Home How (not) to share the World Cup with friends

How (not) to share the World Cup with friends

Life teaches that it’s not quite like that. Some are quite forgettable, others fail to engage for more personal reasons.

But the best remain brilliant and memorable, and inextricably linked with friends, family, loved ones – and even disliked ones – because like Christmas, the World Cup is not a time for exclusion.

The people you watch it with make the difference. Although not in the ways usually portrayed by those with something to sell.

I am not convinced, for example, by the admen’s portrait of three twenty-something men watching football in a pub nursing their pints with cheerful upturned faces. Too uniform. Nor by the older demographic version of four middle-aged men sitting on a spotless sofa, sans beer, with a coffee table in front erupting at the slightest hint of action. One word. When?

The World Cup can be satisfyingly un-shared. As a boy, I gloried in the daily, after-school diet of live football beamed into the family living room from the 1974 World Cup in Germany.

With England a non-qualifier, Cruyff and the team in orange became my surrogate. My brothers may have shared my admiration, but in my mind, I was the one that understood Holland best. That sense of cool detachment the Dutch displayed on the football pitch was something I wanted for myself. This was the opposite of supporting England and I didn’t want to share.

But England (and Cruyff) missed the next World Cup in 1978 and rarely threatened in Spain 1982. In 1986, the climax of England’s campaign was the Maradona-dominated quarter-final against Argentina. Dramatic yes, controversial certainly, but Iess so if you saw the game in highlights after a family day out in Shrewsbury.

Italia 1990 broke the mould. Here was a World Cup to share. England had a team to be proud and the team’s tightrope walk to the semi-finals gripped the nation.

Watching a World Cup match with a best mate in my basement flat surrounded by cans of beer was how I got going in 1990. The semi-final against Germany was in the same vein. It wasn’t perfect. I wanted to do analytical, he did opinionated, but we’re still friends nearly 30 years on and won’t forget it. So I understand the allure of the ads with the three mates or the four compañeros, but still don’t think World Cups happen like that.

There was one World Cup match in the 2000s that had many of the ingredients beloved by the adman: three old university friends gathered around a widescreen television with a recently refurbished open-plan kitchen as background. It could have been a classic, but one of us had invited a wildcard – a sixty-something art dealer who made cocktails in the kitchen while holding a chef’s knife that he wouldn’t put down.

There are more like that: the England match after work in a pub that degenerated into a slanging match and a fight between two employees, the one where I tried too hard to impress a friend’s girlfriend’s sister or the one where my brother’s friend bombed the entire match with a stream of surreal and vulgar humour.

Which was all fine by the way. My favourite World Cup moment was in a west London living room stuffed with friends, old and new, watching the England v Argentina game in 1998. When Michael Owen scored at the end of his slalom run the room dissolved with noise, joy, swearing, laughter. That was the World Cup right there.

I have some high hopes for this one too. I’ll watch with my two sons, aged seven and eleven, and induct them into the ritual of the shared World Cup moment. England will disappoint, we will laugh/cry, eat snacks. It could be brilliant, but more importantly, I won’t forget this one.

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