The first World Cup I can remember watching in earnest was Spain in 1982. I was nine years old and was given my first World Cup wall chart from my dad. This was an incredible device in itself and I got many hours of fun before the tournament recreating my own tournaments with dice and later softening me up for a spell in a Dungeons and Dragons recovery unit several years later – you don’t know pleasure until you’ve held a 20 sided dice – but I digress.
It was the first World Cup England had made since 1970 and the excitement was palpable. England were a solid enough side but the talented icing, Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking, were recovering from injuries and may be back in contention by the time the tournament reached its convoluted second group phase. Keegan was the David Beckham of his day and his face and image were as ubiquitous as the latter day saint – his most famous advertising endorsement being for Brut aftershave – for which you could add an E to describe its pungent assault on the sense of smell if you were in the vicinity.
England were sporting a horrid, 80s post-modern kit with a chest band but the red away kit was the money, somehow it just looked better and I really don’t know why England don’t play in red, The World Cup was won in red, the colours of the national flag are Red and White, our most successful teams, and Middlesbrough, play in Red and White so why do the national team insist on the insipid White and Navy combination? This summer will see a revival of the 1970 inspired All-White look but I sense a campaign brewing.
The first match was watched at home with giddy excitement rising to crescendo in the living room as future Boro manager and England dynamo Bryan Robson crashed England in front against the French after only 17 seconds! This must be what all World Cups were like I thought but payback was swift coming. I was nagging my grandmother for something when France went and equalized 12 minutes later. She specifically blamed me for it so I didn’t bother her again for the rest of the match which England came back to win 3-1. The only other match of this tournament I can remember with any clarity involving England was the 0-0 draw with Spain in the Second Phase which Keegan made his cameo, coming on with 20 minutes to go, he missed a headed chance in the last few minutes and departed the international stage along with England who despite remaining unbeaten, were undone by their lack of goals in the second phase. When it came to goals though, there was only one name on everybody’s lips in the playground – Paulo Rossi. After his scintillating display against the Brazilians, he was my new alter-ego and I took to wearing my school tie as a bandana in our lunchtime kickarounds in an attempt to convey some continental Latin flair to chilly North East England. Hardly anybody was fooled though.
Mexico 86 was a better tournament as I was allowed to stay up late to watch England lose in the late stages to Portugal, which was a surprise in itself and labour to a 0-0 draw with Morocco. Relief was the overriding emotion as Lineker provided a hat-trick in the 3-0 win against Poland and earned him a ticket to Barcelona after the tournament. The Hand of God was an unusual event to watch at home as you knew that something was wrong and you were just waiting for the referee to finally acknowledge that he was in on the joke, blow the whistle and let us take the free-kick. The days after were full of recriminations against Argies and treacherous foreigners but we treated Londoners as foreigners at my school so that was as far as the fulminations reached. 1990 was my 17th year and beer had entered the equation (surreptitiously as 18 is the legal drinking age in the UK) and our last minute winner against Belgium and the heartbreak of penalty defeat against West Germany was softened by a bottle of lager. I then went off mixing beer and football for many years as I believe that imbibing would affect my watching experience so it was no surprise that many years later I would need a pint or two before taking my seat in the Riverside Stadium for another painful 90 minutes ahead.
1994 saw me away at College and despite England’s absence, the late kick off times and frat house atmosphere saw many great matches and fun times watching them. I remember leading a conga round our halls of residence after South Korea came back to draw 2-2 with Spain and spilling beer everywhere mimicking Bebeto’s baby-cradling celebration against the Dutch in the Quarter Finals.
1998 saw me in gainful employment for the first time, with the Police as it happened in a civilian capacity. I snuck into the Police social club bar to watch the opening match as Scotland unluckily lost 2-1 to Brazil and was joined by a fellow fan from the North East. I got chatting to him about the game, home and other matters football related, the match ended and we said our goodbyes. It was only the following week when I realized that I had been caught skiving off work to watch football by the Assistant Chief Constable of the force but I think this only endeared me to him further in the long run. I also won a raffle in the first week for World Cup tickets – First prize was two for England v Tunisia in Marseille but I won second place which was two tickets to see Cameroon v Austria in Toulouse. Being footloose and fancy free, my brother and I along with two other guys from work who one, embarked on a marathon 48 hour round trip in the car via Paris and Bordeaux to the Southern French border to see one of the worst games in World Cup history. 1-1 was the final score but like any World Cup, it’s the experience that counts. It was in the fevered atmosphere of the subsidized police bar that we watched England go out on penalties (again) to Argentina.
2002 saw the introduction of the pre-breakfast pint of beer as the games kicked off first thing in the morning or lunchtime at the latest. I watched England and Beckham gain revenge against Argentina at my ex-girlfriends house with her dad screaming at the commentator to be quite as Beckham was lining up the penalty in case he put him off; I also had a four pack to myself at breakfast as England overcame Denmark before a full-day bender with my mates in Oxford but the ritual failed to work for the Quarter Final against Brazil later – although David Seaman graciously took the blame.
2006 kicked off at a mates Stag Do in London which ended up at School Disco – a themed-nightclub where everybody went dressed as schoolboys and schoolgirls. So there was 20 of us, dressed as overgrown British schoolboys in a pub in London watching England edge past Paraguay in our first match. In fact, this world cup was truly a pub world cup, every match I saw revolved around the bar and getting a good view in some way, which is probably why I have such a hazy memory of it – I’ve just had to look up on Wikipedia who England went out to, and I wrote an article on it not a week ago! (Portugal on Penalties – again, bladdered in a pub).
This World Cup is my first with my boy Vincent and I and his grandfather have been doing our best to fill his little head with England propaganda as my American wife accurately calls it. England flags in his room, a mini England kit ironed and pressed ahead of a large house party at my friends on Saturday for the big game and he constantly demands that I sing “The England Song” to him – Vindaloo by Fat Les. Despite the smatterings of a Southern accent, he’s English alright.
Let the fun begin!
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.