Why I Love My First World Cup
We all remember our first time. You know, that popping of the cherry. For many, it’s our greatest one, purely BECAUSE it was our first. Even years later, it’s a cherished memory, little details remembered that no other can share. We’re reminded of our amazement, our wonder and awe, the watershed moment of growing up. Nothing similar before or since has peaked quite like that moment.
My first time was in the United States in 1994. I mean there’s part of me who THINKS I remember Italia ’90 – I would have been five years old (five and a half actually!) but I’m not sure if they are actual live memories of watching Gazza greetin’ or if I’ve stolen those from the famous TV clips that have been shown ever since.
USA 94’ was the first time I remember watching TV and feeling like a lovestruck Romeo smitten with the game of football. I’d decided – this was the game for me, always and forever, from here on in and shame on any other sport who tried to flirt for my affection!
As children growing up, each day is like turning the page of a Harry Potter book or a Tolkien novel. Its all so new, so unimaginable. Yesterday we wouldn’t believe what we discovered today and tomorrow will bring all new wonders to learn and amaze at.
That’s how I feel when I remember the 1994 American World Cup.
It was a splendour of colour, controversy and charisma. Diana Ross and THAT penalty. Jack Charlton and his white cap. Bebeto, Baggio and Bulgaria. All memories that are personal to the self as much as they are for everyone who watched. To the childhood self with the world at their feet and fascination in their eyes.
For reasons only known to younger me, I adopted Sweden as the fortunate recipients of my unwavering backing and adoration (with no Scotland to support – in fact no British team made it). I had my three favourite players picked out after their first match. Kennet Andersson (I remember copying his two-fingered Aussie rules goal celebration in the playground), Thomas Brolin and Martin Dahlin and as a result would go on to follow their careers post-tournament as if we were childhood friends.
The summers of my youth were not spent on a two-week jaunt abroad to Spain or Portugal or Greece. My family had a static caravan in St Andrews. Now I’m not complaining. The home of golf is without doubt a gorgeous and historic corner of the world (although it’s a bit harder to impress the new girls in P6 when you are the only one without a tan!), and for three weeks in the summer holidays we would call this caravan home.
And it’s these memories that go hand-in-hand with my memory of my first World Cup.
On a particular hot and sticky summers eve, where the midges had spent the day feasting like Homer Simpson at a world buffet, my dad and I shared a 14-inch television screen to watch the quarter-final between my boys from Scandinavia and Romania in an enthralling and captivating contest that Sweden won on penalties. I remember everything about this match. I remember how I was sitting and where my old man sat in the caravan as we watched. I remember the low ambient lighting of the room. I remember mum had gone to bed. I remember being allowed to stay up later than usual to watch.
That’s what your first world cup gives to you now as an adult. Those cherished moments as a carefree kid and an evening as a carefree family.
You know that way when you are speaking to your mates about films. And you’ll be chatting about a particular film and one of you will go ‘yeah, I saw that at the cinema’ as if experiencing the film at Cineworld as opposed to ITV2 means you ultimately have a closer relationship to the movie. That’s how I feel about my first World Cup. It’s MY World Cup!
Of course, we all shared the same tournament and the same stories that unfolded in June and July of 1994. Maradona and those cocaine induced eyes. The devastating story of Columbian Andres Escobar, shot and killed after he scored an own goal that sent his country out of the tournament. That USA strip that I admittingly wanted (but never got) at the time. Ray Houghton’s goal against Italy for the Irish and his subsequent roly poly.
But for everyone, your first World Cup comes at a time in your life when you have everything to play for and the world itself seems like your playground. By the time the next tournament is played you’ll be that little bit older, that little bit grumpier, that little bit more occupied with life. Your first will always be your first, nothing can change that, and one you can always count on to bring a smile when you remember how it made you feel to be young.
Fancy hitting the states and watch a match?