A karate kick, Keegan’s perm and Viva Espana

Can Gareth Southgate's men put some romance back into the World Cup for England fans? Picture Michael Gillen EMN-180620-124828002
Can Gareth Southgate's men put some romance back into the World Cup for England fans? Picture Michael Gillen EMN-180620-124828002
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There is a theory which goes that each and everyone of us can remember the moment of our own births.

Perhaps mercifully, this potentially traumatic of recollections soon disappears, mysteriously along with virtually all memories from our earliest years.

Yet for those of us with a less scientific mind and a looser grasp on what’s important in life, a true landmark of childhood memories is your first World Cup.

It’s odd that my two-year-old son will remember nothing of the upcoming World Cup even though it will probably knock Thomas the Tank Engine off the top of the Harby TV viewing figures for June.

As a four-year-old in 1978, I have only the sketchiest of memories of the World Cup in Argentina, and the first FA Cup I can remember anything of came two years later.

I won’t bore you with details of West Ham’s winning goal.

With World Cups - like Oasis albums and beers on a night out - the first always remains the best, no matter how hard you then try to emulate it.

In 1982, it was the hot Spanish summer, exotic unheard-of teams like El Salvador and darkest Peru, the Kevin Keegan perm and classic England kit - all still retain a mystique and lustre.

Gerry Armstrong’s winner for Northern Ireland against hosts Spain, the brilliant French in that epic semi-final. Patrick Battiston lying unconscious and without several teeth following German keeper Harald Schumacher’s unpunished head-high karate kick.

Marco Tardelli’s celebration after putting Italy’s second goal past Schumacher in the final, bringing much-needed confirmation that villains eventually get their come-uppance.

Harby junior bought into all of this wholesale, literally, in the cases of the lovingly maintained sticker album and terrible England World Cup squad single.

So into it, an England scrapbook was started and, in keeping with later life, left unfinished.

England boasted a fine creative unit spearheaded by Keegan, still a top talent even in his salad days, alongside Trevor Francis, Ray Wilkins, and Bryan Robson in his pre-injury pomp.

The campaign began spectacularly as Robson scored what was then the quickest goal in World Cup history - 27 seconds - in their opening 3-1 win against France.

Routine victories over Czechoslovakia and Kuwait followed as the Three Lions topped their group with a 100 per cent record.

But, in keeping with the fortunes of my favourite teams during adolescence, hopes of glory were squashed by strange failure.

England were unbeaten in the tournament and only conceded one goal in their five matches.

But still they tumbled out as goalless draws with West Germany and Spain saw them eliminated by the Germans in an odd second round mini-group stage.

The fact I can regurgitate these facts immediately and without the need for search engines and reference books is remarkable considering the current state of my memory banks.

Like my total recall of FA Cup finals of the 1980s, it tells a story of the obsessive dedication we give to our passions in our uncluttered childhoods.

But while still warm and fuzzy, those memories are poignant and slightly sad now.

Curiosity in the latest instalment of the world’s biggest marketing exercise couldn’t be more at odds with that innocent childlike fervour 36 years ago.

FIFA have ruined my World Cup, and I fear it will never have the same lustre.

The moment came when hosting rights went to the regimes of Russia and Qatar as FIFA chiefs sought one last enormous payday before their corrupt walls finally collapsed around them.

At that point, for me, the heart had finally been removed from the world’s biggest sporting event.

It was no longer about football, but now just another vehicle to generate extraordinary wealth for corporations and a small cabal of unpleasant folk.

I seriously wish the football and the fans will drown out the politics and my cynicism when Russia and Saudi Arabia kick it all off on Thursday - fittingly for this edition between two of the lowest goalscorers in the human rights chain.

Like our toddler selves, I’d love for the unwelcome memories to vanish.

To take back the spirit of that innocent and naive eight-year-old again where all that matters is the badly-coiffured heads in the sticker album, the goals and the wall chart.

If ever football needed its romance back, it’s now.