|Heaven, hell and a guy named Hector
By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2
Day 20: There's only one guy called Hector
June 19, 11.25 p.m., Buraisen Bar, Noge-cho
I ask them about their Brazil-England tickets and they insist that somehow they're on some VIP list with Prince Andrew, arranged by a friend of a friend called "Hector" who they have to call in the morning. I make a mental note, must find them backup tickets. English people are wonderfully gullible, even ones who've lived in America for a while. There is absolutely no way there's anyone on planet Earth really called Hector.
9.30 a.m., Room 1412, The Pan Pacific
Now, first of all, I am a USA fan all the way. Not only that but I am a big Premier League fan. Serie A can kiss their asses as far as I am concerned, in terms of talent and exciting futbol. However, right is right and wrong is wrong. AND bad referreeing is bad refereeing.
Let me ask this of Mr. Davies: let's say for some strange reason that England draws an Argentinian referee in the upcoming match against Brazil (not a likely scenario but I have a point to make). And during the game the Argentinian ref (whose team was sent home by England in Group of Death play) calls a dive on Michael Owen in the box and replays show that Owen, who is NOT given to diving, was actually fouled. You cannot tell me that Mr. Davies and every Englishmen in the free world would not be crying bloody murder! Let's face facts, the Ecuadorean referee called an extremely bad game and basically screwed the Italians.
I'm not a big Azzurri fan, I can assure you. But I can see this same scenario playing out in the U.S. game with Germania. And as an English person, if you can't learn from the Hand of the Devil incident of '86, then history is doomed to repeat itself. I just hope it's not on the heads of the U.S. team or her majesty's favorite team.
I wrote in my column that the second yellow on Francesco Totti (for diving) might have been harsh -- but the first wasn't. Though, I've got to say, watching the tape again, it does look as though he starts going to the ground before any contact is made. These refs are not infallible, they do not have the benefit of instant replay and even the best make mistakes -- but if you're a side that complains about everything, however blatant, and are known and seen to fake injury, fouls and blows to the face, it is only karma that sometimes is going to come back and bite you in the ass.
And though I am, without a doubt, a completely biased England fan I will tell you that England did not deserve to beat Argentina when it lost in 1998. David Beckham's red for retaliation was harsh, considering other players in that tournament were given yellows for similar offenses (and the fact that Diego Simeone completely faked the severity of the kick) but Owen took a dive for England's penalty and wasn't caught (he does, incidentally, have a reputation as a bit wobbly on his feet around the penalty area). It was karma.
Furthermore, despite Diego Maradonna's hand of God goal in 1986, England did not deserve to beat Argentina that day either. Argentina's second goal was worth two goals, maybe three, all by itself. In my experience, England and the U.S. team simply do not whine as much as other teams, they do not badger the refs as much and they respect the teams they play against more than the teams that play against them. Especially when those teams happen to lose to England or the United States.
But thanks for the e-mail.
I certainly do have problems, increasingly and in general, with the diving call being made by the refs during game play. My guess is that referees are going to get it wrong as often as they're going to get it right. The best solution would probably be for the ref to award no penalty, write in his game report that he thinks it ought to be reviewed by the FIFA disciplinary panel, and they can watch the tape from multiple angles and in slo-mo and make an informed decision as to whether there was a dive. If there was, it should be a one match ban. Or life in prison.
George, Dom and I go to Tokyo in our brand new Ponchos (how old are we?) because it is pouring with rain, to buy George an England shirt. They are just impossible to find, "8 months" we are told in one store -- it seems every young person in Japan not already supporting England is now doing so after Japan's elimination from the tournament. I am now a seasoned Japan traveler, I know when to bow, where to line up for the train and how to say, politely, "Gomen nasai, nihongo ga, wakarimasen" "I'm sorry, I don't speak Japanese" to the ever smiling, helpful and charming people we meet in every store, café and subway ticket office along the way.
George on the other hand is basically obsessed with why the Japanese schoolgirls all have such fat legs. Dom's comment of the day was equally inane -- "Look, she's tall." Their bowing is a mess, their Japanese nonexistent, and though Dom does make an effort, George, at one point, when asked a question in Japanese by the nice young woman at Starbucks, winks at her, gives her a come hither look and drools "Hello, Sweetie." He's a character George, somewhere between an aristocratic playboy, a football hooligan and a little boy. All the way home he turns everything we do or say into a football chant to the tune of -- "There's only one David Beckham" -- which is in fact some Mexican song I can't remember.
"I saw a girl with some fat legs."
"We could have walked to Shimbashi."
"Dom sort of looks like an Argie."
Et cetera, et cetera ad nauseum.
But I've got my mates here, and nothing beats that the day before the greatest England World Cup game since I was 4. A couple of South American ticket touts offer us tickets for tomorrow's game. "Don't need 'em mate" says George, "we've been fixed up by Hector."
Cue same song new lyrics:
only one guy called Hec-tor,
there's only one guy called Hector,
Only one guy called Hector ...."
8.27 p.m., The Pan Pacific Hotel, Yokohama
George is inconsolable.
"You finish your column, we'll be at the bar."
Fearing an international incident, I've never written anything quicker in my life.
Tomorrow: England vs. Brazil (Rio vs. Rio) and United States vs. Germany (Klose encounters of the not so kind)*. My psychic prediction is that at least one of the teams in the red, white and blue will advance.
* credit goes to my friend Andrew for that clever line
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.