As the World Cup finally gets under way in Russia, Chris Bond looks back at his earliest memories of one of the greatest sporting shows on earth.
I have the faintest recollection of the BBC’s opening credits of its 1978 World Cup coverage featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Argentine Melody, and the sea of ticker tape and confetti that rained down during the final that year.
Or perhaps subsequent memories have become jumbled up, as I was only five at the time, and this is my mind mis-remembering.
So, in truth, I can’t really claim to remember the Argentina World Cup. No, my first World Cup was Spain 82. A lot of the matches were shown live on TV and I remember racing home from school in time to watch the afternoon kick-offs.
Football was a bright, new world for me back then and one I heartily embraced. I had the Panini sticker album (though it remained unfinished), I had the England top (the iconic Admiral one) – which these days would pass as “retro” – and I had a copy of England’s World Cup anthem This Time (We’ll Get It Right) which, much to my parents bemusement and chagrin, hogged the wooden record player in the lounge.
A few years back this was voted the worst-ever World Cup song by football fans, but I still have a soft spot for the song even to this day.
It didn’t matter that the players sounded like a cat being throttled – or that they were decked out in a dubious assortment of tank-tops with hairstyles including the kind of mullets and demi waves you only see on 80s documentaries – because this was a big deal. I wasn’t born the last time England had been in a World Cup (1970) and we’d been missing from football’s biggest stage for far too long.
So there was hope in the nation’s heart as our footballing finest hollered enthusiastically: “We’re on our way, we are Ron’s 22...”
Indeed they were on their way – on their way out of the tournament after Kevin Keegan contrived to miss a near-open goal against Spain, thus presenting West Germany with safe passage to the semi-finals. Not for the first time, nor the last, English tears (including those of a nine-year-old boy) were spilled.
Despite England’s untimely exit, images of the ‘82 World Cup are seared in my memory. It seemed as though every game was played on a sun-drenched pitch, I remember Bryan Robson scoring against France after just 27 seconds, plucky Northern Ireland’s exploits and Harald Schumacher’s attempt to poleaxe Frenchman Patrick Battiston in the semi-final which the referee didn’t even give a foul for.
And then there was Brazil. The class of ‘82 are often dubbed the ‘best team never to win the World Cup’. They played with a swagger and a smile and like countless millions around the world I was dazzled by the silky skills of Junior, Eder, Falcao, Zico and Socrates et al, as they conjured goals out of nowhere.
Sadly, the Brazilian team’s defensive skills didn’t match their attacking prowess and they came unstuck against the streetwise Italians – much to the dismay of footballing purists.
But while the best team may not have won the tournament that year the best celebration did, with the sight of Marco Tardelli wheeling away, fists clenched and head shaking wildly after scoring Italy’s second goal in the final against West Germany, part of footballing folklore.
The 1982 World Cup marked the beginning of my love affair with football, one that bookends chapters of my life in the same way music does.
These days, of course, it’s a different animal, it’s become a corporate behemoth that wallows in obscene amounts of money. Yet there is still something magical about a World Cup that makes you feel like a kid again and reminds you why you fell in love with football in the first place and why, for all its many faults, it can still be a beautiful game.