I really was looking forward to Euros 2020 …last year. As you know this is now happening in Summer 2021 as it was postponed due to the pandemic. The football tournament really has light up social media and mainstream media channels! It has some of us talking in real time again as we are obviously looking at the games live. I also in typical ‘look away style’, I had one person say to me they don’t want to hear the scores as they can catch up on the game later on playback television. Football has this magic to get fans and an occasional fan like me excited and interested tournaments, competitions and league games. It is exciting as well as reassuringly almost ‘normal’ in the pandemic to see all the national teams, players, managers, broadcasters and fans enjoying this festival of football.
In Trinidad, Cricket was the main part of our childhood sporting play regime for boys and girls in school and in our consciousness in small villages in the 1970s. My interest in football started in the early 1980s as my brothers collected footballer profiles cards, and by my classmates too who chatted about the excitement of the World Cup 1982. Otherwise it was also seen on television as we had weekly round ups of the English Football League (shows like Big League Soccer with Brian Moore as presenter), and Italian Serie A at the weekend. With only one television and two brothers meant that I had no choice but to sit and watch the sport shows with them. However, it was interesting seeing the usually foggy games in cold England and the sunny glamourous games in Italy. It is just the way it was presented. And just as the live Wimbledon tennis finals, we used to get the live coverage if the FA Cup final on Saturdays there too. At this point, I had some understanding of the game and knew of some of the Talisman players like Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Zico and Paolo Rossi. The festival like opening ceremony of the World Cup 1986 in Mexico followed by the game with Bulgaria vs Italy (the defending champions) was actually the game when I got most interested in watching football. Hereafter I tried to follow all major Euro and World Cups, as well as the Champions League, except I did actually see many games for the Euros 1992 as I was too busy being a student.
The World Cup 1986 was ideal for getting me interesting as the games started at 4pm when we were at home after school, and they went on in the evening before a school night. My classmates in my all-girl convent school were all very interesting in the games too and we also ‘fancied’ some of the players. One classmate used to write with chalk ‘A Player of the Day’ on the blackboard. I have had several crushes on footballers over the years and I guess it totally natural to admire some of these players or even managers. Mexico was so exciting and the players that we saw on our screen exposed me to the world, their fans and all the various cultures at the time. I obviously loved looking at the game of football too. I remember the Brazilian fans with their samba drums specifically and after Italy were knocked out…. I actually wanted France to win when Michel Platini was their captain. They too lost the semi-finals and I had my first feeling of football loss and hurt when they didn’t make it to the final. However, we all know that legendary and super talented Diego Maradona and his Argentinian Team lit up the World Cup 1986. I remember that my school had a summer fair the same time of the final in 1986 and they used an annexe room with a projector to show the final between Germany and Argentina. It truly was a great vintage year to get hooked on these international tournaments.
After the World Cup 1986, I used to then love looking at the Italian Serie A TV and newspaper news roundup with some of the star footballers I got to know from the tournament and it was great to follow the league for a few more years until I moved to England. I also remember seeing the Heysel Stadium Disaster as it was shown live in the afternoon in Trinidad, and we also had the news on the Hillsborough Disaster the day it happened. Both of these are still sad to think about and we forgot when England was punished for participating in European competitions due to the Heysel Disaster. It also took a long time for the Hillsborough Disaster to be resolved and it is still remembered on the sad anniversary.
Fast forward a few years and the World Cup 1990 in Italy was also great. I was by now studying in England and it was one of the best campaigns in a major competition, with the Paul Gascoigne becoming a star for English fans. I still had (and believe I still do) like to other countries too that I take too depending on the competition. The theme song Nessun Dorma always reminds of that campaign and I do have lovely memories of looking at it during the heatwave of 1990. One of the best take-aways of 1990s is that Gascoigne moved to Lazio in Italy and eventually lead to Italian Football being shown on Channel Four. My brother used to look at these games but eventually I met my Italian husband whose first love is football! He told me so and eventually I also witness the same with my son. My husband remains a bit football fan with my son and I am sure he has lots of stories if going to football matches in the 1960s and onwards when they were affordable and he can catch a train to London and still have change to food and the tickets etc. I must get him to write those stories!
Again a lot of my time in 1990s with my husband was spent looking at Italian football and other games and competition. I had no problem looking at these games and really got into the Italian football, and the amusing Football Italia that was brilliantly presented by James Richardson in some fabulous looking Italian venue with his cocktail, or espresso. It was exciting to see the game and stadiums live in Italy and although I have seen some live football games in the UK…. I still dream of going to see a game in the San Siro in Milan. These were the heady days of great Italian footballers with style, flair, glamour and talent. Personally, I am sure the games tactics and fitness regimes etc were adopted by the English game with Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, etc coming to the English clubs and influencing their game. At the same time there were also other pop culture show such as Fantasy Football which were amusing to watch.
One of the things I wanted to highlight about those 1990s stars and players that I love is that they are now currently managers of the Euro 2020 with some of them having their children playing in some of the international teams. I checked on social media and I am not the only one who is beginning to feel old. It is great when football is universal and inter-generational like this. I have been thinking how difficult it must be to manage these teams and to win (as well as lose) these competitions. In must be such a demanding job but also one that comes with a lot of responsibility and insight into the game and players. It is always interesting to see how people respond and also how tense it be!
One of the best highlights of the 1990s is Italian making but losing the World Cup 1994 when I saw how passionate my Italian relatives get about football. I also went to a great ‘Festival of Football’ organised by a journalist on the cusp of the World Cup 1998 at the National Theatre on the Southbank where the programme had football related cultural activities and talks. I saw interviews with George Weah, George Best and the finale was a Football theme Ballet by a Scottish Production company.
National pride and patriotism are also evident in international football competition and there is a whole sub-culture with club football. I do believe some people live and breathe football and swear allegiance as well as rivalry based on clubs, locations, religion, politics etc. It is just a game of football but there is so much more at stake with the business of football. Being a business information professional, I used to obtain many copies of football reports and reviews by accountancy firms. The club leagues and international competition is big business. Nations are building their countries’ national identity – think if Nelson Mandela for South African 2010 and the introduction to the ‘vuvuzuela’.
Cities with infrastructure and investment aim to host competitions as it also brings in funds, on top of the broadcasting rights and merchandising etc. The player market or transfer market is also so unbelievable. I used to pay attention to these topics and know that there are apps and game information etc. Play Station games and other goods are some of the everyday items I see in my own home. The cost of tickets is atrocious but the last game I went to was to fundraise at local Leyton Orient (I am still serious about Milan though!).
As we are midway through the Euro 2020, this has been a great way to find entertainment in our own homes. Stadiums in the pandemic are mostly not filled to capacity but it is interesting to see how some games have adapted. Fans are still enjoying the experience and it different to normal years. The bars, pubs and homes in neighbourhood are also getting into the festival of football fever.
The football has been great and some of the games really make you come alive with excitement or nail-biting tension – so our emotions can go from one extreme to another. It is great too to see technology being developed for and around the game such as VAR. Football will continue to a world gripping sport to play…as well as to watch. It truly is a beautiful game.