Monday 31 May 2010

My World Cup Memories - Part One, Spain 82

By the time the ‘Soccer City’ of Johannesburg hosts the 19th World Cup Final, I will be just 3 days in to my 37th year. Nine World Cup Finals have passed me by in that time, and it’s the memories of the eight I can remember that I would like to share with you in a series of posts leading up to this years finals. This is not intended to be the definitive summery of World Cup Finals since Spain 1982: I am neither that good a wordsmith, but nor do I want to stray too far from what each World Cup meant to me personally. I have made no attempt to research what I can’t remember. It may seem like a sad attempt to justify a life-long obsession with football, but I believe my early experiences of sports greatest spectacle helped in no small measure to shape the person I am today. Amongst other things, an interest in geography and world music might very well be traced back to those early World Cup experiences.

Spain ‘82

I was far too young to remember the glorious ticker-tape scenes of Buenos Aires when Kempes fired the Argentines to glory against the Dutch in 1978. But four years on from that, and at the age of 8, I was facing up to my first World Cup Finals in the sun-soaked surrounds of Spain. Already a football mad kid, my awareness for the tournament began around the Easter beforehand when I got an ‘Espana 82’ book detailing everything you wanted to know about the forthcoming festival of football. I never put it down. Whether or not that publication really gave me a sense of the magnitude of the forthcoming World Cup tournament I would doubt, but within its pages endless curiosities were released in to my impressionable mind. This was something I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams, and there it was, months away. The colourful details of participating countries I’d never even heard of like Honduras, Cameroon and El Salvador captivated and intrigued me. I needed to know more about them. I had only heard of Peru thanks to Paddington Bear, and yet all of a sudden ‘Darkest Peru’ became a reality: a place that actually existed beyond Children’s TV. I imagined those dark-skinned chaps with huge afro hair wandering out of the Peruvian Jungle to take on my heroes, Shilton, Wilkins, Butcher, Robson, Francis and co. It just didn’t seem real! Then there was the Panini sticker book that made these world cup superstars recognizable: Rossi, Rummenigge, Platini, Socrates, Falcao, Zico and Maradona, to name but a few.

And so it began: football played in such bright sunshine that relentlessly beat down upon parched looking pitches inside stadiums of the like I’d never seen before. Enormous venues like the Camp Nou, Barcelona and Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu towered vertically in seemingly endless layers above the pitches, casting odd-looking shadows in the balmy-hot sunshine.

I ran home from school to watch England’s first game v’s France and ended up watching it on my own on a portable TV in my Mum & Dad’s bedroom (no doubt my sister had pulled rank on the TV downstairs). I waited just 27 seconds to see the talismanic Robson score for England. I can only imagine what must have been going through my mind with my eyes far wider than the TV screen I was watching! I can recall the muffled commentary that sounded more like a phone conversation (of course, in reality, that’s exactly what it was). I'm certain it was the first time I would have shown any form of patriotic affection towards the St. Georges cross.

England’s participation in the tournament was cut short in the 2nd Round despite the fact we never lost a game throughout the World Cup. Three initial 1st Round wins followed by two 2nd Round draws was not enough and my heroes were sent home. I think I was too mesmerised by the whole colourful spectacle to really feel a sense of disappointment and given our final game v’s Spain was an evening kick-off on a school night, I doubt I would have actually watched it live.

The game I remember most clearly in Spain 82 was Brazil v’s Italy in the 2nd Round. It was an absolute World Cup classic played out in a packed opened-topped stadium somewhere in Barcelona. Even at that age it was impossible not to admire the free-flowing, free-spirited Brazilians with their ever present samba drum accompaniment. I was totally captivated. The game swung back and forth but Brazil lost the game 3-2 (and left the World Cup) following a hatrick by the player of the tournament, Paolo Rossi (who hadn’t scored in the tournament beforehand).

It was my first introduction to world football, and how I value those memories: the Sun’s headlines of yet more hooliganism, Maradona’s red card against the Brazilians, the German goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher’s ‘assault’ on the Frenchman Battiston in the Semi Finals (my goalkeeping friend still claims it was not a foul)!

But the one defining memory from that tournament that still lifts the hairs on the back of my neck to this day was Tardelli’s goal for the Italians in the World Cup Final v’s West Germany. Not the goal itself, but the celebration that followed (image above). Following his goal, Centre-back Tardelli sprinted towards the Italian bench screaming his own name, clenched-fisted, open armed and reduced instantly to tears at the magnitude and importance of his goal.

If I needed to understand the importance of a World Cup victory, I had just understood completely.


  1. That was a really enjoyable piece of writing. The poleaxing by the goalie remains
    One of those memories forever etched in my mind.

  2. Great post Ted. I truly think my love of travelling and geography came from those early world cups. I remember from '74 Zaire and Haiti. No England, no Spain, no France, no Russia.