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World Cup memories: 1978

So the World Cup 2010 is on. I’ve never been very good at playing football, but I’ve always enjoyed having a go and will continue to do so for as long as I can. I’m quite good at watching from the armchair, though. For this tournament, I’m running a wee Score Prediction Game online. When I conceived this labour of love, I envisioned a much bigger thing with prizes and everything, spreading virally around the Twitterverse. However when push came to shove and important things like work and family took priority, I only just about managed to get it implemented in time. I’m delighted to have the little group of 29 predictors battling it out throughout the tournament.

As the 2010 tournament begins to splutter into flame halfway through the group stages, I’ve decided to look back at my World Cup memories down through the years. My interest in football probably was just beginning to blossom in 1974 (aged 7) what with Cruyff, Beckenbauer and my “namesake”, Gerd Müller and Co., but the real strong World Cup memories begin in 1978.

Take me to the land of heroic failure, Archie

As an 11 year old boy growing up in Belfast, I wasn’t aware of the distant Scottish ancestry quite probably lurking in parts of my family tree and I certainly didn’t know that I would be destined to spend maybe half of my adult life in Scotland, but there was something about the journey taken by Ally’s Army in Argentina 1978 that stuck a deep chord in me. By the time they lined out beaten and disgraced against the Netherlands for their third and final group game, they needed a 3 goal margin of victory to progress. Mission impossible! But then enter Archie Gemmill to lead us to the brink of something miraculous with a moment of brilliance to take Scotland’s lead to 3-1.

Alas, of course, it wasn’t to be. I am the youngest of 5 children, most of whom would still have been at home at that time, but my memory of Scotland’s heroic exit is a very private one. In order to deal with the frustration of almost witnessing a miracle only to have it snatched away, I recall disappearing outside into the brambles somewhere with a bag full of bottles. I then went on a short smashing spree. Goodness knows what repressed emotions could have remained to ravage my soul, had I not been able to wallow in the sound of breaking glass.

Marching to the beat of a different drum

With Scotland on the plane home, there was just one team left that captivated me and my peers. Once school was done and dusted for the summer, it was time to go to the caravan park in Ballycastle to spend the summer at the seaside. As Mario Kempes and his Argentinian teammates marched relentlessly to their destiny under a cloud of ticker tape and military dictatorship, I have one abiding memory of joining in with a couple of dozen kids, locked arm in arm, as we marched down a quiet Co. Antrim road, chanting: AR – GEN – TINA. Over and over again.
Argentina 1978

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