With the beginning of the World Cup today, I thought it would be worthwhile going on a little jaunt down memory lane and remembering where I was during the tournaments that I can remember. I’ll say a little bit about my life at the time, my memories of the tournament and anything else that springs to mind.
1990 – Italy
I remember it starting while I was on a French exchange trip. I was 14 years old and heading overseas with my school. All the boys were talking about it on the ferry. as the boat rocked from side to side, they all crowded around a television to watch the news of the night before. Football at that time was not a big part of my life. It was during the course of the tournament that I was swept along in the tide of excitement following England after their unexpected progress to the knockout stage. I watched with my heart in my mouth as David Platt scored the winner against Belgium, then we took on Cameroon in the quarter-finals as a prelude to the unforgettable drama of the Semi-final against West Germany. That match has become legendary and I’ll not do it the disservice of trying to describe it. It only falls to me to say that any interest I had in football came from those few weeks as a 14 year old. Football was what all the popular kids played at school. It wasn’t something that I was invited to take part in or that anyone tried to interest me in. Somehow, as I sat with Mum and Dad and watched the games play out, I began to see the beauty of it; the moments of elation and how you could go from that to the depths of despair inside a few seconds. I began to experience the highs and lows of being a fan.
1994 – USA
England didn’t feature in the finals in 1994. I remember watching the last qualifying game between us and San Marino in a pub called Slap Harry’s up in the West End. A big win was not enough to see us into the finals and then the tournament became an excuse to watch football simply for itself. I had no stake in who won. I was 18 and, beyond anything else, it was an excuse to get together with my friends. The tournament was held in the USA. I remember Diana Ross taking a penalty to kick things off (which she missed) and then it was all about watching for moments of brilliance. Seeing Maradona’s wild celebration after the game against Greece (which we also watched in Slap Harry’s if I remember rightly) will stick in my mind forever. I remember that same night returning home at about 1.30am and watching a wonderful game between Nigeria and Bulgaria. That was the start of a great summer. My A Levels were all done and I had nothing but sunshine and free time all the way through to October when I started at University.
1998 – France
I remember the fever of expectation taking over in the run up to this tournament. After England’s great showing at Euro ’96, it was expected that we would go far. It was playing out just that way until the knockout stages came around and we got Argentina. I was working at the airport and living in Ashford with my friends. We watched that game in the Royal Hart (now an antique shop). I remember the early Batistuta goal and how Alan Shearer put us back on terms from the penalty spot just minutes later. A few minutes after that, a young Michael Owen scored a fantastic individual goal and things seemed rosy. It all went wrong around the halfway mark, David Beckham sent off for doing something stupid. England managed to hang on for a penalty shootout but those never turn out particularly well.
2002 – South Korea / Japan
I have special memories of 2002 as the finals took place while I was living in China. China actually qualified for the finals too so there was a massive buzz in the build up to the tournament. I remember speaking to a student who seriously thought that China had a chance of winning the whole thing. “Have you never heard of the underdog?” he said to me. I explained that Portugal and England were ‘underdogs’ and that China were pretty much cannon fodder. Sure enough, the Chinese team lost all their games and conceded lots of goals. England walked away with nothing too, however. A good showing in the group stage which included Beckham’s redemption game against Argentina, followed by an easy win in the last 16 against Denmark brought around Brazil in the quarter finals. For a while, it really looked like we had a chance in that one, before Ronaldinho’s marvellous chip over the stranded david seaman’s head. I watched it with my teaching partner, Chris, in a bar in Dalian which I can’t for the life of me remember the name of. After the game, which we lost, we went off to the cigar room at the Shangri-La hotel to commiserate with a couple of huge Brazilian cigars.
2006 – Germany
I remember it was a lovely summer when this was happening. Very nice weather throughout. By this time, I was starting to develop a certain cynicism and my expectations were low. However, England made it as far as the quarter finals. A largely poor showing from England against Portugal culminated in a penalty shootout which we lost (as usual). I most remember this for Zidane’s madness in the final against Italy. We watched that in the Turks’ Head in Laleham and I still can’t believe he did that. What about Zidane? He was class, that’s for sure and he didn’t do things by halves. 2006 is also in my memories because I have a completed Panini sticker book sitting around somewhere. My brother and I both managed to fill it using eBay for swapsies before eBay cottoned on to the fact that that was going on and it stopped happening.
2010 – South Africa
I have to confess that my interest was waning by 2010. I was most involved in trying to learn how to play the vuvuzela. I’ve never been much good with instruments and had to get the blowing right. Once I had it down, I was able to wander around my school, irritating pupils and fellow teachers alike as much as I wanted. I also remember watching the final down at the British Legion somewhere while playing darts with a friend. It was a tense affair between the Dutch and the Spanish. Andres Iniesta (a mainstay of my Pro Evolution team) scored the winner late on. Oh, one more thing. I remember I was making a film with my class at school and we were filming in some offices in Ashford while one of England’s group games was happening, I want to say against the USA. I remember walking down the High street at around 3.30pm and it was absolutely dead; not a soul in sight!
2014 – Brazil
I have very little memory of this tournament. I can’t remember if England were even in it if I’m honest. All I remember is that Brazil got an almighty thrashing in the final courtesy of the Germans. They were roundly humiliated on their own manor. I didn’t watch it.
2018 – Russia
I don’t know how into this I’m going to get. I watched England in one of their warm up games a week or so and I managed to drum up some enthusiasm. We’ll have to wait and see. I’ve kind of drifted out of love with football over the past eight years or so to the point where I could barely name any members of the England team. The good thing is that there seems to be very little hype and low expectations of them. that’s usually when England do best. I’ll probably watch a few games and hope to have my interest rekindled.
Thanks for reading,
Enjoy the tournament if you’re watching.