Sun | Dec 16, 2018

Orville Higgins | Waiting for that WCup buzz

Published:Sunday | June 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this June 29, 1986, file photo, Diego Maradona, holds up the trophy, after Argentina beat West Germany 3-2 in the World Cup final match, at the Atzeca Stadium, in Mexico City.

Maybe the promotional campaigns have not been good enough in both the local and overseas media. Maybe I was too caught up with the NBA playoffs and my mind has not yet made the mental switch over to football. Maybe I have watched (and been part of) too many World Cup discussions, and now I simply want the action to get underway. Maybe I am simply getting old.

For some reason, the World Cup bug hasn't quite bitten yet. I am waiting for that adrenaline rush to take over when I think about the tournament in Russia. It is not happening, and I am not sure why. Maybe I should not be questioning this. Maybe as time passes we all get less excited about certain events. Do we feel the same buzz about Christmas or birthdays at 40 as we did at 20? Should we? Maybe not.

Maybe as we get older some of us adopt an "I have seen it all before" position on most things and, therefore, find it hard to feel the same level of excitement. Maybe it is unreasonable to expect that I will feel the same way about World Cups now as I did way back in the 1980s.

In the build-up to the 1982 tournament, I was a mere lad, but for some reason, I remember reading with interest anything that involved Diego Maradona. He fascinated me. Not many people talk about it, but Maradona was then quite a handsome dude with an aura about him. Like the Michael Jackson of the early 1980s, Maradona grabbed my interest not just with his talent, but also his captivating image. Everybody around me was saying Brazil. Everywhere you turned, people were saying that the team with Zico and Socrates and Eder and Falcao were simply too good to lose. Maybe all that talk about Brazil made me want them to lose. In looking back now, I may have been fixated on Maradona only because I saw him as the one who would beat Brazil and shut up my neighbours.

There was a fellow in my first-form class at Mannings High who used to tell us all kinds of fanciful stories about that 1982 Brazil team. God alone knows where he got his stories from. Ludlow Spence, you need to tell us where you got that over active imagination.




Luddy would tell us how he had heard that Zico could kick the ball from one spot on the centre circle and it travelled all the way round and came back to him!

He would tell us how Socrates could control the ball on his chest so well that sometimes it stuck there!

The more bizarre the stories, the more we used to gather around him, spellbound by his almost daily repertoire of Brazilian stories. The day when Italy beat Brazil 3-2, I was worried that Luddy would commit suicide. Maradona ended the tournament in disgrace, but I had seen enough of his mercurial talent to know he would create waves. I couldn't wait for the '86 tournament, where Diego dazzled. He became my first non-cricket hero. Luddy now started to hate Diego only because he had surpassed the Brazilians, and he couldn't convince anyone anymore about those wacky Brazilian tales. To this day, he won't admit it, though.

By 1990, I was a student at Church Teachers' College. I remember hurrying out of exams to watch games. Sometimes I would take two hours to do a three-hour paper just so I could catch the kick-off. My classmates thought I was crazy. I probably was, or I was unknowingly preparing for my later profession.

I argued long and hard with my college friends about that Argentina vs Brazil game where Claudio Cannigia scored after getting that pass (right-footed, by the way) from Maradona. Brazil, they said, played much better. I did not agree. I took on the whole college. My argument was simple: you cannot play better than a team and lose. We still have that argument almost 30 years later!

The World Cup was more fascinating for us then because we didn't see the footballers on TV as readily as we do now. The amount of club football being shown now has taken away from the World Cup experience for me. There is no more mystery about what a player can do. It was the World Cup we used to settle arguments about who the best players were.

Nowadays, we hear that Champions League performances must carry greater weight than World Cup performances. We have become almost too familiar with the players. I will watch of course. Do not get me wrong. But now, I will watch the way you watch your favourite actor in his new movie. You do it out of the need to be entertained, not with the kind of breathless anticipation that I used to feel back in the day. Maybe I have simply grown up!

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host.