It’s only two years and a bit away. It’ll go by fast. I wanted to get this post out before the Euro hits and that absorbs everyone’s attention. The World Cup is coming to Brazil for the first time since 1950 and I’m going. Period. Well, period plus another 1200 words explaining why…
I was born in early 1966, in Glasgow, Scotland, just months before England lifted what would be their first and remain their only World Cup. While I can’t draw a line directly connecting that trauma to my parents decision to emigrate to Vancouver before the end of the year, having to endure sharing an island with 50 odd million giddy Englishmen didn’t exactly take the blight out of Ol’ Blighty.
So a birth that prefaced the only World Cup win by the English, on British soil, led to exile, (very, very indirectly). I’m not even sure if we had a TV when the 1970 World Cup rolled around but even if we did I doubt it was broadcast in Canada. I was four when the final was played but it would be the last time that I have not watched a World Cup final live on TV.
Our family’s first trip back to Scotland in 1974 conveniently coincided with the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. We watched many games at relatives houses over the course of our visit and I have a vivid memory of my grandparents full, excited sitting room with all crowded around their modest TV to watch the Germans beat the Dutch in the final. It’s my earliest memory of watching soccer on TV, probably because it was indeed the first time.
Back in Vancouver for the 1978 World Cup, it was still not on Canadian TV so you had to buy tickets to watch games at Pacific Coliseum on a big screen. It was great. The very fractured soccer sub-cultures coalesced at these games and my overriding memory of the games I saw, Scotland v Holland (yes I saw the Archie Gemmill goal I use as my Twitter avatar as it happened there at the Coliseum) and the final between Argentina and Holland was my introduction to true supporter culture as Scots, in the hundreds represented the Tartan Army as you would expect. I still have the commemorative programme they were selling at these games and being 12 years old I was starting to really appreciate the scope and importance of World Cups.
I recently said to someone that the 1982 World Cup in Spain was a formative event in my life and many of my soccer friends lives. Generally regarded as one of, if not the, best World Cups ever, its essence was captured perfectly in the official, Sean Connery narrated, documentary, Gol! Fortunately, my dad opted to rent a VCR for the entire World Cup. I still have a drawer full of VHS tapes with Espana ’82 games. The final of course was monumental and ensured that Marco Tardelli’s name still echoes through pint glasses around the world when people of my age and ilk sit down in bars and the subject turns to World Cup memories.
1986 marked Canada’s only participation in the World Cup. I had just spent 1984 and 1985 immersed in the national youth team set up having qualified, in a four week tournament in Trinidad, for the Youth World Cup in the USSR. Paul Dolan had been our keeper in qualifying but was quickly snaffled up by the men’s team and my enduring memory of that World Cup is his incredible performance in goal against France in Canada’s opening game. I believe he remains the youngest goalkeeper to start a World Cup game. By now we had bought a VCR and my trove of VHS tapes got considerably bigger.
I graduated from UBC in 1989 and set about travelling the world with my buddy and fellow centre back Alex Percy. We started with a one way ticket to Bangkok, leaving a few days into 1990 and the only iron clad plan we had was to be in Italy for the World Cup in June. My uncle and his buddy met us in Genoa where Scotland were to play two of their three round robin games and had tickets for us to see Scotland take on Costa Rica and Sweden. Naturally, Scotland opened with a stunner of a loss to Costa Rica followed by a deserved win against Sweden.
I don’t know how the Scottish players even manage to get to the opening kick off without their hearts exploding. They are led out of the dressing room onto the field by a piper and their appearance is met with a truly deafening wall of noise. Gradually, as everyone gets on the same song sheet at the same time, Flower of Scotland blooms at ear-splitting volumes around the stadium. You will never get this atmosphere at a North American sporting event. Never. It is spontaneous, unprompted mass joy in the key of fervour.
While seeing a World Cup anywhere is a fantastic opportunity that few life long fans would pass up, some experiences are better than others. Being in Genoa, I think, was one of those magical World Cup environments. Genoa is not a big city. The stadium only held 36 000 but there were something like 30 000 Scots encamped in the city while Scotland were playing there. Some had tickets, some were desperately looking to get them. Scots were everywhere. Sleeping where they fell in piazzas and alleys. Drinking and singing through the day, happy to see fans of other teams, mainly Swedes, and when they got into that stadium…the noise. I don’t know how the Scottish players even manage to get to the opening kick off without their hearts exploding. They are led out of the dressing room onto the field by a piper and their appearance is met with a truly deafening wall of noise. Gradually, as everyone gets on the same song sheet at the same time, Flower of Scotland blooms at ear-splitting volumes around the stadium. You will never get this atmosphere at a North American sporting event. Never. It is spontaneous, unprompted mass joy in the key of fervour. It’s primal and silly and potentially dangerous but it’s something every real fan of the game should get a chance to experience.
This is getting longer than intended so I’ll skate though the 1994 and 1998 World Cups with the acknowledgement that the 1994 version was a personal low for me as I’d stopped playing and was going through a period of disenchanted detachment from the game. I still watched most of the games on TV though and by 1998 I was back onboard and even did my first real soccer writing for that World Cup, feverishly writing game reviews for a small online readership. The 2002 World Cup began late at night with the opening game between the stunningly inept French against Senegal. Sometime in the first half, my wife went into labour. As this was our third, all she got was a withering, “You’ve got to be kidding me. During the opening game?” But when you’ve got a new born keeping you up all night and the games are in South Korea and Japan, the schedule works quite well for catching games live in the middle of the night. I watched the final at 4am on Commercial Drive with Alex, spilling out onto the street and early daylight when it was over.
2006 in Germany was aided by the recent purchase of a PVR and was the first time I got to watch the final on a nice HD TV, coincidentally also a recent purchase.
Strangely, the biggest threat to my streak of being able to watch all World Cup finals live was in 2010. My Y league team was entered in a tournament in Seattle at the Starfire Complex and when the tourney info came out and indicated we would have to play a game at exactly the same time as the Spain v Holland final. I emailed the tournament director and told him to expect a default if my team was made to play during the final along with some cliched comment about how only the States would schedule games during the final. They were good about it and moved our game so I could watch the game with my team in our hotel.
So that brings us to 2014 and Brazil. How is it even a question. How could I not go. Loose talk amongst friends started years ago when Brazil was announced as host. “We gotta go. It’s Brazil. Gotta go.” That was the initial iteration. It’s now a bit more refined and resolute now that we know the next ones are in Russia and Qatar. No knock on them but to see a World Cup in Brazil at this stage of my life is not to be missed.
Wife resistance was almost non-existent. She got it right away even though she’s never been that interested in the game and has suffered through dozens of “but this game is really important because (a) huge rivalry (b) determines who advances to… (c) features bipeds etc….” justifications for why I had to watch a game that was on TV.
It’s the World Cup. It’s Brazil. It’s a time in my life when the kids are a bit older and somewhat self-sufficient. It’s financially do-able and it’s just very, very important. If I had a bucket list seeing a World Cup in Brazil really would be right at the top.
So I’m in. Friends have told me they’re in too including one regular reader on here who I won’t out as I don’t know how public he’s made his intentions to his family but we’re in and from the sounds of it, the Vancouver soccer community is going to be well-represented in Brazil. It’ll be great. I’m hoarding Avion points already.
As relevant dates and info for the 2014 World Cup present themselves I’ll be featuring them regularly here and encourage others to help make this site a resource for Canadians. Whatever info can help I’ll try to put up here and hopefully that will augmented in the comments section. I’ll tag all such posts with #Brazil.