I love the World Cup. I have ever since 1998. Being born in 1987 I was 10 years old during France 98 and to be fair, I hadn’t been the biggest fan of football. Certainly not the near-fanatical fan I would become. Sure, I liked a bit of football but I didn’t grow up in a footballing household really. My father watched the games on TV but I don’t ever really remember enjoying watching the games on TV.
I suppose as a kid with limited attention span and a limited playing ability, which always lead to me being picked last meant that it would take something as special as the World Cup to start me on my footballing journey. Of course, 1998 was the last time Scotland played at a major international final and I can say with certainty that this fact played a big role in my falling in love with the game.
National pride and football first came around for me with Euro 96. Albeit, very fleeting memories of watching Scotland games. Too soon for me it must be said. In 98 however, Del Amitri’s Don’t Come Home Too Soon and an impending family holiday in Cyprus had me more aware. I had also become aware of a certain maestro of the game and I’ll come to him a little later.
Scotland’s opening game brings back memories of celebrating in the living room when they scored and depression when Tom Boyd’s own goal gave the mighty Brazil victory. However, we could be proud. And we were.
Off to Paphos in Cyprus for a fortnight further cemented the love for football and fierce pride in Scotland’s national team. You see, my parents, my brother, my sister and I were the only Scottish family at the hotel amongst a clear majority of English families. So naturally we had to represent.
Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t experience any anti-Scottish stuff and we certainly weren’t anti-English by any stretch of the imagination. That is not how I was brought up. But it was my first real introduction to the world of football banter. It was great.
Especially memorable was the final group games. Everyone else in the main bar watching Brazil dispatch Morocco by three goals to nil while the McKenzie’s sat huddled around what I remember being the bulkiest, oldest, crappiest wood panelled TV in the world. And we celebrated big style when Craig Burley equalised against Norway.
Of course, Scotland were now out. Make or break it might well have been for my love affair with football. However, I had already watched France and fell in love with the best of football. You see, Zinedine Zidane is my footballing hero. He is my all-time favourite player. He was just so good. What is there not to love?
I owe his other-worldly abilities a lot. Who knows what my relationship with football might have been had it not been for “Zizou” and that French team. Rightly voted the most entertaining side in World Cup, they captured my imagination in a quite hypnotic way. And the best goalkeeper of the finals, Fabien Barthez made me decide that I wanted to try my hands at goalkeeping. My first serious pair of gloves being a pair of Addidas “Barthez” gloves surprisingly enough bought in a sports retailer in Paris.
Desailly, Thuram, Deschamps with his class and style and so many more. What a team that was. I was over the moon when they won. They had become my team with Scotland’s exit.
20 years on I still get World Cup fever. I am probably more club than country these days but I think that is to be expected with Scotland failing to qualify ever since. It is an unfortunate by-product of failing to book a place at the party. However, seeing the world’s best players and the best teams take each other on is a special thing and my fever almost always starts about a month before the tournament kicks off. It is my first footballing love.
I had been taken to see Dundee United once when I was very young and they were my team as much as a young kid could decide to back a team but I was too young to be active until I got that little bit older and could take myself to the matches. And so, for this fan the World Cup was that crucial first. A beautiful festival of football that some 20 years later still has me hooked. I only wish for two things: for Scotland to host it forever (meaning never-ending qualification) and that 1998 Zidane was eternally playing every game for France.