When the World Cup kicked off in November, I was rooting for Mexico. Having resided off and on in the coastal town of Zipolite in Mexico’s southern Oaxaca state since the start of the pandemic, I had already amassed a good quantity of Mexican football shirts, and I watched the games at a café on the beach, where a television had been set up on a table in the sand.
A traditional Mexican blanket was hung to deflect the glare of the sun, and an altar was erected below the TV comprising burning incense, a green candle bearing the image of Jesus Christ, an enlarged photograph of Mexican goalie Guillermo Ochoa, and assorted good luck charms. A small audience would gather with the beer the Mexican TV commentators in Qatar had encouraged us to imbibe on their behalf, and the 90 minutes would pass in animated camaraderie, with plenty of hollering and colourful Mexican swear words.
Little did we know that, upon the elimination of the Mexican team, Morocco would replace Mexico in our hearts – in my case rather literally. With the help of a laundry pin, a piece of paper, and red nail polish, I amended the MEXICO emblazoned across the chest of one of my jerseys. The letters OROC took the place of EXI, and I was ready to go.
The match viewings on the Zipolite beach became even livelier, and much beer was spilled as Morocco defeated Spain and then Portugal. The Moroccan team awakened feelings inside me I didn’t know I had – sentiments that under normal circumstances I would have resisted as unforgivably cheesy, but that I now fully embraced. I lived for Morocco – and, from my plastic chair on the sand, I squealed, yelped, convulsed, and dug my fingernails into the arm of the man next to me, in accordance with every development on the football field.
In a sport from which capitalism has done its best to purge any vestige of joy, Morocco had put the magic back in the game. By winning against former European colonisers, celebrating solidarity with Palestine, and generally emanating pure humanity, the Moroccan players made it clear that the 2022 World Cup was about something much more than scoring goals. And this, in turn, made us all feel like we were part of something much bigger than ourselves.
When Morocco lost to France on December 14, I commenced crying at minute 80 of the match and didn’t stop for two hours, as the defeat had apparently also triggered the release of all pent-up emotions for the year. With the World Cup officially over on December 18 and the Mexico-Morocco jersey retired to the heap of clothes on my couch, it was time to transition into Christmas mode – the problem being that nothing seemed very festive any more.
Until now, Christmas had always been an occasion of cosy nostalgia for me, despite my abandonment of religion decades ago when my Catholic middle school teacher in Texas informed me that my dog wasn’t going to heaven. This year, however, the holidays just weren’t cutting it in terms of warmth and fuzziness, as all the magic seemed to have been consumed by the World Cup. I placed a dilapidated lit-up Santa Claus in the middle of my kitchen counter in Zipolite in the hopes of provoking some sort of holiday spirit, but all I could think about was Morocco.
Call it the post-World Cup Christmas blues.
Of course, for many of the world’s World Cup enthusiasts, the comedown from the tournament entailed not so much a return to the tedium of daily existence as a return to daily torment. Consider Lebanon, which is currently contending with a full-blown economic apocalypse, a ruling elite hellbent on the destruction of everything minus their own power, and the perennial predations of neighbouring Israel – to list but a few aspects of the contemporary Lebanese predicament.
A Lebanese friend of mine in Beirut religiously followed the World Cup matches, some of them transmitted with a three-minute delay on account of Lebanon’s eternal technical difficulties. He reported that, following the final showdown between Argentina and France, people were “celebrating here like Lebanon won”, with convoys of vehicles waving Argentinian flags clogging the streets of the Lebanese capital.
Judging from past Lebanese reactions to international football outcomes, the same spectacle would have undoubtedly ensued no matter which country won the World Cup – just with different flags. Now, with the palliative of the beautiful game over for Lebanese football fans, it’s back to a reality of national self-combustion.
For Palestinians, too, football has been known to provide a welcome distraction from Israeli military persecution and butchery – except, obviously, when Israel does things like massacre Palestinian children playing football on the beach. This year in Qatar, the Moroccan team’s decision to place the Palestinian cause front and centre – in defiance of the Moroccan government’s own normalisation with Israel – bumped the World Cup up to a whole new level of special.
Meanwhile back in Mexico – where life for the average Mexican is hardly all fun and games, either – football offers many people a fleeting escape from a national landscape of US-inflicted neoliberal wreckage and a bloody US-sponsored “war on drugs” that amounts to a war on the poor.
And with the post-World Cup Christmas blues now upon us, we might take solace in the fact that we only have to wait 3.5 years for the next one – which, mercifully, will not take place right before Christmas.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.