World Cup Memories: Mexico ’86
My memories of the ’86 tournament are sketchy at best. So this could be brief. I was living on a housing estate in Suffolk at the time, and most of my more vivid recollections are of playing British bulldog with an albino called Graham. As they would be. My retention has also been corroded by the trauma of a prolonged period of bed-wetting which had been precipitated by an unfortunate incident with a plastic tractor and an old woman with a mechanical larynx that made her sound like a Dalek’s aunt.
I found comfort in the pages of my Panini and a preview magazine featuring optimistic articles about English prospects in the competition. Any hope of victory seemed to have been expunged after the first two games against Portugal and Morocco, picking only one point and failing to score in either. Not that I saw any of England’s group matches, the time difference from Mexico meant that I’d long since gone upstairs to urinate on my bed linen.
My only companion on the estate was a Canadian emigre called Tom. Happily, for the sake of playground banter, his national side were even worse than mine, contriving to lose every game they played. Including to France, who I was rapidly developing a minor obsession with and their direct, fluid and above all foreign style of play. And their matches kicked off at a decent hour. I followed them all the way to the semi-final where they disappeared from the tournament and off the face of the footballing earth before sheepishly resurfacing in Euro ’96.
I had little interest in the other home nations. Northern Ireland departed without me even realising they were there in the first place. Scotland’s continued failure to reach the knock-out stages created an amusing subplot. They took the lead against the West Germans. Gordon Strachan’s oddly sensuous attempt to mount the advertising hoarding in celebration will remain with me forever. They then snubbed a lovely opportunity to progress by drawing with an absurdly savage Uruguayan side that were down to ten men inside two minutes. The group was won at pace by Denmark, another team to catch my admiring glance with their weird continental play.
I was certain the Danes were going to win the tournament. And then they got pummeled 5-1 by Spain in the second round. World Cup football is not like normal football.
England were accelerating and in the process creating the blueprint for latter World Cup performances. Founder against the minnows, excel against their betters, before taking their leave in epic style against some dark force of international football, in this case the evil Argies. I still maintain that Maradona’s second goal is actually an own goal by Terry Butcher. And as for his first, I had to ask my Dad after next morning’s headlines whether it had indeed been scored by the ‘Hand of God’. I was much more theologically open-minded in those days.
England’s defeat brought about a degeneration in my bed-wetting. My Mum had to take me to the doctors and they gave me a machine. It was a bit like a smoke alarm but for piss. Unfamiliar with the essence of the NHS, I questioned my Mum who the contraption belonged to. She replied Margaret Thatcher. I felt a bit bad. She probably needed it herself.
Together with an incentive scheme involving Toblerones the machine seemed to do the trick. I’ve been dry for about eight years now.
As for the tournament, the bastard Argentines went on to win. I remember the final, and the utter puzzlement when a player called Brown scored to put Argentina in the lead. World Cup football was confusing. Brilliant, but confusing.