We have all been there, settling down after long Saturday ready to watch Match of the Day only to hear those famous words: ‘Why are you watching that? You already know the result’.
Now, this is where I have to come clean and admit that I’m not a highlights fan, in any sport that I watch, but football has to be one of the worst for me. You just can’t get a sense of the ebb and the flow, the punches and counter punches, from watching an entire game condensed into a measly ten minutes worth of highlights. It is even worse if you watch the smaller highlight reels – the ones coming in at five minutes or less – that you see on the internet these days. Honestly, what’s the point? For me, if it is not the whole thing, it is not the real thing.
There are several ways to watch a game of football after it has happened, but it can always be divided it into two simple camps: you either know the result or you don’t. For the most part, I want to have my tent pitched firmly in the latter. In the days and weeks that follow a fixture, if it has been a poor result for my team then there nothing I want to do less than to see the highlights or go through the torment of watching the game for a second time. If I missed a promising game, I may well flick on the Match of the Day, but likelihood is that I will find my mind wandering and attentions diverted elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I am a devoted football fan. I follow my team religiously. But it is the raw emotion of being “in the moment” that I need to truly enjoy football. I am sure everyone is in agreement that one of the most deflating feelings in the world is watching a game live and hearing the ping of your phone – you check your texts, or glance at the Sky Sports Notification, and it is ruined – GOAL: Aubameyang (43). Although, if it looks like a hockey score, you can put your money on me tuning into BBC One at 22:30pm.
There are several ways to watch a game of football after it has happened, but it can always be divided it into two simple camps: you either know the result or you don’t.
Either way, this idea of re-watching an entire game of football baffled me to begin with. If I couldn’t handle the highlights, the supposed “best bits”, then what would inspire me to watch ninety minutes or more? I rarely even watch films I like more than twice. But then I had somewhat of an epiphany. What about the classics? Maradona’s handball in 1986, Liverpool’s Istanbul Champions League comeback in 2005, or the bonkers North London Derby at White Hart Lane in 2004. When I got thinking about the cherished games of my youth – the ones where I cannot always distinguish between fact and fiction, real or imagined – I decided I was going to start re-watching football. Properly.
Making a list and tracking them down was easy enough, but life is busy. If only there was something happening in the world right now that meant, all of a sudden, we had a large amount of free time on our hands so we could re-watch all of our favourite games, in full…
Over the last few days, I’ve been re-watching old Arsenal games from the early 2000’s – games I have fleeting memories of, have heard lots about, or in some cases, have never actually seen the whole way through. When we look back at the football we may have long-forgotten or idealised in our memories, we can appreciate it for what it really was and often relive it all over again, maintaining that nostalgic fix. Re-watching the North London Derby from 2001-2002 was joyous. Knowing that Arsenal came back to win made watching Tim Sherwood try and shithouse his way through the entire game even sweeter (I am sure that my dislike for Sherwood is stored somewhere deep in my memory alongside my first address and my mum’s phone number). An added bonus, one in which I had overlooked and taken for granted at the time, was watching Patrick Vieira in his all his pomp being fouled non-stop, Spurs goading him towards a booking that would have carried with it a two game ban and an absence from the FA Cup final. The cherry on the cake was that it was played in front of a full and bouncing Highbury Stadium under blue skies and a beaming sun, when football is at its finest (or at night with the floodlights on, but that’s a bigger debate for another day).
In my new “working from home” life, I decided to raise the stakes and start re-watching World Cup tournaments. Not just the finals either, the tournaments. The forgotten group stage games, the little underdog success stories, the dramatic knock-out stages, and, of course, the prize-giving finals. There is no way my partner, or workplace, would accept me watching a minimum of 5760 minutes of football for each competition, so I had to settle for choosing tournaments with notable games between favourable teams and players that I respected.
So, I started with the World Cup in Germany from 2006. There are some truly great games in this tournament that I missed first time around – probably because I was eleven-years old and convinced that England were only ever going to win it. From the English perspective, the tournament never really got out of second gear, with an ending of pure heartache. There is one redeeming factor though, the comfort in knowing that the world keeps turning, the sun rises again, and the pain you may have felt at the time will gradually fade upon newer concerns and subsequent competitions.
It was not before long that I realised that if you are watching good games as a neutral fan you are in a privileged position because you can just sit back and enjoy the ride; you begin to notice the more intricate patterns of play and can watch the net bulge at either end with a smile on your face. There were some incredible national teams in this World Cup campaign too and some that should have been great, but it just didn’t quite work out. That Ivory Coast team for example, with Kolo, Yaya and Didier as its spine. Thinking of that Ivorian team brings joy to my heart even now. I remember my parents buying me the bright orange kit before the tournament started, only for them to be dumped out in the “Group of Death”. A sad and short-lived campaign for them to re-watch.
This tournament also saw some up-and-coming players who were beginning to make a name for themselves. Another great moment with the benefit of hindsight was seeing a much younger Lionel Messi coming off the bench for Argentina to become the youngest Argentinian to play in a World Cup competition. Nine minutes later, he would go on to grab an assist before getting on the scoresheet himself two minutes before the end of play. He went on to be quite a good player, didn’t he.
Of course, the rest of the tournament really fades away into the background once you get to the final. The match consisted of a controversial early penalty, big challenges, lots of rolling around, multiple chances for a winner for either team as well as some disallowed goals – all within in the original ninety minutes. Once we get into extra time, the real action kicks off in a moment that will go down in the annuls of footballing history: Zinedine Zidane makes his bow from football (strictly on his terms) by landing his forehead into the chest of Marco Materazzi. Spectacular. See you, Zizou – it’s been great!
When football (and normality) does eventually return, I am likely to get sucked back into my old routines which means reluctantly watching Match of the Day again to catch up on the weekend’s football that I have missed. Until then though, Italia ’90 anyone?