Some people might expect me to be negative about the World Cup, but they’d be wrong. I’ve loved the World Cup since I was a child. How well I remember my dad pointing at the wireless set in 1950 and saying, Look, son, that’s Stanley Matthews there, somewhere, in his baggy shorts, smoking a fag and sharing a bag of chips with his faithful whippet, Welding Rod.
How well I remember replying, Dad, it’s your round.
Fast forward 52 years to a pub in the Aran Islands, with myself and my own young son staring dumbfounded at a television as Ireland went down to a mediocre Spain because the manager had failed to notice that we were a man up for the last ten minutes of the game. My son was very young, but still, despite the shock of defeat, despite all the tears, the tantrums, the rolling around screaming, he still managed to say Dad, it’s ok. Calm down. Stand up and I’ll take you home.
I love the World Cup. For all its faults and for all the prima donnas we’d love to punch for their grandstanding. It’s a marvellous spectacle and a wonderful showcase for the best of footballing talent.
Let’s not forget that every single one of these lads is better than anyone you’ve ever seen in your school, in your club, in your home town and possibly in your national side. Every single one of these players is exceptional compared to the rest of us, no matter how good we believe we are. The least of these players is better than any local hero you can think of.
That’s what we’re looking at right there on the TV, in the World Cup. We’re looking at the best of the best, and it’s truly a privilege to see it.
As a kid, I had this sheet that came with some comic, and I stuck it to the wall. Every week, you could get stickers of country flags and players and you could keep track of the results. You could write in the scores and arrange the countries in the league table.
They’re probably not doing that today, but I’m fairly sure kids have found other ways of retaining ownership and that’s what it’s all about.
It’s time we stopped talking about Pelé and Cruyff, Beckenbauer and Muller, Eusebio and Maradona. You can think of a hundred great names and I can think of a hundred more, but this competition is of the modern age. It’s World Cup 2014 and we should enjoy it by those standards.
Let’s just enjoy it for the moment. Let’s be kids for a month.