Mark’s recollections of the France 98 World Cup tournament struck a chord for a whole host of reasons. Being significantly older than the good Doctor I watched most of those games in my local, but his perceptions of that England team being seen through 11 year old eyes made my mind wander.
Argentina 78 I remember bits of. Mostly the extraordinary scenes at the start of the final, tonnes of ticker tape descending from the skies onto the heads of the home team and their Dutch counterparts. But I was 6, the nuances of Argentina’s 3-1 victory lost on me. No, the World Cup that rocked my world, filled my Panini sticker album and convinced me that football meant a little bit more than just a pastime, was Spain 82.
My mother is from Armagh, Northern Ireland, my father from Dublin. I favoured the southern side of the border, but at this point, the occasional flash of brilliance from Liam Brady aside, we were no great shakes internationally. But Northern Ireland had qualified, along with England and Scotland, and Norman Whiteside sounded like one of my cousins, so I had a vested interest. In those days, you saw the FA Cup Final, the European Cup Final and the occasional international live on the telly, none of your 24 hour blanket coverage as it is now, so really the only research I could do was via my sticker album, staring at faces I had never seen before.
England’s group (for I suppose I should mention them really) consisted of France, Kuwait, and Czechoslovakia (as it was then). They strolled through, Bryan Robson scoring after 27 seconds against the French, Trevor Francis scoring twice against the Czechs which I missed because it was my sisters first Holy Communion, and Francis again in a 1-0 win against Kuwait. They went through to the now bizarre looking second stage group of 3, where they drew with West Germany and Spain, Kevin Keegan missing a sitter of header late in that one, and went out without losing a game. This was the last World Cup where this group nonsense took place, thankfully.
Anyway, enough of that. For me, Spain 82 was about 2 teams. The first was Northern Ireland. They drew with Yugoslavia (AIWT) and Honduras, and then memorably, ridiculously, beat the host nation in Seville. With 10 men. All of which had mothers my mother said she knew by the end of that game. Brilliant result. In the second stage group whatnot, they nicked draw with Austria (through on account of a rigged game with the Germans) before getting thumped by France, but that result against the Spanish was awesome.
There were, I recall, stacks of draws in the first round. Group A had 5 draws out of 6. Hungary stuck 10 past El Salvador. Later on, the Germans and the French played one of the great matches in the semis, 3-3 after extra time before you know who winning on penalties. Italy did what Italy do, started slow, scraped through, got better and won the tournament with Paolo Rossi top goal scorer.
But all of that is statistics and facts and history. The other stars of that tournament didn’t really bother with all that. Hell, they didn’t even reach the semis. Brazil, in 1982, were jaw dropping.
Before their first game against the Russians, Zico, Eder and the rest of them could have walked in my living room and I wouldn’t have known them. You didn’t back then; they just descended from the skies, played, lit a ciggie (in Socrates case) and returned to their general practice (in, er, Socrates case again). But then they proceeded to show me and the rest of the world how it should be done.
I mean, they were mesmerising. YouTube it when you have a minute, its scintillating. They played 5 games, scored 15 goals, one of which was a header, one of which a scrambled tap in, and the other 13 are absolute screamers. And you know what will hit you the most when you watch them? After every goal, they went bananas. I mean nuts. Their fans more so. Every time I try to pick a favourite goal I think of another, but the gun-to-my-head choice would be Eder’s flick up and blistering strike against Russia. Or his chip against Scotland. Or Falcao sending the Italian defence one way and the ball the other. Or Socr...enough. Favourite celebration is Junior’s face against Argentina.
They got beat by Italy because for the first time they failed to score more than they conceded. I mean, Scotland went 1 up against them. They weren’t overly bothered with defending and it cost them a fourth title. They might win it this year, I really hope they do, and they won it entertaining in 1970. But that team, and their attitude, they were magnificent.
I look at my 9 year old son, and his half finished album (in dire need of Belgians and Russians, fine for Japanese and Greeks at the moment) and I wonder; is it possible a side could do that again? Capture the imagination of over informed fans and create magic? Indeed, is there a Northern Ireland in there? Or a North Korea? Will someone write about this tournament with the same dewy eyed nostalgia Mark and I have? I can tell you now; yes, they will. Football, sport in general, still has it.
YouTube the goals. Well worth it.