Every four years a competition comes along that takes over television for 30 odd days like no other. The Olympics is massive but unless it’s a huge event and/or a unique sportsman or woman are involved it it still a niche market in my opinion, I got sucked into the 2012 Olympics even after spending quite a few years as a sceptical native of London.
But to me as a football fan and to millions of others, nothing stirs passions and awakens primal national pride like a world cup, all of our hopes and dreams are pinned to men who are doing things none of us have the talent to do, men who play the games of our dreams and achieve what we mere mortals only can on video games or manager simulator games. World cups are landmarks in our lives, It’s strange thinking back four years to England’s unsuccessful tournament in South Africa, Myself and my girlfriend had been together for just over a year, now we have been together for five years and are planning our future together.
I’m 28 in July, I was born in 1986 a month after Argentina lifted the trophy, my first ‘official’ world cup was Italia 1990 but alas, I was too young to remember any of it to be honest, USA 1994 was a strange World Cup for me, I had just got into football in a massive way but England weren’t there, this isn’t right I proclaimed to my father who informed me that England just weren’t good enough, I didn’t understand? We won the world cup in 1966 so surely We’re one of the best teams? My only real memory of ’94 was the opening ceremony, I still remember to this day watching it and my Mum and Dad laughing as Diana Ross missed the goal with a very English attempt at a penalty.
Euro 1996 brought out even more love for football, Being a Spurs season ticket holder by that time I had been treated to watching one of the best players on the planet in Jurgen Klinsmann who himself saw me into pestering my Father to buy me a German shirt (much to his chagrin), The national pride that was displayed in that tournament was almost beautiful in its ferociousness. The pride shown by the players was inspiring, the three lions theme song was mesmeric, the end result uncomfortably familiar.
France 1998 was my first World Cup that I was old enough to appreciate and the first of my young life that I could both enjoy and support my country. My memories are happy ones, going to the local council working mans club to watch the games Vs Colombia and Argentina with my Dad and his friends, being put on a stall by the bar with a cold drink and crisps while my Father and his friends drank lager and mocked each other, the explosions of joy that met David Beckham’s free kick against Colombia and Michael Owens incredible goal Vs the Argentinians were shared moments among the entire nation but for me being lifted above my dads head as Owen beat Carlos Roa is still a favourite moment in my sport watching life, closely followed by the positively nuclear explosion of joy that met Sol Campbell’s header in extra time, only to quickly turn into a nuclear winter of silence. The rest of France ’98 turned into a bit of a blur for me as I was obviously still at school and wasn’t much interested after England were knocked out, that all changed in 2002.
South Korea and Japan 2002 was in my eyes one of my favourite tournaments to date, the shocks (Senegal beating France and Sweden, USA beating Portugal, South Korea beating Italy and Spain), the weird sort of Gold coloured ball the played with, the demise of World champions France, England gaining 16 years of pent up revenge on Argentina, the beauty of the Brazilians and their three ‘R’s’ of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo.
But yet again it’s the small moments of it that really stick in my mind, and again those moments are surrounded my disappointment hardened men in my Dad’s council club, watching the Argentina game on a Friday lunchtime which my parents let me have the day off of school for, the unbridled joy of running around as Beckham slotted home the only goal of the game from the spot and the grown men putting their hands over their eyes as time crept closer to the end of the match. Through to the second round we went and Me and my Father watched the game Vs Denmark at home, It was a Saturday afternoon if memory serves me well and Dad didn’t like our local pubs for football, We made our way up to the main road in my town after the game after hearing horns tooting and the voices of English men and women singing as we found scenes of literally hundreds of people dancing, singing and drinking in the street as we looked forward to a World cup quarter final for the first time in 12 years. The next time I made my way to the council club was for the 07.30am start of our World Cup quarter final Vs Brazil, I hated getting up that day, that was the earliest I’d ever been up other than to go on holiday. But as we parked up at the council club I found that myself, My Father and his friend Alfie weren’t the only idiots up that morning, the place was packed and we were lucky to find our traditional spot at the bar that had served us well in this World Cup. I looked round in amazement as men lofted pints at 07.25 as they belted out the national anthem, knowing that this could be our last taste of World Cup football for four long years. As Michael Owen slotted home after a defensive mistake the beer flying through the air at 8am was new to me and an experience I thoroughly enjoyed and one that I’ve seen replicated many times as an adult. But again as we let a lead slip the nation was overcome with a familiar feeling of what might have been.
Germany 2006 was one of my other favourite World Cups to date, England’s ‘Golden generation’ were ready for what could have been an historically famous World Cup win on the home soil of our legendary foes, the Germans. We negotiated the groups with relatives ease but the usual feelings of disappointment were abound come the Quarter finals. The first game of the tournament for England was a game Vs the South American’s Paraguay, I watched the game in my local pub with my ex-girlfriend and her parents, not a football family per se but they didn’t mind enjoying the occasion all the same. the match itself was a pretty dire affair but a wins a win, the other two group games were again watched in the local pub but only the Sweden game made my father forego his hatred of watching football in pubs and seeing an absolute wonder strike from Joe Cole made it all worthwhile. The next game was the second round against Ecuador whom I knew nothing of but a laboured performance and a win set us up in the quarter finals where we would meet Portugal and that kid from Manchester United. Cristiano Ronaldo. I watched the match vs Portugal in not my usual pub with a huge group of friends, all proudly wearing our England shirts, all expectant. The match was a pretty nail biting affair with Portugal always threatening but not quite delivering the killer blow. The sending off of Wayne Rooney gave England a new hate figure, Cristiano Ronaldo, or ‘The Winker’ as he gave his best ‘job done’ to the Portuguese bench via a flick of his eyelid.
We left the pub desolate and broken, penalty exits happened in the past, not now, we’ve got Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, Ashley Cole, Sol, Rio, We’ve got Beckham for god’s sake! But back to watching as a football fan rather than an England fan it was, the disappointment of a so called Golden generation still lingers in my sub conscious somewhere. The rest of the World Cup was fairly enjoyable, especially watching the Germany Vs Italy semi final and that tactical battle that ensued and ended with two last minute goals from the ever resilient Italians, breaking German hearts in the process and denying them a World Cup final in their capital city of Berlin.
For the final I invited friends to my house to watch it where we had a barbecue, drank only Italian or French beers and had only Italian meats and cheese in French bread in honour of the finalists. From memory it was a pretty dour affair only punctuated by one of the greatest players of my lifetime losing his head for 1 second in time and forever tying himself to peoples memories of that World Cup with a vicious headbutt, the shot of him walking past a World Cup trophy he would never have the privilege of touching again was haunting.
South Africa 2010 was on the whole for me, a disappointment, albeit my first World Cup with my new love whom I’m still forcing to watch football in this world cup. (My first two-World Cup relationship!). England’s performances were the worst of my short World Cup life, drawing with the USA and an utterly dire performance vs the Algerians were particular moments of heartbreak and despair, and having to beat Slovenia in our last match of the groups to qualify had simply finalised for me that our English feelings of football superiority were false and people had realised that they probably always had been. Anyway don’t worry, we were off to play the Germans in the second round, forget the groups, how can our players get up for playing people who insist on calling football ‘soccer’?, or the Algerians? Whose heard of them anyway?, This is Germany, the boys will prove themselves here. It was a Sunday, it seemed like the whole nation was waiting outside my local supermarket for the 10am opening time, we had a barbecue, Me, Mum, Dad and my girlfriend, we had cold beers and good food, we anticipated, we were heartbroken, not the bloody Germans again. Please.
The elation that met Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’, hadn’t been seen before in my house and weren’t seen since until Gareth Bale’s wonderful last minute winner Vs West Ham away in 2013 for Spurs. The house was silent for hours afterwards, I was distraught. We hadn’t just lost we were embarrassed, but in our own inimitable way, we blamed FIFA, the referees and linesman, the ‘cheating Germans’. Face it. After Euro 2000, in which the Germans had been suitably embarrassed finishing bottom of the group (we were no better of course), They had stripped back the entire face of German football, top to bottom and were 10 years later bearing the fruits and showing England up for all they were worth. The highlights of that World Cup for me were the Ghana team showing what passion really was to us reserved Europeans, the South African’s beating the French, the Germans ripping the Argentinians to shreds, the awful spectacle of the Dutch trying to win the World Cup Final by hurting as many Spaniards along the way as possible. That World Cup wasn’t one of the greats for me.
On to Brazil 2014. As yet I haven’t watched an England game with my Father, and as of today, I won’t, England ended their World Cup journey yesterday with a dour 0-0 draw with the ‘Minnows’ of Costa Rica, more known for their coffee than their Italy and Uruguay beating prowess. I spent the first England game vs Italy at work on a night shift while most of my friends had made their way to the pub for a late kick off, starting off with what me and my colleague thought was Raheem Sterling’s first World Cup goal and ending with Balotelli scoring a header to strat us off in the worst possible fashion. I watched the Uruguay match at my girlfriend’s house with her brother and some friends. I thought we had played well but as usual with us a player we know very well ruins our World Cup and leaves us on the brink of elimination, Luis Suarez was our nemesis this time, and left us hoping for an Italian win Vs the Costa Ricans which never happened. All in all this World Cup is definitely going to be one of my favourites, the passion, the goals, the players the noise and for me personally the fantastic national anthems of Brazil and Chile, the passion and emotion shown by players and fans during their respective anthems has reminded that passion I felt as a child watching my heroes.
I’ve had some great moments as a Spurs fan, An English football fan, an English rugby fan and an English cricket fan, The victorious Rugby World Cup of 2003 will live long in the memory, Jonny’s drop goal still gives me goosebumps to this day. The Ashes victories off 2005,2009,2010/11 and finally 2013 have been fantastic moments for me especially the work life ruining victorious tour down under of 2010 where staying up until 4am and being at work for 7 were commonplace as we smashed them for the first time in my life. As a Spurs fan I’ve been lucky enough to see us win a trophy at both the old Wembley and the new one, both with my Father, I’ve been to Champion’s League matches home and away and watched us get to the promised land of the Bernabau with my Dad to watch us lose 4-0 in the quarter finals. Even the recent victorious tour of the British Lions to Australia in 2013 will remain a highlight of my life, not really remembering 1995 in South Africa. The 5-1 win away to Germany on Saturday the 1st of September 2001 will be a memory I take to my grave in the national football team section of my brain.
Back to the World Cup, I hope, now that England are out that Argentina win it, purely from the fact that Messi is my favourite player of all time and has had me out of my seat more times than any other player in my life, whether in person at the Camp Nou where I was lucky enough to see him score four against Valencia in 2012 with some friends or on television ripping teams to shreds in the Champions league.
But what this world cup in Brazil has made me realise is not to take things for granted, the kids they’ve shown in the stadiums sitting with their mother’s and father’s will not fully appreciate where they are or what they’ve witnessed until they are older. Just as I hadn’t fully appreciated those moments spent with my Father in the council club in East London. Beckham’s free kick against Colombia,The Owen goal Vs Argentina, The short lived jubilation of the Campbell header, The Beckham penalty against Argentina as four years of hurt came pouring out, the Owen goal Vs Brazil where dreams started being believed and every other disappointment since. Those moments aren’t just about the disappointment of losing their about watching it with people you love, I chose my Father for several of those defining moments because he’s the one that gave me my undying passion for football, our Father’s are the one’s that give us our allegiances, teach us the rules, the ones who pick us up when we are let down by England or our club teams, the one’s who tell us tales of black and white TVs watching the early World Cups of their lives, who tell us where they were in’66, who tell us how good Pele and Maradona REALLY were.
We grow up in between World Cups as do our Fathers, so I’ve learnt to appreciate my time watching the greats with him, as I write this I’m watching Argentina face Nigeria and our favourite Lionel Messi has opened the scoring. As I said at the start, World Cups are landmarks in our lives, just as they are in our parents, We have our first, our favourite, our worst and sadly the World Cup we hope will never come, our last, so enjoy these tournaments not just for the sporting genius on show but for the moments we spend watching the games with the people we care about the most, for one day we will pass on this passion to our son’s and daughter’s and we need to tell them that it’s not just football it’s a reason to spend time enjoying matches and moments in unison to create memories not just about football and not just about your national team.
As sadly we never know what World Cup will be the final one we watch, and nobody should watch football’s greatest spectacle alone.