Pete Sixsmitharrives at the penultimate stage of his journey to every World Cups from 1966 to 2006. From the 2002 tournament he remembers the McCarthy-Keano spat, wailing South Korean teenagers, Tommy Sorensen’s howlers and yet another Brazilian trophy …
It’s interesting that as you get older, the more recent memories don’t stay for very long, while the more distant ones linger. When speaking to Neil Martin a couple of weeks ago, I was able to picture the goals he scored in my boyhood far more clearly than I could those of say, Tore Andre Flo or Jon Stead.
Ironic moment over, the same principle attaches itself to World Cups. The memories of England 66 and Mexico70 are much crisper than those of the Japan and South Korea 02, partly because the football was probably better, but also because of the settings.
My ignorance of Japanese and Korean cities is extensive. The bigger ones like Tokyo, Yokohama, Seoul, Busan I could identify, but places like Seogwipo and Ibaraki were as obscure to me as Bury and Scunthorpe would be to a Japanese or Korean. Twenty cities involved and near enough 20 new stadiums built. They were impressive, but not always necessary.
The logistics of the tournament were simplified by keeping all of the group games in the same country, but after that there were aircraft criss-crossing the Korean Straits like a Busby Berkeley dance routine, ferrying players, officials and supporters from one host nation to the other. Much simpler if it all takes place in one country.
There was drama as one future Sunderland manager walked away from another. Roy Keane’s verbal attack on the FAI and Mick McCarthy divided a nation. The more cosmopolitan Dublin was in support of Mick, while Roy’s adherents were from his home city of Cork and the more rural areas of the country. As Sunderland fans, we knew that our players in the squad backed McCarthy, so I guess we did – although that probably changed in retrospect when RK took over at the Stadium.
That Ireland went through the group stage was a tribute to their mental strength. That England went out in the quarter finals was to be expected. It was a squad that could have done well: Beckham, Owen, Gerrard, Lampard, Heskey, Trevor Sinclair, Kieron Dyer, players to strike fear into foreign hearts. They looked comfy in the group stage, pasted Denmark in the Round of 16, when Tommy Sorensen had a stinker, laying down a marker for the dismal domestic season to follow, and then failed to handle a Brazil team finding its feet and its form. David Seaman making a hash of Ronaldinho’s speculative free kick from 40+ yards out. I once dropped a similar gaffe against Press Construction at Thompson’s Field, but that’s another story.
The football was pretty good, with some of the lesser known teams doing really well. The USA showed that it wasn’t just their women who could play, Turkey stirred themselves and ended up third and Guus Huddink showed what a wonderful coach he was by taking the Korean Republic to a semi final, amidst mounting and ear splitting hysteria in Seoul and other cities.
They beat Italy (surely the only team to have been beaten by both Koreas in a World Cup Finals) , knocked out the perennially disappointing Spain on penalties and only lost the semi-final to Germany to a late Michael Ballack goal.
But oh, that high pitched screaming from the thousands of teenage girls who attached themselves to their team (unlike the restrained Japanese supporters shown in Noriko Puffy‘s photo). Think of a flock of starlings crossed with the squealing brakes of a high sped train and you have something approaching those nights in Seoul when hormones whizzed around all over the place. The vuvuzuela should be a doddle after this.
Brazil won it, quite deservedly as they played thoughtful, intelligent football throughout. A Ballack-less Germany did well to reach the final and did not disgrace themselves. Turkey pipped the Republic of Korea for third place and England fans still insisted that they were strong enough to win it next time. Some things never change.
The early morning kick offs presented some problems at home. On one morning we opened the school late so that students could watch a dreary 1-1 draw with Sweden. After that, they were allowed to watch England games in school.
The quarter final against Brazil fell into that category and I had about 30+ crammed into my room, munching on bacon sandwiches and swilling mugs of milky tea. The groan that went up when Seaman was chipped could have been heard in Spennymoor and tongues were bitten as swearing was not allowed. It was a good bonding session and it was the earliest that some of them had ever been in school since their days as sweet smiling infants.
Abiding memories: the wretched showing by France, a microcosm of the abysmal season we were about to experience; Ahn Jung Hwan scoring the Republic of Korea’s winner against Italy – and then being told by the owner of his club, Perugia, that he would never play for them again; a record 6 Sunderland players involved in the finals; high pitched screaming in Seoul and low level whining in the streets of England.
Next: Sven’s gallant lads lose again; ifs and butts (sic); viva Paraguay for the first time.