. They are proud to represent their country and the rest of the world respects them more than they ever have before.
5. The rest of the world does not respect them enough. They're 150-1 to win the tournament.
6. England, your closest friend and ally, is bloody good. Maybe I'm a little biased here, but who else was fighting alongside you in Afghanistan? Tony Blair doesn't actually play for England. But David Beckham and Michael Owen do.
7. Cameroon. When else do you get the chance to root for Cameroon? They're also bloody good. Great value at 70-1. (For really interesting spread betting, by the way, go to igindex.co.uk; you can bet on everything. I have some money on the number of corner kicks in the opener between France and Senegal -- more than 11, I hope).
9. The new adidas ball. It's faster, swervier and should result in more goals and from longer distance. We'll see.
10. The penalty shootout. In the later stages of the tournament, this is how they'll break ties. It is arguably the greatest reality show format ever -- cruel, arbitrary, excruciating and unfair.
Yokohama, May 31, 5 p.m.
Day 1: Full employment, gesturing and the other France
The view from my hotel room over Yokohama Bay is spectacular but odd. I can't put my finger on it, but everything here is just ... I don't know ... not quite real. I was told to expect this, and perhaps it's the jet lag. I have a bad case of no mates. The only person I've really met is the charming and wonderful Satoe Sugie, the chief concierge at the Pan Pacific. She has already sent me flowers, a bottle of wine and is personally making all of my train reservations. Perhaps she heard from the Home Office, too.
I just got back from the IMC and IBC, media and broadcast centers just down the street. Hundreds of employees are ready to attend to the international media's every need. The problem is: almost no international media. My security check and accreditation was processed by a total of 53 people. Every door is manned by three young people whose sole function is to welcome you to the door and invite you to open it. On the other side, two others welcome you through, bowing and gesturing as you go.
The gesturing, incidentally, if you like gesturing, is excellent. I like a good gesture and the bowing, robot dancelike, one-arm-slightly-raised-to-the-side-one-arm-below-upturned-hands gesture indicating "step this way or it's over there" seems to be a local specialty. I also witnessed it at Starbucks, LL Bean and Eddie Bauer. As you can tell, I'm all about the local culture.
Jack's Bar, 8:20 p.m.
So with France vs. the other France about to kick off (of Sengal's 23-man squad, 21 live and play in France), I'm here in a bar and I suppose I should offer my World Cup predictions. Here goes: Eight teams, led by France, could win the whole thing and 24 others, including Senegal, could beat any of those other teams on a great day. Anyone who writes otherwise is biased or full of it. (For proof, read how Senegal upset France 1-0.)
Not much of a prediction, I know, but deep down I'm really just a game-show producer. But for now, this is the other me, the one who's taken five weeks off work and come here to Japan to do nothing else other than watch and write about the other football. I am not the Michael Davies who has been banned from the World Cup. But if England loses to Sweden on Sunday, I'll feel the same pain he does. We have more than a name in common. Every true football fan knows what I mean.
And there's the whistle. The 2002 FIFA World Cup is under way. Come on, Senegal! You might be mostly French but that's better than totally French. Get stuck in and win lots of corners. (Alas, they didn't come through on this wager. France had 10 corners to Senegal's nil.)
Michael Davies, a native of London, is executive producer of ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He'll be filing five diary entries per week from the World Cup for Page 2.