Marking out the Days with Coffee Spoons. Or World Cups.

Today the World Cup starts. Like J Alfred Prufrock marking out the days with coffee spoons, I can mark out the years with World Cups. Too young in 1970 to remember anything of the  beauty and brilliance of Pelé and Co as they set the standard for World Cup winners that has never been matched. In 1974 our family holiday was in Spiddal in Galway. My brothers were into their football and I have hazy but technicolour memories of the World Cup and Holland in particular. One name stood out above the rest – Johan Cruyff.

In 1978 it was Argentina. That was a seminal year in my life. My brother Peter, himself a fanatical and rabid Manchester United fan since boyhood, described as 1978 poignantly as his own personal Munich in his recent inaugural Professorial lecture. He was referring to the sudden death of our father in January 1978.

That I was enhancted by the albiceleste, the magnificent blue and white of Argentina. The ticker tape streaming from the terraces of El Monumental in Buenos Aires as Kempes, Ardiles, Passarella, Luque and Bertoni held the world in the palm of their hand with their mixture of skill, cynicism and overwhelming force. I remember the long range shooting of Holland, Archie Gemmill’s goal and Iran because we had at the time Iranian friends –  the Hesars whom I fear met their death in the Iran Iraq war. It was a funny time – my brothers would be home from Uni for part of the World Cup. I dunno if my dad would have taken much interest in it, but I will never know because he wasn’t there.

In 1982 I watched the famous France and West Germany Final from a bar in Donegal with my uncle Sean and cousins. Sean is currently an old man battling liver cancer. These were among the days of my lives and I recall vividly a classic match, Shumacher’s brutal full frontal charge on Patrick Battiston a bit of a f***ing outrage to be honest. I still feel a tear in my eye when I see Tardelli’s celebration of his goal in the final. He was like a caged animal set free. Brazil the team all the neutrals wanted to win. Unfortunately no-one told them that defenders need to defend as well as attack and Rossie taught a cruel lesson.

In 1986 my love affair with Argentina resumed, Maradona and the Hand of God, God Bless Him. I never particularly liked the wee man, he was a bit too arrogant for my liking for all his skill and pace, but by God the two goals that day set my heart racing. I would have argued gladly with any Englishman that dared that he hadn’t handled the ball. At that time I was doing my A Levels and had a girlfriend that dumped me unceremoniously during the summer. I remember more about the World Cup than I do about her. Unceremonious dumping was a feature for a while.

In 1990 I had finished my studies in Stirling and the World Cup at home offered the opportunity to celebrate Ireland’s unlikely progress. I recall listening to the Romania penalty shoot out in Belfast City airport having done the decent thing and driven my sister and her then husband back to the airport. What I should have done is told the bastard to make his own way and tell my sister to stay where she was. He was one of a number of people that I should have told what I thought of them, and still might.

In 1994 we spent part of the World Cup on a lads tour of Munster, playing music in bars for free beer. We got a lock-in in one etablishment  in Cahirciveen until seven in the morning before tumbling upstairs to bed in what doubled as a B&B. One match I remember was the US against Brazil, when the brilliant Leonardo busted a Yanks face and his own world cup dreams with an ill advised elbow. We all remember Baggio miss his penalty. I had a tenner on Italy to win, by god the gave me great value. I also had a fiver on Ireland to beat them in the opening game!

During the 1998 World Cup my stag party was on in Clare Island off the coast of Mayo. Happy times with my closest and dearest friends. It had it all, nude waterskiing, music, a hell of a wee rock band in the village marquee, my best man Brogy doing a striptease on stage, a role he reprised at my wedding to the wide eyed surprise of Sister Bernardine. We watched Beckham prove Hoddle wrong from the bar in Clare Island. A week later a national newspaper report reads Island Says No to Men Behaving Badly. Surely it couldn’t have been us. . .

2002 World Cup, our Leo was a baby and I remember less of it than the others. After Keano and Saipan I cared less. Especially when an Ireland team that could have gone further damp squibbed out to Spain.

2006 was interesting, Leo started to take an interest and out Peter, two at the time joined in the back garden playing football. For some reason he always took his clothes off before the game. Maybe he had watched too many goal celebrations. Argentine dismantled Serbia. Zidane headbutted Matterazzi. I sympathised, should have done it to that brother in law and others.

And this year, I am looking forward to it yet again. As usual my heart will be with the albiceleste, Messi, Heinze, Tevez, Veron and Co. My money will go on Spain or Italy and I will enjoy England falling at the later hurdles (fingers crossed). Anything else would be intolerable. Maybe not as intolerable as other things I have put up with recently but intolerable none the same.

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