Ask most men and they’ll be able to tell you instantly which was their first World Cup. I had an Argentina ’78 football that was kicked about at least until Mexico ’86, but Spain ’82 was my tournament, the one that hit me like an open-topped bus and left a multi-coloured mark. I was nine years old: credulous, impressionable and perfectly positioned to be carried away on a tidal wave of tight satin shorts and crude national stereotypes.
I’ve forgotten pretty much everything that has happened to me in the intervening years but I still remember El Salvador being stuffed by Hungary. I had the Panini sticker album and the Admiral England shirt, as modeled by Terry Butcher, Trevor Francis et al. Most importantly, I had the best seat in the house – largely because, so far as I remember, I watched the matches on my own. Perhaps my mum saw the occasional moment when she nipped in to top up the orange squash supply – thirsty work, watching Zbigniew Boniek put three past Belgica, as the scoreboard called them, at the Camp Nou – but in the summer of 1982 I was my family’s sole football fan, and staying up late to watch the games was a form of religious observance, a holy communion with the riotous sounds and lurid colours of this extravaganza of exoticism.
Alone in our suburban sitting room, I felt myself plugged directly into the TV, transported to the chaotic, teeming stands of the Spanish stadia, where the crowds swayed and danced to a different beat than we were used to hearing in leafy southwest London. On ITV, as Brian Moore in the studio handed over to Gerald Sinstadt and Ron Atkinson in Zaragoza for Yugoslavia v Honduras, a strange and exciting world was opened up to me.
I was – still am – a partisan World Cup fan; I’ve never been one of those who favours club over country. But it’s not the England games I remember best – although I haven’t been able to forget the frantic final twenty-five minutes against the hosts, when Ron Greenwood bunged on his crocked senior stars, Keegan and Brooking, in a desperate and doomed attempt to make the semi-finals.
What I remember best are the flair players, few of whom I had seen before, since these were the days when foreigners were almost unheard of in English football: Platini and Giresse of France; Ruminegge of Germany; Rossi, the free-scoring Italian. But mostly I remember the Brazilians: Zico, Eder, Falcao and the captain, Socrates, the coolest man ever to step on to a football pitch. The flamboyance, the insouciance, the romance of that team was unforgettable – and then they went and lost.
Tim Lewis’s story in the new issue of Esquire, of how the Brazil team of 1982 was defeated by Italy, the eventual winners, and what that meant for football forever afterwards, is a highlight of an issue that celebrates World Cups past and looks forward to the one that kicks off on June 12, when the hosts take on Croatia in Sao Paolo.
We’ve produced six separate covers – here’s an idea: why not buy them all? – featuring a half dozen of the tournament’s most brilliant stars, and we’ve asked some of football’s most eminent writers to put into words what it is that makes certain men rise above even the greatest players and become icons of sport. So Alex Bellos tackles Pele; Jimmy Burns takes on Maradona; David Winner salutes Cruyff; Rafael Honigstein makes the case for Beckenbauer; David Goldblatt examines Zidane; and Brian Glanville celebrates the late Bobby Moore.
For those of us who won’t be on the ground in South America this summer, we offer Esquire’s User’s Guide to Brazil 2014, from which games to watch to what to drink while watching them, who to follow on Twitter and which country to support when England get knocked out. Sorry, if England get knocked out. Sorry, when England gets knocked out.
We also have words of wisdom from Roy Hodgson, as he prepares to take his team to steamy Manaus for their first group game, against Italy on June 14. And in Liverpool FC’s gifted Raheem Sterling we meet a potential homegrown World Cup star. Finally, Ben Mitchell sits down to talk with one of those: Sir Geoff Hurst, who not only won the World Cup with England in 1966 but scored a hat-trick in the final. I’ll write that again: within our pages this month is an interview with an Englishman who scored a winning hat-trick in the final of the World Cup, at Wembley, against the Germans. Go on, Raheem & Co: beat that.
The June issue of Esquire, starring Bobby Moore, Pele, Diego Maradona, Johann Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and Zinedine Zidane is available to buy now from all (most / some) good newsagents and as a digital edition.