World Cup Willie

It’s started and its bringing back all sorts of memories.  By using my fingers and toes I reckon that this is my 14th World Cup. I’ve actually lived through 15 but somehow, as I sat in my highchair, Chile 1962 passed me by.  The World Cup has been so much a part of my growing up.  Coming as it does every 4 years so often a tournament has happened at the same time as momentous events in my life.  It marked my rite of passage from being a boy to becoming a man.  Even if I can’t remember every goal scored or penalty given away, even now, I can remember exactly how I felt watching the games as I went through my ‘A’ level exams in 1978 or the fear and excitement of starting a new job in a new town in 1982.

world cup willie

For me it started with World Cup Willie in 1966. Every major sporting events has to have a mascot.  In 1966, England’s World Cup Mascot was a Lion dressed up in a Union Jack football shirt and his name was World Cup Willie. It was many years later that I actually saw the games of 1966 in Colour.  Back then England played against West Germany in the final in a shade of grey.  I can still name the England team that took the field that day and probably most of the German side too.  As a family we all sat around a little TV and celebrated when the final goal went in from Geoff Hurst. ‘They think it’s all over…it is now’.  Years later I got to interview Kenneth Wolstenholme.  This was before the TV sporting quiz game took his quote for a title.  He was a lovely and very generous interviewee.  All I had to say at the end of our chat was, ‘Would you mind saying it for me?’ and we both knew exactly what I meant. One of my radio career highlights

That year we went as a family to a caravan in Poppit Sands in Cardigan bay.  As it rained I spent one day drawing World Cup Willie and then I sent it to Blue Peter.  A couple of weeks later I got a letter from the producer Biddy Baxter together with a Blue Peter badge.  This was the stuff that dreams were made of for a 6 year old boy. No wonder I remember it so well, no wonder I became a dreamer.

By 1970 I was a complete football nut playing every moment I could in and out of school.  Because the games were in Mexico the time difference caused a bit of family disruption as our usual morning prayers (honestly) was replaced by David Coleman live from Mexico. By this age I realised that being from Wales meant that although I could be interested in the English team I needed another team to support. Like ever other boy in Brynhyfryd Junior school I choose Brazil.  It was a golden summer.  This was my first experience of becoming a Panini Sticker obsessive.  Although I wasn’t particularly interested in the Iranian national side I could identify and name everyone of them even thought they all seemed to have exactly  the same moustache.

Highlights from the 1970 World Cup Final

It still hurts to think I missed the first 10 minutes of the final, Brazil against Italy.  It was a Sunday evening and I wasn’t allowed to skip going to the Gospel service.  As soon as the final Amen rang out I was out of there running as fast as I could in my Sunday best suit.  Boy, I was fast back then, the service ended at 7pm, but I still managed to get home and get the television warmed up (it took time back then for the valves to do their thing) and was in front of the screen before Pele scored the first goal in the 18th minute.

By 1974 I was captain of the Swansea Schoolboys and although music was important it still played second fiddle to football.  My favourite player at the time was Johann Cruyff, so much so I my football togs in that year were a special edition Cruyff Puma pair of boots.  For some reason I decided to wear them as I watched the second half of the final in our living room. It makes me laugh now but at the time it really made sense!

In 1978 the World Cup fell just at the time I was doing my ‘A’ Levels.  I was growing up in all sorts of ways.  I’d just recorded with Elton John at Abby Road. I had my first girlfriend and I had to make life changing decisions about what to do when leaving school.  I was determined to move to London and become a full time musician but with teachers as my parents I was reminded that education was important.  I can still remember the music especially written by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Argentine Melody) which signaled that it would soon be time to pout the books away for another night.

mal punk

Hardly a punk !

By 1982 I had been to university, had a year starving and freezing as a musician in London and decided to try my hand in broadcasting back home in Wales.  During my university days I had worked during the holidays as a researcher at BBC Radio Wales.  I had been offered a job in 1981 but I had wanted to give the music a chance so I turned it down and moved to London.  As a denim clad singer songwriter in a world of pierced spitting punk rockers I never stood a chance.

Offered a temporary contract in 1982  I found a flat in Cardiff and joined the ‘AM’ breakfast radio team with Chris Stuart.  Chris was also a massive football fan. Very kindly he invited me to watch the opening game in the company of his England supporting friends.  Bryan Robson scored within 27 seconds against France and it was only polite to join in the celebrations.  As usual England would be knocked out of the tournament in the second round by West Germany.

If I’m honest with myself I fell out of love with football during the 80’s.  It was hard as a Swans fan to still be passionate having fallen so far so quickly.  World Cup 1986 was back in Mexico but I remember very little.

It took the arrival of my sons to reignite my love for the game and the World Cup. In Italia 90 the music of Pavarotti and the tears my boys shed as Pearce and Waddle fired wide to allow Germany to win another Penalty shoot out and send England home meant neither my sons or I would forget the tournament and so another generation built their own memories attached to the beautiful game.

And that is why the World Cup means so much to so many people.  It brings back memories of family and friends who are no longer with us but who shared tears and cheers every 4 years. It marks the passing of the years and ties them forever to specific life moments that let you say, I remember that World Cup because… and then you are back in the moment as if it was yesterday.  Over the next few weeks billions of people around the world will be making memories just the way we do.  Strange isn’t it, politicians and religious leaders try their best to bring people together but sometimes its sport and music that really help us see that really we aren’t that different after all.

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