Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Wednesday, 9 June 2010 14:28 UK

10 ways football haters can tell it's World Cup time

England fans

By Julian Joyce
BBC News

National flags are everywhere. Watercooler chat is of little else. And then there are all those e-mails inviting you to join the office sweepstake. It's not hard to spot the signs, even for a football refusenik.

There are those who begin the countdown to the next World Cup almost as soon as the new champions hoist the trophy aloft. And then there are those who only clock that it's that time again at the last minute.

So what are the indications that a global football tournament is about to begin?


In 2002, the word "metatarsal" suddenly entered the mainstream, such was the focus on David Beckham's broken foot. Four years later, the wives and girlfriends' ostentatious stint in Baden-Baden, Germany, brought the nickname Wag into common parlance.

Cheryl Cole and Victoria Beckham
2006-era Wags

Adrian Beard, author of the Language of Sport, says certain words tend to catch on because of cultural repetition and "playfulness" with language.

"The interesting thing about metatarsal is we had a specialist medical term being applied to a highly non-medical group of people. It got to the stage where Rooney and Beckham were almost defined by the term," he says.

It's hard to predict which words will spring from the South African tournament as language reacts to, rather than sets, the agenda.

"It will probably emerge - in terms of England coverage - from key figures in the team, who they are playing and where they are playing. But sometimes we get quite a creative blend of words. Because the World Cup is in South Africa, words from Afrikaans might come into play too."

But there is a huge repertoire for play, and not just with language.

"After all, who could predict the Mexican wave in 1986 or Johan Cruyff's famous turn in 1974?"


…. and empty streets during big games. Retailers dub this "World Cup rush hour" - those frantic pre-match minutes when fans rush to stock up on beer and snacks.

Supermarkets are well-versed in the phenomenon, and profit from it with beer promotions focused around those twin pastimes of watching footie and barbecuing meat.

Malcolm Pinkerton, senior analyst at retail analyst Verdict, says the World Cup always boosts sales of convenience and party foods, helped by special offers.

While it is hard to quantify how much supermarket spending is directly related to the tournament, it is estimated that in 2006, about £1.25bn was spent on World Cup-related products in Britain.

"People might be watching the game on one day at the weekend, which will take trade away from the High Street," says Mr Pinkerton.

"But it's a mixed bag, because there could be a pent-up demand, with lots of people wanting to go shopping the day after or the following weekend."


Playing football may be good for the health. Watching it, on the other hand, can pile on the pounds.

Men's Health magazine estimates a die-hard World Cup fan could gain 2st and 7lb (15.7kg) if they watch every game between 11 June and 11 July.

Fat man
TV and grazing go hand in hand

It bases this gain on the assumption that a British man watching a game with friends will drink, on average, four cans of lager and eat three slices of a pizza, half a bag of nacho chips and half a pot of dip - adding up to 1,913.5kcal. That's two-thirds of the recommended daily calorie intake for men, and almost the entire daily intake for women.

In contrast, the energy expended while watching - even accounting for gesticulating, shouting and leaping to one's feet every so often - is just 215.5kcals.

More realistically, a less dedicated football fan who only watches the seven possible England games - providing the team reaches the final - could put on just over 3lb (1.72kg).


Normally, football and churchgoing are not synonymous. But the World Cup fuses a spiritual bond between two very different Sunday activities.

In Hexham, Northumberland, the Reverend David Flavell has put up giant TV screens in the Trinity Methodist Church so his congregation can watch England matches en masse, in a smoke and alcohol-free "family friendly" atmosphere.

"We're using the football theme to get the Gospel message across," says Mr Flavell, who has tailored his sermons accordingly.

Elsewhere, the Bishop of Croydon, the Right Reverend Nick Baines, has written a series of "football prayers" which call for those in the tournament to be "guided, guarded and protected".

And should it all go wrong on the day, there is even a prayer for England fans:

"Lord, as all around are gripped with World Cup fever, bless us with understanding, strengthen us with patience and grant us the gift of sympathy if needed. Amen."


A tidal wave of football-focused television is about to break. In the 2006 World Cup, an estimated 376 channels worldwide broadcast the event, generating 73,072 hours of matches, build-ups and punditry.

"If all the 2006 coverage were shown on just one channel, it would take over eight years to broadcast non-stop," says a Fifa spokesman.

But there are words of comfort for footie-averse viewers from Jonathan Bowman, editor of TV and Satellite week.

"With digital broadcasting there is now plenty of choice. Channels that won't be showing the World Cup are making deliberate efforts to target non-football fans - like Channel 4 starting Big Brother early or Living TV's new series of Britain's Next Top Model."

And those that do show games have tailored their schedules accordingly.

"You'll notice the absence of high-profile series on BBC One and ITV. That's because, as the World Cup progresses, you can't predict which channel gets to show which play-off.

"So no football-showing channel wants to commit to an expensive drama series, because episodes would have to be postponed to make way for an important match."

And female-friendly films and shows are often scheduled against the big games. For Saturday's clash between England and the United States on ITV, C4 screens back-to-back Come Dine With Me episodes followed by Sense and Sensibility. And for the England v Algeria match next Friday, the BBC charts Queen Victoria's love life while Five has a Kevin Costner romance.


Companies will be bracing themselves for Wednesday 23 June, a red-letter day for pulling a sickie. This is when England play their last first round match against Slovenia at 3pm. AND it is the third day of Wimbledon.

England flag on car window
Is one flag ever enough?

Better news for employers is that absenteeism could be limited due to England's other first round matches scheduled for the evening or weekend.

However, experts say the World Cup could dent productivity in other ways. With a vast number of football-themed websites and chatrooms, many fans may find they spend more and more time online during work hours.

Employment law expert Joe Shelston estimates lost time could have cost UK firms as much as £4bn during the 2006 World Cup.

But Gert de Beer, of Deloitte, suggests ways employers can work with, rather than against the World Cup, such as flexible hours and screening rooms on site.

An employee perception survey among 500 Deloitte's South African employees showed people were even willing to work longer hours if they could watch some matches during work time.


Suddenly the most unlikely people - who normally wouldn't be caught dead watching Match of the Day - have an opinion, on Capello's defensive strategy. And watercooler conversations once taken up with the finer points of EastEnders now centre on whether there is indeed a curse of the captain.

Football is not a subject you need to have any academic qualifications to talk about
Dr Mark Griffiths

The phenomenon of the instant expert is partly down to insecurities about "not belonging", says psychologist and football expert Dr Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University.

"Everybody wants to belong and because everyone else seems to be following the World Cup, it's natural that you will want to join in - even if you don't normally follow the game. Otherwise you risk being left out of the office conversation.

"But there are other factors that help - football is not a subject you need to have any academic qualifications to talk about, so it's easy to be an expert - or appear to be one, albeit not under particularly close scrutiny.

"Also, the World Cup gives everybody a chance to get behind their national teams and express their patriotism. It's a powerful unifying event."

But because it only comes around every four years, chances are many of today's experts will lose interest once the final whistle blows - just as tennis courts suddenly fill for the two weeks of Wimbledon.

"If people don't normally follow the game, their expertise is likely to be a fairly short-lived experience," he says. "Chances are they'll soon be back to talking about EastEnders once the World Cup is over."


There's no official World Cup single, which means a flood of releases from rival songs seeking football anthem status, including:

Dizzee Rascal in concert
Will Mr Rascal win the battle of the World Cup singles?
  • England's On The Way, Neil "Men Behaving Badly/Bob the Builder" Morrissey's reworking of 1982 hit The Lion Sleeps Tonight. It's already been rendered out-of-date with lyrics such as: "Rio, Ashley and Big John Terry - three lions score tonight!"
  • We Are The England Fans, Black "Agadoo" Lace's reversioning of their party hit I Am The Music Man
  • Three Lions, rerecorded by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and Ian Broudie - of the Lightning Seeds - with Robbie Williams and Russell Brand on guest vocals
  • Roar for England, by Deepak Khazanchi, the first bhangra-flavoured England song
  • And Shout, Dizzee Rascal and James Corden's rap reworking of the Tears For Fears' hit

With a high profile appearance on last Saturday's Britain's Got Talent final, and much exposure in the tabloid newspapers, the duo - backed by Simon Cowell - are being tipped for the number one slot by this Sunday.


Not only are England flags much in evidence - more on that below - but the red and white livery crops up all over the place.

Mars Bar
Perhaps not for the Scottish market

Because the beautiful game is far more than a sporting contest, it is a marketing opportunity of the highest order.

It's not just Fifa's official sponsors and partners - such as Coca-Cola, Adidas, Visa and McDonald's - who stand to benefit, says Graham Hales of Interbrand.

The clever brands are those which manage to associate themselves in the public mind with the World Cup, by successfully linking their products to the feel-good factor of an international sporting event.

It's why Mars, official sponsor of the England team, now - literally - wrap their bars in the cross of St George.


They flutter on cars and vans, are draped from the windows of homes and pubs, and flag bunting bedecks the streets.

Even David Cameron has announced the red-and-white St George's cross is to fly above Downing Street for the duration of the World Cup.

Willow Tree pub and its giant flag
Going large in support

Chris Deegan, of Turtle and Pearce - one of the UK's oldest flag manufacturers - has noticed a big upsurge in demand for St George flags, mainly from companies who want to fly the national colours over their corporate HQs. Among recent orders are flags for the Ritz and Claridges hotels.

While the twin-packs of flags for car windows are imported "by the container load" from China, his George flags are made from Admiralty-approved cloth and individually sewn from seven separate pieces - and are priced accordingly.

Among those splashing out hundreds is James Yeoman, landlord of the Willow Tree in Winchester, who has draped a floor-to-ceiling St George's flag over the pub entrance, with a slit in the middle for customers to walk though. It will stay in place until England is out of the World Cup.

"It's always good to show your support for England - we just wanted to be bigger and better," says Mr Yeoman.

Whatever the size, the sentiments remain the same, says Chris Deegan. "It's about showing which team you support, and also a statement of national pride."

Below is a selection of your comments.

Even my local takeaway in Chorlton village has made up their own England team. We now have Wayne 'Roogan Josh' upfront, supported by Jermain 'Dofeaza' and Frank 'Lamb Parsanda' in midfield to name but a few. The whole team has been named after curries.
Lucy, Manchester

Surely the echoing of playgrounds to the sound of 'got, got ,got, got, need, got' as kids endeavour to fill their World Cup Panini sticker albums? The shiny team badges were always my favourite...
Anthony White, Northwich

It took me a while to realise why my partner was so willing to be a stay at home dad to our seven-month-old this summer while I went back out to work.
Wendy, Manchester

Our library has a World Cup themed display - books set in Africa; and an anti-football display - mostly chick lit and crime.
Jay, UK

For me, the biggest sign that the World Cup is coming is the fact that every single newspaper has supplements and wallcharts falling out of every page.
Tom Beasley, Coventry

The 50" flat screen I ordered with a months delivery a month ago has now become two months, apparently there's something of a rush on them. It's a good job I didn't want it for the football.
Adrian, Didcot

I should be consuming four cans of lager, three slices of a pizza, half a bag of nacho chips and half a pot of dip per match? Can someone forward this to my wife?
James Rouse, Southampton

According to my midwife, if England do well it means an increased workload for her in nine months.
Kate Kreke, Devon

Sign that the World Cup is on? A string of English flags growing across the runner bean poles on the allotment...
Zak, Milton Keynes

The media creating endless vacuous lists in a bid to fill column inches before the games start. Roll on Friday afternoon.
Dan, Monaco

Men who would never show any emotion even when a a close family member passes away suddenly get all emotional if we win or lose and hug everyone.
Paul, Ramsgate

An abundance of people moaning that Corrie and Eastenders isn't on / been postponed until after the match.
Chris Rollason, Bridgnorth

Drunks urinating on the street and an increase in violent crime.
Andrew, London

"Because the World Cup is in South Africa, words from Afrikaans might come into play too." South Africa has 11 official languages of which isizulu is the most widely spoken. "Vuvuzela" must already be a candidate.
Martin Dedicoat, Birmingham

In Scotland you can tell the World Cup is on as there is an upsurge in the wearing of Scotland tops and flags even though we're not in it. This is to counter the endless references to England (and 1966 in particular) on TV and everywhere else.
Chris, Glasgow

It means my mum gets a refresher course in the basics of the game and a wall chart of her own. She's 81 but no mistakes allowed.
Paul, Eastbourne

Even friends who aren't football fans (my wife included) are checking dates to arrange things like parties etc so as to avoid games, and particularly England's matches.
John, Guildford

I have just trawled the Radio Times for next week's programmes and can find very little I fancy watching - although female I am not into makeovers, cookery, gardening, antiques, Kevin Costner or Jane Austen. It seems that all the programmes I like are being held over until after the football is over - serious documentaries being the principal victims. More mature viewers and gossip-haters are simply not being catered for. Thank goodness it will be light late and I can go out with my camera, or sit in the garden with a good book.
JCofRamsgate, Ramsgate, UK

Oh the irony of showing your support for England by buying England flags made in China.
Steven, Coventry

Steven, no, it isn't irony. Sad, maybe. But not unusual, not surprising, and certainly not ironic.

B&Q has garden gnomes painted in the St Georges Cross. No doubt they'll all be marching off to landfill in a couple of weeks time.
Ian Beckett

I always find the time of an England World Cup match the ideal time to go to the supermarket for a "big shop". The goals are announced on the tannoy for the staff so you don't miss anything and the aisles are wonderfully clear and no queues at the checkout. Now that's what I call a result!
Karen, Birmingham

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