Twenty Years in Football
The 2010 World Cup makes it twenty years since I was self-diagnosed with football fever. An innate curiosity heightened only by my father’s halcyon tales of Pelé, Eusebio and, of course, our very own Geoff Hurst: whose unique contribution crowned England’s finest ever moment in the summer of ’66.
Fortunately for us, and for you our readers, The EFP’s Luke Bryson (kindly and professionally assisted on the night by my indelible friend, Naomi Laver) caught up with the living legend, on Monday evening in London, to discuss key factors in England’s only ever World Cup win and his thoughts on his country’s chances in this summer’s forthcoming tournament. The interview was made possible by *Chris Nee (of twofootedtackle.com) and will feature on The English Football Post shortly.
- Don’t miss Luke Bryson’s interview with living leg Sir Geoff Hurst
Like many football fans in my age bracket, it was Italia ’90 which endorsed the game to me, then a starry-eyed unassuming member of a soon to be dubbed chemical generation, clearing up any mysticism stirred up by Dad’s olden days gambit, and talk of a tubby little fellow from Argentina whom four years previous had apparently played football with his hands (very confusing to a 9 yr old as you can imagine)! Ensconced by my treasured Panini sticker book (stickers of which, I have just discovered, were much bigger and far superior than their modern equivalent), influenced by a curious blend of Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma & Johnny Barnes’s now infamous rapping, and boasting England’s best ever performance in my lifetime, no tournament could possibly compare. Nor, I suppose, will I let it.
As this summer marks somewhat of a landmark anniversary, I have decided to take a trip down memory lane and revisit the five tournaments I have been privileged enough to enjoy; in various stages of adolescence, in different corners of the globe, and (since WC ’98) in varying states of inebriation.
As already mentioned, it was this tournament which kick-started everything. As a 9 year old, what stands out most is my endless street re-enactments of Platt’s volley against Belgium and Baggio’s majestic dummy against Austria; accompanied by over dramatised high-pitched commentary, naturally. I also recall jumping around in jubilation when first Pearce and then Lineker didn’t score against the Netherlands. Each game became more compelling than the last.
Vividly I recall the ubiquitous furore which preceded and later engulfed the tournament. I remember being transfixed by the sight of Maradona nonchalantly juggling the football in the centre circle prior to the big kick-off, and I’ll never forget when Caniggia got clattered by a barrage of knee-high tackles from what seemed like twenty obstreperous Cameroonians. Most of all I was moved by the drama of it all: the blood, the sweat, the tears.
Of course Turnip’s men didn’t make it so it gave me a chance to educate my teenage palette with some foreign flavours, and even caught a glimpse of Diana Ross for the first time (how did she miss that penalty?). I’ve never really looked back. Of course, like most, I was obsessed with Romario and Brazil, but I also became fascinated with Mexico (Sanchez, Garcia and Campos), Romania (Hagi et al), Argentina (led by a performance enhanced Diego) and Bulgaria (Stoichkov & friends). The best game I witnessed was Romania beating Argentina 3-2, with a Spurs bound Dumitrescu grabbing a splendid brace. I also remember supporting the Irish in England’s absence. My brother, who’d been living in Boston at the time, was actually at the Italy game in Foxboro Stadium. I still have the match programme he sent home to me, raving in his accompanying handwritten letter (dems were da days) that a young lad from Cobh, named Roy Keane, had Roberto ‘dummy’ Baggio in his pocket, and that he had a huge future ahead of him. So kudos to you Mr Jameson.
Teenage angst and my first part-time job combined to nearly sabotaging this one but I still have some fantastic memories of some great matches which I recorded and re-watched over and over again, on vhs (imagine), and some memorable nights of underage drinking. It will be remembered for Ronaldo’s mysterious demons in the Final, but for me witnessing Owen score his career defining goal against Argentina gave me a taste for watching football in the local watering-hole. I’m happy to report it’s a pastime I’ve not let slide. Owen would go onto to play in two more World Cups but will not be going to South Africa. Oh and the French won on home soil.
KOREA REPUBLIC & JAPAN 2002
My first World Cup on foreign soils as I spent a summer sojourn in Cape Cod, USA. The already awkward time difference was made even more so across the pond. Over-ambitious plans to watch 4am games after a heavy night’s boozing, and 7am games off limits because of early morning work starts, meant much of this tournament was a blur, but for a few uninspiring England matches and an epic replayed Ireland game versus the Spanish. Forgetful football on the whole.
This was by no means a classic but I enjoyed it nonetheless; albeit watching nearly every game home alone in my dingy Manchester flat, on a portable television I had won in a pub quiz. Sounds romantic but I can assure you it wasn’t. Nevertheless, I was unmoved by England yet again, and upon hearing reports of yobs rioting in not particularly inviting local pubs, I decided a few weeks in doors would provide the perfect tonic. It proved a wise decision. No particular game stood out with very few goals in the latter stages, but I still enjoyed assimilating events as they unfolded.
Lampard, Gerard, and (the returning) Carragher all missed penalties for England, as they were dumped out by Portugal, whom themselves went out to a Zidane-inspired France in the semis. Zizou’s vintage swansong will nestle in the memory banks, but his (dare-I-say it?) justifiable head-butt in the final cast a shadow over the whole tournament, bringing a muddied curtain down on a career of arguably the greatest player of the modern era. Some colossal performances from the Italian talismanic defender and Captain, Cannavaro, for a team knee deep in scandal, will ultimately tell the story of Germany.
SOUTH AFRICA 2010?
This time around I expect an altogether more absorbing affair. Not only am I more settled and happy in my own life, but I feel the venue will contribute massively in making it a most colourful, vibrant and exhilarating event. With some big players either missing or out of form, it also has an unpredictable element which has been missing from the game in recent years.
I stand by an earlier prediction that Spain, equipped with an unrivalled midfield and a fit Torres, will win it. I expect England will flatter to deceive once again and one or perhaps even two African teams to go far. I am going to predict that in-form Diego Forlan is a decent shout for the prestigious golden boot; but, all being well, if he replicates his sublime club form on the world stage, as well as I did Roberto Baggio in our cul-de-sac all them years ago, then it shall be Lionel Messi who sets this tournament alight.
Join us again for more build up to South Africa and be sure to catch our insightful and imminent interview with Sir Geoff Hurst, who not only offers his thoughts on South Africa, but also talks us through that life-changing summer of ’66.
*Sir Geoff Hurst was speaking as part of the publicity campaign for the Royal Mint World Cup Medal and our readers can visit http://www.itsenglandstime.com to claim their free lucky World Cup Medal.