Thursday, June 12, 2014

World Cup Years: From Surrey to Mallorca

It was, I think, a Bush. It was a large wooden type affair that commanded a sizable amount of the lounge floor. Home entertainment units of that era were all large wooden type affairs. Stereograms on legs (was ours a Ferguson?), the size of coffins, would occupy similar acres of space. The stereogram had appeared on the scene a few years before. The Bush, if that indeed was what it was, was a later arrival. One day in 1970 it was manouvered into the living-room with the aid of a crane and several pack horses (I exaggerate, no I lie, of course). The moment had arrived. A knob the size of a door handle was turned, and the Bush sparked into life. And life was suddenly very different. Colour TV.

There was one very particular reason for the ceremony of the Bush's entrance. The World Cup. It seems that every household in Britain (well, England anyway) bought, rented or obtained on HP a colour TV for that summer. For the first time, we would be able to appreciate that Brazil played in yellow and blue and not in varying shades of grey and, as things were to turn out, that England also played in red, as they had done four years before. With a different result. Colour transformed telly-watching, but not even colour could obscure the fact that Alf cocked up the substitutions and Bonetti had a mare. Defeat. And four days later, Harold Wilson lost the election. 

The four-year World Cup cycle is such that it is a life event. You can break down your time on Earth, where you were and what you were doing, according to the World Cup and the dramas that have been played out at the various tournaments.

I have virtually no recollection of 1962, except, oddly enough, the game between Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It was played in a country far, far away and it took two days for matches to be shown on British TV. Sadly, I did not see the Battle of Santiago. Of course, and also sadly, they don't make football matches like that nowadays. They went some way to making them like that in 1966 - Rattin and all that - but all that was forgotten, including Nobby Stiles kicking Frenchmen, amidst the tension of was it over the line or not and Kenneth Wolstenholme's they think it's all over. In our little bit of suburbia, life couldn't have been much better. England were world champions and there were still five weeks or so of summer holiday to go.

The 1974 tournament, one of two successive World Cups for which England failed to qualify, was my first World Cup away from home. It was university time. In 1978, it was getting used to the realities of working-life time; realities which, nevertheless, were punctuated by reliving the excesses of university. Argentina also relived many excesses. There was the match against Hungary, a glorious throwback to the kick-and-kick days of Rattin - watched after one highly indulgent evening in Brighton - and the dubious business of the 6-0 win against Peru. 

1982 was Spain's year, a recognition that the country had truly entered the modern world and no longer had a regime which might try and ban the Soviets from playing on Spanish soil. 1986 was Maradona, and 1990 was Gazza, Pavarotti and the inevitable defeat on penalties. It was also the year when I watched England play Ireland in a bar in the south of France. It was dreadful. The French pundit described the match dismissively as "le football primitif". 1994 was when FIFA, pandering to its US audience, first really tried to make football a non-contact sport. It wasn't quite the same without the violence we'd grown to love, and, to make matters worse, we had to endure Bebeto and the baby-rocking celebration. In 1998, Zidane did his best to revive the good old days by stamping on a Saudi, Beckham didn't stamp on Simone, Ronaldo had a fit, and Zidane went from villain to hero. Which brings us to 2002, and it is 2002 where the story really starts. The Mallorcan years of the World Cup. This year's tournament is my fourth.

The Mallorcan years are marked by the absurdly early time in a bar to watch Owen score, Ronaldinho lob Seaman, stamp on Danny Mills and still see Brazil win, by Rooney being sent off in 2006 and by the celebrations in 2010. Spain were world champions. They are marked also by the trappings of living in tourist resort land:  the England flags draped from balconies, the England fans bellowing their heads off in Brit bars. Wrong? Not a bit of it. The World Cup's back in Mallorca. Come on, England.  

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