Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Random World Cup memories no.2

1970 was Year Zero as far as my football education was concerned. True, I was aware of the professional game – I even professed to be a Tottenham fan for a couple of years, on the basis that my best friend in the playground at Merry Hill Infants said he was one, so I wanted to be one too.

Then Watford reached the FA Cup quarter-final and I suddenly realised there was a proper club right near where I lived. Dad wouldn’t take me to the Liverpool game, but I read in the paper the next day that Watford had won and would play Chelsea in the semi-final. That was the first game I ever listened to on the radio, and it set a painful precedent (fleeting hope, swiftly replaced by despair) that has been repeated many times since.

But by the end of the 1969-70 season, I still hadn’t actually seen a live game of football, either in person or on TV. The former would have to wait for the autumn, but in the meantime there was the World Cup in Mexico. I watched England’s group games in all their technicolor glory, not fully understanding what was going on but gripped nevertheless.

Then came the quarter-final against West Germany. It was great – England were 2-0 up at half-time, and to my eight-year-old mind, nothing could possibly go wrong. Of course, it did, horribly so. Alf Ramsey took Bobby Charlton off to rest him for the semi-final, substitute keeper Peter Bonetti had a mare (Gordon Banks having succumbed to food poisoning), and the Germans won 3-2 after extra time. And thus was established a pattern that’s been repeating itself ever since, with subtle variations each time.

So forgive me if I can’t get too worked up over England’s latest debacle against the Germans. I’ve seen it all before.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Random World Cup memories no.1

Watching Jay Demerit playing for the USA against England just now reminded me of the first time I ever saw a Watford player in the World Cup.

It was the summer of 1982 and I was living in a village in (West) Germany called Rüchheim, just outside Ludwigshafen, where I was supposedly perfecting my German, prior to going to university, by working in a printing works. (All that really happened was that I acquired a Rhineland accent, which is roughly the equivalent of a nice middle-class boy from Berlin coming to the UK and learning to speak English like Noddy Holder.) It was a miserable, lonely few months for a teenager who’d never spent more than a fortnight away from home before, but at least the owners of the house where I was boarding allowed me to watch their TV occasionally.

It wasn’t an offer I took them up on very often (if you’ve ever seen German television, you’ll understand why), but when the World Cup rolled around I was grateful. Which is how I came to be watching when Northern Ireland played Spain in a fateful group match. And when Gerry Armstrong scored what turned out to be the only goal of the game, I practically leapt out of my seat. “Der spielt für meine Mannschaft - für Watford!” I gibbered, flabbergasted at seeing a Watford player not only appearing in the World Cup (and I’m pretty sure he was the first one ever to do so), but playing a leading role there. I spent the rest of the match trying to explain to my baffled hosts why I was so excited.

Since then I’ve seen John Barnes come within a whisker of putting England level against Argentina (‘hand of god’ notwithstanding), but apart from that, Watford-related World Cup highlights have been thin on the ground. The funny thing is, I can’t remember a single goal Gerry Armstrong scored for Watford, even though I must have seen plenty of them.