I recently interviewed 4AD’s design icon Vaughan Oliver for the wonderful magazine Long Live Vinyl (www.longlivevinyl.net) and perhaps the conjunction of that with current events made me think of this: my second favourite World Cup-related single. The Young brothers (who are both sadly no longer with us) apparently presented it to both ITV and BBC to soundtrack their coverage of the 1986 tournament and, daftly, both turned them down.
Wish I’d now got around to asking him about the sleeve, surely the only one ever to feature Jimmy Hill….
The World Cup starts tomorrow. The last one, perhaps, that one can enjoy unreservedly. (I don’t really want about 2022 and everything that that phrase entails yet. Do you know anyone who feels that awarding the World Cup to Qatar was a good decision? Thought not.) In our house the wallchart has gone up, we’ve done a sweepstake – I’ve got Belgium – and the England bunting goes up tomorrow. Even my other half is looking forward to it.
Is it tempting fate to say that I feel cautiously optimistic about England’s chances? I feel that even writing those words down is tantamount to tempting fate. Surely though it can’t get any worse than four years ago? They can’t put on a performance as dismal as Iceland in 2016, can they?
At present expectations are so low that even getting through to the next round and knocking a few goals past….well, anyone even Panama, would constitute ‘success’.
Gone are the days when motorists would stick St George flags on their vehicles, when every Tom, Dick and Harry was clamouring to make a World Cup record. The whole thing now seems to be regarded with a shrug at best, even outright cynicism. Oh yeah, they’ll probably lose on penalties. Again!
I kinda miss the days of delusionary optimism (roughly between 1982-2010), when people actually thought we might have a chance of winning the damn thing.
Oh well, for what it’s worth my prediction is that we’ll get through the first phase but lose to Colombia in the next round. I’d like Spain to win, but I’ve got a feeling it might be Brazil once more.
This feels like an important World Cup. We (and by ‘we’ I mean all of us who care about the future of the game and its intregity as a sport) need an exciting, intriguing, fascinating World Cup of incident and interest. FIFA certainly need a good World Cup, but for rather different reasons that I hardly need to elaborate on in this blog piece.
It was Arsene Wenger who remarked immediately after the 1998 tournament that he thought that international football was in decline. Back then to me at least it seemed a preposterous statement. The Briitsh naton had been captivated by that year’s World Cup. Drivers hooted their horns after the first group game win against Tunisia (!), the nation ground to a halt on the night of the Argentina game. The competiton loomed so large in our culture that it seemed to suck in everything else in that summer. At Glastonbury one of the largest crowds that weekend watched the England-Colombia game on the big screen – pity any band which had to compete with that. TV audiences were huge – nearly 24 million people watched the England-Argentina second round game.
But something has happpened in the intervening years. There has been a marked waning of interest in the England team. No one really believes any more that they stand a chance of winning the thing. Misplaced expectation has been replaced by eye-rolling cynicism or worse indifference, both by genuine fans, who have always been more interested in their own clubs, and casual punters put off both by a combination of the modern game’s moral vacuity and all those bloody penalities failures. In Bristol and London St George flags are thin on the ground this year. Perhaps that is a good thing.
But there is something else too. Let’s be honest, when was the last truly thrilling World Cup? Tournament after tournament has been characterised by dull defensive football and a lack of genuine shocks and incident. From an England point of view 1990 was probably the last memorable Mondiale (despite the fact the foootball was largely dire). Before that 1982 was probably the last time I enjoyed the tournament unreservedly.
You never forget your first World Cup. This year is my 7 year old stepson’s and I hope that the football ignites the same passion for the game that started burning in me at the same age. I hope that he doesn’t become cyncial over time, at the corruption that has infected its ruling body, the predictablity of the competiton, or the never-ending failures of the England team. I wish for a romantic World Cup that fills him and all of us with joy and renewed faith that this wonderful sport can be redeemed, and reclaimed by those it truly belongs to – the ordinary people of the world.
So the World Cup starts today. At the risk of looking a bit stupid in a few weeks time here are a few predictions:
* England will draw their first match with the USA. They’ll top their group but go out in the second round. On penalties, as usual. And oh yes, somewhere along the line Rooney will get himself sent off.
* One of the African nations will do really well and get to the Semis. Maybe Ivory Coast. Or Cameroon.
* There will be endless controversy and complaints from players and managers alike about that bloody ball.
* And…Argentina will win it. You heard it here first.
Needless to say I am very very excited about the whole thing. Actually, to be specific, my favourite part is the first two weeks when all 32 countries are still it. It’s at this stage when there is a beautiful sense of total possibility, that wherever you come from and whoever you support your team could, if not win the thing outright, ruffle some feathers. It’s something of an overstated cliche that the World Cup unites the world but there is definitely something in it. There’s a purity to it that club football lost a long time ago.
I remember four years ago in Germany I experienced this first hand. I had been lucky enough to get a ticket for the Ghana – Czech Republic match in Cologne. A great game, one of the few upsets of the 2006 competition. I had just left the ground when I heard this commotion a few hundred yards outside the stadium. It was a load of Ghana fans celebrating. There were all banging drums, dancing and singing and generally having a bit of a party. As I got nearer I could see there were a few Czech fans there too, obviously not too disapointed by their team’s defeat. I stood back and marvelled. Gradually more and more fans joined this congregation. I could see some Argentines, a Japanese couple, some English lads, some Mexico fans. For a good twenty minutes this international gathering danced, banged and drunk deep on the shared euphoria of just being here, now, at this moment, at the greatest football tournament on earth. It was completely unscripted and impromptu and I will never forget it as long as I live.