Just nine years old, I was jumping for joy around my living room when Zinedine Zidane inspired France to World Cup glory in 1998. Does my family have any Gallic roots? Nope. Did I harbor an early disdain for Brazil? Not at all. I was just really, really happy that France had won.
The World Cup is a tournament that conjures up lots of little moments like the one aforementioned, and inevitably, they become permanently etched into your catalogue of football memories. I’m 24-years-old now, and have probably been watching the beautiful game for about 16 years. Ask me to recount something that happened from an Everton game—the team I follow religiously—from 1998 and admittedly, I’d be clutching at straws.
But the World Cup is different; it has an unshakeable aura about it. I can recall plenty from France 1998: being mesmerized by the “real” Ronaldo and his futuristic R9 boots, thrilled by the exploits of an 18-year-old Michael Owen against Argentina and intrigued by the vibrant Romania team, that to a man, had dyed their hair bleach blonde. And that’s to name but a few.
The World Cup comes around every four years and given the significant amount of time that passes between each one, they become almost synonymous with certain periods in your life; indicators of how far things have or in some cases, haven’t progressed. When reminiscing with friends about times gone by and asked “how many years ago was that?”, a World Cup is my first point of reference.
I think back to watching the 2002 World Cup as a 13-year-old, getting into the school hall early where they’d erected a giant projector to show England vs. Brazil in the quarter-final. Ronaldinho scored to send England packing, leaving teachers and pupils alike miserable for the rest of the day.
I think back to watching the 2006 World Cup and for the first time in my life, really getting the passion of it all. Seeing Fabio Grosso’s late winner against Germany in the semi-final was one of the most captivating moments I’ve ever watched, probably the moment that I fell head over heels in love with the World Cup. It was untouchable, unhinged delirium. It was marvelous.
I think back to watching the 2010 World Cup in my less salubrious university days, meeting some Nigerian lads in the student union and cheering on the Super Eagles. Yakubu missed an absolute sitter and they went out in the group stages. They were heartbroken.
And I know I’m not the only one who harbors these kind of precious memories. My Granddad still speaks with exuberance about the 1966 World Cup as if it was yesterday. How he witnessed Pele getting kicked from pillar to post at Goodison Park and how he was enchanted by the bow-legged “little bird” Garrincha. Those memories are still so vivid for him, almost crystal clear, 48 years on.
The Brazil World Cup has been subject to a whirlwind of anticipation and expectation, but it’s easy to see why; namely, it’s in Brazil, 64 years since they were previously the host nation. There are few places on the planet that have preserved the essence of the game so impeccably. The lust for football in its simplest form still shines through on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and in the favelas of Sao Paulo. It’s all wonderfully raw and reassuringly real.
But the soul of soccer that will be so prevalent in Brazil may not be around for much longer, as the demands of the modern game have seen FIFA look to spread their wings, taking the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.
It’s an emphatic indicator—as if we needed one—that the game is moving with the times and the romantic nexus we all cherish is being gradually diluted. Russia and Qatar could put on fine World Cups, but can anyone honestly say they’d prefer to watch the tournament in one of those two nations over fanatical previous hosts like Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain or Brazil? It just doesn’t feel as thought it’s going to be quite the same.
So I implore you to immerse yourself in this World Cup as much as you can. Watch as many games as possible. Enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere that the South American hosts are sure to create. Revel in the passion of the supporters and the players. Get set to make some memories while the soul of the World Cup remains very much intact. Because the game can change so quickly, for better or for worse.
After all, in the 16 years I’ve been watching World Cups we’ve gone from snazzy boots and bleach blonde hair to vanishing spray and goal-line technology! Who knows what the face of football will resemble by the time Qatar 2022 rolls around in eight years time?
As a nine-year-old, I jumped for joy when Zidane scored because my Dad had drawn France in his work sweepstake; he’d promised to give me £10 if he won it. To be honest, if someone gave me £10 today I’d probably jump for joy. I suppose some things never change.