Book Review: W C L D N
The 2018 World Cup in Russia came off a lot better than most people had thought it would. Against a quite frankly toxic political background and with serious doubts about the safety of supporters and the likely quality of play after a long European club season, expectations were not high and yet it proved to be one of the most enjoyable of recent memory, continuing a modern tradition after a richly engaging tournament in Brazil four years before and a varied and interesting Euro 2016.
The idea of a World Cup memoir isn’t new and there has been many a commentator who has sought to chronicle a tournament – often in blog form but sometimes in the occasional book. That Glen Wilson has produced such an account is noteworthy however. Wilson has a stellar track record in writing about football for well over a decade now. His Popular Stand fanzine, concentrating as it does on Doncaster Rovers, has to be one of the best club ‘zines ever produced, consistent in the quality of its writing and contributions, while his previous vehicle, the website Viva Rovers and numerous other contributions, not least for this website, have always marked him out as shrewd commentator on the game.
But W C L D N is a World Cup memoir with a difference. Wilson uses his experience of the tournament as a 35 year-old based in London to report back on that most international tournaments (that’s not a truism – compare and contrast to the rugby and cricket World Cups to see what ‘global’ actually means) experienced from the point of view of living in that most international of cities. Beyond that, however, the book achieves an additional dimension as the World Cup is viewed via the prism of Wilson’s fragile mental health – it thus provides real food for thought as to how one’s view of an all-consuming sporting event is very much coloured by how one is feeling at the time. The result is powerful.
My own experiences of Russia 2018 were intense too. The ridiculous heat seemed to presage coming doom and that climate change deniers continue to peddle their wares against such overwhelming evidence seems incredible. Those relentless 30 degree plus temperatures, coupled with a fair amount of drinking, numerous trips in and out of London and elsewhere to take in the matches with valued pals, and the progress of the England team all made for a month where it was hard to remain collected and in control.
But for Wilson, his experience of the competition was quite different. Not wishing to watch many games alone, confined to a small apartment, he chose to wander the streets, flâneur style and while he does take in many games with friends, this is a book as much about a snatched twenty minute view of a TV in the corner of the pub, a poking of his head through an alehouse window and a general feel for how the game was reacted to as much as how it actually unfurled. It’s a book that describes sensations and impressions rather than events.
The author is up front about his own feelings – interspersing the narrative with vignettes of memories from previous competitions starting with Italia 90 and which continued with his blogging the 2010 tournament alongside Steve Gabb under the guise of Twinty Tin. He describes a London that still fails to deliver on many fronts – twice the food he grabs on the hoof is described as ‘disappointing’ while occasional attempts to watch matches with fans of competing nations fall flat, notably at the Polish vodka bar tucked behind Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
As a supporter of the Welsh national team whom many readers will have enjoyed following on social media after that country’s awe-inspiring march to the Euro 2016 semi-finals, Wilson’s sense of disorientation is heightened by his disinterest in the England team and while my experience was largely of a supporter base that responded to Gareth Southgate’s likeability and the unexpectedness of the team’s progress to the semi-finals, there were still enough gung-ho meatheads around to spoil the mood. Wilson describes consuming the England matches furtively and can rarely face watching a whole game – but he does admit to being pleased for some long-standing friends after the win over Sweden.
But it’s not so much international allegiances that inform Wilson’s standpoint as an author. He comes out of watching a quite sensational Croatia v Argentina match with a ‘morose feeling’ that he can’t shrug off while in the aftermath of Toni Kroos’s fabulous last minute winner against Sweden for Germany, Wilson describes:
…an immense sadness that falls over you like the shadow of the first cloud on an otherwise sunny day, and runs through you from head to toe. What now? What now there’s no-one else to surround yourself with? No-one to pretend you’ve a connection to? It’s just you, and the darkening skies, and one less day of the weekend to hide in. Your stride shortens, your pace lessens; you watch the reflection of street-lamps roll over the windscreen of a double-decker bus, and you pick your way across Oxford Street and back towards the river; another Saturday night in the city blurring away around you impenetrably
Unlike in a pivotal moment in Nick Hornby’s book, Fever Pitch where the narrator hotfoots it from an appointment with his psychiatrist to witness Arsenal win 2-1 at White Hart Lane with two late goals, sending him into paroxysms of ecstasy, the football provides no respite for Wilson. It’s a reminder that mental health is a disease and while sometimes bound up with events that provide a causal link, be it loneliness, the absence of a loved one or tedious employment, it can be as much inexplicable beyond chemistry.
For this is a World Cup that doesn’t sound very enjoyable to consume and not one that many of us will recognise. Wilson’s power of observations are acute – at one point he imagines Cristiano Ronaldo surveying the pub’s patrons, looking out towards the street, and then after a deep breath, starting his run before thumping a free kick – but he is at times a reluctant London resident, uncertain still about a gentrified playpen of a city that he admits to having been uncertain about when moving to the capital. That intensity, that unique ability to disorient its citizens is brilliantly evoked while the World Cup itself is here described in a truly unique way.
You can find out about how to order W C L D N here.