Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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Travellers Tales - Manchester and Liverpool, UK
It is holiday time again, and like every year, I
travel off to a new place and always manage to find
myself in the familiar surroundings of some football
ground somewhere. They don't change much wherever you
go. The pitch is almost always the same, with the
same markings and advertising hoardings blocking your
view. The seats - and they are almost always seats of
some kind today - are almost always the same as well.
In fact it is quite comforting to find yourself in
such familiar surroundings, often when everything else
is so alien. You know what to do, where to go, what
is going on. Everyone speaks your language, even if
when the people next to you are talking words you do
not recognise. It is like finding a piece of home on
And of course nothing is the same at the same time.
Most importantly, the people and events that make
these places special are never the same - that is why
I find them so interesting. Visiting the football
ground in each new town and city I visit is more
important to me than rushing straight to the art
gallery or important monument in the city centre. You
find out so much more about a place by going to the
football ground and observing life going on around it.
I have never once failed to find some crazy hanging
around outside the ground, watching the grass grow or
shouting at the players as they arrive back from
training, and that makes the trip worthwhile.
Sometimes I forget that football is not all about
Liverpool - even during the World Cup. This summer I
found myself more interested in watching out for El
Hadji Diouf than I did in watching France implode.
You see, he was a new Liverpool player, and that made
him important. Forget the fact that he was African
Footballer of the Year.
Over the last few summers I have therefore visited
most of the 'famous' football grounds in Europe (and a
few not so famous for good measure), and have also
included a sprinkling of grounds in North Africa and
the US. This odyssey has taken me from Celtic Park
and Ibrox, through De Kuip and the Amsterdam ArenA, to
Berlin, Brussels and Paris, and on a grand tour around
Italy and Spain. Only twice have I given up, defeated
by wayward signposting and my occasionally
lackadaisical mapreading - Atletico Madrid had to wait
two years for me to find my way from Pyramides metro
station, and I am still totally convinced that the
Volksparkstadion does not exist anywhere in the woods
I will visit just about any ground I come across, from
the huge sun-baked, open bowl of Ouarzazate in Morocco
to the tiny home of FC Ieper in Belgium, but if there
is a connection to the World Cup, then all the better.
Currently I can only claim to have been to three
final venues - Wembley, the Bernabeu and Stade de
France - though my list of finals venues is adding up.
And this summer I am going to add one more to both
lists, by visiting the Estadio Nacional in Santiago,
venue for the final in 1962. To get there, I am
travelling through Peru, Bolivia and Chile, so I
cannot really claim to be going to Santiago primarily
to visit the football ground. That would be silly
wouldn't it? Wouldn't it?
And the prospect of this got me thinking. Just under
a month ago I spent almost all my waking moments
engrossed in the World Cup, watching matches and
writing my polemic thoughts down for all the Brazilian
and Italian readers to criticise. So how is it
possible to live in a country as football mad as
Britain, and hardly know that it took place anymore?
Is this the same in South America, or there - where
the football season should be gearing up for it's
final stages - is it different and more potent?
For me, the World Cup only really ended a week ago,
when I finally brought myself to taking down the World
Cup wallchart that had been proudly attached to my
classroom wall, and studiously filled in by my form as
the tournament went on. The physical act of taking
down the wallchart is always a hard thing to do,
meaning as it does that the thing we have been waiting
for with such anticipation for four years is really
over. I felt sad taking it down, and it really felt
like an important part of my life had been taken away.
Now that is daft - and at the end of the day it is
just a football tournament - but I still felt that
way. I tried to explain to the History teacher next
door just why it was a sad moment, but she didn't
really understand. I think that many people - even
some of you reading this - fail to grasp what the
World Cup does to the world.
Take this for one example of the millions we could
find. What else would have given the sixty kids I had
in my classroom watching the opening match such a
positive image of Senegal or Africa? Most of the time
I spend teaching about Africa, I have to keep talking
about the inequalities between rich and poor, or about
under and uneven development. It is very hard in
these circumstances to get a positive image of the
continent across, regardless of what I say or do. But
in ninety minutes, Diouf and his mates did more than I
could ever do, just as the Iranians did in 1998 and
Roger Milla and Cameroon did at Italia 90.
So before I set off, I thought I would stop for a
minute and think about what the World Cup means right
here, in the North West of England where I live.
In many ways, the World Cup has just been one stop on
the never-ending merry-go-round that is G14 football.
Two of the G14 play within 30 miles of my home -
Manchester United and Liverpool - and to them the
World Cup is little more than a nice holiday for their
executives and a place for their current and future
employees to show how good they are to the world.
Both Liverpool and Manchester United are unusual among
the G14 this summer, in that they are buying big,
while the likes of Real, Barca and Milan wait to see
what happens to their TV contracts.
Both these two North West clubs are doing what the
English press said was both stupid and unlikely - they
are spending big money based on what they saw at the
World Cup. To this end, Man Utd have spent £30
million on Rio Ferdinand - who has suddenly become
supposedly the best defender on earth! This is based
entirely on his performances against Sweden,
Argentina, Nigeria, Denmark and Brasil, when he was
good (and world-class) but not exactly the type of
performance he has shown week-in, week-out for Leeds
recently. Similarly, Liverpool have already bought
Diouf and Diao from Senegal, and want Damien Duff from
Blackburn. While Gerard Houillier had been tracking
these players before the World Cup started, their
performances in Asia have not exactly been bad for
And - fundamentally - that is probably what the World
Cup stands for here in this part of the UK. I am not
suggesting for a moment that taking part in the World
Cup means nothing for the likes of Ferdinand or
Michael Owen, but instead that games in the World Cup
Finals are now just another big game - and there will
another one along in a minute. By the time Liverpool
and Arsenal met to open the English season the World Cup was
just another memory, it
didn't change anything, and has had only a limited
impact on the game as a whole. Yes, as I wrote at the
time, for a month this summer the eyes of Britain were
on Asia, but now they have drifted back to more
pressing thoughts: the Premiership and Champions
This morning I sat at Pier Head in Liverpool, beneath
the glare of the famous Liver birds, looking out
across the Mersey to the open sea and the world beyond
as millions of people have done before me. Today
though that world seems to be a much smaller place.
Football is the planet's only truly global game, and
the World Cup is it's most global element. In many
ways it is a shame that times have changed, things
have moved on, and the World Cup has lost its
importance. At least where I live.
Maybe South America, without a Champions League and
multi-millionaire football transfers, will be
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.