Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2014: My world is about to stop as beautiful game starts

By Mike Gilson

Got your wallchart up yet? I have. It's on the fridge. I got it out of the Sunday papers. Beautifully produced and now just waiting for me to lovingly fill in.

It will take me on a journey of thrills and spills, shocks and surprises as the overblown, unwieldy charabanc we call the World Cup blots out the sun and dominates our lives for the next month.

Don't expect me to complain, though. This is a man who has already used the chart to work out if he can get three games in on one day. A man who will even gorge himself on Iran versus Japan, like a punter going back for a fourth visit to the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.

I know it's wrong. I know football has lost its soul, long ago sold out to rampant commercialism and corruption and that most of the people who inhabit its world are over-payed, peanut-brained narcissists. But I can't help myself.

My inner seven-year-old comes out every four years and I willingly allow myself to get swept up in the lunacy, study the minutae of stadia, the heat, the tactics and the outfits of the fans. God, I even bought a packet of the Panini stickers the other day.

I'm English, but this has nothing to do with supporting that team. I'm long since over that. Sure, I'll want them to win, but gone is the childlike hope that used to build, the self-denial that the players were anything other than lumpen hoofers who couldn't trap a ball from six yards let alone pass it.

I lost the faith back in 1970. Things were a lot simpler then and football was more magical. For a start, you could only see it live once every four years at the World Cup, not every second of every minute of every day like you can now. It was a thing of mystery, something you had to anticipate, a real event.

I remember the thrill of collecting the Esso World Cup coins (it was the only petrol station my Dad was allowed to go to) and the sheer joy of the Shredded Wheat World Cup book (cut out the coupon from five boxes) dropping on the doormat. And in 1970 England had a really good team, even better than the winning 11 of four years earlier (stop groaning at the back. I had to mention it).

My Dad and I watched every game. England played in that lovely red shirt and progressed smoothly. They were magnificent, even in defeat by Brazil. Such elegance from Bobby Moore and then, in the shirt swap with Pele, such grace.

And then the terrible quarter-final defeat to West Germany 3-2 in extra time and after being up 2-0. Seven-year-old me was bereft (I still can't say the word Bonetti) and yet even then a little of me hardened, anticipating the whatever number "years of hurt" it's been since.

I would never feel that way again. Now it's anorak me. Just wanting to watch great clashes of what is still, when played right, the beautiful game.

So the world will stop for the next month, the answer phone will be on and the curtains drawn. I will emerge later, like a Japanese soldier from the jungle, unaware the war is over, wild-eyed, unshaven and certainly none the wiser.

  • Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph

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