A World Cup always brings the memories flooding back for me, of tournaments I have either watched on the television, or been lucky enough to attend in person, as both a fan and a journalist.
Mexico 1986 is the first finals I can properly remember, watching on in agony from my home in London as Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” moment, followed by a quite brilliant individual goal, sent England tumbling out of the competition at the quarterfinal stage. Back then I was only 10 years old, and memories, apart from that match, are a little fuzzy.
In 1990, at 14, I have clearer recollection of sitting in my living room and almost bursting into tears as a brilliant Cameroon threatened to derail England, before Gary Lineker’s cool finish put the Three Lions through. In the semifinal, however, it was back to reality, as Germany won on penalties.
The first World Cup I actually attended was in 1998 in France, as a supporter, with the first game I went to, entirely coincidentally, Bafana Bafana’s World Cup opener at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
This was before I moved to South Africa in 1999 and managed to land a job as a football journalist. I went to Japan in 2002, and even went to one of Bafana’s warm-up games, though I didn’t actually attend a live World Cup game in that year.
My most vivid memory in 2002 was of thousands of Republic of Ireland fans piling into a pub in Tokyo just after they had drawn their opening match with Cameroon.
In 2006, I was lucky enough to head to Germany for the tournament, as we followed all the African teams around, and as a powerful Ghana team made it to the last-16, only to fall at the hands of Brazil.
I also attended my first World Cup final in Berlin, and was frantically typing away on my laptop and so missed the incident as my colleague at the time, Matshelane Mamabolo, said to me something like “I think Zidane just headbutted someone”.
In 2010, of course, the World Cup came to South Africa, and Ghana came to within the width of a crossbar of being the first African side to make a World Cup semfinal, as Asamoah Gyan’s penalty struck the woodwork. The fans really got behind Bafana Bafana too, and it was a real shame they could not make it out of the group stages.
My best memory was when I finally made it to Durban for the semifinals, and could soak in some winter warmth after a freezing World Cup on duty for my newspaper!
Bafana’s failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil meant I didn’t go there, watching much of it in the pubs of London, though by the time I arrived in England they were already out of the competition.
This year I will be watching Russia 2018 in South Africa too, and am looking forward to seeing who will grab the headlines this time around.
Hopefully at least one of the African teams can go deep into the competition, though I sadly have to admit I am not too optimistic about that.