First World Cup Memories

Now that the draw has been made everyone can start look forward to next year’s World Cup in Brazil. The unveiling of the Brazuca, along with its own Twitter account (???), has also got the ball rolling. By the time it all gets underway in June the anticipation will have reached fever pitch.

Some people may argue that the Champions League offers a higher standard of football but no other tournament can match the excitement of the World Cup. Only coming around every 4 years it is the pinnacle of every footballer’s career. It brings people together, including those who don’t have an interest in football.

Every football fan will have fond memories of World Cups gone by, following the highs and lows of the competition; whether it was being thrashed by Germany in South Africa, Rooney’s red card, Ronaldinho’s lob over Seaman, Gazza’s tears or the Hand of God. OK, so England hasn’t fared too well in the last few years but it is also a time to celebrate a festival of football from across the globe. The first World Cup for any football fan is a special occasion.

World Cup’s also have the ability to combine football and music. From the 1970’s England squad singing Back Home, World in Motion featuring John Barnes rapping and 1998’s single from Fat Les, Vindaloo. Personal opinions will differ on which is the all-time greatest.

France 98 was the first tournament I followed. England had failed to qualify 4 years earlier so there was an extra sense of excitement leading up to this tournament. Since 1990 the Premier League had changed the game domestically and there was a real sense of optimism following the national team’s progress to the semi-finals of the European Championships on home soil 2 years earlier.

Before the competition I remember playing football in the playground but I didn’t go to any matches or watch any on TV, I was too young to remember Euro 96. I really got into the swing of things and had the sticker album and the wall chart. It was the first time there were 2 matches a day for the whole month. All the matches were on terrestrial TV which made football more accessible, including watching on the big screen in the school hall. As soon as one match had finished it was time for Italy v Chile.

England progressed out of their group with wins over Tunisia and Colombia but a defeat to Romania set up a second round clash with Argentina. The drama of the tie was a new experience for me and after Michael Owen’s wonder strike, Sol Campbell’s disallowed goal and David Beckham’s red card England lost in the penalty shoot-out. In the years since that’s something I have had to endure a few times.

Despite the disappointment of England’s exit I will never forgot the magic of that summer’s tournament. I continued watching the stars of the tournament on video, in the days before DVDs, blue ray and HD. To this day Jose Luis Chilavert, Denis Berkamp and Jay Jay Okacha remain some of my all-time favourite players.

Having developed a new found passion for football I went to my first live match the following year and have maintained an interest ever since. World Cups have the ability to capture the imagination of the nation greater than any other sporting event, with the exception of last year’s Olympics and Paralympics. It creates a new generation of football fans who will forever remember their first World Cup.

Hopefully that has whetted the appetite for next summer, personally I cannot wait. Bring on Brazil 2014.