The World Cup 2010 draws to a close tonight with a Spain v. Holland final. It’s been a good few weeks of football, with the exception of any game involving England that is…. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve anticipated and followed each World Cup eagerly and a good portion of my brain stores facts, stats and stories from those festivals of football. My wife is often astounded by my ability to tell her not only which team won and who the star players were but also the locations, surprise teams, the qualifying campaigns, the history…..
It doesn’t just extend to the sporting details either. World Cups provide me with important anchors in time. Ask me where I was, what I was doing, what was going on in life in 1995 for example and I’ll have to think for a little bit before I can tell you. Ask me the same about 1994 and I’ll say “USA 1994: just finished my GCSEs, enjoying an early summer with the luxury of being able to stay up late for those late kick-offs, making crucial decisions about what A-Levels to take and experiencing my first extended period in the world of work.” The same runs true for the European championships to an extent but there’s nothing quite like the World Cup and I’d like to indulge in a bit of personal reflection of my lifetime:
Argentina ‘78 took place weeks before I was born and I was too young to pay attention to Spain ‘82. I don’t think anyone in my family was into those tournaments much either with England in the international wilderness in the late 70s and my dad not really being into football that much. Strange that: most people talk about their love of football and a particular team coming from their dads but for me, I discovered football by myself and my dad only started to take an interest after I did. (That’s my excuse for supporting Man Utd and not my local team Stoke or my dad’s local childhood team Blackpool.)
Mexico ‘86 is the first tournament I was aware of and I remember recreating games and playing out upcoming matches in the playground with my friends. I also have a clear memory of begging my parents to let me stay up and watch England v. Argentina but being told it was on too late (a fact not helped by the fact that we were in Cyprus at the time meaning the match was even later local time). I also remember my first encounter with the controversial side of football as Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ contributed to England’s elimination. As an 8 year-old, it was difficult to accept the injustice of it all and the thought of another chance being 4 years away was hard to bear.
4 years passed and Italia ‘90 came with my family living back in England and coming to terms with the recent death of my grandfather from leukaemia. This was the first time I followed and watched a World Cup closely and it helped to distract me from the loss of Grandad. Again, there are good memories of role-playing the games on the playground as Cameroon shocked the world with a win over Argentina (served them right for ‘86!) and got all the way to the quarter-finals where they were knocked out by England, who came so close to getting to the final. Then there was Gazza's tears, the previously unknown Toto Schillaci lighting up the competition with his goals, Rijkaard and Voeller exchanging spittle as Germany and Holland clashed in more ways than one, Jack Charlton’s Ireland side reaching the last eight and Carlos Valderamma’s hair… Such great memories, which made me all the more surprised to hear years later how Italia ‘90 is often viewed as the worst tournament since the whole thing began in 1930 (but at least someone out there shares some of my more favourable memories of the event).
USA ‘94 was covered above but those decisions I made then affected where I found myself for France ‘98 as I was preparing for my final year of university in Newcastle. I was studying Ancient History back then, a path I had chosen after electing to take history as an A-Level subject and being encouraged to take my studies further by my teacher Mr Bowman. On that Ancient History course, a classmate would inform me about a career’s talk for teaching English abroad and, well, I assume you know where that led me! By the time of the Korea/Japan World Cup in 2002, I was in Turkey establishing my reputation as a teacher and facing some choices and decisions about where my career and life was going. Germany ‘06 was proof that the right decisions and choices had been made as I found myself happily married and watching the games with a 3 month old baby boy on my lap!
Which brings us all to South Africa 2010. What’s the backdrop to this World Cup? What are the associated memories going to be in the years to come? Well, I’m happy with where I am and what I do and trying to further my career and better myself through my MA studies and looking into getting an article or two published. I also now have a son aged 4 and watching him grow up is a joy. I don’t remember Spain ‘82 from when I was 4 but, as I said, my dad wasn’t into football that much. Maybe as I am into football in a big way, my son will remember something about this one as we have watched some games together and kicked a ball around in the park as well. One things for sure though: he won’t have much of an England performance to remember. The England v. Germany game did give him his first taste of footballing injustice, however. I mean, he’s just 4 with only a basic grasp of what football is and even he shouted ‘goal!’ when Frank Lampard’s shot bounced off the crossbar and over the line…. Oh, well, for me at least it was easier to take than Mexico ‘86.