As another World Cup pushes on, the thirst for nostalgia is ramped up to an unquenchable level. Doe-eyed fans of the game seek every possible outlet to satiate their thirst for the latest updates or retelling of stories so familiar they can be recognised from photographs or the opening lines of commentary. Images of players from previous tournaments are remembered with warmth and heartfelt emotion, as if reminiscing over a long lost family photo album.
I consider myself a seasoned campaigner of World Cups. Russia 2018 is my 10th proper competition – by that I mean a World Cup in which I will gorge upon as many fixtures as possible, engage in irreverent dissection of influential moments, commit the protagonists and antagonists to eternal memory, and complain that this tournament isn’t as good as the ones when I was a kid.
As likeminded fans of the beautiful game congregate towards each other to indulge in discussion about World Cups past, the inevitable question arises: “Which is your favourite World Cup?” It is at this point that the conversation fractures based upon chronological age, because the answer invariably lies in how old you were for your first World Cup.
On a personal level, the question of preference for World Cups is simple. I Just pick the edition that had the greatest impact on my life. It was a World Cup that brought to my attention a literal fantasy football team, a side who played a brand of football that I still regale to anyone who is interested, and participated in a game by which I still judge all other alleged great games against. For me, it will always be Spain 82.
Aged 10, it was the perfect time to be swept up and absorbed into this global spectacle. I could count on one hand the number of live games I’d watched on television at the time, yet in 1982, for four weeks, my young football-obsessed senses were bombarded by 52 games in 29 days. However, it wasn’t the volume of games that grabbed my attention; it was the intense heat of those sticky Spanish summer nights that seemed to radiate through our faux wooden boxed television.
To me, immortal athletes took to the pitch every day looking resplendent in their international kit, an image that was only superseded by the introduction of the Adidas Tango ball. Spain was its second outing as the official ball of the World Cup. In Argentina its design looked futuristic; in Spain, the slight sheen from the moisture in the air made it look like a monochrome jewel being caressed around the lush green surface.
All of these vivid images, beamed back to a mesmerised child sat in a semi-detached house in East Yorkshire, were accompanied by a low thrumming soundtrack. To my mum it was an annoying drone; to me, it was a rolling sound of excitement and anticipation that set the tempo for the games and provided a soundtrack to the summer of ’82.
Talking to football fans outside of my generation, I recognise the passion in their voices as they plead the justification of their favourite World Cup. I can hear in their voices the almost childlike obstinance in their insistence that the goals in their tournament were better, the teams were better, the players were better, and the matches were better. As much as my childlike obstinance immediately dismisses all their comments, I cannot help but hear the same juvenile tone of excitement in their voice as their memory races back to that same childish bewilderment at what they were witnessing.
With the advent of 24-hour sports channels and the opportunity to watch live football seven days a week from every corner of the globe, I wonder how this year’s young generation perceive the World Cup. Do they see it as that same global spectacle as my 10 year-old eyes did? Or is it just a VAR regulated, HD, multi-camera angled, condensed version of the Champions League?
It is not my place to pontificate on the superiority of my World Cup experiences compared to others. I want to believe that this year’s 10 year-olds will commit images to memory and witness classic matches that will perpetuate a love of the beautiful game. I want the children of Russia 2018 to witness performances like those of Zico, Sócrates and Éder. I want there to be matches that’ll be verbally replayed to their children and grandchildren. I want them to have their football epiphanies in the same way I did during Italy-Brazil.
World Cup tournaments are personal to every individual; football fans are very possessive over their favourite edition. Nobody is ever right and nobody is ever wrong, but the justification of what made it their favourite is always accented with the voice of a child. Because as a child we only see the good bits. We dismiss the politics because our capacity for cynicism hasn’t fully developed. As children, we just sit back wide-eyed, unable to believe what we are watching.
I really hope that one day in the future, someone sits me down and explains to me why 2018 was their favourite World Cup. I will suppress a smile and listen intently. When they have finished I will then proceed to tell them why 1982 was my favourite and why it was better than 2018.
By Stuart Horsfield @loxleymisty44