It all started with a single word.
I may have seen some of the awful Portugal game or the dire Morocco draw, but it was Poland in Monterrey. A hat-trick from Gary. The cheers of Jimmy Greaves in the background. The cast on Lineker’s wrist. These were the gateway moments to the World Cup for an 8 year old from a suburban town in Southern England.
It would quickly move through a Paraguay romp, to a “High Noon” encounter with Argentina. The hand. The goal. The substitution. The comeback. The miss. The exit.
As swiftly as I was in. We were out. I watched the final, but lost interest and started playing in my Grans backyard, pretending to be Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, because he had a funny name. Kids eh.
If Mexico 86 was 1st base, then Italia 90 was a grandstand homer. From the opening match, on a school afternoon, through Schillaci, Lethal Lothar, Nessun Dorma, Roger Milla, Saint and Greavsie, and of course the rollercoaster of England. From dire, to daring. Lucky to lethal. The emergence of my hero in the number 19. Gazza. Tottenham’s Gazza.
Italia 90, for my generation was a right of passage. Looking back, a lot of it was turgid. But it will forever be a wonderful, sepia tinged celebration of football. Platty’s volley. The Cameroon comeback. The tears. Waddle hitting the post in Extra Time. Not being able to watch the pens. It was everything.
USA 94 didn’t carry the emotional baggage. I marvelled at the Romanians, and Batigol, and the bald guy who knocked Germany out (I know it was Lechkov). But it wasn’t quite the same. I was 16 and it was all about England. That would change. But not quite yet.
France 98. And a new era. The pub era. Engalnd games became blurry all day pub events. Singing Baddiel and Skinner, carrying people on my shoulders after the Colombia game. Lifting up a flower vase from the pubs shelf and pretending it was the World Cup. You get the picture.
From the shock of Becks red, the ecstacy of Michael Owen, disbelief that Sol had his goal disallowed to the inevitable gut wrenching exit. Quintissential England.
But once we were gone, you could marvel at the what was actually happening. The Bergkamp goal. Croatia emerging as a beautiful butterfly, and of course. Zizou. A master. More on him later. I didn’t realise at the time, but it would be my last World Cup, as a fan. And also my last at home.
By the time May 2002 came around I was in Seoul. In the press box for Papa Bouba Diop’s goal to sink the Champion. A first World Cup game. Decent start. I followed the French, whistling “Au revoir les bleus” after Denmark sent them home. The mixed zone post match was a riot. Thierry Henry ignoring everyone. French players bickering. Thoms Gravesen, an hour late to leave the dressing room, drunk off his arse. Memorable moments.
But it was just a beginning. Korea was everything. My first major overseas trip to a country I knew precious little about and a country where a 6 foot 5 blonde guy, kinda stands out.
I filmed the crowds in the rain in the centre of Seoul during the USA game. half a million people were told to turn and wave at us shivering TV folk on the roof. They duly obliged. Goosebumps.
But it was Daejeon where I finally discovered what the World Cup can do. Golden goal for Korea over Italy. And the noise. Never before. Never since. Unbelievable. Everyone left that stadium floating on air. Unless you were Italian.
I had my Be the Reds t-shirt and bandana, and drank Hite and sang “Arirang” in the streets after. Never before had I seen football provide so much joy to so many. It was, and still is, a treasured time. Moments you’ll never forget.
Korea 2002 took me to 6 cities, 13 games, lots of Irish fans, a gazillion Koreans and a multitude of memories. I also met my future other half there, so Busan will always have a place on my heart. But on to Germany….
Another World Cup of work, but a massive contrast. I watched every game, but from a TV studio. Charged with bringing the host coverage to the world, it was a strangly santised World Cup. And industrial estate in Munich doesn’t scream party, but it had it’s moments. England, of course, disappointed and exited in controversial and heartbreaking circumstances.
But like 2002 the hosts story captivated, and our German media volunteers were fantastic to watch, as they rode the wave of the “Neue National Mannschaft”.
A personal highlight? Watching the exact camera at the exact time Zidane planted head onto the Matrix. Time stood still for a second before I let forth my a Shakespearean uttering of “Bugger me he’ ‘eadbutted ‘im”. A poet. I know.
The most recent stop of the journey was South Africa. A World Cup of great enjoyment, personally, if you take away the 90 minutes of my life spent watching England v Algeria in Cape Town. Again, a common theme is the people. The joy South Africans took in their teams performance made the event. It was fleeting, but wonderful.
Filming for the 2nd group match versus France, myself and a colleague went to a fan fest in the Mother City, and were introduced on stage as a film crew from Australia. The crowd of a few thousand cheered us to the rafters, and again provided one of those “World Cup” moments.
There were more of those. David Villa’s celebration agaist Portugal about 15m away from me. Joining the Dutch hardcore ion their post match celebs after reachign the final, nearly an hour after the game, and being in Soccer City as Mandela, unexpectedly, did a pre game lap of the pitch. Again….goosebumps.
So now to Brazi;. A 4th World Cup on site. An 8th as a devotee. Whatever happens, however it’s viewed, for me the Coupe de Monde, Copa Mundiale, the World Cup will always, always be in my heart.