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06th Jun 2018

Why France 1998 was the best World Cup ever

It was a simpler time, and a great World Cup

Wayne Farry

Being nine years old is difficult

Only joking, it’s the easiest thing in the world, something you only realise with each passing year. But when you’re nine you feel like you can do whatever you want, because to be fair you pretty much can.

Sure, you couldn’t go out drinking, clubbing, smoking, vaping or do anything else which is fun but might be slightly or very bad for you, but it never really mattered when literally your only aim in terms of enjoyment was to see your friends, kick a football around, build a hut, have an ice cream float or eat the occasional chicken nugget or sausage roll.

It is in this sort of idyllic state of youthful euphoria that a World Cup can be truly enjoyed, free from the responsibilities of employment, relationships, bills, eating five a day, credit scores and getting up at a reasonable time.

It was in this sort of idyllic state of youthful euphoria that the 1998 World Cup in France hit me like a water balloon on a hot day.

I’d always been a football fan, as had the rest of my family, collecting magazines, sending cartoons of footballers into them, playing with friends and generally being obsessed with Manchester United.

But it was France 98 that opened my eyes to the sheer beauty of international football, and if it was the hard drug straight to my still-developing veins, then EA Sports’ FIFA 98: Road To The World Cup was my little doob, my gateway drug.

To anyone who didn’t play this legendary PlayStation 1 game, it went a little something like this. You turned on the telly, turned on your console and placed the disk inside. You then sit back and allow Blur’s Song 2 to absolutely blow your head off.

The song itself is amazing, but it was the graphical excellence of the game’s intro which truly had you in awe. Looking back it doesn’t look special, but at the time it was like watching 4K HD footage on a 50 inch telly with surround sound equipped. It was as real as things got and it hooked you.

It is at this time that I would also like to give a quiet salute to the France 98 licensed game by the same developers, the trailer for which can be seen below.

These games had me enthralled about a tournament which hadn’t even kicked off yet, and kept me busy in between games of football with my friends during a summer of unusual heat in my native Ireland.

The human memory is admittedly a poor resource of recollecting memories, and that summer may well have been little more than 15 degrees Celsius, but to my pale gormless face it felt like we were in France, waiting for the World Cup to start like the rest of the world’s well-behaved fans.

And then, as most events tend to do, the tournament came. In a strange way, it went by in a sort of blur, but one which slowed down at times. For the seven-year-old me, the 1996 European Championships were a true blur, going by without a trace, but this – France 98 – imprinted upon my mature nine year old mind despite the astonishing speed with which it arrived and left.

When I reminisce now, I remember an enormous amount but also astonishingly little. I remember David Beckham’s goal against Colombia, Owen’s stunner against Argentina and Beckham’s flick at Simeone shortly afterwards.

I remember the feverish excitement of watching the opening game between Scotland and Brazil and catching my first ever glimpse of Ronaldo’s step overs. I remember the Romanian players collectively dying their hair peroxide blonde for no apparent reason and being mesmerised by the skill and power of the last Yugoslavian side to compete in a World Cup.

I can still remember how I felt seeing Roberto Baggio play. He was 31 at the time, a mere bambino for Italian strikers, and was unfortunately free of the trademark ponytail. He oozed cool and played the game the way I wanted to but never could.

Apart from that there’s not that much of the tournament that I can recollect, apart from the bits in between. The mindlessly fun time spent fighting my mates over which pieces of scrap wood we would use to build our tree houses. The strange hours spent making guns out of planks of wood with close pegs and elastic bands.

The never-ending and futile attempts to recreate Roberto Carlos’ physics defying free kick from the year before. We never got close, but it felt like we did, but we really didn’t because we were really quite shit.

I remember significantly more of most of the World Cups which came after, but it was this – and all that surrounded it – which set me up best to obsess over the game. It was sitting down to watch Zidane’s France dismantle Brazil, having had a summer so carefree that it’s usually only seen in a film about kids who find a dead body in the woods, that made it the tournament which can never and will never be usurped.