And so, the tourney is up and running. Very nearly a dream start for the hosts but a fair result in the game itself. But unless they step up a gear from this (and the slightly passionless performance in their friendly against the All Whites), Mexico won't be going past the last sixteen. Nowhere near enough firepower.
As Hadyn pointed out in yesterday’s intro, Peter D and I are West Ham fans and all of us are bound by our deed of covenant to not only blow pretty bubbles in the air but also bore people stupid with the idea that West Ham won the World Cup in 1966. And it’s true, up to a point. A Hammer did captain the side and Hammers did score all the goals, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
I wanted desperately to be a part of the 66 triumph but unfortunately my parents only got as far as marrying each other during the tournament. The reception was held at the same time England were beating Argentina in the Quarter Finals - a bad-tempered affair which soured the relationship between the two nations ever since.
I came along in 1968, in time to enjoy England’s 1970 defence of the Cup in Mexico. Alright, I admit that most of my football memories of this period are conditioned by what I heard from my Dad (Garrincha the bandy-legged genius in 1958 and 1962, Eusébio the best player never to win a World Cup in 1966, the magical skills of Pelé, Muller and Jairzinho in 1970).
By 1974, I was paying more attention but England were second-rate and failed to qualify. However, I have a very clear memory of this classic moment (replayed endlessly it seemed) the words “total football” were starting to seep into my consciousness. My memories of 1978 are all about the ticker-tape and the catchy Scottish World Cup song, Allie’s Army, while the Dutch were robbed again, despite playing the best football of the tournament.
By 1982 I had discovered Panini stickers and was busy collecting some truly dodgy mugshots. That was how I got to know names like Herbert, Rufer and, erm, Van Hattum before I came to live in this country. On my first trip to Wellington shortly after that World Cup, I tried to buy an All Whites replica shirt at a sports shop in The Oaks and was forced to compromise with a white adidas football shirt and an embroidered silver fern. Putting the two together was Mum’s job.
In 1986 the game was well down the track of being completely ruined by big-business and corrupt officials (read David Yallop’s excellent How They Stole the Game for more details) which seemed to manifest itself in on the field atrocities like Schumacher’s semi-final assault on Battiston and Maradona’s “Hand of God”.
1990 was a turgid tournament enlivened only by England being not bad and Gazza’s tears. I was unemployed for a lot of 1994 so was able to enjoy (if that’s the right word) the USA World Cup played in bright sunshine for a change. In 1998 the Dutch starring Overmars, Cocu and the majestic Bergkamp missed out again. 2002, it strikes me, was unmemorable (Turkey made the semi-finals unless Wikipedia is having a laugh) and in 2006 the pressure got to Zidane (and Rooney) and ... well the rest is history I guess.
As a West Ham fan, I don’t get to see much European football, let alone South American or Asian, so I use the World Cup as a way to assess the general health of the game around the world and see some stars being born. Apart from New Zealand, obviously (and a soft spot for England for old times sake), I don’t have any favourites. I just want to see the game played beautifully and in the right spirit. Is that too much to ask?
And as Hadyn started the football earworms yesterday here are some relics. They are all about England, sorry, but it does seem to be a weirdly interesting part of the culture - footballers singing or people singing about football.
First off, here’s the mascot that started it all: World Cup Willie (sung by Lonnie Donegan)
In 1970 the players got a turn in front of the mic. Here’s an mp3 of Back Home featuring the golden throats of Bobbie Moore, Gordon Banks, Jackie Charlton, etc.
The next time England went to a World Cup (in 1982) they gave the players the job of doing the singing again. This is the slightly apologetic, but terribly catchy, This Time:
Everyone knows the New Order one from 1990, so I won’t waste your time with it. I will close with the best football pop song ever, The Lightning Seeds with Skinner & Baddiel - “Football's Coming Home”. This is the 1998 World Cup version which ramps the pathos up a notch to produce something remarkable:
Dan Slevin is a film reviewer and rather large football fan