After one week of self-isolating, I am already running out of ways to amuse myself. There are only so many bike rides, runs around the park, or battle royales in Sainsbury’s over some microwave rice I can do per day. I, like millions of Football fans across the globe, mourn the postponement of their domestic leagues, and to make matters worse the European Championship has been moved back to 2021. This means coming up with more inventive trying to get my weekly football fix, especially since local 11 and 5-a-side games have also now been cancelled.
To make up the lack of live games, it was heartening to find that FIFA have finally done something right, and uploaded classic games for free on to Youtube. Fans stuck inside now have the chance to re-live Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick, the Dutch destroying the Spanish 5-1 in 2014 or Maradonna’s hand of God, in full 90-minute editions. A lot of the games are from before I was born, or ones that I can barely remember, so I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
While I could easily have spent a full day in my pants ploughing through match after match, I thought it would be best to restrict myself to one game a week. The outcome of the 1982 World Cup final isn’t going to change if I wait a few days. I’d also seen that the likes of Four Four Two were doing watch-alongs, using their hashtag #SaturdayFFT. Like most events, I managed to forget about it until after it had already happened but decided to give it a go, though with just one other mate instead of thousands of strangers.
My friend Pete, a fellow long-suffering Ipswich Town fan, was almost a bit too enthusiastic to get involved. Clearly the week at home was getting to him as much as it was to me. We have watched many games live together since I moved down to London, including the majority of the 2018 World Cup, and the 2019 Champions League final, where I got very drunk and managed to smash my phone screen into a billion pieces. All of those games were enjoyed under the influence of alcohol, so we thought it would be only fitting to have a few beers while watching this game. Though, as it was a Sunday afternoon we decided to limit it to two cans each, to keep some respectability to proceedings, and to avoid noise complaints from our neighbours.
As we’d planned it a few days ahead, I woke up looking forward to the game in the same way I would if I was going to the pub for Super Sunday. In a period where every day feels the same, with the only major decision being should I bother getting dressed or having a shower, it was nice to have a bit of purpose for a change.
We set up a Skype video call while linking our laptops to the TV. Our first hurdle came two minutes before we were due to start when I realised my laptop didn’t have an HDMI port, meaning I had to plead with my flatmate to borrow his Macbook. This then delayed the pre-agreed starting time of 3 pm, much to Pete’s annoyance. He had, and I quote “a full set up, laptop on a riser for the perfect angle, with snacks and Chromecast for youtube, while you were left scrabbling around for HDMI cables due to lack of adequate preparation”. I promise he is more of a laugh than he sounds. Sometimes.
Copying Four Four Two, we also selected the 1998 World Cup final. This was the first major tournament either of us could remember, though both our memories of the final itself were a bit foggy. To try and get more into the zone, we also selected the most appropriate shirts we owned to wear whilst watching. I went with the England 1998 kit, while he selected the 1999-2001 Ipswich home shirt.
We synchronised pressing play, and off we went. While I definitely watched the match in 1998, in the following 19 and a half years I had forgotten one of the most important factors of the whole thing. Ronaldo (the original, the best, and pre being labelled as ‘the fat Ronaldo’) had been on fire for the whole tournament. But with barely hours to go to the final he was mysteriously dropped from the starting 11, before being reinstated shortly before kick-off. Rumours of him having a seizure were unconfirmed at the time, though we now know this is exactly what happened. Straight away it was evident something was wrong with him, as he barely seemed able to move around the pitch.
More encouraging to witness was a full Zinedine Zidane performance, instead of just selected highlights of his skills or goals. He was nominally playing just behind Stéphane Guivarc’h (as part of the ‘2’ in a 4-3-2-1 formation) but appeared all over the pitch; centrally, just in front of the defence and out wide. His touch was phenomenal, his range of skill incredible, his hair starting to recede but still very much dominating his scalp.
It was midway through the first half when France opened the scoring, a powerful Zidane header from a corner. I knew that he opened the scoring (and without spoiling it, got the 2nd as well) but had completely forgotten it was from a corner, so both Pete and I were genuinely surprised/celebrated the goal like it was a live match.
Nightmare struck when my housemates needed his Macbook back, so I was forced to just watch it on my small laptop screen instead. With the lineups being permanently fixed on either side of the screen, this meant the window of the actual match was now very small, and it restricted me from randomly scrolling through Twitter whenever the conversation died down, or when Pete spent 30 seconds choking on Peanut dust after inhaling too many in one go.
Just as half time was looming, France doubled their advantage, with another header from that man Zidane. Surely Brazil would change it up at half time, look to the bench for some inspiration and take the ineffective Ronaldo off? Not at all, clearly running out of ideas they kept playing the same way, in an ‘if it didn’t work the first 99 times, it might the 100th time’ kind of fashion.
Around this point, our focus on the game started to wonder, and the conversation moved towards how nice France’s kit was (£150 on Classic Football shirts, so slightly out of my price range) our favourite World Cup ball (the 2002 Addidas Fevernova, which apparently the players all hated) commenting on the very 90’s advertising hoardings (JVC, Snickers, Fujifilm, and even the agreeing that the Burgundy shirt the referee was wearing was surprisingly easy on the eye, even if it wasn’t too flattering after he’d been sweating for 85 minutes.
Pete didn’t know who the final goalscorer was and went through guessing pretty much the entire team before Emmanuel Petit sealed the game in injury time, with his very of-the-time ponytail gleefully flapping around as he was swarmed by his teammates. With that the game was over, the French widely celebrating with the Brazilians collapsing on the ground in despair. Little did they know that in just four years times the two side’s fortunes would be completely reversed, with Ronaldo finally having his moment to shine in a World Cup final (even though at that point he did have the worst hair cut of all time).
We said our goodbyes and agreed to do the same thing the following weekend. Having been stuck inside for so long, it was a great way to forget about what was going on in the world for a few hours, watching a great game with a good friend, even if we were in different parts of the country. I highly recommend the experience to those of us missing their intake of football, or in fact anyone looking to pass the time chatting to a mate with a few beers.
*If it looks incredibly dark for 3 pm on what was one of the sunniest days of the year, that’s because we had to recreate the photo the following evening, as I’d forgotten to take one of the set up at the time.