A World Cup to remember?

You may think that whatever you did this summer has long since been forgotten, but we know what you were up to and here's the evidence to prove it. Roger Titford mulls over the 1998 WSC readers' survey

As the international treadmill begins to turn again with the European Championship, now is a good time to remind you of the costs and sufferings involved in supporting your country. Here are the results of our 1998 World Cup survey, based on the answers sent in by 700 readers.

The first thing to strike home, naturally enough, are the answers to Question One, how many matches did you watch. Four per cent claim to have seen all 64 games and a further 42 per cent over 50 games. Only 19 per cent saw less than 30 games. A very rough and ready calculation suggests that the average WSC reader will have put in 90 hours’ football watching in the month (a typical month’s work is about 150 hours). If you multiply that just by the number of people in this survey you have the equivalent of 1600 working weeks. This must do something to the economy. Didn’t the last recession start more or less straight after England and Scotland’s involvement in the 1990 World Cup?

Our survey shows that 34 per cent of our readers skived off work (an amazing 14 per cent claimed loss of voice and ten per cent were too hungover). The catalogue of World Cup-inspired social disease includes: excessive drinking by the majority, binge-eating, fierce rows reported in over one in ten households, even fighting amongst three per cent. By one of those amaz-ing quirks of statistics that brings a smile to the researcher, 3.2 per cent of readers ended a relationship during the World Cup and exactly 3.2 per cent began one, and not always the same people.

The “Eat football, sleep football” message proved too much for some. Fourteen per cent got sick of football and 37 per cent found the level of media and marketing hype had “got right up their noses” during the World Cup. Thirty-three per cent of those with wallcharts did not even fill them in completely as the outbreak of non-anal retentiveness spread.

Only 74 per cent of readers most wanted England to win the tournament, nine per cent were for Scotland and 16 per cent, many with British addresses, supported someone else, like Holland, Jamaica or Nigeria. Thus pretty much everybody would have been disappointed by the final outcome. Eighty-nine per cent of readers watched England-Argentina live on ITV, which begs the question of what were the other 11 per cent up to? Four per cent were watching it abroad, several of them in the stadium itself. But there were some sad tales/lame excuses for excluding oneself from the biggest audience a single TV channel has ever gained. “At a golf club dinner but left early to catch extra-time” or, amazingly from a Scot, “I was playing cricket” and “I was at a Taj Mahal concert”.

We also asked about the worst excuses used or greatest lengths gone to in order to watch any match. It seems a disappointingly large proportion of readers already organized their lives around football to such an extent that “no excuses needed” was all too common a reply, along with “football comes first in our house” and “self-employed so doesn’t apply”. A fair few teachers confessed to re-ordering the school day, setting projects (“Tunisian culture”) and, in one case, paying a supply teacher double to take a lesson. With commitment like that the game’s future seems assured, if not the nation’s.

Here’s some of the best of the rest: “re-arranged rota of 31 doctors’ hours in order to see most matches”, “arranged prayer meetings for half-time”, “missed half of a friend’s wedding”, “bunked off work to watch Paraguay-Bulgaria in a pub, nipped back at half-time to show my face then returned for second half”, “I have to go and see a World Cup game live, I’m just 40 and like Billy Crystal it’s a discovery trip” and “setting my alarm for 2am to see England-Romania in a Bangkok hotel” (name and address surprisingly not withheld).

Eleven per cent of respondents actually saw a game live in France, whilst only six per cent watched in a sports cafe. Fifty-two per cent watched some games in a pub or club, despite all games being available on terrestrial TV. A new form of watching matches, derived from the necessities of non-Sky ownership, has clearly taken root. Of those who saw England or Scotland in France, one-third received match tickets through the official travel clubs. “A bloke on the street” was more than twice as likely a ticket source than the France 98 telephone hotline.

England supporters were roughly equally split between those who were “proud of the team and most of its supporters” and those who were either “ambivalent” or “somewhat ashamed”. We asked whether France 98 made you more or less likely to follow England abroad in the future. Only 39 per cent of those who did not go to France said they were more likely to follow England abroad in the future. But amongst those who did go to France, the people who can rely on their own experience rather than just the media coverage, the proportion rises to 54 per cent, an obvious case of the effects of the media painting a negative picture.

A couple of the tournament innovations found favour with a majority of readers, but the hearty traditionalists amongst you appear to want a return to the tackle from behind. Sixty-three per cent felt the standard of refereeing spoilt too many matches, and 75 per cent would prefer referees to use their common sense and own approach to the game rather than FIFA’s strict attempts at consistency.

Finally, in the readers’ awards section, Croatia take the “medal for performing heroically above expectations” or, more particularly, for beating the Germans and “doing so well for such a young country”.

Paraguay were worthy runners-up for their backs-to-the wall defensiveness, team spirit and fair play. England’s case rested largely on their last 70 minutes against Argentina, and it’s good to see some modest support for the winners.

Top of the unpopularity stakes in “the face you were most sick of the sight of” competition was ITV’s Bob Wilson, just edging out the star of Nike’s ads, Ronaldo, the only man to get on the pitch as well as in our top five. Quite a tussle there between Ronaldo and his girlfriend, Suzana Werner, so lovingly over exposed by the French TV director. Platini, who covered every inch of every directors’ box in the tournament, and the perennial Jimmy Hill made up the infamous five. Keegan, who rarely appeared face-on-camera, did tremendously well despite this disadvantage, but fell short of a place.

So that’s it, the torment and soul-searching excuses, the summer spent over-indulging in darkened living rooms, over again for another four years. Just wait till you see what Korean time differences will do to your lives.

Thanks, as ever, to the Sir Norman Chester Centre and particularly to Sean Perkins and John Williams for their help with the statistical analysis.

From WSC 140 October 1998. What was happening this month