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What The World Cup Means To Me

As I write we are a matter of minutes away from the beginning of the 2010 World Cup. For football aficionados such as the regular readers of a site like this one (because if you are a regular reader of the site, you regularly flock to a site manned by amateur writers, who have their own entirely separate day jobs, who have never played the game at anything approaching a professional level- though I guess I did have a trial for Crystal Palace when I was 9- there really is no logical reason you should be interested in what we have to say at all) it is easy for others to imagine that the World Cup is some kind of Bacchalian orgy for the senses. Yet often those of us that dedicate our whole loves to the sport have a much altered relationship with a festival that happens once every four years.

I think this would largely be due to our own in built pretentiousness. It`s probably a similar feeling endured by those that actually did see the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club in 1976, we look at the worldwide interest a World Cup briefly invokes as an encroachment on our intellectual property. We are the hardcore, we were pogoing in this beer stained sweat box long before the Mohicans and leather jackets turned up at Finsbury Park for the Filthy Lucre reunion tour. We sneer contemptuously as the "day trippers" ask, "Who is that fella playing the bass? Glen who?" The World Cup is the time when everyone hits "reset" on the expert button and as experts that irks us a little bit. Much in the same fashion, everybody becomes a budding political correspondent in the build up to a General Election, before shuffling back to their idiot boxes to watch Piers Morgan judge who exactly in Britain has talent. (People apparently accept this? Piers Morgan as a judge on an apparently national talent show?! Without a hint of irony or shame! I know, it`s mental isn`t it?)

I`ve never made any secret of my apathy for international football. I don`t have anything inherently against it (bar the stupid, wallet fattening spin off tournaments and friendlies); it`s just having devoted my life to Arsenal for reasons of the heart, I find it hard to genuinely accept another mistress into my life. I don`t normally wish the England team any harm per se, I just fail to get excited about watching them whack another seven goals past Andorra or Macedonia or The Isle of Sark. The concept of nationality is increasingly eroding anyway, as Amos pointed out in the Three Weeks of Glory article, most national teams don`t much bother with where their players are born either. I had to wonder too if anyone else noticed the irony last year of England`s Italian manager Fabio Capello ruling out the selection of Spaniard Manuel Almunia because he believed England`s players should come from England! However, with the tournament now minutes away, I don`t mind admitting that the excitement has gripped me. Why should I be embarrassed to admit that? Back in December 2005, I stood with around 500 Gooners on the terraces at Doncaster Rovers on the Wednesday night before Christmas to watch us get taken to a penalty shoot out via the conduit of a last minute equaliser. Exactly two months later, we were watching Arsenal win at the Bernabeu. Yet I didn`t shove my way through the celebrating hordes and demand, "Yeah, but were you at Doncaster though?"

This is what I have come to learn about my relationship with the World Cup. I`ve learned to surrender with the Pavlovian masses. I too become a casual fan. I too mouth unconvincingly along with the chorus of "God Save the Queen" (the epoch making Pistols tune you understand, not that hideous anthem to colonial and religious oppression that drones out prior to England games). Tomorrow my friends and I have already made plans to arrive at the pub shortly before Korea kick off against Greece and to jolly well stay put until closing time. I imagine Sunday will see a familiar scenario unfold. I have never been to a World Cup game, I have only ever been to one international game (Portugal v Brazil at the Grove and I won the tickets), I doubt if I will ever go to a World Cup game. Such a scenario would be unthinkable with Arsenal, I`ve dusted off my passport for pre season friendlies. I recognise the World Cup as a superficial festival, with increasingly commercial connotations (of course, the Champions League is unblemished on that score, ahem), but I`m happy to take a month off from being too cool for school. I plan to sit back, crack open some lukewarm ones (ale drinker you see) and let the jollity wash over me without taking it too seriously.

I would wager most of us, hardened and seasoned football watchers that we are, will have a fond memory of a World Cup from our childhood. In many cases, it might have been a World Cup that kick started our love for the game. Though I can`t say that`s the case for me personally. I began as a fan in earnest in about 1990, though I remember very, very little of the 1990 World Cup. In any case, with my family becoming a football fan was little more than a formality. For instance, one of the family cats was named Gazza following the tournament in Italy. (My family has a significant Tottenham wing, but then we all have skeletons in the cupboard, don`t we?) But I do recall the 1994 World Cup. Liberated from the suffocating presence of England, the USA World Cup enabled me to drink in the great footballers from afar. It was my introduction to the likes of Bergkamp, Klinsmann, Stoichkov, Romario. Bebeto`s cradling celebration that kicked off a million imitations, the way everyone in England all of a sudden had a spurious Irish connection enabling them to cheer on Eire without fear of reprisal, Roberto Baggio`s ponytail, Leonardo`s elbow, Bulgaria`s brief flurry in the limelight. World Cups undoubtedly forge impressionable memories, particularly on the embryonic minds of budding young football fans. So forgive me reader, if I stop stroking my chin for a month or so and let the fun and games wash over me. I promise I`ll be back and more snooty and condescending than ever come August.LD.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday June 11 2010

Time: 3:33PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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The 1st world cup I watched was 86, seeing a player like Maradona tear up the tournament got me hooked! Would have loved to have seen the 1982 tournament with the Brazil team with Junior, Eder, Falcao, Zico and the great Socrates but the DVD's tell you enough! Also Italia 90 was great with England doing so well and my memories of Toto Schilacci. Its a month where I can watch the game free of the tribal hatred that comes with supporting The Arsenal....well at least until England get to the latter stages :)
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11/06/2010 16:00:00

Although I don't care about international football the World Cup is the event that started me down the road to being an Arsenal addict. I was stuck in Riyadh, KSA for the 1994 tournament. I knew it was being held on American soil but didn't care that much until we were restricted from leaving the base because of feared violence in response to game results. Violence in response to a game??? I'd never imagined such a thing. When I got back to the US I began watching football to see what the big deal was and it grabbed ahold of me bit by bit. Eventually I became hooked on all things Arsenal to the point my clients know the season schedule and they don't bother trying to reach me on anytime past 11 AM on game days and never on the weekends. So for that I'll thank the world cup.
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11/06/2010 16:43:00

My first wc was 1970. My family had emigrated to the US in 1964 but many of us had decided to travel to Brazil for the wc in 1970. We couldn't handle being in the US where no one cared about the tournament. My mom had to borrow money from my uncle for both of us to make the trip. I was 10 yrs old. That wc is ingrained in my memory because of wonderful family moments, moments of incredible celebration, lots of hugging and crying and little sleep. About the games themselves I only remember flashes. I was in Europe in 1998 and managed to attend 3 wc games in France. I was not in the US in 1994. In 1982 I was the Rome campus of my university and had a great time watching games with other int'l students--until of course Brazil were knocked out. Worst wc for me as a Brazilian was 1990 - I was working in Brazil at the time, we were all excited, and we were humiliated by the Argies in the 1st knockout round, the earliest we've ever been eliminated from the tournament. It was at the same time that our first democratically elected president (after the 29-yr military dictatorship) had taken office and he'd shocked everyone with his economic shock treatment that froze everyone's assets (except his cronies) the day after he took office. No one saw it coming. So the mood of the country was horrible and the humiliation by the Argies made it worse. An entire nation sunk into depression. I've always loved the tournament but increasingly I've had to fight against cynicism and alienation because of the increased commercial crassness. Also, there's a lot to criticize about this wc in SA because of its political/economic costs to the poor and overblown promises of economic benefits to the country. Still, I too get caught up in the hype, the celebrations, the colors, the anthems, it's just an extraordinary global event. Nothing matches it. (tho I think TV networks will lose viewers as the tournament goes on because of the vuvuzelas). So count me as a hopeless fan who'll be watching as many games as possible, trying hard to ignore the vuvuzelas all the way.
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11/06/2010 17:16:00

Even though my passion as an England fan has wanred over the past few years (I used to love them as much as I do Arsenal, and I would still dearly love them to win the WC) I've always had passion for the World cup. It's just a big festival of football, and it's awesome to watch. Even in this first game that took a while to get going, I still found myself entralled. And I love the vuvuzelas, it's the first WC in Africa and we should embrace their footballing traditions.
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11/06/2010 17:54:00

Ah but you see, the vuvuzela is not a longstanding tradition in SA at all. It's a recent fad. I was at the Univ. of Wi*****ersrand in the last years of apartheid and went to football and rugby matches -- not a vuvuzela in sight. Until recently most of them were made in China. S.Africans who say they're pare of their football traditions are simply wrong - they've only been around for about 10-12 yrs.
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11/06/2010 18:38:00

I hate those damn horns. Mexicans think it is a requirement that every damn one of them blows the horn from start to finish with only short breaks to scream at the referee when a call goes against them. I go home with a thundering headache every time.
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11/06/2010 19:34:00

That Vuvuzela *****es me off so badly. Sounds like a damn swarm of bees had invaded the stadium or something. Remember watching my first ever World Cup in the States in 1994 so vividly. Was cheering on the Italians in that tournament and was actually quite gutted when they lost in the final. There were just so many iconic moments in that tournament and I remember jumping for joy as a 10 year old when Letchkov scored that header against the Germans which knocked them out as I really disliked the German team then and remember the awesome game between Brazil and Holland in the quarters very clearly and Branco's winning free kick and Ray Houghton's goal against Italy in the group games and of course Leonardo's elbow that almost decapitated Tab Ramos. I am very happy that the World Cup is here again and like Rocky, I shall be completely enthralled and consumed over the next 4 weeks. I just want to see an exciting World Cup. I hope todays games are not a harbinger for the rest of the tournament.
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12/06/2010 01:21:00

Quick question : Didnt watch either game coz of office, but how did the Arsenal players fare? Heard Diaby upped his price tag by 4 million :) - but other than that no clue.
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12/06/2010 02:57:00

Diaby had a pretty good game (I only saw the 2nd half) - nothing great, but generally solid. Sagna was the same, defensively solid but cant cross to save his life. Gallas had a couple of shaky moments, but decent overall. Uruguay had a couple of good chances which they fluffed, but otherwise offered little threat.
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12/06/2010 08:28:00

As I stated pre World Cup I'll be supporting teams with an Arsenal player in it. So yesterday it was Mexico and France! It's so funny watching football when all said and done I don't really care who actually wins the game! Poor Vela actually got the ball in the back of the net onl;y for it to be writen off for Off-side! South Africa's goal was Brilliant, but their defending was so poor on the Mexican goal. Later I watched France v Uruguay, there were only a few chances of each side and the game was played at such a Slow- pace! I nearly fell asleep! The foul on Sagna, for which Uruguay's player got a 2nd yellow, cause me to wake-up that's for sure! Sagna was able to continue which was good! France just didn't seem to have a plan b, and 0:0 was a right score-line. As for the VUVUZELAS I really LOVE them!
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12/06/2010 09:05:00

A thunderous goal for the opener. Brilliant strike...
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12/06/2010 09:35:00

AAAAARRRGGGHHH! Not this chestnut again. Sagna got 5 assists last season from crosses (3 for RvP and 2 for Bendtner), he also put in several very good crosses last night. Sagna's delivery is very good nowadays, his problem is that, as with France last night, nobody attacks his crosses. I'm always wary of using YouTube to prove a point, but this shows you that Sagna should have had 8 or 9 assists last season were it not for poor finishing.
Little Dutch
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12/06/2010 10:49:00

I think there's something about Sagna's technique which provokes criticism. He uses little backlift before striking the ball and he keeps his leg fairly rigid and with his stocky frame perhaps doesn't look the most elegent when crossing the ball. He is prone to quite a few atrocious crosses in a game, but does mix in some really dangerous ones as well.
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12/06/2010 11:56:00

I think two years ago his crossing was a standing joke, not now though. The criticism is outdated, he's worked on it and his delivery is norally excellent. It would stand out more in a team where more players bothered attacking crosses, (No coincidence that RvP and Bendtner were the only players to benefit from Sagna assists this season. When you also consider both of those players were out for long periods of the season, you realise Sagna swung in a lot of quality deliveries that were simply not attacked).
Little Dutch
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12/06/2010 12:24:00

Good article! I too find the granduer of the World Cup is just too hard to resist. Of course nobody likes watching Blatter stand next to heads of state pretending to be something relevant, but it brings the whole world together for a month, not over wars or squabbles...but over sport and football! Yes club football will always mean more to me, but even id have to concede that if we won the world cup it would be just (or almost) as joyous an occasion as my beloved Spurs winning lets say the Prem. Party Centrale it would be.
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12/06/2010 14:02:00

ireland beating england 1-0 but it was euro 88, not the world cup :P
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12/06/2010 20:56:00

I absolutely love the World Cup. Like many football fans, I don't care much for the meaningless friendlies (unless it is titans clashing, then I can't stay away), but when it is a major tournament I find it irresistible. Unfortunately, since I'm Norwegian, our triumphs on the international stage are few and far between. Therefore, they are even more celebrated when they happen. In the 1998 WC, we played Brazil in our last match of the group stage, and we had to win. They hadn't lost in the group stages since 1966. We were down by one goal, but turned the match around in the last ten minutes. Against Brazil! People were running in the streets wrapped in Norwegian flags, and everyone celebrated together. I've only seen the World Cup bring forth such a collective and unbridled joy, and I love it. For those of you who want to see the last minutes of the match:
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13/06/2010 22:04:00

My first WC was 1970 although I more vividly remember the 1974 tournament as I had chosen to follow Poland after that infamous match against England at Wembley the previous October. But the one I enjoyed the most was Argentina in 1978 with the ticker tape welcome for the Argentina national side and watching England’s conquerors again (Italy) who beat the hosts 1-0 and went on to finish third. The player who stood out for me was Mario Kempes, a typical “Argie” and that dubious result where Argentina had to win by six goals to go through. They beat Peru (I could be wrong here) by that very margin hmmm….I couldn’t possibly comment. These days I continue to enjoy the competition even though I have some contempt for England in terms of their style of play and certain odious individuals, but generally still want them to do well. It’s interesting that reading back over this post the tournaments I have mentioned are two in which England did not participate. Maybe England ruin the competition for me by simply being in it!
Sir Henry
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14/06/2010 14:33:00

The Argentina World Cup was beset with controversy. Argentina's group games all kicked off at night, so they knew what they had to do in all of their games. They had to beat Peru by 4 goals and ended up winning 6-0 and Peru's keeper was born in Argentina. That led to the rule that all closing group games have to kick off at the same time. There was also controversy in the final with the Dutch claiming dirty tricks by the Argies to the point that they refused to take part in the closing ceremony. People look upon international football as a pure, untainted form of the sport, but I think it's more riddled with corruption than club football. (If you honestly don't think a multi million pound industry like football isn't subject to tampering, bribery, corruption and match fixing in ways we'll never know about, I'd say rethink!)
Little Dutch
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14/06/2010 14:44:00

Crikey LD, I didn't realise there was so much controversy in 1978, but I guess that's the benefit of being an ignorant youth!
Sir Henry
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14/06/2010 17:29:00

I thought the group games all kicking off at the same time after a match (I forget which teams played it) was played out with the two teams spending the entire match passing the ball backwards are forward through their defenders because both teams knew a draw would take them through to the next round?
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14/06/2010 17:50:00

That happened in 1974. Argentina was the last straw.
Little Dutch
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14/06/2010 18:59:00

LD mentions a notoriously corrupted wc, and it has particular meaning for Brazil too. Brazil lost no games in that tournament. Brazil and Argentina had a 0-0 draw. Because of that result, Argentina needed to score a minimum 4 goals (and concede none) in their next game to advance. As LD mentioned, the Peruvian keeper was Argentinian-born and if you watch that game, it's almost like he's willing the ball to come into his net. If Argentina had scored fewer than 4 goals, Brazil would've advanced and we would've reached the final.
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14/06/2010 21:00:00

Classic bit of back and forth between Brazil and Argentina about that. The Brazil coach labelled his side, "moral world champions" causing the Argie coach to counter with something like, "Enjoy your moral victory, we'll enjoy the cup."
Little Dutch
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14/06/2010 21:14:00

I remember that LD. So far this wc group stage is horrible. What with the vuvuzelas and these constant draws (several goalless), I can see viewers around the world turning away in droves.
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15/06/2010 17:06:00

errrrr...wrong answer jaelle
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23/06/2010 19:35:00


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