My Life in World Cups: from classroom days to Copacabana beach

During the opening game of this World Cup, the BBC ran a campaign called #MyFirstWorldCup across social media with memories ranging from viewers black and white TV games to tales of hiding under the bed covers with a radio, way past bedtime. 

This set me off on a bit of trip down memory lane.

Football has played varying levels of importance in my life – I was mad keen on it as a teenager and spent 3 years working at Leicester City Football Club during my time at university. Whilst it plays more of a background role for me these days (mainly due to travelling), I will always get excited for a World Cup.

I love the human stories which run alongside the competition, one of my favourites this year involving the Iranian goalkeeper who ran away from his nomadic family to follow his dream of becoming a professional footballer. It’s the stories of fans who have gone that extra mile to follow their teams – from the Peruvian who tried to put on 24kg to bag an ‘extra wide seat’ to selling family possessions and cars to finance a trip to Russia.

Football matters to millions globally. 

For me, the World Cup evokes memories of place and time. I can recall every competition since 1994 –  where I watched certain games, how they made me feel and where I was at in my own life. 

USA ’94

Early July, 1994. My very first World Cup memory aged 9.

Italy vs Brazil in the final.

Me and my sister made tiny flags from our craft kits, sellotaping them to cocktail sticks whilst the game was on in the background of our tiny cottage in the East Midlands. 

I don’t remember watching any of the other games, bar the final, probably because England were not involved, but I was captivated by the noise and the colour and the energy and hoped England would qualify for France in 4 years time.

France ‘98

I was 13 and I was obsessed with football, especially with David Beckham. I knew all the England players, all the countries, the wall chart was up for the first time.

The first England game fell on a school day and I remember many of the class drawing crosses of St George’s on our hands and collecting the latest Panini stickers in the run-up to the tournament.

I had RE with Mr Simons*, a teacher I liked up until that day. During the afternoon lesson, there was the distinct sound of commentary from the game against Tunisia echoing around the school. Mr Simons had forbidden us from watching or listening to the game, branding it an unnecessary part of our education.

(*Names have been changed to protect the innocent teacher!)

Needless to say, I was livid and ran home from school to watch the highlights.

Further memories were the thrill of Scotland scoring against Brazil but sadly losing, Dennis Bergkamp’s wonder goal against Argentina in the quarters and marvelling at David Beckham’s free kick goal against Columbia whilst glued to the TV with my grandad down in Sussex.

I remember the exact armchair I was when Micheal Owen scored his wonder goal in the quarters against Argentina and the sense of pain when David Beckham got sent off for his kick on Simone, followed by David Batty missing the penalty which knocked us out.

A crushing defeat for a 13 year old.

And that final in Paris, a heady summers evening, watched at home. My best friend had developed a bizarre obsession for Ronaldo, and we made Brazil “prayer mats” as the French moved swiftly through the Brazillian defence scoring, once, twice and three times to lift the trophy. 

But it was the poem at the end of the BBC coverage that night that made its mark. Luckily, I had video recorded it and played it back time and time again, writing it down and finding out who it was. 

Read by Des Lynam, it matched memories of the tournament to the verses of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ – a teary Micheal Owen shot with the lines ‘And which is more, you’ll be a man my son’.

It feels strangely ironic that some 20 years letter, as Russia 2018 gets underway, I am living close to the place where Kipling grew up for a short time and the said poem is marked out in stones along the seafront in front of the Kipling Tor.

Japan and South Korea 2002

My first year of 6th Form.

Being in Asia, the games were televised early in the morning, and I remember not quite being old enough (but sneaking in) to watch the first game against Sweden in a crap bar called Baracuda with my best mate, snacking on chocolate and ice cream at half time outside bought from the Sainsburys in scenic Loughborough. I watched the rest of the games at home, revelling in the sweet irony of a Beckham penalty beating Argentina in the group stages.

The second-round game against Denmark stands out as a memory – it was right before my very first proper date. I was 17. We met in Nottingham, he was football-mad, a Man United fan and we talked excitedly about the game, a 3-0 win, before going to the cinema to watch Spiderman.

The quarters against Brazil was a breakfast time game, and we gathered in the pub of my village to witness another England failure, but the pain didn’t feel as intense as 4 years ago, with a new boyfriend to distract from another early exit!

Germany 2006

The football fever was back on.

I was in my second year at university and working every home game at Leicester City. I kept a wonderful scrapbook for this World Cup, a brief account of where I watched each game and who with – which ranged from a small town in Turkey whilst on a girls holiday to the staff catering lounge in Wimbledon.

We gathered in our sizeable lounge at a student house in Leicester for the opening game of Germany vs Costa Rica, complete with a feast of tinned hotdogs, sauerkraut and Hock wine.

The first England game versus Paraguay we watched with a crowd of students at Varsity on London Road in Leicester, a short walk from the uni.

By the second England game, I was on a girls holiday in Turkey – we found ourselves surrounded by Germans so walked into Alanya – see the extract below for added detail!  I caught the first half of the last England group game against Sweden in the resort reception and missed the rest of the shoddy performance as we were on a bus back to the airport.


For the second round, I was off to London to go and work as part of the catering team at Wimbledon tennis tournament. I was living in a hostel near Paddington for 3 weeks.

I adored the buzz and energy of being in London, with fans from all over the world. Oh, and these photos were ones I took on my first camera phone and printed them out at home! Cute. 


I was at work for the final England game vs Portugal – the catering staff gathering around the only TV in the canteen to see Wayne Rooney self-implode and England eventually lose on penalties. Again.

The final coincided with the men’s tennis final which I watched on Henman Hill before racing back into central London to watch France vs Italy in the streets of Soho with rowdy Italians, sitting on a pavement outside an Italian restaurant who had set off a big screen.

I missed the very end as I had to head back to Wimbledon Common for the legendary catering staff end of tournament party.


South Africa 2010

Strangely enough, I probably have the least amount of memories from this World Cup, I was still interested, but I was living and working in a hostel in Oban, on the West Coast of Scotland and given that I didn’t have a laptop at the time, the only place I could watch the games was in the communal area.

I think I was also slightly more interested in exploring Scotland than making an effort to watch most of the games.

I do remember being excited that it was New Zealand’s first World Cup campaign, and at the end of June I took a train down to Glasgow and bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand! For the second round game against Germany, the team gathered in the tiny hostel office to watch England fall apart – much to the French, Swedish and Slovakian staff’s amusement.

The final was watched on the floor of the common room – a decent crowd with a smattering of poor Dutch fans saw Spain triumph on a warm Scottish summers evening.

Brazil 2014

Brazil Fans in Rio 2014 World Cup

As a teenager, I dreamed of going to a World Cup.

I remember reading Astroturf Blonde by The Times football writer Alyson Rudd who backpacked around Sweden for Euro 92. I wanted my own football backpacking adventure and in 2014 I made it happen.

Although I didn’t have any tickets to the games, I’d found a decent priced flight to Rio a week before the World Cup began and I snapped it up, not really thinking about backpacking solo as a female in Brazil!

I spent 10 days before the opening game adventuring to Ilha Grande, and down the coast to Paraty and Sao Paulo before heading back up to Rio for the opening ceremony, where I watched Brazil vs Croatia on Copacabana Beach with thousands of rowdy Brazilians, one of those epic life moments.

Fan Fest at World Cup 2014
Global Fans at World Cup 2014

I was thrilled to have this photo featured on the Guardian’s page during the World Cup.

I watched most of the games down in the fan zone on the beach, making friends with some Greek fans to fulfil I bet I had made with a colleague I had been working with in London prior to the trip.

I shared the heartbreak of England’s loss to Italy under a starry Brazillian sky with those hardcore fans who had travelled to Brazil. I couldn’t believe how many fans had made the trip – Argentine and Chilean fans also dominated the numbers.

Greek fans at World Cup 2014
Dutch Fans at World Cup 2014

And so I went from Brazil to Unst, in the Shetland Islands where I was doing Workaway for 3 weeks in the most northerly hotel in the UK. I watched the remaining England games in the bar which was closed during the day as I couldn’t get wifi in my bedroom.

In a weird twist of fate, on the day of the Germany vs Brazil semi-final, I spotted a familiar guy I had seen out hiking during the day. It turns out he was Brazillian and was elated to find the only bar on Unst showing the game!

Although, he probably wishes he hadn’t as Germany tore Brazil apart. But that was OK, as we drunk whisky to drown his sorrows. The final fell on my last night at the hotel (although I ended up returning as I loved it so much) before heading out to hitchhike around Shetland – a decent crowd gathered including a group of lads sailing to Norway as we watched Germany lift the trophy amongst the haze of my final whiskies.

Russia 2018

And that leads us up to current day, to North Devon where I sit writing this watching Denmark vs France on a boiling hot summers day.

England have already made a promising start – I listened to England vs Panama on my walk home from work. It amazes me the technological changes since those early World Cup’s – gone are video recorders – I can now watch games on my phone and catch up with the rest when I feel like.

The wall chart is up again and I’ve got that thrill of excitement I felt watching England some 20 years ago, at my first World Cup.

You can read a selection of my personal stories here