‘A trip down memory lane’
It’s the summer of 86. England have just been knocked out of the World Cup in Mexico by the Hand of God. I get over the vision of seeing my hero Gary Lineker and the rest of the team leaving the tournament by playing lots of football and climbing the odd tree. Well I was only about 8 years old at the time!
The Hand of God and Argentina go on to win the tournament by beating the Germans in the final. This was my first proper World Cup. I say proper because I was still wearing nappies in 1978 and I really don’t have any memories of last week never mind 1982! What I do remember for sure is that 1986 was a great tournament in my view, and that is the view of the 8 year old me. Even though I wasn’t allowed to stay up late and watch all the matches, I’d go to bed dreaming about who did what and who scored then wake up the next day to my uncles winding me up with random crap like Lineker got shot AND got a red card as well. Thankfully he didn’t get shot but he did get the Golden Boot for his 6 goals scored in the competition, which is always nice and does attract the big boys to your abilities (Gary went on to play for Barcelona after that).
‘The Pakistani connection’
Every year we’d get the odd relative popping over to the UK visiting us from Pakistan. I never really knew who they were but if I was ever asked ‘what do you want from Pakistan?’ I would instinctively reply ‘a football’! (it was either choose or get a knock off sports T-shirt with ‘Mike’ across it instead of ‘Nike’). That’s because in those days (and even today) most of the footballs were ‘Made in Pakistan’. That was great for me because whenever I played football with my mates on our local pitch (which we called ‘Wembley’) I’d bring along my latest import from Pakistan and have a kickabout with it. So this coming and going of relatives (and my mum making the occasional trip too) ensured that I had a steady supply of the best footballs coming my way.
This continued to be my preferred present from Pakistan in the hope that one day I would amass this huge collection of world cup footballs. But it wasn’t to be, and ultimately I was a kid who wasn’t interested in putting a ball in a bag for years to come when I just could go and take it outside and recreate world cup moments.
’25 or so years later’
Fast forward to the noughties and hundreds of balls later (it really was hundreds, my family started an import/export business selling footballs for a little while) here I am wishing I had the patience to save my footballs from yesteryear. Thankfully it seems someone at Adidas heard me!
In 2009 Adidas produced a ‘Historical World Cup Collection’ which included all the balls from the previous ten world cups (1970-2006, Adidas officially started supplying the world cup matchballs from 1970), made to the exact specification and materials available at the time of each world cup. So I started to look to see where I could buy them. No luck, everywhere sold out online and offline. I wasn’t happy but I kept on the search and finally one day I got them!
‘Journey of the balls’
They came from the US, brought over by my mate’s inlaws who were here for a wedding and agreed to bring them only to be left in my mate’s garage for about 3 months (I’ve been pretty busy lately! No excuse though). When I finally got my hands on them I put them with my WC2010 Adidas Jabulani and took in the sight. Wow, every matchball from the last 11 world cups! The memories of 86 came flooding back. Proper. Buzzin’. I decided a few days later there must be some good that can be gained from this collection of balls and then it hit me, like a Mitre Mouldmaster ball smacked bang on the thigh on a cold wet Sunday morning (stinger!). I had to get them signed.
‘World Cup Legends Challenge is born’
So in 2011/12, I started on this amazing journey. I worked my way through the Internet, made contacts, spent a good few quid on international calling cards, couriers and flights, I even learned to say ‘hello my name is’ in about 6 different languages all for the love of something beautiful. I got to travel, as did the balls and I’ve met some amazing people along the way. Within 11 months I had completed my challenge. The football gods have been kind me and once I got my first signature (Diego, of course) it snowballed from there. I raised some money for charity and even did a ‘Rugby World Cup Legends’ version (every RWC winning captain signed from 1987-2015). Now here we are in 2018, on the eve of one, if not the greatest sporting events in the world.
‘World Cup Legends Challenge 2018’
So I’m back, and once we know who the World Cup 2018 winners are, I’ll be hunting them down to get the Adidas Telstar 18 matchball signed (bit of trivia for you; Its the second consecutive World Cup matchball to be produced in Pakistan!). It won’t be easy, despite having so much success to date, and that is partly down to a few things:
1. Despite all of the open access fans get into players’ lives through social media, it is still very difficult to get within 5 feet of these guys in real life, even harder when they are still active footballers (even even harder if they’re Premiership players).
2. The football industry is weird, its hard to infiltrate and make connections, I’m not sure I have the energy for it anymore. When I first started this mission I was really naive about everything, sending random tweets to players and clubs in the hope that someone might respond and say ‘yes mate, just come to the club and I’ll sort it out, here have some executive match tickets as well!’ So this time I’m going to be a little smarter and take my time, and there’s a very high chance that all the signatures will be gained remotely and not in person.
3. I have a young family, they mean everything to me and they will (and do take precedent) over everything. Maybe I’ll retire now and pass the responsibility to keep up this random and newly created ‘family’ tradition of buying a ball every 4 years and finding winners to sign it, probably ties in quite well as its the boy’s first World Cup proper. He can be like the sons of Clovis Fernandes (RIP) who are now in Russia to carry on their dad’s legacy of supporting Brazil. Clovis, sadly passed away a few years ago, he himself had followed Brazil around the world for over 20 years.
In the original challenge, I was looking for at least one World Cup winner to sign a ball, and so it will be the same this time around too. If I could get every player from the winning team that was in the final then that would be amazing. I might even go back through the collection and see if I can get more players to sign, like the players I really wanted to catch up with but never managed to do so (e.g. Zidane). But we’ll see how it goes, there’s no rush and I guess anything could happen! However, there are some ground rules:
1. At least one World Cup winner signature per World Cup ball
2. The World Cup winner must’ve played a part in the World Cup Final itself and not just be a member of the World Cup squad (e.g Casillas could (and did) sign, Pepe Reina could not)
3. Anybody who meets criteria number 2 can sign the ball, even Marco Materrazzi
‘Legends Blog Reloaded’
The site has been offline for a very long time so I figured I’ll go back through the archives and post a blog each day during the tournament so you can learn about how I managed to get 26 World Cup winning signatures to date (that includes a World Cup 66 matchball signed by Sir Geoff Hurst). I hope you enjoy them, and leave a comment if you like, that would be nice. Check us out on Twitter and Instagram too – @worldcuplegends
Enjoy Russia 2018 and may the best team win!