i can’t help it, if i wanted to…

The Football World Cup is upon us, is in full-swing, and I’m loving every minute of it.

My love-affair with football started way back in 1978, when I was a wee tinklier of a girl, and was always fascinated by my brother’s passion for the sport. We were virtually twins, albeit a year and 4 months age difference between us – and I idolised him. Whatever he liked, I liked. Whatever he did, I copied. Whatever he thought, I thought – and football was definitely no exception.

It was the 1978 World Cup final : Argentina vs Holland in Argentina’s back-yard. I remember the white confetti flying down from the stadium stand and thinking how beautiful this all was. Mario Kempes was the name on everyone’s lips that year.

Paul, my brother, was just passionate about football beyond belief. He ate, slept and chatted football 24/7, and as I was more close to him than my other 4 siblings, I too became the same. The youngest of 6, I soon became a tomboy, simply because I wanted to be just like my brother in every way (much to the annoyance of my mother who always dressed me up in flamboyant fluffy dresses at any opportunity she had). We supported Liverpool, the best football team in the 1980s, and I used to be dressed from head-to-toe in a Liverpool scarf, hat and bag when I used to go to school. In the ’80s the streets of SouthEast London were not the most friendliest, and I used to pass Millwall Football Club everyday in my attire. Yet, even though their fans were known to be a bit on the racist side, nobody ever bothered me – I could pass them with my Liverpool attire and nobody said a word. Others got abuse, but me?…never. I even wanted to join Millwall Lionesses (girl’s football team which was very rare in the ’80s), but my mum stopped me – not thinking it would be fitting for her precious youngest born to be doing such a thing – and especially with such a club known for football violence. I was gutted, and ended up being ‘goalie’ every time my brother and his friends played. My football career had not even started before it was abruptly ended.

Eventually, due to the change of the domestic game which has destroyed football as I know it from the 1990s to the present day, I slowly feel out of love with it – or at least on the domestic level – as football has now become so corporate, money-grabbing, glamorous, sponsorship-driven, fake lifestyle for so-called football stars and has lost its allure. The circus which surrounds it is just soul-destroying. I like the simplicity which it used to have – the passion – the amazing skill each player and team used to have without showing off or trying to be ‘spotted’ by rival clubs so that they can earn more money. They played for the love of the sport, not the accolade. I still like watching my ‘Match of the Day’ each Saturday, but following a team? No…not anymore. Players these days are not as great as the past, and haven’t really got my respect either.

Yet, there’s something about the World Cup which gets me excited every time those magical 4 years comes around. My full World Cup viewing was in 1982 where Paulo Rossi for Italy was the genius of the tournament. My best World Cup? 1988 Mexico, Argentina’s year – and my all-time best player – Maradona cementing his name in the history books with his performance.

The World Cup brings excitement. It brings all nations from around the world together for one big world-party for the whole month. It brings colour, belief, joy, unknown countries and players to perform on the international stage as underdogs and leave as heroes. Everyone from your 8-year old nephew to your Grannie has an opinion on who is good, who is crap, and who is going to win. Sweepstakes are at their mercy in colleague banter. Country flags appear in windows balconies, on cars, and allegiance football shirts worn by everyone. It’s a fiesta of life and what’s so good about it. It’s a beautiful thing, and everyone gets into the spirit of the World Cup for that precious 1 month of total ecstasy. And it doesn’t matter what part of the world the World Cup maybe playing, you always have everyone watching it at whatever hour of the day or night, sneaking from work, cancelling meetings, dodging social events and people who have no interest in the sport – you just have to watch it!

It’s funny as everyone turns into a curb-side lawyer when the World Cup festival hits town. They all have their own opinion and conclusions, even if they know nothing about the sport – everyone seems to once the World Cup arrives.

It’ll be the 2nd World Cup which I’ll be watching without Paul, who passed away a few years back and I miss terribly. And although he may not be here anymore, and it’s still really hard for me to enjoy it as much without him, he is totally with me in my heart whenever football surfaces.

And as I type on an early Sunday morning, with barely 4.5 hours sleep, with my friends still stirring in their sleep either on my sofa, the floor or the spare bed after our BBQ and marathon football bonanza aftermath last night, it brings me such joy that this year, like every 4 years, the passion of the World Cup will never end with me – even if the players are prima-donna’s, not worth the money they get paid, and look and act more like models than actual players – you still see pure football genius beyond the grey. The likes of Messi, Suarez, and unknown tournament players who will become stars at the end still do it for me.



i can’t help it, if i wanted to…

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