Watching people watch the World Cup is a nightmare

<span>Photograph: Manu Fernández/AP</span>
Photograph: Manu Fernández/AP

It’s a beautiful thing to watch a football team, particularly such a young, fresh, united one, from your very own nation, winning a match. I like it when they hug, I like it when they run about all pleased – if someone established a branch of mime or contemporary dance based on football players and their physical expression of joy, I would instantly prefer that to all existing mime.

At the same time, if you don’t care especially about the football yet the people around you do, and very deeply – let’s call them your sons or daughters, your spouses, friends, those you like the look of on social media platforms – getting to this point in an international tournament is a bloody nightmare. You can get in all the Doritos you want, and nothing will change the outcome. You spent all that time hoping they would reach the quarter-finals up against someone rubbish, and it was wasted. It was illogical. Rubbish teams get knocked out!

You will almost be able to taste the disappointment if England loses against France next weekend; you can map its awful progress, the grey pall it will cast over everyone in the house, even the ones who were just waiting for the TV to be free so they could watch Wednesday. Somewhere in the back of your mind, there’s a voice saying: hang on, don’t we always lose against France? But is that old 90s intel? It’s too stressful to Google. Then, if they/we win, it’s even worse, because we have to go through the whole thing again, only now the stakes are higher, the potential disappointment even keener, the team presumably better – isn’t that how these things work? And, then, if we were to win that, but lose the one after, there’s a good chance it will ruin Christmas.

Psychotherapy, I’m sure, would have something useful to say about this; something about not trying to micromanage other people’s emotions, letting them sit with their impotent rage without seeking to minimise or dispel it. This is probably a useful skill to take into life post-World Cup: a bit more compassion, a bit less empathy, resilience in the face of other people’s disappointment. Sure, fine, whatever. I don’t want emotional learnings. I just want a team I’ve only recently been able to recognise to win everything.

  • Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

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