Watching the World (Cup) Go By: Russia 18 can't beat Spain 82... can it?
Russia 2018 will be my 10th World Cup and the only thing I think I can safely say about it in advance is that it won't be as good as my first.
Espana 82. A heading that will always, as long as I live, give me a warm glow not dissimilar in colour to Naranjito, the citrus mascot for that tournament you see on my mug in the picture above (alongside another prized possession from 36 years ago, the best England World Cup record ever made, This Time).
They say your first time is your most memorable and that's certainly true for me where World Cups are concerned. As much as Mexico 86, Italia 90, USA 94, France 98, Japan & South Korea 02, Germany 06, South Africa 10 and Brazil 14 have all had many magical moments, not one of those events - not even the second in that list, when England reached the semi-finals - has come close, for me, to holding the fascination, drama and colour of 82.
I was 12 and I'd just finished my first season of watching football in the flesh. I have one or two very fleeting memories of the 1978 finals - in particular thr tickertape that turned the grass white in the Argentina-Holland final - but I wasn't really into my football in 78. I was, big-time, in 82.
What do I remember of Spain 82? Well all of it really, but to pick some games and memories out, in no particular order: rushing home from school just in time to see Bryan Robson put England ahead against France after 27 seconds in their opening game, Gerry Armstrong scoring the winner for Northern Ireland against the Spanish, David Narey scoring for Scotland against Brazil (before four were notched in reply), a Kuwaiti sheikh storming on to the pitch after his boys conceded a controversial goal against France; Argentina (none too popular in this country in the summer of 82 as the Falklands War had just come to an end) going out to Brazil, then Brazil - oh Brazil - losing 3-2 to Italy to see their own hopes ended. The brilliant Paolo Rossi was the man for Italy, seeing off the Brazilians and then helping inspire his nation to victory over West Germany in the final.
If you could go back in history and watch one team, playing in front of you, just for 90 minutes, who would it be? Pompey, circa 92-93? Reasonable. England, 66? Maybe for some. For me, it would be Brazil 82. What a team. Socrates, Eder, Falcao, Zico... They didn't score many tap-ins. Look up highlights of any of their games from that era and you will see absolute beauty. Football as an art-form. Football as it was, and still is, supposed to be played. They were too good. Too good for their own good, maybe, and perhaps that's why they let in three against the Italians to crash out criminally early.
England came home from Spain unbeaten. An odd structure to the tournament put them in a group-of-three second stage in which they faced the Germans and Spain. Two 0-0 draws were not enough for a semi-final spot so Ron's 22 were back at the airport without having lost. Not This Time, then, it turned out. Cameroon copped it in similar circumstances. The only positive you could take from the national disappointment was that it prepared plenty of us for half a lifetime (so far) of early England exits and feelings of what might have been and of 'maybe we'll win it next time'.
Nine World Cup finals later -all of which have contained tales of England woe, offset by many hours of wonderful football stories, dramas, goals and twists - I look forward to the tournament as much as I did towards the end of my first year at secondary school all those years ago. In between World Cups and European Championship finals, I can take or leave international friendlies. England's ability to come through qualifying groups without a slight hiccup, let alone a major scare, has, strangely, taken away some of the excitement that such campaigns used to hold, and as for international friendlies, don't get me started. In fact don't wake me up at all for those. Pointless things, they are.
I will watch full games at the World Cup that I wouldn't go near if they were being played in any other tournament. Even Serbia v Switzerland. I love the ebb and flow of the group results and the harsh life-or-death nature of the knockout stages. I love watching and listening to how our commentators and pundits cope with and convey what they see, and I love seeing how the camera operators and directors try to cover every angle and still end up lingering for a little long for some's liking on the face-painted females among the Brazilian fans.
What else to listen and look out for? Managerial lookalikes that are better than my perennial favourite - Joachim Low/ex-Radio 1 breakfast presenter Mike Read. Well have you seen them both on mainstream media at the same time? Then there's the slightly un-PC comments and lines we're bound to hear, and not just from Mark Lawrenson, though he can probably be relied upon to come up with more such utterances than anyone.
I have compiled a top ten of things I want to see and/or hear and I shall not be happy until I've ticked every one off... and I'd be delighted if readers could help me spot them, with bonus points awarded to those of you who chart two or more of these in one day.
1 A reference to a nerve agent during one of Russia's games - which may well be 'cleverly' disguised as a comment about a pricey yet average player having an agent with a nerve.
2 A Spanish goal greeted with 'Who needs a manager when you're scoring goals like that?' followed minutes later by Spain conceding a goal accompanied by: 'Spain need a manager when they're conceding goals like that.'
3 (and while we're on about our old friends and hosts from 1982...) How about a spot of anti-stand-in-manager singing from the Spain fans inspiring Jonathan Pearce to say: 'Can you hear the songs, Fernando?'
4 Clive Tydlesley and Glenn Hoddle speculating about exactly when England should bring on Jamie Vardy, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, all at once, in an effort to secure a late equaliser against Tunisia or Panama.
5 A reference to the efficiency of the German defence and goalkeeper.
6 A news report from 'our man/woman in the French camp' who has got wind of an internal bust-up that could see at least two players sent home.
7 A colour piece from Dan Walker about how a diet of poached eggs and nothing else has helped Costa Rica reach the last eight.
8 A particularly bad penalty, preferrably after either a wobbly or arrogant run-up, drawing comparisons with Diana Ross's effort in 1994.
9 A fight between a man in a kangaroo suit and a man in a Paddington bear costume before or after the Australia-Peru game. Two points here if it's during.
10 Something interesting happening while the Swiss are playing.
Yes, we have all the above and more, or possibly a little less, to look forward to and it lasts for a whole month - 31 days in fact. It's almost too much to take in.
What I can't watch on TV I shall listen to on the radio - I am a big fan of football on the radio and find it a medium that can often make following a game more dramatic even than being there. That said, I will be happy to avoid Robbie Savage's daily morning stint on Radio 5.
I shall miss Motty being among the Beeb's commentators, and I shall occasionally switch over to Sky Sports News to see their usual struggle to carry on covering games from outside the stadiums, and fan parks in Leeds and Manchester, while pretending they don't mind that absolutely no-one is watching.
And then, before we know it, will be Sunday, July 15, and it will all be over. But let's not worry about that dark day just yet.
Tweet @stevebone1 with your World Cup observations