Right now I shouldn't even like football. Consider what I've seen recently.
1) My favourite team had a disappointing season, culminating in two hugely disappointing performances in the season-ending play-offs.
2) To follow that my aforementioned favourite team then part company with the manager and their star striker.
3) Previously mentioned former manager takes job with club in close geographical proximitiy to Palace. They also hate us and take great pleasure from grasping him away from us. We're more disappointed in his apparent dishonesty.
4) Two English clubs end up losing European finals.
5) Dream Team 80s begins on Sky One. Alex Ferns' character is written out after the second episode, long before he's really had the opportunity to duplicate any of his comedy villiany he carried out in Eastenders.
(Not excusing his domestic violence, but Ferns' role as Mo's evil husband Trevor was utterly compelling to watch. It was the definition of can't-miss TV at the time. "Eat your dinner. I said eat your dinner!" Incidentally which Eastenders bigwig had the idea to give a Scottish character the surname Morgan? I've lived here for nearly nine years and not met one Scot with that as surname. It's bizarre.)
So a few weeks ago I wasn't looking forward to the upcoming World Cup at all. Now it is a matter of days away and I'm positively looking forward to it. I've got casual arrangements made for England's games against Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago. This should be good. Besides, as my Palace supporting friend Scott says, "You need to get back on the horse."
Think about what I'd be missing if I just ignored it. The possiblity of someone scoring a goal like Carlos Alberto's 1970 classic. The chance that a team could capture your imagination, like Cameroon in 1990 or Denmark in 1986. The potential for a classic game to develop in front of your eyes, like Italy vs Brazil in 1982 or France vs Brazil in 1986. (It is worth mentioning that I missed the end of that game due to a thunder storm, which naturally led to my Mum switching off and unplugging every TV in the house - I don't know anyone else who does this, and all my friends still refer to this even now.)
World Cup tournaments and the events surrounding them range from the good (sense of excitement around the country), to the bad (cynical play), to the downright sublime and bizarre (John Barnes rapping, Cameroon players taking it in turns to upend Claudio Caniggia). (What happens after the tournament is a big letdown, which ends up with something ridiculous not just being tolerated, but actively encouraged, e.g. Gazza releasing "Fog On The Tyne".)
Best of all though is the opportunity to share a common bond with your friends. Normally separated by support of rival clubs, you can band together under a shared nationality, although it tends to help if you have something as cool as "Three Lions" to provide the soundtrack to the experience. Here are some of my best memories of "supporting" England with my friends (not that I've been to an England game, but I'm English and thereby a supporter by my place of birth, although not a card-carrying travelling member of the England Supporters Club).
England vs Switzerland, Euro '96: Only a 1-1 draw, but I was down in Plymouth visiting some friends. We watched the game at a student bar which had a big screen. The room was packed and full of atmosphere. The final result was disappointing but looking back it was a pretty fun afternoon, when your attention was away from the big screen that is.
*** WARNING: Scottish readers may wish to skip the next paragraph. ***
England vs Scotland, Euro '96: A 2-0 victory for England, watched at home with a different group of friends who I had watched the previous week's game with. Gary McAllister's penalty miss was followed shortly afterwards with Paul Gascoigne's amazing solo goal. My friends and I didn't see Gazza's famous "Dentist's Chair" celebration at the time, we had all run out into my parents' back garden and all spontaneously carried out some head-first slides in the grass.
*** WELCOME BACK to all the Scottish readers. ***
England vs Argentina, 2002 World Cup: Okay, I was stuck up here in Scotland away from my friends, and I actually saw the last twenty minutes in a pub surrounded by five people wearing Argentina shirts (needless to say I was out of the door the second the full-time whistle was blown). I still say this qualifies as a shared memory because of what happened sixteen years earlier in Mexico City.
I was eleven years old when Diego Maradona scored his infamous "Hand of God" goal in the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final. It remains the first sporting injustice I remember seeing (as I missed Harald Schumacher's brutal assault of Patrick Battiston four years earlier, probably due to another thunderstorm). I think most English men around my age did.
After the game finished I returned to work, then bought some World Cup CDs on the way home from work. As I had a courtesy car with a CD player I took a detour on the way home with the stereo cranked up, before delving into a string of daft, immature and immensely satisfying e-mails.
Maybe the whole collective experience is daft and immature, but is it any more so than the countless reality TV shows we're now subjected to? This is a different kind of reality, where legends are built and lifelong memories take root.
Have a good week!