IT'S GOING TO BE ACE YOU F***S
Part two of our World Cup preview goes all Eric Idle and looks on the bright side. It's a World Cup. In Brazil. A WORLD CUP. IN BRAZIL. What's not to love, exactly?
When is a preview not a preview? When it comes after the event has started? Oh shit. We better start writing then. Plans here to concoct something approaching a coherent preview and even a series of podcasts have gone awry in a blaze of work deadlines and £4.50-for-two vodka and coke deals in York’s premier nightspot, Fibbers. So what we’ve decided to do, in principle at least, is make a half-arsed attempt to cover as much of the tournament as we can, which will probably end up being a solitary article lamenting England’s winless, car-crash of a capitulation at the group stage, while taking the piss out of the root and branch enquiry into the national team’s failings in South Africa four years ago. Business as usual then.
This World Cup sort of crept up on us. There haven’t been the hubristic ‘EASY’-style Sun headlines of 2010 (easy enough to return five points and second place in the group) – in fact the management of English expectations has been achieved so well the nation has actually come out the other side and started ‘believing’ again. And even though we all saw England get hoofed from pillar to post on Saturday in a god-awful goalless draw with Honduras, we can’t help but salivate over the prospect of Ross Barkley making a complete muppet out of some unsuspecting deep-lying midfielders before passing it straight back to him and launching Uruguay on a counter.
Maybe it’s the fact that the northern lads did such a fabulous job on The Wall in Monday night’s Game of Thrones – well organised (despite a few early blips and wild shots from distance), passionate, backs against the wall defending, Jon Snow playing a blinder in the holding role, a youthful defence dealing heroically with the big man up top – but we cannot help but get just a little carried away by what might be. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Barkley, Sterling, Sturridge, Lallana… not half bad is it. Certainly not when you look at the shower we took to South Africa.
And then there’s the widely-acknowledged ‘fact’ that this may well be the last ‘proper’ World Cup for a while. As stated in our ‘AWFUL’ preview, the tournaments in Russia and Qatar represent a fear of the unknown, while a World Cup in Brazil just sort of feels right. And though parts of the build-up and the ramifications of FIFA’s conduct HAVE been awful, now is the time when all that stuff is burned away like our money on the top goalscorer market, until all that remains is the tournament at its simplest – absolutely bloody loads of football matches, all of the time.
It’s a scenario that speaks to all of us on the levels at which we fell in love with the game in the first place. Brazil the World Cup host evokes many similar feelings to those that Brazil the team have been successfully spinning for ages – flair, excitement, other-worldliness; the sense of football being completely ingrained in a culture of great players that we all found so intoxicating from Pele to Socrates to Zico to Romario to Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho and now in the imp-like, ridiculously-haired Neymar. Brazil makes out like football is a religion – but a joyous one, and I think we can all get behind that.
My first tournament, the one that I can pluck dozens of individual stand-alone memories from, was USA ’94. That I was 10 years old and, probably more importantly, that England weren’t there were important factors as they meant that a) I wasn’t cynical yet and b) there was no team to automatically support for genetic reasons. So I went with Ireland, Nigeria and Brazil. After a fortnight, I’d also ended up falling for the charms of Bulgaria and Romania too.
I watched more football; I fell more in love. And it’s about as simple as that. Houghton’s chip against the Italians. The Argies running riot against Greece and a drug-fuelled Maradona bounding towards the camera. Romario’s 18-yard toe-poke against the Swedes. Rashidi Yekini’s unadulterated joy when scoring against the Bulgarians and shaking the net. John Aldridge and Jackie Charlton’s unadulterated fury when the former wasn’t allowed to come on as a sub.
I remember seeing Gheorghe Hagi’s breathtaking chip from the left wing against Colombia while in the Costa del Sol on a family holiday and then spending the afternoon on the beach attempting to recreate. Ditto Saeed Al-Owairan’s remarkable solo goal against Belgium. A lot of disgruntled sun-worshippers on those days as I just ended up either twatting the ball at them or running into them.
So, the World Cup as the great leveller. Hardly a novel concept but reinforced every time football fans of any club denomination get together. “Remember when so and so scored against such forth…” and there you go, propelled on a rapid-moving river of shared sentimentality. It was this naïve, yet straightforwardly sincere premise that we based an entire book around — look away now to avoid shameless plug — where 44 writers shared their experiences of first falling for the game. As Neil Atkinson said in his very kind review on the Anfield Wrap:
Falling For Football is a series of love stories. Love stories! Grown humans talking about their unconditional love of Steves Walsh and Bull. Forty-four love stories, about how it felt to fall in love with football in conjunction with your brother, because of your father, Chris Waddle or Roberto Baggio. Weymouth, Croatia, Leicester. Nigeria, Sheffield United, Bournemouth. Some have love at first sight, some show how football seduced over a longer period. Everyone’s love story is different. Everyone’s love story is the same.
Anyway, that’s enough of that (you can buy it here). I SAID ENOUGH. What we’re trying to say is that for one month, we’ll all be transported back in time. The World Cup, by its nature, is a time machine. It sends some people to 1982 and others to ’66. It sends us, our mates and other 30-somethings to ’94 and ’98 (not so much 2010). It is then and it is now and we love it for that.