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'To read the rest of this Introduction
and a foreword from Jonathan Wilson
purchase 'IBWM: The First Two Years'
Growing up in North East England in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, football was a trip to St James’ Park to see my local team, Newcastle United. While it was cheap for my dad to take me, the standard of football in the old English Second Division wasn’t the greatest. Uninspiring? Maybe, but it didn’t matter.
Everyone remembers how special those first visits to football were and I’m no different. I could happily extol the virtues about how green the grass was (it wasn’t), how skilful the players were (they weren’t) and how great the cigarettes smelled (actually I miss that), but I won’t. The whole experience of just being there was simply wonderful. The journey to the ground, a gradual crescendo build, still resonates with me today, regardless of which venue I am visiting or which team is playing.
By 1981, the notion that football existed beyond England’s shores hadn’t really occurred to little me. The first indication that there was more to life than Mick Martin and Bobby Shinton came in a 1981 package holiday to Pineda on Spain’s Costa del Sol. Espana ‘82 flags and posters were everywhere and I was immediately taken in.
The 1982 World Cup is the first international tournament I can recall. I was eight and thanks to the weekly purchase of Shoot and Match magazine, knew my football at home. However, the players on show in the corner of our living room were something else. I wanted to be Zico, Socrates, Tardelli. These players were different. They could actually DO things with a football.
The arrival of England captain Kevin Keegan at Newcastle meant that trips to ‘the match’ were a little more exciting than they had previously been, but what I longed for was to see those magnificent, mysterious players from TV. Where were they? Why couldn’t Newcastle buy them?
(Socrates, ironically, was completing a doctorate at Newcastle University around this time. If only...)
Over the next few years I was glued to midweek football on TV. Seeing Villa, Forest, Spurs and Liverpool play in Europe on TV gave me a fix. I was introduced to Malmo, Anderlecht, Videoton...but wanted more. The obligatory Newcastle and Sunderland Subbuteo teams I received at Christmas 1984 became Juventus and Athletic Bilbao. While my schoolmates were recreating Peter Beardsley slotting past Chris Turner, I only had eyes for Paolo Rossi leaving Andoni Zubizarreta clutching at thin air.
I absorbed each second of the Euros in 1984, but the ban on English teams in Europe following the dreadful Heysel disaster in 1985 hit me hard. I digested every last morsel of Mexico ‘86, even if it involved getting up in the middle of the night (to my long suffering schoolteachers; I apologise). Newspapers and magazines were scoured, libraries frequented, pocket money spent on books. I learned the history of as many clubs throughout the world as I could, and got to know players, past and present.
As the eighties became the nineties, the Wednesday evening scraps thrown out by BBC Sportsnight’s occasional coverage of Gary Lineker at Barcelona was superseded by the arrival of James Richardson presenting Football Italia on Channel 4. The second coming as far as I was concerned.
I no longer had to read about Attilio Lombardo, Beppe Signori and Roberto Baggio; I could now watch them each week on TV. With English teams back in Europe, satellite television and the rapidly expanding internet, football from just about everywhere was accessible. I was, and continue to be, in my element.
For all the options available to the casual global football watcher, I always felt something was missing. World football coverage on the internet is fragmented and patchy while fabricated transfer stories with provocative headlines rule. 99% of what I was reading only focused on 0.01% of what was going on. Wall-to-wall Manchester United, Barca and Arsenal are good for some people, but not this pilgrim. What is going on at Slovan Bratislava, Fluminense, Honved, Melbourne Heart, Mamelodi Sundowns?
To read the rest of Jeff's introduction please purchase IBWM: The First Two Years