Like most English people here on the Costa Blanca – and quite a lot of Spanish ones – I’m waiting impatiently for the England-Sweden football match this afternoon in World Cup 2018. I’ll be going to Jilly’s Bar in Algorfa to watch the match for three good reasons. They have the biggest screen in the area, a lot of my good friends will also be there, and it’s no fun watching England’s biggest match in almost 30 years when you’re home alone, as I am at the moment.
So much has been in the press about the similarities between this World Cup and 1966, when England, against all the odds, lifted the trophy for the first and only time. So far. Well, the hacks have to write something don’t they? The England squad have been playing well on the pitch and conducting themselves well off it, so the tabloids can’t run kiss-and-tells and character assassinations, which is the usual media sport when England are in an international tournament. I suppose they could bleat about how much the squad are being paid for kicking a ball around, but since the majority of England fans believe the team are worth every penny at the moment, that’s hardly likely to happen.
Admittedly, there are some uncanny coincidences. Dapper Gareth Southgate has several parallels with England’s most successful manager – so far – Sir Alf Ramsey. Tactical geniuses who were not thought to be the best choices for the job at times when English football was slightly lower than Donald Trump’s level of diplomacy skills, they brought with them qualities of dignity, integrity, independent thinking and straight talking. They were both in their mid forties when they stepped into the spotlight of the world’s biggest football competition, and they have a similar choice in clothes, as well as an erudite way of conducting interview, without the need for sound bites or jargon.
The similarities don’t end there, either. World Cup Willie, the 1966 mascot, was dressed in red, white and blue, as is the current mascot, Zabivaka. If you don’t remember the song, there’s a reminder under this paragraph – there’s still time to get word perfect before kick off. As a bonus, the highlights of the 66 campaign accompany Lonnie Donnegan’s very catchy anthem. World Cup Willie was the first ever World Cup mascot. Zabivaka means ‘The one who scores’ in Russian, so maybe Harry Kane should consider changing his name, as he’s in the running for the Golden Boot as highest scorer of the tournament. Zabivaka Kane may not roll easily off the tongue, but it has a certain quirky ring to it, doesn’t it? And we could call him Zab for short.
Talking of hat trick heroes, Harry Kane has emulated Geoff Hurst in scoring a hat trick at the world cup. The only other English player to achieve this was Gary Lineker, against Poland in Mexico, 1986. And just as Sir Alf went for youth over experience in appointing twenty-two year old Bobby Moore as captain over older, more famous players, Gareth has opted for Harry Kane, 24, bypassing international veterans such as Ashley Young and Gary Cahill. Only 8 players in the 23-strong squad are younger than Kane, yet he plays with an authority and leadership far beyond his years.
Southgate isn’t afraid to make controversial decisions either, preferring to risk defeat by Belgium, having already qualified, and keep his key players rested and safe from injury. Alf Ramsey was vilified for keeping Geoff Hurst in the side once Jimmy Greaves, a big star at the time, recovered from injury. Hurst had played his first international just a few months earlier, in a friendly against West Germany, but Ramsey trusted his instincts and the rest, as they say is history. In a third example of synchronicity, both Hurst and Kane were pretty competent cricketers, before they became football legends.
There’s been so much written about the parallels with 1966, but you’re about to read a world exclusive – how my 1966 experience is pretty much identical to my personal World Cup 2018. So far.
Back in 1966, I was 14, and package holidays were just becoming affordable for everyone. Mum and Dad worked hard in their fish and
chip shop, and always closed the shop for their main holiday when the surrounding factories in Bilston in the West Midlands closed down for Factory Fortnight. So when I learned that we’d be flying out abroad for the first time on 23rd July – my parent’s 17th wedding anniversary, and the day of the England-Portugal semi-final – I was Not Impressed.
Like pretty much everybody else, Dad thought the home team would be out of the tournament by the time we left anyway. He wasn’t such a big follower of English football as I was – and still am, for that matter. He wasn’t too enthusiastic about wall-to-wall sunshine either – which is why we always spent our holidays in my Gran’s caravan in Blackpool. However, when he found out that Senior Service and Johnny Walker – his favourite brands of cigarettes and whisky – were so much cheaper in Spain, he couldn’t wait to start singing Viva Espana. Well, he had to, as it wasn’t even written and first performed until around 1971, but you get the gist.
The opening games seemed to bear out his words, but I had the Faith of The Fan – or the Foolish, if you like – and just knew they would beat Argentina. Half of me wanted them to lose, so I wouldn’t miss something, but when the final whistle went, I tried my hardest to get Dad to reschedule the holiday. When he quite reasonably refused, I determined to find somewhere – anywhere – to watch the final, should England get past Portugal.
Today, people are arranging their flights so they can see their team of choice play the important matches, but 52 years ago, the flights were neither so frequent nor so fast. In fact our plane looked so old, I asked the stewardess if it was one with an outside toilet. Yes, I’ve always been like that! That earned me a telling off from Mum, but Dad shared my sense of humour and gave me an extra pound to add to my holiday spending money. He must have really liked my crack, because that £1 note – which of course we don’t have now – would be worth £18. My 10-year-old brother wanted everything I had, so he wanted a £1 as well, but Dad, remembering his birthday just a month ago when he flushed the £1 Auntie Jess gave him down the toilet because he wanted ‘real money, not bits of paper’ – sensibly refused.
When we eventually arrived at our hotel in Lloret de Mar, on the Costa Brava, I was delighted to find it not only had a TV at each end of the residents’ lounge, but the guests were more or less equally divided between English and Germans. Our Spanish haven would turn out to be a mini Wembley with sun. Or maybe for me, it wouldn’t.
Once Mum and Dad recovered from the severe shock of waking up to sunshine every morning, they wanted to make the most of it, and were scandalised at the idea of wasting all that sun. Goodness knows why, because Dad was the prototype of the 1960s Brit Abroad on the Beach – long trousers, socks and sandals, and a long sleeved shirt. It was so hot, he did give in and take off his shirt, but the string vest stayed put, and he was blessed with a chest and back that looked like laticed fruit pies until the tan finally faded. Mum was tall with a fabulous figure, but she wore a voluminous cotton skirt over her swimming costume, as she wasn’t going to show the ‘foreigners’ her lovely long, lily white legs. Just as well really – one enamoured old Spaniard who looked about 150 offered Dad two donkeys in exchange for her. If it hadn’t been for having to pay for excess baggage, I could well have returned from my first trip abroad Sin Mi Madre. And no, I’m not translating – look it up!
Rescue came in the unlikely form of Harry and Madge, two lovely pensioners from Matlock in Derbyshire. They were experiencing similar problems – Madge wanted to hit the beach, while Harry wanted to swear at the TV screen, as all football fans do – well, the ones I mix with, anyway. So after lunch, Madge left with Mum, Dad and my Brother for the beach, while I headed for the lounge bar with Harry and the rest. With Mum’s admonitions to ‘Not let Sandra drink anything alcoholic’ ringing in his ears, Harry came back with a large beer for him, and a small one for me. Luckily for me, Matlock men didn’t like taking orders from women – other than their wives – so thank goodness Mum hadn’t said I could have a couple of sangrias, because that was the next step.
The Spanish barman was so impressed with my smattering of Spanish and my burgeouning vocabulary of football fouls – that’s foul language not foul play, if you hadn’t already guessed – he promised me a glass of sangria for every goal England scored. That was when I fell in love for the first time – with both the barman and sangria. He must have thought he was okay when Germany scored after just 10 minutes, but he would regret that decision mightily. I was, and still am – a positive person, and I predicted that England would go on and win the game, they just needed something to get them back on track.
Right up to the 89th minute, it looked like I was right, then Weber sneaked a last minute goal, and it was extra time in stifling heat. It was pretty hot in the hotel too, especially when I made my voice heard over the nay-sayers who were predicting Engand’s chance had gone. I still don’t know whether it was bravado, sheer stupidity or a message from the Other World that prompted me to shout, ‘England will win 4 – 2, and Geoff Hurst will score a hat trick.’ Then I wished I hadn’t. There was silence, followed by roars of laughter. When my ‘Minder’ Harry stopped his shoulders from shaking, he said if both those things happened, he’d give me £1 to top up my pocket money. Good natured chaps from both sides chipped in – it was a very convivial mini Wembley – and I spent the break in proceedings trying to decide how to spend the fortune I was certain would come my way.
As we all know, I was right and they were wrong. I can’t remember exactly how many pounds I collected now, but at the time I made sure each and every one stumped up. Then it got messy. Harry said we should have a ‘proper’ drink to celebrate. He’d developed a liking for Bacardi and as my back teeth were awash after my four free sangrias, I decided to have a change and join him. Not My Best Idea.
As I lifted the glass to my lips, I spotted Mum, Dad and Madge coming into the lounge. They were not looking in the least happy, so with a hiss to Harry not to let them see or smell my glass, I went over to tell them the wonderful news, as they clearly hadn’t heard it. As it turned out, they did know the result, and that was the cause of their distress.
A bit of background here. In the Midlands, people will often add ‘then’ on the end of a question. For example, ‘What’s for breakfast, then?’ In other areas of England, this addition is seen as an aggressive challenge or an insult, as for example, ‘Who won the World Cup, then?’ which was the question my Dad asked in all innocence of the Man Mountain walking along the deserted beach towards them. Said Man Mountain was a distressed German who wasn’t going to cry in front of his mates, so he’d come to the beach to drown his sorrows, and maybe even drown himself, as tears were streaming down his face.
These quickly turned to tears of rage, because although Man Mountain’s understanding and use of English was pretty good, he’d obviously missed the class about idiocyncracies and regional dialects. Now my Dad was big of heart but small of stature, with glasses, but in his despair, Man Mountain wasn’t considering the moral dilemma of taking an unfair fight to the enemy. After all, Dad started it – or so he thought, until Mum managed to explain. Unfortunately, she didn’t do it quickly enough to prevent MM from grabbing Dad’s 7 and a half stone, 105 lbs, or 48 kilos by the shoulders and shaking him like a rat. He even stretched his string vest, and it was new from Marks and Spencers, specially for the holiday.
Once the German realised he’d made a second mistake – the first being supporting the losing side – he was all concern and politeness, and thankfully a bit less suicidal. However, the experience had put both Mum and Dad off football for life, so they retired to a darkened room
to recover, only emerging to eat before heading back to their newfound sanctuary. I took the unexpected opportunity to party with my new friends and become better acquainted with Bacardi. It took Harry, Madge, and a couple of Germans to get me safely to my room at well past Cinderella time. My brother was asleep, so he couldn’t grass on me, and I congratulated myself on getting away with not only watching the match, but augmenting my holiday funds and being DWP. That’s nothing to do with government departments, it’s Drunk Without Permission – a very rare occurence in my family at the time.
What could go wrong? Well, Mum dragging me out of bed at 7.00 am to go for ‘A nice long walk on the beach before breakfast. After all, you had an early night like us, didn’t you, and you need some fresh air after being cooped up watching the football.’ I didn’t disagree, because that would have meant admitting to my transgressions, and Mum getting Harry to spill the beans about any I might leave out, not to say the barman and the rest of the spectators. So I staggered out of bed, showered and put my sunglasses on to hide my bleary, bloodshot eyes. Mums know it all, don’t they? Instead of telling me off, she let me learn my own lesson. I’ve never drunk such a mixture since that day 52 years ago, although my goal average has gone up considerably, as I can tolerate al lot more alcohol these days.
The similarities mount up for me, as they do for the team. In 20i8, I am in Spain for some of the tournament, but not all, just as I was in 1966. I’ll see the quarter final today, but again I’ll be travelling if England make it through to Wednesday’s semi final. Mum and Dad are long gone, but I’m the only one of my close family and friends who believe sincerely that England can win the World Cup again. I’ll be watching them – just as I was all those years ago, but in England rather than here in Spain. Right – time to get my red, white and blue dress and sandals on and head for Jilly’s Come on England!