World Cup memories will be dwarfed by Brazil 2014

Being English and a child of the ‘80s, any hopes, expectations or dreams of World Cup glory have consistently failed to materialise.
Golden moment: England players celebrate David Platt's last-gasp winner for England against Belgium at Italia 90Golden moment: England players celebrate David Platt's last-gasp winner for England against Belgium at Italia 90
Golden moment: England players celebrate David Platt's last-gasp winner for England against Belgium at Italia 90

The Three Lions’ record in the most prestigious tournament on the planet reads similar to Tim Henman’s achievements at Wimbledon during that time-frame - though at least the former British number one reached a semi-final.

Bobby Robson, on two occasions, Graham Taylor, Glenn Hoddle, suave Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson, also on two occasions, and Fabio Capello have all tried and failed to overcome the globe’s elite.

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Unfortunately, I have minimal recollection of England’s best performance since winning it on home soil in 1966. In fact, I have nothing. I remember watching Mary Poppins for the first time at primary school that year - but nothing about Italia ‘90.

I even remember inflicting injury on a fellow classmate over a heated ‘popoid’ fracas, but zilch in terms of West Germany winning the competition. Maybe that’s just my selective memory!

Thankfully, as the Internet rapidly expanded through Europe at that time, I would later be able to relive David Platt’s late extra-time winner against Belgium in the last 16, the dramatic turnaround against Cameroon as Gary Lineker scored twice from the spot, Gazza’s tears when yellow-carded in the semi-final against West Germany, and the heartache suffered as Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed in the subsequent shoot-out.

The 1986 tournament was epitomised by two goals from one individual - the ‘Golden Ball’ victor Diego Maradona. The controversial, unpenalised “Hand of God” came first, before his second, arguably the goal of the century, arrived less than five minutes later as he darted past Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher (twice), Terry Fenwick and Peter Shilton to make it 2-0.

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Naturally - with age, ignorance and under-development having shunted famous episodes of previous World Cups in to obscurity - I recall moments of USA 1994 which didn’t involve Taylor’s England.

After culminating the qualification phase behind Norway and the Netherlands in Group Two, Taylor successfully matched previous catastrophic campaigns in 1974 and 1978 led by Alf Ramsey and Ron Greenwood respectively.

For me, that era was almost an epiphany, a sudden realisation of how phenomenal and how integral international football was. I’d been obsessed domestically, growing up with the likes of Mike Conroy, Roger Eli, John Francis, Steve Davis, John Deary and Joe Jakub as icons in the Fourth Division title-winning campaign, progressing to David Eyres, Adrian Heath, and some of the aforementioned names, as the Clarets won the Division Two play-off final at Wembley.

But being among various nationalities on a camping holiday in France with my dad, appreciating the atmosphere, and growing to understand the passion involved served as an abrupt but welcome awakening.

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Then there was a baptism like no other - the introduction of players such as Jurgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthaus, Romario, Bebeto, Dunga, Gabriel Batistuta, Roberto Baggio, Paolo Maldini, Dennis Bergkamp, Hristo Stoichkov, Gheorghe Hagi, Tomas Brolin, among others.

I remember standing in astonishment as Baggio blazed his penalty over the bar in the final. That was when my love for football matured.

In ‘98 truancy crept in to my schedule at Mansfield High School, just so I could get that fix of World Cup hysteria. England versus Tunisia was our first group game at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome. It was a 2-30 p.m. kick-off so I’d only be absent for one lesson. Myself and best mate at the time, Peter Rowell, son of Sunderland legend Gary, crept away to watch Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes do the business.

Later there was the wizardry of David Beckham as his mesmerising set-piece - his first goal for England - saw us through to the knockout stages at the expense of Colombia.

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Following the wondrous ecstasy of Michael Owen’s sublime individual goal against Argentina, and the submersion of that high once Beckham was infamously dismissed and David Batty squandered that decisive penalty, I flew to Saint-Jean-de-Monts in western France with my mum, brother and sister to see out the rest of the tournament.

I was among the celebrations as the hosts beat Croatia in the semi-final and I was on a roundabout, donning my white, Adidas Burnley shirt (the one with the fading blue stripes from the shoulder and neckline), as they lifted the FIFA World Cup Trophy after a 3-0 victory against Brazil.

It was there, among a firework frenzy, that an explosion from a wayward rocket blew a hole in the badge of my Burnley shirt. I never found the culprit!

The 2002 tournament was clouded by alcohol, with liquid breakfasts the only weapon to alleviate ridiculously early kick-off times from South Korea and Japan. Beckham atoned for his red card four years previous - when kicking out at Diego Simeone - to cement victory in a tense fixture against the Argies.

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Whilst working as an apprentice at a mechanics in Todmorden I listened to Rio Ferdinand, Owen and Emile Heskey dismantle Denmark, and that was the scene of despondency less than a week later after David Seaman was caught out by Ronaldinho’s bending free-kick.

The 2006 World Cup was a combined celebration of the tournament itself and finishing my Journalism degree at UCLan. Needless to say that the summer was spent in an array of pubs.

What stands out? Being in Blackpool for the quarter-final against Portugal in a drunken state - most aptly in Lineker’s Bar - while shouting at the TV screen. De-ja-vu struck as Wayne Rooney was sent off as team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo imitated Simeone’s reactions before anger stemmed from our sheer ineptitude to score from 12 yards out. Step forward Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

In 2010, after an incredibly dismal qualifying stage, I shared the one knockout game with my girlfriend, Sophie, on our first holiday together in Gran Canaria. Again, unsurprisingly, beer was involved. We were stationed in Walkabout, surrounded by England fans, as we took on Germany, the game with “the goal that never was”. I don’t think Sophie has ever seen me as irate as when Lampard’s strike wasn’t given by referee Jorge Larrionda.

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On my return I jetted off to Budapest on a stag do, alongside Clarets correspondent Chris Boden. I stayed teetotal for this one. Just kidding! England were out but in an open park, equipped with a big screen, we shared the jubilation and sorrow of fans from various nations. We even had the audacity to dance the Samba amid the drum beats of Brazilians as they were dumped out of the tournament by Holland.

And so on to 2014, with the World Cup in Brazil just 16 days away. Who knows what this one will bring - but it’s going to be a memorable one for me personally. When England exit - with nations more accustomed to the heat and more capable of adapting their styles to the quickening playing surfaces - myself and Sophie will be awaiting the birth of our daughter, due on Sunday, July 13th, the date penned for the World Cup final.