In last Tuesday’s semi-final, Mbappe dragged and back-heeled a no-look pass into Giroud’s path. Vincent Kompany almost snapped a tendon trying to second-guess him and Giroud didn’t even score, but it was such a moment of pure intuitive magic that the joy from my hosts and neighbors, an old Indian couple who confess ignorance about football woke up the entire neighborhood. That moment will stick in memory for long.
And that is what the World Cup is to me – a memory bank. I see the football but most of it registers like memory milestones along the road of my life. Some remain undiminished and others since distorted. But as I recall it all started in 1978 or thereabout.
Televised football back then came to us months late and memory is obviously hazy here. So, I am not clear whether we watched the whole tournament, or a delayed replay of just the final. But I certainly do have a recollection of “strangers” in our living-room baited by the grainy TV images of confetti raining down on players in the 1978 final. Come 1982, I was old enough to know we were watching live games. We were mostly familiar with Germany, so Italy broke our hearts. Still we inked Paulo Rossi-22 on our white sports shorts and lived the hype at school.
In 1986 we were tiptoeing into out-of-bounds video shacks to watch Maradona, in total disregard of the strict regimes of boarding school. By 1990 we felt old enough to try out pubs and fell in love with that charming Italia ’90 theme song, and Roger Milla. We also felt a sense of poetic justice at Paul Gascoigne tears because England had ended our African dream.
1994 was a mixed bag. Maradona returned but was busted and the games came at 3am when we should really have been reading up for our University final-year examinations. We watched. We passed. No sweat.
Of them all however, it is the 1998 version that sticks out albeit for the wrong reasons. I watched the final at a pub called Slow-Boat on Kampala Road. At half-time a crude bomb went off two meters from where I was playing a game of pool. It could have been different, and I consider myself extremely lucky.
In defiance though, I vowed to continue watching my football at Slow-Boat and so was the case for the mid-morning games of 2002 that totally messed with productivity or the mechanical games of 2006 whose outstanding moment of poetry was the Zinedine Zidane headbutt.
On to the 2010 ‘home’ World Cup and for a month we camped in Johannesburg and accumulated a treasure trove of memories that this column has told before and that will be carried on beyond, by my great grandchildren and their children.
Finally, 2014 and 2018 have largely been the same technical-parity tournaments devoid of a stand-out star or dramatic moment. But football is cyclic, and in 2022, I hope it goes back to the magic that sold the game to my Indian neighbours.