I was 11 years old and in my final weeks of Primary School. For me, this is the stage in life where you truly begin your transition from child to adult. A clear line in the sand where all that went before has gone and all that lies ahead is strange, exciting, scary and above all, all grown up. Having watched my step daughter change from child to mini teen in these last 12 months brings home what a year in one’s life this really is. And on the other side of the world something was happening...I caught glimpses of Denmark and the USSR handing out late night (GMT) thrashings and suddenly football seemed exciting. The bright TV pictures from sun drenched stadia, the brightly coloured kits, the skills on show truly captivated me. After watching England play Poland, needing to win to stay in the tournament, my brother and I would recreate all we had seen in the back garden, in the warm evening sun, until bath time called. I guess I see these days as the last of my childhood. Naturally, for the first year at secondary school a lot of this freedom was retained, but it was different...there just wasn’t that same sense one gets from having no responsibility at all. And this would be brought rather sharply into focus by the time Italia 90 arrived...
Then in my 4th year at secondary school, life was understandably different and fittingly, the drab and dark World Cup that was Italia 90 seems sadly befitting. The fantastic new stadia that provided the stage were to be the best part of the whole affair. In life, by this time, I was being bullied quite a lot in school. For some reason, the class psycho had decided I’d ‘grassed him up’ about something I didn’t even know about until one of his mates told me he was going to kill me. I subsequently found out it was one of my friends who had, and when confronted, decided to name me as perp instead...thanks for that! In the intervening years I’d also had my best mate team up with a new best mate and suffered there too and by the end of the year someone else decided it was fun to hit me a lot whenever the teacher was out of the room. Overall, however, life was OK...In all honesty I had a nice childhood; possibly the most normal childhood attainable, but this particular chapter gave me the first glimpse of how life is not always so easy. By the time the final rolled around, I was out of school, the last 2 weeks of term spent with BT doing work experience, which pretty much meant riding around in the vans in the sun, then being dropped off at home at noon as it was easier all round. A short respite of summer before heading back to school...just in time to find that 2 of the blocks had been burned down. A forgettable tournament and a forgettable year. Next stop...USA!
Possibly one of the biggest leaps in my life was between Italy and USA. In 1990, I was in the first year of my GCSEs...when USA 94 finally arrived I was just completing my first year at Uni. 4 years and 12 qualifications after I’d said ciao (sorry for the cliché), and I’m sitting in a pub drinking cider (I wasn’t doing that at 15 either) with my older Bro and 2 of his friends, watching Germany (yet another change...no longer just the West half) in the opening match of the 1st ever World Cup to be held in the land of “soccer”. While football purists the world over poured scorn over the idea of America hosting the event, I secretly was glad...mostly because I wanted another Mexico...another World Cup where all the games played out under burning sun, not the faded glint of floodlights. And once again the event seemed to mirror my year as what started out bright and hopeful ended in moribund disappointment as Brazil and Italy contrived a final as dull as that 4 years previous and my year took a similar turn as my friend failed his 1st year and left me missing a huge part of the fun my 1st year had brought. As my 2nd year began, the initial novelty of Uni life turned into a cycle of lectures / mooching round town / going home alone and questioning whether this was what I really wanted to do.
The World Cup returned to Europe and with it, fears of another Italia 90. It was not to be as the tournament provided several electrifying moments, the most literal of which being when my dad replaced a floorboard in my house (I was now a homeowner) and nailed through the mains cable in the bathroom. Washing my hands moments later, my foot connected with the nail and my hand the tap...ouch. Anyway, as mentioned, I was now a homeowner. Homeowner, employed, partnered up (not quite married yet...that’d be the year after...as would the arrival of my daughter). So, in my 23rd year I would seem to have pretty much all the trappings of modern life (minus a car...that would be next year too) and again, life mirrored cup as both ticked along rather nicely and while the competition ended with the home nation despatching Brazil while their star walked in the wilderness, heralding a new dawn for French football, so too did a new era begin for me as I learned I was to become a father...
2002 Japan / South Korea
A World Cup of unity, the coming together of 2 nations for one purpose, a footballing marriage one might say (if one was building up to make a particular point perhaps)...and as with life, as some things begin, others end as by the end of the year, my own marriage was now just a footnote in my own personal history. Seems Ronaldo would not be the only one getting The Golden Boot... (sorry...that was just an awful pun).
4 years later and I am once again married and now with an extra 2 children on board so all is great right? Well maybe, were it not for the fact the whole tournament was viewed whilst being made redundant from the job I’d had for 8 years, an experience I’d not like to repeat. If ever there was a greater contrast between my life at any point and back to that first world cup in Mexico, this would have to be it. The carefree child of 11, looking ahead to his whole life, still realistically wishing to be an astronaut or a pilot (assuming I couldn’t be a footballer of course) and the responsible child of 31, feeling the pressure and need for employment and undergoing a whole range of thoughts and emotions around not being needed, not having a purpose and not being able to support my family. As Germany 2006 fizzled out in yet another penalty shoot out, my year improved. A job was secured at the 11th hour and thankfully, I’m still there, the children are happy and healthy.
2010 South Africa
And so we come to the present and the 1st ever World Cup in Africa, a cause for celebration in itself...though, given the events surrounding the last 2 World Cups, makes me ever so slightly nervous over what might appear on the horizon this time round...