‘Tis the night before Russia 2018, and Spain has just fired the coach of their team. The world is obsessed with Nigeria’s kits, and Twitter is filling with footballing gifs. England are trying not to get their hopes up, for the approximate fortnight they’ll be in the Cup. Sweepstakes are drawn, allegiances declared, for the party that happens only every four years.
Yes, it’s time for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is already dramatic. Over the next month, things are sure to become only more eventful. It’s even more exciting because World Cups don’t come around all that often. For those of us who rightfully watch the Women’s World Cup, it’s still at least a three year break to endure. For many, it is four years.
A lot can change in that time. For many of us, World Cups can act as life-markers, providing an opportunity to take stock-both of where you are right now, and of where you were the last time the tournament took centre stage. The writers plus Dave Webster have decided to reflect back on each of the World Cups since 1982. Here are the stories of those tournaments, as told through the lens of each of our lives.
1982: Gidday España!
Rod de Lisle
This was an expanded tournament, from 16 to 24 teams, with the final won by the Paulo Rossi inspired Italians who beat the dirty rotten Germans and their vile keeper Harald Schumacher. He who had clattered straight into the oncoming Frenchman Battiston in the semi-final, breaking his jaw and knocking two of his teeth out.
To this day it was the dirtiest foul I’ve ever seen (and I have watched Wanderers Classics play), but the referee gave only a goal kick rather than the instant lifetime ban it deserved.
So we loved the Italian win and we loved even more that hokey New Zealand was actually present at the finals in Spain.
My abiding memory of the 1982 World Cup was actually in 1981, December in fact, when New Zealand had to beat Saudi Arabia by six goals to advance after a couple of mediocre results had let the Chinese team creep up on us.
I’d been to a couple of the qualifiers, in Auckland, watching Ricki Herbert beat the Chinese with a great header. Then, with drunk mates, sneaking under the fence to get in free to another game where karma for that indiscretion meant we lost 1-2 to a 12 man Kuwait side that included the referee. B*stards.
So onto that Saudi Arabia game in Riyadh where I had so little faith in our team, that I was more engrossed in couch shenanigans with my girlfriend, than watching the game which was playing out on my telly. However I heard a goal being scored then, then another, then guess what? Another! I sat up and took more notice and presently we were 5-0 up at half time. Everyone, it seemed, was scoring that night.
Of course we didn’t manage that 6th goal but went into a playoff match where we defeated the Chinese and the rest is history. Gidday Espana!
Ok, in Spain we lost three on the trot and were sent packing but we’d won ‘our World Cup’ with that epic qualifying series win.
And as a footnote. Kids, this is when I invented the “AllWhites”. During the qualifiers, the team moved from white shirts and black shorts to a standard all white kit. In a match report I penned in my old Olympic 1A exercise book, I donned the team, the “All Whites”, and of course the press and eventually the rest of New Zealand picked up on it. It stuck. You’re welcome.
1986: One Month Every Four Years
In 1986, to paraphrase Rik from the Young Ones, I was a wild-eyed loner at the gates of oblivion, hitching a ride on the last freedom moped out of nowhere and I hadn’t even told my parents what time I’d be coming home!!!!!
Well sort of, I was 12 years old in form two at a school that was apperently normal, we knew this as it had the word normal in its name as if to remind us in case we forgot! The school wasn’t a particularly enjoyable time for me, I had a weird sounding Scottish-Kiwi accent, which was often used to mock me. There was a month though where I became popular – that was June when the World Cup was on. Not only did I play football, but I supported a team in Scotland and went to the NZ National League, it was enough for me to be given the task of giving the class a daily update on the World Cup.
Of course this meant having to expalin that my beloved Scotland had yet again failed to get past the first round, this at a tournament where you could finish third in the group and still progress, I excused them by saying they were still in mourning for Jock Stein who had died at the game against Wales when they qualified!
The two favourites to win it at my school were Brazil and England, so I did get my “expert” status questioned when I said that Brazil weren’t as good as they had been in 1982 and wrote England off because, well they were England! I had told the class that the team to watch was Argentina and in particular a player called Diego Maradona.
And then came the quarter final, Argentina v England, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to think when he scored the first goal, but as I was agonising about that, he picked it up just inside the half way line and started his amazing run, it was pure beauty and in my mind cancelled out any wrong doing he may or may not have done in the previous goal (it probably helped that it was against England!). Argentina and Maradona went on to win the final 3-2 against West Germany.
Things quickly went back to normal and no one wanted to know or cared when I would tell them that Wellington United beat Manurewa 3-0 on Sunday. I realised that being into football in NZ meant there was one month every four years where you wouldn’t be a wild eyed loner at the gates of oblivion!
1990: Tournament of Tears and Cynicism
52 matches where a ball was chased around and in the end the Germans won. Not many highlights here. Roger Milla spearheaded Cameroon to the quarter-finals (beating Argentina in the opening match). The emotional talking point could have been earlier had England not come from 2-1 down to win 3-2 in extra time. Paul Gascoigne’s tears: a yellow card in the semi-final meaning he missed the next match—which would have been the Final had England won the semi.
New Zealand didn’t progress out of Oceania to qualify, due to losses to Israel and Australia. Colombia took Oceania’s half-place in the 24-team Finals by beating Israel over two legs. Colombia finished 3rd in their group in the Finals, behind West Germany and Yugoslavia. The South Americans lost to Cameroon in the Round of 16.
With 2.21 goals per game, this remains a record low for goals per game in a World Cup Finals. It was not a Tournament to be enjoyed by those who love expansive, attacking football. Penalty shoot-outs, red cards, and cynical fouls were the excitement of this tournament—other than New Order’s World In Motion.
At the start of the 1990s I was commencing a Science degree at Victoria University of Wellington, working part-time to help get through, taking cheap (but time-consuming) journeys to other parts of the country, getting more involved in politics, art, and generally discovering life. With the NZ National League being in its bloated final stages of its then format, my interest in football began to decline for a couple of years. Was it the relative mediocrity of the 1990 World Cup that pushed this lack of enthusiasm? It probably contributed a minor influence, but it was more likely all the other things pulling at my life/time/energy.
1994: The Beautiful Game
My earliest memory of a football match is of the final of the World Cup in 1994. From what I’ve read since, I’m quite glad I can’t remember any of the football — Wikipedia’s summary lists a half chance for each team in the first half and then sums up the second by stating that it “was largely devoid of chances”. Extra time does sound a little more exciting, but nothing happened and it was off to penalties, with Baggio blazing over.
I was seven-and-a-half at the time, and the events around this game are memorable for two reasons. Firstly, we actually had a TV. I grew up without a TV (the previous one exploded during a cricket match some time prior to this World Cup), and Dad borrowed a tiny little TV from some family friends so we could watch the soccer. It sat on the end of our dining table and, with the nice kick-off times, meant we could watch soccer whilst eating our Weet-bix.
The second reason was I got to wag a few hours of school. The game kicked off at 0730 on a Monday morning, and I vaguely recall missing the ends of earlier games because I had to go to school. No such travesty with the final however, so I got to wag until morning tea or so, and then I got to tell all my bemused friends (who shows up to school at morning tea time?) that I watched a soccer game and that Brazil beat Italy on penalties to win the World Cup.
1998: Annus Horribilis
Queen Elizabeth II famously referred to 1992 as her “annus horribilis”. If the Queen has had one we must all have them, right? I certainly have, and mine is not even remotely contested by any other twelve month period before or since.
I was 22. I hated my job. I hated my life. The Prime Minister was Jenny Shipley. The most popular song in New Zealand was Boyzone covering Andrew Lloyd Webber. I got dumped by my first girlfriend. And Italy got dumped out of the World Cup. On penalties. At the Stade de France. By the French. That’s right, the French FFS!! Back then it was more than just common knowledge that the French would never amount to anything in a World Cup, it was the law.
My hopes had been high. We made the semi-finals of the first World Cup I had ever taken a real interest in – Italia 90. Then we made the final of USA 94, only to lose on penalties to Brazil. A clear pattern had been established. We had to win the final in 98, surely?
Then, after our patented slow start that’s now progressed to the point that we are staying in bed for the whole month this time around, we topped our group and progressed to the quarters barely having broken a sweat. This World Cup thing is a piece of cake, isn’t it?
1998 was, amongst other things, a year that taught me that I’m wrong a lot.
On the bright side, it also taught me that being wrong isn’t always a bad thing. By December I was convinced I’d die alone as a house painter and, worst of all, I would never live to see gli Azzurri win the World Cup.
Thankfully none of that was true either.
2002: Better Late than Never
I was a latecomer to World Cup football, having spent my childhood playing for Karori and Onslow but never looking much further afield. I have a vague memory of the 1998 World Cup as something a Serbian classmate was obsessed with, but not much more. I was fourteen.
Fast forward to 2002. I had been to Berlin and seen Bayern Munich clinically dispatch ‘die alte dame’ Hertha BSC Berlin at Olympia Stadion in front of a massive crowd. I had been second XI goalkeeper at school, and was bothering Aro Valley playing street football on a weekly basis.
When the 2002 World Cup came along, I watched as much of it as I could. Suddenly I saw the formations my coaches talked about over the years actually worked. My mind was blown by the sheer geometry and speed – teams moving in triangles, squares, lines. It all made sense now. It was beautiful.
The match that got me was Argentina vs Nigeria in the ‘group of death’. Argentina strung together about thirty passes to score, each better than the last, the goal hammered home by Gabriel Batistuta. I knew I wanted World Cup football in my life. I thought Argentina were awesome. Then they were beaten by England and drew with Sweden, and were out.
But there was still Germany in the days of the amazing Oliver Kahn. No scorpion kicks to compare with flashy Mexico, but so organised thanks to Michael Ballack, with great defence and Miroslav Klose and Oliver Neuville up front.
They seemed destined for the final. They were up against a legendary Brazilian line-up. Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho – names to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition, and inspire any spectator with awe. Brazil won 2-0. It was amazing. And 2002 had me hooked.
2006: Love, Hope, and Misery
My memories of watching the 2006 World Cup didn’t take me very far from home. Most of them were of me ensconced on the couch in front of the TV hoping not to wake Mum and Dad up; the volume carefully calibrated so as to keep me awake too.
I won’t blather on about England’s Golden Generation, but I will say that I had high hopes. Dad had even dug out a Fat Les CD with ‘Vindaloo’ on it, much to Mum’s disdain. Look, I was young. I was naïve. I wasn’t the jaded husk I am now. I also had a terrible taste in music synonymous with the mid-2000s and a bet on with Dad that I’d score $100 off him if England won (so too, oddly enough, did my football-hating brother).
But then the heartbreak. Any idealistic or even romantic sense of what the World Cup could offer this faraway England fanatic was shattered with England’s routine crashing out on penalties.
But far as I was concerned, the cup didn’t end with Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt in the final. It continued to reverberate throughout the year, be it in the best of 2006 football DVD recording my English maths teacher lent me (Goals, Goals, Goals, 2006, to be precise), or the stick I got after David Beckham being callously dropped by Steve McLaren.
Shortly after the World Cup I was given the England away shirt with ‘Beckham 7’ on the back. It was back when Umbro were the kit suppliers, and the shirts looked like slightly more thought had gone into the design than which colour scheme to set the template machine to, with the Cross of St George on the shoulder, the cross hatched lettering and numbers, and gold-outlined Three Lions crest. I loved it. My very Scottish PE teacher, on the eve of the first England game in the post-Beckham era, asked me if I’d scored it in a bargain bin for a quid.
2010 1.0: Ignite
It’s 2009, I’m newly single and the All Whites have qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. There’s only one thing to do – get there!
Fast forward to June 2010 and I’m the shy 22 year old at Auckland Airport meeting a bunch of rowdy football supporters ready to head on the adventure of a life time.
One thing about this World Cup stands out for me more than anything, and that’s the second pool game we played. We were running late to the New Zealand vs Italy match. Our bus stopped at a random checkpoint and an entire busloads of New Zealanders ran through an open section of fencing in the media area to get to our seats. We made it just in time for the national anthem. We’d had a five hour bus ride and we’d been drinking on the way so bathroom stops were required but no way were we missing standing with our hands on our hearts, bellowing God Defend New Zealand! Absolute scenes when at 7 minutes Shane Smeltz puts one in the back of the net. More scenes at 29 minutes when Italy equalise through a penalty (no way that’s a pen, sorry Enzo). At 80 minutes it was decided that whilst we weren’t winning, we were drawn WITH THE WORLD FREAKING CHAMPS, and it was time for shirts off. So, there I was in my bra, on international television. (Remember I said earlier I was shy?). I didn’t sleep for 48 hours after that match. Excitement levels were extreme.
The draw meant we had a chance to go through, provided we got a result against Paraguay. You better believe I was on the phone to my boss asking if I could extend my holiday if we made it through. She was dubious but I made it pretty clear, it was that or this phone call was my resignation.
I just watched the highlights again. Chills.
2010 2.0: Penalty Shoot-outs in Living Room Doorways
One November night in 2009, with hands still shaking from the adrenaline and dizzy with raw childhood excitement, 10-year-old me wrote SOUTH AFRICA 2010 onto a piece of paper. I pinned it onto my noticeboard. The All Whites had qualified.
By the time the 2010 World Cup began, I had fallen in love with football. Emulating my older brother, who had benevolently informed me I was “pretty good” at the sport, I began to really watch football for the first time. And I watched New Zealand really watch football for the first time in my memory, because there were kiwis there. Kiwis who I’d met at school, whose signatures adorned my drink bottle. I was swept up. My twin and I would watch every game whilst staging tense “penalty shoot-outs” using a beach ball and the living room doorway. We drove our parents insane.
At school, the World Cup was all I would talk about, even though I was a girl and that was weird. I vividly remember spending lunchtime after lunchtime re-enacting Winston Reid’s famous header with some of my to-this-day closest friends. So absorbed were we by this pursuit that we would miss the bell and be late to class, having forgotten we were not actually in South Africa. We never totally perfected the finish, but it was not for lack of trying. One of the friends in question grew to be 6 foot 7, so we might have had a better chance a few years later.
When it ended, I didn’t know what to do with myself. For me, the 2010 World Cup is synonymous with the best parts of being a kid. For a month I was buzzing. I was so much in love with something and I got to spend all my time immersed in it. And the World Cup gave me a lot. Suarez’s handball against Ghana awakened a fledgling sense of injustice. Watching Spain’s trademark style gave me my love for the complexities of the game. And, football aside, the tournament gave me new friendships and strengthened old ones. It is woven into some of my fondest memories. I doubt I will ever forget it.
2014: Transition Play
Did the Netherlands know, as they walloped Spain 5 – 1 in their opening group game, that they wouldn’t be seeing tournament football again for four years and counting? Was Brazil’s pre-game display of Neymar’s shirt, like he’d died instead of being given a good shoeing by Juan Zuniga, an indication of the scoreline shoeing that followed against Germany? How much do any of us plan or perceive our future, and how much do we change it based on that?
I spent 2014 in transition between a life in London, working far too hard and drinking far too much, and emigrating to New Zealand. The final flourish was the World Cup, and London is as fine a summer city to indulge in a month of fine football. From the Colombian stronghold of Elephant and Castle to the Woolwich Ghana pub, via backstreet Brixton pubs for the essential post-England defeat 2am Ivory Coast v Japan game.
England failed to win a game, a haunting spectre of a Brexit yet to happen. It’s easier to contemplate your exit of the country you were born in if they’ve gone out at the group stages though. In some ways it’s strange to consider what the country was like then. It was before the Scottish Indyref, the 2015 election, the Brexit vote and the 2017 election. Before the madness took hold.
The day before the Brazil v Germany semi-final, an engagement ring arrived in the post. I wasn’t certain about what my future would hold, but I was determined to have some influence on it.
All of this leads us to this year, 2018. Undoubtedly by this time next month there will be more World Cup-related stories to recount. The question now becomes what those stories will be.
Let the madness begin.
A lover of the game since the age of 4. Living and playing for club and school in Auckland and loving every second on the pitch (apart from the end of a losing match).