1970: The definitive World Cup...

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Which is your World Cup?

One of my pet theories is that we all have a mundial that, as it unfolds, feels less like a football tournament than a rite of passage, introducing us to idols, emotions and intrigue we will remember for the rest of our lives. Mine was 1970. I was nine then.

Back Home was at No.1 (with Elton John on backing vocals), there were Esso World Cup medals to collect, altitudes to worry about and I had special dispensation to stay up late to watch England, a privilege hitherto reserved for Michael Bentine’s Golden Silents.

That was the last World Cup I greeted with a naïve certainty that England would win. Or, at worst, reach the final.

My idol Bobby Charlton was destined, I was secretly convinced, to score the winning goal. My cousin Mick preferred – and styled himself on – George Best but he was cooler than me. And contemplating the foreheads on my dad’s side of the family, I may have already suspected, without admitting it to myself, that I was foredoomed to adopt Bobby’s hairstyle.

Bobby and combover tackle Brazil

Last week, in a collectors’ fair in Shepperton Village Hall, I snapped up the official programme for the 1970 World Cup for £4.

This seemed a thrilling addition to my pitiful archive of 1970-related stuff: one Esso World Cup medal (Terry Cooper), the International Football Book annual, and a video of the greatest semi-final in World Cup history: Italy 4 West Germany 3. (Actually, the game is so-so but the extra-time is wondrous.)

There is virtually no editorial in the programme, but a lot of adverts, bad pencil drawings of the Czech team and an incomprehensible grid for each group that you need an A in technical drawing to fill in. On the inside front cover, British Leyland explain why they had supplied the England team bus: “Let’s just say champions tend to attract each other.”

In my memory, David Coleman narrates the whole tournament. Every player’s name, every move (Gordon Banks’ save, Jeff Astle’s miss, Bobby Moore’s tackle) all delivered with that peculiar conviction that Coleman brought to every match, no matter how insignificant or dull.

England didn’t win, of course. Their exit has generated almost as many conspiracy theories as the assassination of JFK and several stories, too libellous to relate, about the bizarre build up to a quarter-final from which, despite England being 2-0 up after 50 minutes, West Germany emerged as the kings of Leon.

I wept when Uwe Seeler equalised. 32-years later, when England choked in the 2002 quarter-final against Brazil, I looked across at my seven-year-old son and saw the exact same expression of stricken disbelief I had worn in 1970 when Gerd Muller scored the winner. He’s worn it twice since. I call it 'The England Look.'

Muller sends England home early 

With England gone, I supported Italy, mainly because of Luigi Riva, the rumble of thunder.

I had tried to shoot as hard as him in the back garden. I wasn’t that successful but it was better than failing, to my dad’s chagrin, to curve the ball like Rivelino. Riva scored his only goal of the tournament in a semi-final that, in extra time, became so extraordinary it is quasi-officially known as The Game Of The Century.

I can still picture the disgust and despair with which Franz Beckenbauer, his injured shoulder strapped up, kicked the ball out of the German goal after Gianni Rivera scored Italy’s fourth. Only a minute before, Muller had equalised.

I watched the final wanting Italy to win. But when they equalised and invited Pele, Jairzinho, Gerson (who smoked 30-a-day even when he was playing) and Rivelino to come at them it was clear that was never going to happen.

Against West Germany, Italy had swashed and buckled. Against Brazil, they just buckled.

That Brazil team were the beautiful team – and they played so well I could enjoy each goal – but I was on the wrong side of history.

Years later, when I talked to Don Howe about that World Cup, he went a bit misty-eyed as he talked about that Brazil side. He was part of a delegation of British coaches in Mexico and the highlight of his trip wasn’t any of the matches but the joy of watching Brazil training. It was, he said, like watching a different species playing a more elevated, joyful, accomplished kind of sport.

For me, 1970 will always be the definitive World Cup.

Carlos Alberto thunders home

Not because it was the best but because I have never known such a heady mixture of joy, despair, memorabilia and intrigue since. What neither I nor British Leyland could foresee was that it would be 12 bleak years before I would watch England in a World Cup again.

I even discovered my all-time favourite kit: Peru’s. It was later adopted by Crystal Palace when they were billed as the team of the eighties.

To be fair, they didn’t say which eighties, so it’s always possible that, 71 years from now, the Palace will dominate European football.

Do tell me what your definitive World Cup is and why...

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