Ink & A Stick

The ramblings of a man who should know better.

Hakuna Matata for The Football Express

This article first appeared here on 16.08.2011 

People often speak about the defining moments of their lives. The events that would be in super-slo-mo, high-definition, 3D magnificence were you to put together a highlight reel of your time on earth. I have had plenty in my life. The first time I met my wife, the birth of our daughter, the time my Mum found out I’d been smoking cannabis. You know, the usual suspects. However, when I consider how big a part football plays in my life there isn’t one particular moment where it all fell into place. There wasn’t a goal that I was mesmerised by or a game that I was taken to that really cemented my love of the sport. My obsession with football was a more gradual affair and it owes a huge debt of gratitude to VHS and one particular video, 20 Golden Years Of The World Cup.

Italia ’90 was the first World Cup I really cared about. It was the first time I had watched football regularly and it had given me a potent sense of excitement about the coming season. The team I supported, Tottenham, had Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne coming back from Italy as undoubted stars of the competition and I could not wait for it all to get going again. Except I had to.

Back when pre-season tours consisted of playing Norwegian non-league teams and the summer sports pages were full of cricket there wasn’t a lot to satisfy the starving football fan. As a distraction I had my birthday which was always in the first week of the summer holidays and this meant I had birthday money, (I have never really got over knowing that birthday cards these days will never contain cash). This also happened to coincide with the first year in which my family owned a video recorder, it only seemed right therefore that I should start what I hoped would become a burgeoning collection of movie masterpieces. Now, you might think that I took my time and pored over every possibility but memory serves me correctly I dashed into the  shop and grabbed the first football video I could lay my clammy little hands on, I had World Cup fever and this had World Cup in the title, bingo!

Of all the rash purchases I have ever made, (and it won’t surprise you to learn that there’s been a few) this may well have been the best ever but it took me a while to appreciate it. As children we always judged how good a video was by the quality of the pictures on the back and this only had one, Pele. I knew Pele had played football but I had never seen footage of him doing it properly. At the time it was accepted football fact in this country that Pele was the best player ever and all I had ever seen of him was the marvellously bad, Escape To Victory and the just plain bad, Hotshot. Neither film was a ringing endorsement of his fabled talents. Let’s face it, if Russell Osman could get into the same team as him how good could he really be? I told my rather suspicious Mum that it was just what I wanted but I, like her, had my doubts.

The video was about 90 minutes long, (I’m convinced all videos were this long) and the format was to have highlights of every world cup from 1966 up to and including 1986. It was narrated by Bobby Charlton who on reflection sounded like he’d been at the temazepam in the sound booth. It started off with colour footage of the 1966 final. We’ve all seen it now but back then I had only heard about it. I was robbed of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary but having heard it continuously all summer as a sample in New Order’s World In Motion that wasn’t such a bad thing. I knew of the goal line controversy and now knew about “the Russian linesman” too, (for the record I paused the video and it didn’t look over the line to me).

From then on things were different. It was old footage of games in far away countries with strange pitch markings. It was Bobby telling me that Teofilo Cubillas of Peru always liked to play with his socks down. It was Bobby having a bit of moan about being substituted against West Germany, and in 1970 it was Pele. As strong as 15 Mick Harford’s and boots made of velvet. “What audacity” whispers Bobby as Edson tries to score from the halfway line. There were others though, Rivelino and his “sweet left foot”, (and monstrous ‘tache). Tostao and obviously Carlos Alberto. Even aged 12 I could see that his goal in the final was a beauty. That pass from Pele, ooof.

The video went through the 70s tournaments and I decided that Johan Cruyff was my favourite player. We had just seen Gascoigne bamboozle Ronald Koeman and Richard Witschge with a Cruyff turn in the World Cup and I’d seen the originator, what a hero. Arie Haan was also there, scoring seemingly endless amounts of long-range thunderbolts. I watched as the Germans won the trophy, feeling bad for Holland. Feeling bad for the Dutch again four years later but being in awe of the ticker tape storm and Mario Kempes at the Estadio Monumental.

The video moved into the 80s and I was able to see the Marco Tardelli goal leading to the emotional celebration that had been on my tv every night as part of the BBC’s opening World Cup credits. I remember being shocked by Harald Schumacher’s assault on Patrick Battiston and also being so amazed by Paolo Rossi that I would pretend to be him in the garden, recreating his hat-trick against Brazil.

If I am honest I had got bored by the time they showed the 1986 competition, watching football usually made me just want to go out and play it. I did eventually watch it again though, and again, and again. What it taught me was that football wasn’t just about Division 1 or England in ’66. It taught me about greats of the game like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Falcao. It gave me a love of Dutch football which persists to this day. The video was also perhaps my first realisation that the rest of the world probably do it better than England too. If playing Sensible World Of Soccer turned me into a football obsessive it’s only because 20 Golden Years Of The World Cup had turned my head in the first place.


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