Its the eve of the World Cup. Its not quite Christmas Eve but its not far off.
Firstly to those who say ‘its only a game’, ‘is that football on again’, ‘it it nearly over yet’, ‘wasnt this on yesterday’, I say Wise Up!
4 weeks of almost non-stop football. Schedules rearranged, painting, gardening, eating timed to coincide with halftimes, times between games and thankfully a decent hour of the day for games to start.
There is absolutely nothing like it on earth, truly the greatest show on earth.
Ive been one of the lucky people who has actually been to a World Cup. Ive always raved about live sports or events and since before I can remember Ive been going to live football, gaa, dog and horse racing, boxing, music, events and honestly to those people who have ever only seen these things on tv, add a big event to the list of things to do before you die.
I got a taster back in 1998 when I was lucky or unlucky enough to be in Paris a couple of days before the world cup started. Walking down the Champs Elysees the place was filled with people from what seemed like every nation on the globe. Groups of fans everywhere and I’ll never forget the Brazilians dancing to the Samba band within earshot of the Arc De Triomphe. Those young ladies must have been very cold indeed
Four years later I was there in Japan. It was one of those ‘if I dont do it now I will never do it’ moments. I blew everything I owned to get there, it was a make or break point in my life and if things were going to go downhill at least I would have the memories. It was a long way to go but Ireland had got there and I remember taking the phone call to say I’d got tickets. It was a great excuse to visit Japan and go completely overboard in another culture. Well thats what I thought until I got there. It was many cultures as we moved around, mini Germany in one place, mini Mexico in another, the three dancing girls from Cameroon who I didnt get a photo of.
Its hard to describe but everywhere you go you had to wear your countries shirt, I dont think there was a day in the 2 weeks I didnt wear one. Good job I had a couple or it would have been a bit of a smelly time. People just looked and smiled, people would come up to you in the street and engage you in conversation even though you had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. It didnt seem to matter really.
With any event of this magnitude there are always problems, we couldnt get tickets for other games despite setting the alarm for 2am and going to the internet cafe across the road. The ticketing system couldnt cope so on the tv there was coverage of stadiums within 10 mins train ride with 10k empty seats. I remember sitting in one of the many press hangouts in Tokyo and some journalists from a ‘soccer’ country were giving one of the local fixers a lot of grief. They listed problem after problem and the Japanese guy just smiled nodded and very politely wrote everything down. One of the journos finished off by saying ‘we told you about these problems yesterday’ to which the guy replied ‘No sir, we fixed all yesterdays problems, these are new problems today’. Brilliant!
We did manage to get tickets for the Mexico v Croatia game which was a great meeting of cultures. The croatian fans looked like every biker gang from hell you had ever met cross bred with soviet special forces, scary looking people who still would smile and sing and get on like loons. I guess those years of civil war do rub off. The mexico fans were the opposite, singing dancing and mehico mehico ra ra ra is burned into my skull. It was a two hour train journey to the game and they never paused for breath. They must have been working in shifts as no-one could sing for 2 hours, or so I thought. When Ireland equalised against Germany I genuinely saw a whole stadium shake to people dancing up and down. Even turning the lights off and the last train going were not enough to stop people singing and dancing.
Footballs like that, its a passion, not a sport. I guess other people will say that about whatever sport or art they follow. I think its important to have that sort of passion in your life. You know you are alive.
The morning we went to the Mexico game our hotel foyer was full with some of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Above the mehico mehico ra ra ra there was an announcement then a hushed silence. I thought I had gone deaf. There was a series of names being called out and I realised that this group of about 20 people only had about 10 tickets between them. Heartbreak.
Not that we needed more mehico mehico ra ra ra but more that I could have ordered 4 tickets instead of just 2 and made two of these young ladies year by just giving them a ticket whilst they sat there weeping Sure come with us
I remember writing an online diary for the friends back home, a blog before blogs were invented. Even back in 2002 free internet in hotels and internet cafes were commonplace in Japan. It was the first time Id really seen the mobile phone phenomenon of an entire crowd taking pictures and video of a game and sending them to people. Of course there was the discussion that it was unfair that locals who didnt know the game, had no allegiances on the pitch, could get tickets and just sit there as impartial observers. I have to say it did feel odd sitting in a 40,000 seater stadium after a goal where 30,000 people clapped politely whilst 10k irish fans were going completely ape. Eventually as the tournament progressed the local fans learned jump up and down and scream and hopefully we learned how to run trains on time.
I hope this is a good World Cup but again we say that every time. My first memory of watching a World Cup was Argentina in 1978. I dont remember much about it to be honest other than ticker tape and fans just going nuts.
1982 was slightly different, two words, Gerry Armstrong. I remember watching Northern Ireland v Spain in my grannies house, people were crammed into her living room and I remember being half on half off the end of one of the chairs the whole time. When Gerry Armstrong scored you could hear the whole street cheering. When Mal Donaghy was sent off, even my Granny tutted and it wasnt just at the swearing going on around her.
1986 I was in the middle of my O Levels and I had the choice one night of sitting up late to cram for my history exam or sit and watch Brazil with my dad. Brazil won and I sat the next day during my O level trying to remember a tv programme about the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1986 Northern Ireland were put out by a superb display by Brazil, Pat Jennings last game and what a goal by Josimar. It was just like watching Brazil.
1990. I was offered a ticket for the quarter final Ireland v Italy. My passport didnt come in time. Maybe that one extra screaming voice would have been enough to keep that Schillaci goal from going in.
1994. I crashed my bike a few weeks before the tournament and had to watch it with my arm in a sling. Not really much of a problem until you consider that I was supposed to go! Still the disappointment of watching it on tv while my mates watched it in the stadium was overcome when Ray Houghton scored against Italy in the first game.
1998. Watching the final on a wee black and white tv in a hotel in Moscow.
2002. Being there.
2006. painting one wall at a time in between games and at halftimes.
2010. Getting a boat ready between games and halftimes?
So who to support in this one. Im sorry to say I subscribe to the ABE principal (anyone but England). Its not a deep down hatred of England, its more that if they did well or won the thing we would never hear the end of it. Saying that though this year its definitely a case of ABF – anyone but France. People say we should really let the Thierry Henry thing go. To all my english friends, yes when you let the Maradona Hand of God thing go then so will we
I just hope its a good tournament and I’ll be having a sneaky following for Argentina seeing I spent some time there in the last year. Of course Ive also been to Brazil, Uruguay, Algeria (sort of), USA, Italy, seen Paraguay, Spain and have a mate from Chile. It will be interesting to see North Korea play, particularly as the people from North Korea wont.
Like I know North and South Korea have been mortal enemies for over 50 years but come on, this is football!
Just over 24 hours away from the first game South Africa v Mehico Mehico Ra Ra Ra. I wonder if I will ever get that out of my head.