Friday, July 5, 2013

My Life in World Cups - Rich J

As we're just a year away from the next World Cup, I thought I'd share something I originally put together just before the last one kicked off on my original @sofa_soccer blog... which promptly took early retirement after just 2 'caps'.

I've updated it to cover South Africa and while it may be more personal-based than actual football nostalgia, it's still an interesting read...says the person who wrote it ;-)

It’s 2013... there’s a World Cup next year which, aside from alienating me from the entire family as I settle in for up to three matches a day, also causes me to think back over my life. Why? Well, for me, the World Cup was a pivotal event in my life in many ways. Primarily, it was what sparked my interest in football (prior to Mexico 86, I’d had eyes only for cricket, a sport I now care little for), but it also occurred towards the end of my life in primary school... a time made extra poignant by my own daughter being at that exact stage in life.

Thinking back over this, I realised I have always used World Cups as a measure of time in my life. This may seem a strange (and perhaps football centric) way of viewing one’s life, but, given they occur every four years, serves as a nice time span to track the passage of my life. Before writing this, I had the idea that my first few WCs would show the largest change, spanning as they did the time between me being 11 to 19, therefore covering a period where my age nearly doubled. Looking back through my life, however, it’s clear there has actually been huge changes between each and everyone one, which I was quite surprised by as the first 18 years of my life seemed to take an age, whereas the last 17 seem to have passed at an ever increasing rate. So, here is a short summary of my life and how each World Cup seems to have been a milestone in my life in more than just football.

1986 Mexico

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 own daughter change from child to teen in the last few years 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...

1990 Italy

Then in my fourth year at secondary school, life was understandably different and fittingly, the drab and dark World Cup that was Italia 90 seems sadly apt.

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 getting a lot of hassle at school from various people who had taken a dislike to me. 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 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 two weeks of term were 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 two of the blocks had been burned down. A forgettable tournament and a forgettable year. Next stop... USA!

1994 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 four years and 12 qualifications after I’d said ciao (sorry for the cliché). I’m sitting in a pub drinking cider (I wasn’t doing that at 15 either) with my older bro and two of his friends, watching Germany (yet another change - no longer just the West half) in the opening match of the first 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 was secretly 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. Brazil and Italy contrived a final as dull as that four years previous and my year took a similar turn as my best mate failed his first year and left me missing a huge part of the fun my first year had brought, and realising that this 'work' thing was a serious business.

1998 France

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. While the competition ended with the home nation despatching Brazil as 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 two 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.

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).

As for the tournament, 9am kick-offs and the last match of the day over by the early afternoon meant a lot of matches missed and nothing to watch in the evening! Thanks FIFA!

2006 Germany

Four years later and I am once again married and now with an extra two 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 eight 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 last tournament and the first ever World Cup in Africa, a cause for celebration in itself... though, given the events surrounding the last two World Cups, I was ever so slightly nervous over what might appear on the horizon this time round.

As it turned out, nothing eventful really happened and for the first time since that sun-drenched Mexico event, my life seemed to be settled. I'm still enjoying my job and my stepson was pretty much the same age I was when this footballing tale began. Though he's been subjected to countless tournaments in his life so far and he wasn't overly fussed with football, so another three weeks of family isolation awaited...and given I had two teenagers in the house, that turned out quite well! ;-)

As for SA2010, I was personally disappointed with it. I still took a fair amount of time off to catch "interesting" matches (that mostly turned out not to be), but I found myself switching off mentally during a lot of it. The Final was another let down, with Spain aiming for another 1-0 and Holland determined to destroy any good will their forbears had built up.

Brazil 2014

So... Brazil 2014 is nearly here, and am I excited? Have my advancing years tempered that same sense of anticipation I had at 11 and 15?  Hell no! It's in Brazil! That means sun and late kick-offs! I can't bloody wait!!!