There’s an unwritten rule that any global sporting event worth it’s salt has to start with a generous dollop of meaningless tripe... and I was worried because FIFA had announced that they were going to abandon the opening ceremony for the World Cup and just have Robbie Williams singing a song before kick-off.
And that didn’t bode well for the tournament. If the Gods of football don’t have the traditional parade of dancers dressed in the flags of the competing nations, waltzing inanely around three thousand young gymnasts all twirling long ribbons with passionate choreographed banality then we’re in big trouble.
If the stadium isn’t dressed up to represent whatever the organizers think portrays the culture and history of the home nation, whilst awful music that old people think young people will want to listen to is blasted out of a PA system, then you’re risking it all on the premise that just because it’s tripe, people won’t want to see it.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it anyway.
So thirty minutes prior to kick-off, in front of the massed ranks of the great and good (plus Gianni Infantino, who’s looking more and more like the evil puppet from an episode of Thunderbirds) we wondered what Russia had got - and we weren’t disappointed.
First of all they’d bought a used Teletubbies set which was rolled out like a board game across the pitch, onto which strolled Robbie to become instantly lost as only one man in a crowd of 80,000 can.
Whilst the oddly-dressed extras did what oddly dressed extras do, some warbling opera singer was carried in on the back of what looked like a large cardboard phoenix and we had a good twenty minutes of undeniable tripe.
The oompalumpas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made an entrance at the same time as the tellytubby characters appeared to be aiming the flamethrowers at the crowd, and then it all came together with Robbie and the warbling one singing ‘Angels’ whilst surrounded by twinkling steam irons.
And, as a fitting crescendo, on came the parade of dancers dressed in the flags of competing nations. All that was missing was David Coleman taking it all far too seriously but it didn’t matter, the Gods would be placated, we would have a good chance for a good World Cup.
And we’ve not been disappointed. Three live games a day is a bit of a marriage-breaker, but we weren’t short of quality, surprises and stories.
Spain sacked their manager the day before the tournament – with hindsight it was perhaps not the smartest move. Germany put together a team that either hated each other’s guts, or really couldn’t be bothered – or both.
Argentina proved once more that they cannot operate as a team when every ball has to go through Messi at every opportunity, Brazil and Neymar fell, and Ronaldo blew his load in the first game.
Picking up the scalps were the smaller teams who were the real stars of the Group stages – Mexico fans celebrating their win over Germany registered on the Richter Scale, and Japanese fans stayed behind after the game to tidy up the ground. Peru had more fans than almost anyone and a team that looked like cans of Red Stripe. Iran and Morocco made a real impression and even Saudi Arabia won more than just some friends. But I can’t remember one bad game from the group stages - it was all great to watch, endlessly entertaining, more so than any football tournament I can remember.
The Gods of Football were smiling down.
And on England too... blinky blimey! Look back on the days of Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart and Harry Kane taking corners and shudder.
This is the team of the Jordans, a team growing in stature and confidence game by game, a team with unity, togetherness, a team with the big mo... so much so that ‘Mr Optimistic’ himself, Mark Lawrenson, has predicted we’ll win the tournament. Steady on now, Mark.
In fact the only downside of the whole shebang for me is the bloody band. It’s Russia for God’s sake – why isn’t the band banned? But it’s a small price to pay for the effect our success is having up and down the country.
No more so than chez nous where an event unseen, unheard of, unimagined in living memory took place in the last ten minutes of the Sweden game - THE WIFE CAME IN TO WATCH THE MATCH. The wife doesn’t do football in the same way that the Tories don’t do benevolent social policies, it’s not in their nature.
I’ve known her for thirty years at least and the closest we’ve come to a conversation about football was when I picked up nine points on my licence on the trip back from a Sunderland game. In my defence, it was a long journey, and we’d just played out a nil-nil against Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace. It could’ve been more.
But that’s the effect it’s having. The country is rocking and what with the heat wave, hell, it’s good to be alive. If Carlsberg did summers... then Denmark probably wouldn’t have gone out as early as they did.
And if it really is coming home, we’ve decided we’re going to keep it in the kitchen.