The fact that it took me a month to create those twenty three small portraits was caused by a variety of factors: not just my daughter, nor school work and the dreaded FAC Health Check, not even the world cup 2014 Brasil…
Which, I must add, was hugely enjoyable.
It ended four days ago, after four weeks of excitement that happen every four years and of which, I believe there are always four main elements.
This of course was Betsy’s first tournament. Granted, she didn’t see many games or take much notice really, so maybe 2018 will be even more memorable.
You see, everyone remembers their first world cup ‘proper’.
Mine was Mexico ’86 and it made me fall in love with football. That feeling has been repeated on a cycle ever since, whatever happened in between: yes, it waned a bit during my teens and informative student years but some seminal moments in my life have played out with a world cup game on in the background so, every four years, no matter where the tournament is being held or who wins it, I let it consume me and for me at least, there are four main elements of every world cup.
Which I’ll share with you now.
RE-RECORD, DON’T FADE AWAY
I actually saw a discarded Scotch video cassette box on the ground the other and remembered this:
It linked nicely to the first staple of my world cup experience, also a lifetime guarantee, of the process of recording and watching on a loop (this year, during B’s early morning wake ups or during a few days off sick following a bout of sinusitis) all the official FIFA films from the past few tournaments.
It’s all there in those movies – strange camera angles, Zidane-esque close-ups and strange acoustics, electric soundtracks synthesised by Rick Wakeman, dramatic narration by esteemed actors, and fascinating footage of fans or players off the pitch.
For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsQB_KIbS2o
Some of them play out like Fascist propaganda, a surreal mix of nostalgia and rewritten history. My favourite is obviously HERO from Mexico ’86, narrated by Sir Michael Caine, one of the more dramatic offerings, although this time around really enjoyed the offerings that documented Mexico ’70 and West Germany ’74 due to the Mexican child / time travelling storylines respectively (the former starts with a kid hitch hiking across Mexico to see his idols play, the latter footage of Johan Cruyff with his wife on the team coach after the final)
I’M STICKING WITH YOU
This year, I have mostly been collecting the stickers.
The modern trend of giving the album away free with some stickers stapled inside is the equivalent of drug dealers offering free tasters to new clients because Panini must know that for some of us, it’s like an addiction.
For the past few years I have picked up the album but never carried on with the stickers, scared of the costs involved plus having nobody else sad enough to share the commitment with. Becoming a father, even to an eleven month old daughter who will possibly hate football, was the perfect excuse to get sticking this time around, it’s her first world cup after all, and thankfully I had male colleagues around my age who are also collecting on the premise it’s for their young sons. There’s females, too, who have got really into it and we regularly held swap clubs over lunchtimes.
Watching the matches, someone described as the album coming to life, which has come true as random players’ faces look familiar because I’ve ‘got’ them five times. Ten pence per sticker was admittedly steep, especially when you’re in the process of buying a house, they never used to be that expensive I think in my first album which was also, funnily enough, Mexico ’86.
But then this time, it was different. And, if she’s not interested in the album it might always be worth something to her on ebay in years to come. Anyone collecting the Brazil 2014 collection will have found the Panini app essential, calculating as it does my needs, swaps and percentage filled.
It all started with Xavi. I found him under a table outside Costa, and took this as a sign.
There’ve been hashtags, dedicated websites, swapping sessions at the Camp & Furnace for the hipsters and their painful coolness which I couldn’t ever attend. I even found a use for those horrendous loom bands the Chinese guy patented, which for a few days filled the floors at school as bored teenagers who weren’t collecting Panini stickers flicked them at each other and at us, then we picked them up to keep our swaps piles together.
At last I reached the magic fifty and have ordered the rest online. They are on their way, not quite in time for Gotze’s wondrous volley but hopefully before the season starts. This year you could even personalise the stickers:
It was fun whilst it lasted.
The third of my four World Cup things I wanted to share with you, was the kits.
Nowadays, pretty much every country launches new strips for the occasion with elaborate advertising campaigns and themes. About a month before the ‘big kick off’ a visit to Sports Direct or a flick through FourFourTwo magazine brings excitement like a child looking through the Christmas catalogue every four years, still now.
The obsession with international kits all started not with Mexico ’86 but the West Germany shirt and, as previously described, Italy in 1990. I took some flak for wearing the former to play out in but then I was only ten. Fast forward to the last world cup and I bought a retro Argentina ’86 t-shirt with Maradona 10 on the back. Only last year a bloke broke off a phone call in the street to loudly boo me. Thank God I never bought one of the USA ’94 Jorge Campos kits or something equally offensive.
This year my object of desire was the France home, one of the most stylish kits I believe I have ever seen let alone worn, and with a link to my Maghrebin roots and those negro Nicois gums, it just had to be.
But still I wasn’t allowed to buy the baby version.
World Cup matches also often involve the odd drink. Watching random matches playing quids in, or supporting England (or at least pretending to) in dodgy bars at strange times of the evening… all part of the world cup experience.
And not just for me.
You see, on one of those nights out, I discovered a group of strange individuals out there who apparently meet up every four years to reminisce, swap stories, compare outfits and drink beer. They might not shout about it, in fact they’d rather keep a low profile.
The oldest of the group is Willie, a hairy old thing in a battered waistcoat with huge shoulders and the nose of a heavy drinker. He mainly sits at the bar keeping an eye on the others with pride but also some envy. He started the club. There’s a few Hispanics amongst the group, too: Juan, Gauchito and the perma-tanned orange one Naranjito. They speak Spanish to each other and try to avoid the outcast of the group, poor Pique.
That little guy with a big moustache and always wearing a huge hat, he downs tequila with a melancholia that belies him being my favourite of the group, not least for his own association with my favourite tournament. His only real friend is inanimate though, an angular Italian-speaker who looks like he was constructed by an eight year old and all he can say is Ciao.
They meet up every four years without fail in different venues, and with each rendezvous the story is
the same: at first the ever-growing group treat new members with distrust and a series of questions about where they are from, what their intentions are, all directed by Willie who of course has his favourites in the group, Zak and Goleo.
Meanwhile, Tip and Tap are the oddballs amongst them, drinking their steins with a constant smile on their face until their rosy cheeks turn pale and they stop babbling on about the way things used to be.
But the ones I feel really sorry for are the pets they keep, the eager-to-please dog and the multi-coloured bird, and those bizarre creatures from the east, the Spheriks who nobody understands and everyone just leaves in the corner to sip the sake, secretly wishing this was all a bad dream.
This time around, the newest recruit bends the ears of anyone who will listen, about ecology and life in the Brazilian favelas and what those demonstrations are really all about, but the others don’t listen, they don’t care, to be honest they’ve heard it all before and they’re only there for the drink and the money and the reminiscing of better times.
Roll on four years, to do it all again!
There were many great moments of the tournament, some sad – I wanted Messi to win it so badly – and some more surreal: the BBC is always good at montages so here’s one of their finest:
That insect was definitely my favourite moment.
Actually, after writing this, now I realise the wonderful World Cup has left a legacy not just in Brazil I wish it was more frequent than it is: you see, it has brought me even more good fortune this week, what with Gove being reshuffled, the end of the term being nigh, Betsy’s baptism to look forward to and Morrissey’s excellent new album being released, things are looking to be on the up and up.
Here’s a taster!
With a house move next on the horizon, I hope so…
Until next time x