There’s a chance you’ve already noticed but the World Cup starts today.
It’s a tournament arranged once every four years to allow Sepp Blatter to walk around looking important and self-righteous (not that he needs any excuse to do that) and avoid answering difficult questions about allegations of corruption (ditto). Oh, and there’s a bit of football, too.
I must admit I enjoy the World Cup, though hearing England’s teenage left back Luke Shaw say his earliest World Cup memory is 2010 in South Africa doesn’t half make you feel old.My first encounter with the tournament was Spain 1982. I was six and fascinated by Kuwait, a place I’d never heard of before, and Bryan Robson (a fella I admired immensely as he once signed an autograph for me in the doorbell section of a DIY store in Rochdale) scored against France after 27 seconds. I remember thinking at the time ‘gosh, that was quick’, and indeed it was; 32 years later there has only been one speedier goal at a World Cup finals – in 2002 when Hakan Sukur netted for Turkey against South Korea after an astonishing 11 seconds. Astonishing because it takes me at least three minutes to get out of bed in the morning, so to stick a football in a net after 11 seconds is mighty impressive. There was Maradona’s Hand of God in 86, though I remember the game against the Argentineans not for that little cheat (I don’t hold grudges) but for the moment towards the end when Gary Lineker, shortly after making it 2-1 from a John Barnes cross, almost made it 2-2 from an identical chance but stuck his header wide.
To this day I blame myself. Like most kids I was very superstitious and got it into my head that if I didn’t move my legs for the entire 90 minutes, England would win. Alas, shortly before full time I contracted serious cramp in my right buttock and had to give in. Moments later, Lineker missed his chance and England went out. I apologise on behalf of the nation.
There was the almost glorious 1990 campaign where we were a penalty shoot-out away from winning (for we would have surely beaten a wretched Argentina in the final ... especially as I might not have got cramp that time). Unfortunately, we went out to West Germany in the semis thanks to Peter Shilton, number one keeper in the world at the time, proving he was also number one at getting nowhere near a penalty. Oh, and Chris Waddle’s skyer didn’t help either.
In 1994 we didn’t even make it – Graham Taylor and his inspirational sidekick Phil Neal saw to that. Glenn Hoddle, despite his right-hand man – or more accurately, woman – being an elderly spiritual faith-healer called Eileen Drewery, did very nicely in 98 before a young David Beckham got himself sent off.
Next came Sven Goran Eriksson, more interesting for off-the-field antics than anything on it. His affair with Swedish weather girl Ulrika Jonsson was the undoubted highlight of his reign, though not for her. “Sex with him was as ordered and functional as an Ikea instruction manual,” she said in a recent interview. Fabio Capello came and went in a blur of mediocrity and now we have Roy Hodgson, a man I like but who really should be advised against wearing shorts in public. Stood in the dugout during England’s last match (the 0-0 thriller against Honduras), he resembled a pensioner lining up a tricky putt on the fourth green at his local golf club. If for style and panache Jose Mourinho is the George Clooney of managers, Hodgson is Ricky Tomlinson.
But we’ll support him and the team, of course, and as it all kicks off today in Brazil, the big question is can England spring a surprise and win the World Cup for the first time since 1966?
The answer is absolutely not. But we’ll watch it anyway, not least because for the next month there’ll be nothing on the box other than blasted footie.
‘Bye...I’ve had a Monopoly on awkward (and brilliant) moments at The Gazette
Well, after 12-and-a-half years, today marks my final day at this newspaper.
Now before you start cheering and popping the champagne corks, be warned: I’ll be continuing to write this *award-winning weekly column. (*It hasn’t actually won any awards as yet but I feel certain it will do at some point).
There have been two main highlights of my lengthy and undistinguished Gazette career.
The first was the day I went to the gents toilets...
Sat in the cubicle (leave the rest to your imagination), I heard the outer door to the toilet open, then a lot of clanking noises.
Suddenly, a stepladder appeared over the top of the toilet door, followed seconds later by the head of a middle-aged bloke.
I hadn’t time to react, so was still sat with legs akimbo when our eyes met.
As if this were the most normal scenario in the world, the chap said ‘ow do, don’t mind me, just fixing the light’.
He then proceeded to fiddle with the bulb while I sat frozen on the toilet not quite sure what to do.
After 15 minutes fiddling with the light he gave me a cheery farewell wave on his way back down the ladder.
Highlight number two – the day Blackpool celebrated their miraculous promotion to the Premier League with an open air bus ride along the Promenade. More than 80,000 fans turned out to pay tribute to the team. I was football reporter at the time and on board with the players.
I found myself pushed to the front of the bus (circled above), where, for the entire journey, I stood next to the skipper Charlie Adam as he held the play-off trophy aloft to the adoring crowd. Given I had contributed absolutely nothing to Blackpool’s promotion (other than writing a few, poxy words after each game), I felt slightly sheepish to be in such a position but it wasn’t half enjoyable. At one point, getting a tad carried away, I even grabbed the trophy off Charlie and held it over my head, while the fans below no doubt thought ‘don’t recognise that lad – must be a reserve team player’.
But best of all soon after the makers of the Monopoly board game bought out a Blackpool version and used a shot of the team bus – complete with a grinning me – on the front of the box. Never has my mother been more proud. She ordered around 20 of the games to dish out to relatives and friends, even the postman, with the words ‘look, there’s our Steven on the front’.
I started on The Gazette in January 2002 and have had some terrific times and met some great people, both colleagues and readers.
Goodbye to one and all, well until next Thursday that is...