Around The Grounds

Where did those 4 years go? World Cup begins again.

The Football (or soccer) World Cup starts June 15 in Russia and the Socceroos, appearing at the World Cup finals for the fourth time in a row, will play their opening game on the second day of the tournament – June 16.

The game, which is against France, will be played at 8pm Eastern Standard Time so it’ll be a rare chance for Australian sports fan to watch their national team play at a respectable hour. This will be an unmissable game against a fabled opponent.

Now where exactly has the last four years gone?

Around the Grounds

Memories of the World Cup that leap out at me like a sprawling goalkeeper include Maradona’s ‘hand of god ‘goal against England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico (a game I watched at a cricket pavilion in North London, a TV perched on the bar), Italy’s national heartbreak on losing to Argentina in a penalty shootout in 1990, then Ray Houghton from the Republic of Ireland lobbing a left foot shot over the head of the Italian goal keeper in a derby game between two great immigrant communities of New York City at Giants stadium in 1994.

In Around the Grounds it was my great pleasure to recount my own experiences as both a spectator and a fledgling radio reporter at the World Cups in 1990 in Italy, 1994 in the USA and 1998 in France. The event is by dint of the global and diverse audience it attracts (think North African villages, North Sea oil rigs, maybe even the White House) surely the greatest and most unifying sporting event of them all. Though as with a lot of things in sport, you’ll probably get an argument on that.

On my World Cup travels to France in 98, however, Australia wasn’t actually competing in the tournament. That would have been a different story if not for two late goals by Khodadad Aziz for Iran in the closing stages of the final qualifying match against Australia at the MCG. This match was captured so brilliantly on radio by ABC Grandstand’s Peter Wilkins.

Around The Grounds

It was an historic if terrible night when Australian soccer’s long journey took a wrong turn. The fraught emotions of a stunned nation were epitomised by Johnny Warren’s tears in the SBS TV commentary box during his post-game summary. His tears reflected the anguish of a nation who thought its time had come and the emotions of a man who’d dedicated his life to promoting soccer and teaching Australians about its stature and status as the world game. As I recount in my book, I was lucky enough to work with Johnny Warren and his long-term on air partner Les Murray during the African cup of nations in 1996. They were giants of the Australian media and are greatly missed.

Watching the Socceroos’ opening match on June 16, will be a chance to reflect on the passing of another four years and of the enormity of sports greatest spectacle. Whether like myself, your interest in and love of the Football World Cup stretches back to high school and conjures a myriad of colourful memories and associations or you’re a first time onlooker taking the chance to support your national team in a game a huge global TV sporting audience will also be watching, you’ll be a small part of something that brings everyone together. You wait and see.

Photo by Sam Wermut on Unsplash
Photo by Peter Glaser on Unsplash
Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash

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