Sunday, June 27

World Cup memories: the night Gazza saved my life

Today England play Germany in the World Cup, which means that the media is quite literally having a 110% field day over the previous meetings of these two great countries in various football matches and wars. Inevitably, this brings back memories of Italy, 1990 and the England vs Germany semi-final.

Italia 1990 was probably the only time the World Cup has received my total attention. I had just started my first "proper" job – I had moved to Crawley, UK to work in the publications department of a company (now defunct) that made flight simulators. This involved photocopying things, drilling holes through huge piles of paper, and then putting them in binders. The authors, who worked in-house, were a mixture of recent graduates, elderly fighter pilots and psychopaths, and it was important to put their documents into appropriately coloured binders. Shortly before I arrived, there had been a nasty incident when a psychopathic author discovered that his flight simulator manual had been housed in a pink binder, and he immediately squared up to the offender.

I watched the first games of the World Cup in a shared house full of different nationalities, including several Italians. There was a nice atmosphere. Then I fell out with the landlord, who lived in the house, moved out very quickly, and found somewhere else to live. I watched the England vs Germany game in the new house. I had the huge house to myself as the landlord and his wife went out and the other lodger (French) had better things to do. The landlords supported Charlton, or something equally improbable, and weren't interested in international football. Bizarre I thought! When the Famous Gazza Tears starting flowing, I remember not feeling sorry for him, as he was upset for himself rather than the team. England's loss via penalties seemed quite traumatic at the time, although I had no-one to share this experience with.

Above all, I associate my intimate knowledge of that World Cup with avoiding getting the shit kicked out of me. Two weeks later, I had an interview for a publishing company in Oxford fronted by little Bobby Maxwell, of pensions fame. After the afternoon interview – in no big hurry to get the train back to Crawley, and never having been to Oxford – I had a pint in the Grapes pub on the way back the train station.

Sitting there with my pint and in my crap suit, I had a horrible feeling that the huge bloke standing at the bar was looking at me in a very threatening way. I was trying to convince myself that I was just being paranoid but then his little mate started talking his huge, huge mate (getting bigger by the second) out of kicking the shit out of me. "He's not worth it”, etc. Oh dear…

The small mate then came over and starting talking to me about the World Cup. He was obviously giving me a chance to prove myself via the international bloke language of football. I made the right noises about Gazza, how gutted I was, and how an Englishman would never settle for third place, etc. etc., and eventually I seemed to convince his lurking huge friend not to beat me to a pulp.

I got the job, moved to Oxford, and never had any trouble in all the years I was there.

Whenever I see the Famous Gazza Tears now, I don’t think much about England, I’m more grateful to him for the continuing availability of my intact head.

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