So the biggest event in world sport is kicking off. For the first time in Africa. And, again, I am in the ‘wrong’ time zone.
The last time I was in the ‘right’ time zone for the World Cup was in 1998. Living in England, the one-hour time difference was perfect for watching matches. Most employers in England would turn a blind eye to having a TV on in the background with live matches being broadcast in the late afternoon from across the English Channel.
The evening matches were perfect. They just felt like usual midweek games but with the added excitement of the world’s best players in the world’s best sporting competition. Knowing the games were so near to home without being in your own country created a special atmosphere. There was a sense we could put one over our near neighbours and the rest of the world, especially after Euro 96.
In 2002 the World Cup moved to Japan and South Korea – the electric atmosphere generated by hundreds of thousands of Koreans and Japanese bounced off the satellites with impressive effect. But it was a very bizarre feeling having to get up earlier than usual, watching a World Cup match before breakfast and having to listen to John Motson blabber on about ‘plates rattling on the breakfast table’, then going to work trying to keep up with matches being played out mid-morning. It just seemed too early in the day for serious drama to unfold.
I vowed to be at the next World Cup because it was going to be in Germany. I lived an hour’s flight away and I had family in Germany who would be willing to accommodate me.
Then I secured a job in Australia. Yes, I was working in football for Perth Glory but by the time the tournament was on the horizon I had used any money I’d had available to travel home for Christmas, using up most of my leave in the process.
Being in Perth, six hours behind Germany, could have been worse, I met up with a few ex-pats to watch matches in the pub mid-late evening but the atmosphere was a million miles from what it would have been in England.
I had already had the weird experience of England winning the Ashes in the middle of the night in 2005. And having got up at 2.30am to watch Liverpool in the Champions League final the same year, I even stayed up beyond half time with the Reds 3-0 down to see the best sporting drama I have seen from the ‘wrong’ time zone.
Despite the Socceroos‘ impressive display under Guus Hiddink in 2006, the atmosphere still didn’t seem to permeate in the same way Down Under. Whether it was the time difference or just the fact that ‘soccer’ remained below Aussie Rules (AFL), cricket and two codes of rugby in the sporting pecking order, I’m not sure.
By the time the Socceroos were eliminated I was in Malaysia (same time difference but while the Malays weren’t uninterested in football it wasn’t a World Cup atmosphere). A few days later in Kuala Lumpur I watched England’s elimination at the hands of Portugal. Predictable but at least I didn’t have to sit in a pub full of Brits wallowing in self pity – it was just me and Wayne Bridge’s biggest fan (and the fact that Wayne Bridge didn’t play played a part in England’s fate in his eyes).
For me, the tournament finished in the Cameron Highlands and all I remember about the match was Zinedine Zidane’s audacious head butt and dramatic exit from the world stage.
Again, I vowed to be at the next World Cup. I would find some way of getting to South Africa. Why had I not been to a major international football tournament by the age of 30? To make it worse a lot of my friends had been to Germany and experienced an amazing festival of football.
A few twists of fate unfurled in the preceding years though. Moving back to the UK, getting married, having a son, and, err, migrating back to Perth.
So I am in the ‘wrong’ time zone again. Seven hours ‘in front’ of South Africa. Ok, so the opening ceremony is excellent timing. Friday evening with a 10pm kick-off for the hosts v Mexico.
I have already planned to go ‘out’ for England’s first encounter against the USA. But I am only usually up at 2.30am if our young son wakes up. Staying up until 5am is going to be a real test. And that’s just the first England game. Looking at the World Cup guides published in Western Australia, most of the matches seem to have kick-off times of 2.30am.
It’s going to be a strange World Cup from this part of the world. The top sports stories on TV and in the papers are still dominated by AFL two days before the Socceroos’ first match.
In the mean time I am exploring the merits of becoming nocturnal and trying to put plans in place to be in Brazil four years from now.