Discovering Narnia: A love letter to USA 94

As I write this on Thursday morning, some four days after the 2022 World Cup, I’ve only watched a single game so far: England’s clinical 6-2 dismantling of Iran. I haven’t been consciously boycotting the tournament, although sometimes I feel like I probably should.

I just haven’t had time to watch the other games. The women’s domestic season continues and I’m very grateful for that, it’s kept me quite busy and, for me, it means I still have Arsenal through this strange winter hiatus on the men’s side.

It has largely been a matter of time and priority. I have a two-year-old daughter and that has ruled out all the 7pm kickoffs as I go about her nightly routine. While I’m telling you that I haven’t had time for this year’s World Cup so far, maybe I’m saying that I haven’t had time either.

And it’s a shame because the World Cups are very formative experiences for football fans, especially in the youth. There is a trope that the World Cup that falls between your eighth and twelfth birthday is the best World Cup and that is certainly the case for me.

I turned ten for USA 94 and so that will always represent the gold standard of World Cups. I think there are reasons why USA 94 retains that magic (I’m not naive enough to think that 1994 was some kind of age of innocence in both the FIFA and broader societal sense).

From a personal perspective, the tournament took place just after Arsenal won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994, which in my opinion remains the club’s most underrated achievement. Following that tournament felt like a magical mystery box of players and clubs one simply couldn’t follow in 1994.

In the quarter-finals, Arsenal played Torino, who had Croatian legend Robert Jarni. They also had Benito Carbone and Andrea Silenzi, who would later reach the Premier League. In the semifinals it was PSG, which had the talent of George Weah, David Ginola and the Brazilian couple Rai and Valdo.

Then the final, featuring Parma’s world-renowned forward three of Brolin, Zola and Asprilla (all of whom would eventually play in the Premier League to widely varying levels of success), supported by a defense that included Antonio Benarrivo and Roberto Sensini. .

That tournament represented a time of discovery for me and the 1994 World Cup just furthered that education. By now, he owned the legendary console game Sensible Soccer, which contained all of these lofty names, albeit with the vowels scrambled so as not to violate copyright laws.

The fact that England didn’t qualify for USA 94 made it even more fascinating for me. I paid attention to the whole canvas instead of just a small part of the painting. I learned about players like legendary Mexico goalkeeper Jorge Campos, who famously played forward for his club. His incredibly striking goalkeeper jersey reinforced his legend.

It was Maradona’s last World Cup and he made his mark in the most Maradona-like way possible by scoring a brilliant goal, which he celebrated with such a deranged look into the bowl of the camera that it drew complaints from viewers of the BBC’s coverage. . He then was promptly disgraced and sent home from the tournament for failing a doping test.

There was Carlos Valderrama and his famous blonde afro, a good chunk of Team USA would eventually play in the Premier League and I remember having no real concept of the fact that they even had a soccer team in the first place. I remember the amusing box pops when British journalists covering the tournament would ask passing Americans if they knew the World Cup was taking place.

Roberto Baggio, the divine ponytail, ignited the tournament and then cruelly, when it seemed he was destined to enjoy his own ’86 Maradona’ type tournament, fired the decisive penalty over the bar in the final shootout. against Brazil.

This was also my first flirtation with the Brazilian team. I never imagined that one day I would end up covering them for a few years and immersing myself fully in Brazilian soccer. In retrospect, it doesn’t look like a classic Brazilian side, but for me they were magical.

Those bright yellow shirts against the intense American July sun made them stand out a little more. This was the Romario and Bebeto tournament, the latter with his already iconic celebration of the baby’s cradle on the occasion of the birth of her son.

I’ve read a lot about how the 1970 World Cup, the first to be broadcast in color from the sweltering Mexican sun, left such an indelible mark on the people in Brazil’s bright yellow kits. USA 94 had a similar impact on me.

Although color television was nothing new at this point, color filters were still susceptible to a kind of overshadowed blur when bright colors were stacked against each other. It’s no coincidence, I think, that the two nations I really took to my heart at this World Cup were Brazil and the Netherlands.

It was the first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp who, little did I know at the time, would illuminate my football experience for such a long period of time. Famously, it was the round-trip flights to the United States that imbued Bergkamp with his fear of flying.

Then there was the Republic of Ireland, who of course qualified for the tournament. None of the British teams qualified, so I just remember that everyone at my school either exaggerated or just lied about the extent of their Irish heritage.

One of my best friends at the time was named Daniel McElvey, so I was able to take his Irish heritage more seriously! I remember he really supported Ireland because he cared a lot about it. Although England were present at France 98, I fell in love with Nigeria and Jay Jay Okocha because one of my best friends at the time was Nigerian. My mom even bought me a PSG jersey after that World Cup, which was the Okocha club team.

94 also had its fair share of upsets, with Bulgaria and Sweden being among the semi-finalists. I also remember little personal details, there was a game at 9pm UK time every night during the group stage. Initially, my mother only allowed me to stay up for the first half of those games.

After a few games at the tournament, he retrieved an old portable TV from the loft and set it up in my bedroom so I could watch the second half of those games in bed. It was an old school TV, you had to turn a dial to change the channel, and it didn’t have a remote. For me, however, it was a portal to another world.

A world where it was 1:00 pm and around 100 degrees Celsius, where Jack Charlton looked suitably uncomfortable in a baseball cap, sweat stains drenching his white shirt. Where players like Brolin, Baggio, Romario, Stoichkov, Hagi and Bergkamp roamed.

Where bright, shiny jerseys from Holland, Sweden, Brazil and, well, Jorge Campos created an impressionable glow in my dark bedroom. Everyone is guilty of exalting the past and remembering it as a sepia-toned heyday.

However, I think 1994 was a good vantage point for a World Cup, culturally speaking. We were on the cusp of a digital age that would make these teams and players household names and faces, but we knew and were able to see enough of them to whet our appetites.

If the 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup was my move to the bottom of the closet, USA 94 was my full induction into Narnia. I remember the explosion of transfer rumors on the back of this World Cup. Most of it is abject nonsense, but when you’re ten, it’s hard to filter.

I vividly remember a schoolmate tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Here, did you hear that Arsenal are signing Baggio?” And believing it with all my heart. It was a delightful naiveté, and while it wasn’t an age of innocence for the world itself, it was for this football-mad ten-year-old.

Discovering Narnia: A love letter to USA 94 appeared first on Arseblog… an Arsenal blog.

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