Celebrating the banality of the World Cup

Dr Andy Ruddock
Dr Andy Ruddock

by Andy Ruddock

Everyone knows that the World Cup is a media event, before it is anything else. And, as Australian scholars have explained, we also know that digital media have transformed how sport is played and consumed. So it’s no surprise that 2014’s first tournament star has appeared on Twitter: @boringmilner.

@boringmilner is the alter-ego of England midfielder James Milner. In real life, Milner is a gifted, versatile player who has crafted a solid career for club and country. He’s an unassuming northern lad who has managed to hold down a place in Manchester City’s dream-team squad, all while looking like any bloke standing next to you in any chain vodka bar in any English city on any Saturday night.

@boringmilner mines this quotidian streak for all that it’s worth. Obsessed with tea and housework – “Great victory tonight. Hopefully, If I don’t get home too late I’m going to pull the fridge out and give the back of it a damn good clean” – the feed relentlessly parodies microblogging. Every banal observation is preserved as … an utterly banal observation. On arriving at training camp:

When I stepped off the plane in Miami I thought it was really warm and I was right because when I checked the temperature it was 27°c.

Hilarious dressing room repartee:

I told Baines I liked his boots. He said Thanks. I said Did you buy them in a sports shop? He nodded. I said I got mine in a sports shop too.

Insider injury insights:

I asked Aguero if he injured his groin. He said Yes. I said I thought it was your groin you injured because I saw you holding your groin.

James Milner is not @boringmilner, but he thoroughly approves of the joke. Maybe it’s because @boringmilner does tell us a truth: the life of the football star is mostly about waiting for things to happen. And being forced to speak when there’s nothing to say. Hence volumes of inane banter.

As Simon Kuper pointed out some time ago, it’s unreasonable to expect elite footballers to furnish elegant explanations of what they do. They’re usually knackered, it’s incredibly difficult to verbalise physical intelligence, and they’re forced to speak by media outlets trying to stir up public anticipation for the next match.

But, just sometimes, there’s a sly wit behind the clichés.

During the 1998 World Cup, star striker Alan Shearer exploited his reputation as the most boring man in football to orchestrate an elaborate practical joke on English journalists. He and his teammates conspired to sneak song lines into as many interviews as they could. Star of the show was centre-half Gareth Southgate, who smuggled not one but two Wham! titles into a piece to camera:

It’s not club Tropicana, but there won’t be any Careless Whispers coming from this dressing room.

All of this distracts our attention from the media trick of getting us to enjoy predictable tournaments where there’s more talk than action. We already know what will happen in World Cup 2014. There’ll be an upset in the group stage. Someone will cheat outrageously. The most entertaining team will be kicked off the pitch; Brazil or Argentina will lift the trophy; and we’ll all be watching until July 13 anyway.

If only to find out what @boringmilner makes of the Copacabana beach.

Dr Andy Ruddock is a senior lecturer for the School of Media, Film and Journalism in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University.

This article has appeared on The Conversation.

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