Olly Ricketts takes a slightly depressing walk down World Cup memory lane…

I recently discovered that over the years I have accumulated three copies of Hero, the official film of the 1986 World Cup. In fairness, I have absolutely no idea how the second and third copies came into my possession, but it is fitting nonetheless; as an 8 year old I lived for that video. I even wonder whether the second and third copies were bought by my parents, who may have been concerned that I would wear the first copy out like a teenager rewinding certain Patsy Kensit scenes in Lethal Weapon 2, such was my unquenchable desire to watch it again and again.

I loved Hero primarily because the 1986 Mexico World Cup was where my interest in football became obsession. It’s an obsession that has survived the intervening 25 years, but with one major change: I have fallen out of love with the World Cup. I still watch it. I’ll still meet up with friends to watch England games, and I can just about muster a cheer in the unlikely event that they score. But it’s not the same. I no longer feel the slavish desire to watch every minute of every match for the whole four weeks. I’m no longer devastated at England’s inevitable exit. I, like many others, just don’t care about international football anymore.

My lack of interest in World Cups and European Championships is not something to wear as a badge of honour. In fact, I’m jealous of those whose summers revolve around international football. With that in mind, I wanted to see whether the passion could be rekindled. I therefore took one of my myriad copies of Hero, sourced a video player – harder than you might think – and settled down for some serious nostalgia.

My initial feeling was one of instant familiarity. As the opening shots showed the devastating after effects of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake that almost prevented the tournament going ahead, I realised that I knew the narration off by heart: ‘In less than two minutes, tens of thousands of people would die in the devastation.’ What I hadn’t realised as an 8 year old, was that it was only Michael ‘bloody’ Caine doing the narrating. It seems a strange choice with hindsight, and gives an impression of choosing a big name over a suitable timbre. Well, it was the 1980s. Far worse, however, was the soundtrack. Nothing screams understated sympathy for human tragedy like 80s synths punctuated with intermittent doom laden pan pipes, does it? It actually gets less subtle as the film progresses. When footage of Uruguayan hero Enzo Francescoli being butchered by 1,378 two footed lunges in a single game isn’t quite enough to let us know that he was at risk of a 1,379th, we get music which screams ‘be tense…it’s only going to go and happen again…watch out Francesc….oh, you should have taken heed of the stabbing keyboard.’ It’s painful, cod-prog stuff. But then, it is composed by Rick Wakeman..

Another memory that quickly flooded back was how futuristic the super slow motion replays were. They lent moments a balletic quality; none more so than the already graceful Michel Platini’s penalty in the shootout at the end of France’s classic quarter final victory against Brazil. I distinctly remember how gloriously perfect that penalty looked as it slowly arced towards the top corner, and how much I tried to recreate it in the garden. I now realise that he actually skied it well over the bar, and feel more than a little foolish at nominating it as the best penalty ever in many a pub discussion.

So, Hero contains an unsuited narrator, execrable soundtrack and misleading replays. It also contains disjointed narratives that jump from one to another at will. Denmark’s impressive showing in the group stages is given prominence in the coverage of the early rounds, yet their subsequent thrashing at the hands of Spain in the 2nd round merits only a passing mention.
Most disappointingly of all, watching Hero again revealed a World Cup not quite as incomparable as I have always held it up to be. Although Argentina were far from the one man team that is often claimed, and Denmark produced some sumptuous pass and move football in the group stages, 1986 arguably lacked a truly great side. Brazil were weaker than the iconic underachievers of four years previously that Neil Scott described so eloquently in Late Tackle No. 1, while England were of course England. Certainly there were seminal moments – mostly produced by the feet (and occasionally other body parts) of the incomparable Diego Maradona – but the overall standard was inconsistent.

(NOTE: the following should be read as if soundtracked by a prog-Human League appropriating a Hovis advert) Yet, for all its quirks, misinformation and Rick Wakeman, Hero stirred (albeit clunkily) a realisation of exactly why I will never love the World Cup again. I had assumed that it was because I spent much of the time between tournaments screaming abuse at, and wishing misfortune upon, three quarters of the England side, as well as the passage of time leading me to question blind patriotism. But I now realise it is more simple than that. I watched the 1986 with a degree of wide eyed wonderment. I had never seen Diego Maradona play before, let alone the Belgian or Moroccan sides. I had barely even seen football played in the sunshine. Today, when a World Cup rolls around, those players that don’t already play in England every week are well known to any of us. The mystery, the ignorance of foreign teams, foreign formations and foreign kits has gone, replaced with YouTube compilations of the Albanian Under-14s.

As reactionary as it sounds, with the wealth of information available, I’m not even certain that today’s children will ever get the same other worldly buzz from the World Cup that my generation did. Either that, or maybe, despite all my protestations, I just need another Rick Wakeman soundtrack to reawaken my love. I await his take on the vuvzela with baited breath.

This article was originally published in Late Tackle issue 2; for more information please visit latetacklemagazine.com.

I’m available for all types of writing work, wherever you are in the world. You can view examples of my copywriting and features, and you can also find out more about me here and on the homepage. Want to cut to the chase? You can contact me here or at the bottom of this page. I can also be found lurking on Twitter and LinkedIn.