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June 18, 2006

The seven ages of the World Cup Finals

It is my contention that as you grow up, you go through seven ages of the World Cup Finals

The 1974 World Cup Finals mean nothing to me. This stage is categorised by being a baby and not having any, or scant, knowledge of the beautiful game, except that you like it when the TV is a soothing green colour, but not when daddy suddenly shouts and swears unexpectedly like that.

Once you get going with this World Cup mania thing, there is no stopping you. You collect the Panini stickers like mad. You believe your parent's newspaper when it predicts that England will finally lift the trophy again, and the England manager's press conference that says it is the most talented and fit squad he has ever worked with. You inexplicably start tying to be Zbigniew Boniek in the playground and the park. You know how to spell Zbigniew Boniek. Well, I did in 1982 anyway.

The teenage years. Characterised by a rather stronger interest in girls, ciggies, beer and going out, than an interest in the World Cup. We never win anyway, you sulk, you miserable teenager you, what is the effing point?

As you get to around 30 it suddenly hits you. Most mid-life crises are triggered by the sudden realisation that you've probably had sex more times in the past than you are going to have it again in the future - particularly with teenage girls. A World Cup mid-life crisis is even worse - "I've possibly already seen half of all the World Cup football I'm ever going to get to watch in my lifetime". There is a sudden zestful urge to re-create the frenzy of the childhood days - you start collecting the stickers again, and buy every single newspaper for the free World Cup booklet. You daren't miss a single moment of the tournament - even the Group H dead-rubber between Japan and Jamaica becomes a crucial fixture to you.

You've seen it all before, the hype, the hope, and the lack of English glory. You've come to accept that the World Cup is great fun - but you realise that statistically it is unlikely to be won by someone who hasn't won it before. That used to happen. Between 1954 and 1966 Germany, Brazil and England won the tournament for the first time each. Then it took until 1978 for Argentina to join the club. Last time round there was a gap of 20 years before somebody new won it - France in 1998. And the last three to join the club have all been hosts of the tournament the first time they won it. And of those teams that have won before, you can pretty much dismiss England and Uruguay out-of-hand.

Characterised by a glassy-eyed "Oh my God, has it come around again? Where did the last 4 years go?" expression, you can add to the "We won't win" shrug-of-the-shoulders from the previous stage the dawning realisation that they are now discussing who is going to host World Cup Finals that you are unlikely to see.

Blissful Ignorance
I like to picture myself in the future, wearing a shabby dressing gown, drool dribbling out of one side of my mouth, saying "Nurse, nurse, I don't care if it is the World Cup debut of the plucky newly liberated Basque Country against reigning champions Team U.S.A. - I want Countdown followed by Neighbours on the communal TV"

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