I was working for BBC Sport in Salford on Sunday when the subject of World Cup memories was broached. Specifically, which was the first World Cup you can remember watching?
I was working with quite a young team, as I quickly realised when one producer set a course for the deepest recesses of her memory and landed in Italia 90. That, of course, was the moment that being a football fan became acceptable in polite society. Suddenly, people who had looked on the sport with disdain began dropping the name of Jurgen Klinsmann in conversation. I didn’t like to tell her that I’d been working as a BBC sports journalist for six years by then.
Although I’m told I watched the final in 1966 and the quarter-final in 1970, I remember neither. By 1974, though, I was thoroughly under football’s spell. The fact that England hadn’t qualified mattered little and I devoured as much of the live coverage as I could. Scotland offered “home” interest and kicked off their campaign against Zaire, the first black African nation to appear in a finals tournament. The Scots won two-nil, a victory too slight to afford a place in the next stage of the competition. In the process, Scotland became the first team to be knocked out of a World Cup finals tournament without losing a match.
Few games stand out but the personalities do. On the pitch, Johann Cruyff was the star performer and his Dutch team probably the favourite of many English fans deprived of their own team to support. The Holland team was the epitome of footballing style with Cruyff at its axis. The “Cruyff turn” became the must-try trick in every school playground. Today, it’s remembered still and even has its own entry on Wikipedia. West Germany, who beat Holland in the final (more on that to come) had the likes of Beckenbauer and Muller, while Poland – conquerors of England in qualifying – put English “failure” in context by finishing third with diminutive striker Grzegorz Lato the tournament’s top scorer.
Off the field, BBC and ITV fought like tigers – or so it seemed to me – with their panels of experts to provide analysis and insight into what we were watching. The BBC played it safe with figures from the football establishment: Bobby Charlton, Frank McLintock and Joe Mercer. The latter stood out for me with his apparent point blank refusal to accept that Cruyff wasn’t an Englishman called John Cruff. ITV’s line-up was more daring. If Joe Mercer’s management had provided experience and nous to Manchester City’s title-winning team of 1968, Malcolm Allison’s coaching had added flamboyance. ITV went for Allison, along with Brian Clough, Jack Charlton and the sideburns of Derek “The Doog” Dougan.
I’d become a seriously-addicted football supporter in 1973, just in time to see my team West Bromwich Albion crash out of the old First Division. The World Cup of 1974 offered a glimpse of style and substance which had been lacking from the Don Howe-shackled team I’d started watching in person.
For a few weeks that summer, I planned my life around what was happening in West Germany which made it all the more crushing when I found out that my father had committed us to going out for the day on Sunday July 7th, the climax of the tournament. How could I miss the World Cup Final after dutifully sat through East Germany against Chile and Bulgaria against Uruguay? I pleaded and pleaded. Others at the event we were going to – in a forest somewhere without electricity – would want to watch West Germany against Holland. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that anyone would not want to watch it. But we were to be in the middle of a forest, with no television for miles. At that point, previous adversity offered a solution. A few months earlier, I’d been struck down with chickenpox, just as we were going on a family holiday to Bournemouth. We’d paid for the holiday in advance so we were jolly well going, spots or no spots. My father’s one concession to my itchy misery was to buy a black and white portable television for me to watch in the caravan when the rest of the family were out doing things.
So, in July of 1974, a plot was hatched. We would go to this event in the forest but Dad would take the portable TV and a spare car battery. At kick off time in Munich, the TV would be hooked up to the spare battery and with a little luck, we’d be able to crowd around the boot of the family car to watch the World Cup Final. True, it would be in black and white on a small screen but at least I’d be able to watch the match.
I remember a morning beset by worry. What if the hook-up didn’t work? What if we couldn’t get a picture? Kick-off time approached and the lash-up began. Fingers were crossed, lips were chewed but as Jack Taylor led out the two teams, a fuzzy image appeared on the screen. I was going to be able to watch the World Cup Final. It was just as well we were ready for kick off as Holland scored within seconds of the start when Mr Taylor awarded them a penalty for a foul on Cruyff by Uli Hoeness. West Germany survived that setback, of course, and went on to win two-one. The picture held out and I had completed my first full World Cup tournament.
There’s nothing like the first time and as full of anticipation as I am for Brazil 2014, nothing will beat that image of a monochrome Cruyff tumbling in the penalty area 53 seconds after the first whistle. May this year’s tournament produce a memory or two like it.
Memory added on June 11, 2014
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