The homemade World Cup wallchart

I’ve put my back out, which is incredibly irritating but has at least given me the time to jump-start this blog, which had puttered and stalled a month ago.

On Saturday I took a load of junk to the tip then went for a two-hour bike ride. Late in the evening I felt something was not quite right in my lower back and the following morning I was unable to get out of bed without enduring quite a bit of pain.

The past couple of days I’ve been laid up and my physical discomfort has not been eased by the task of going through The Cycling Podcast’s end of year accounts. I now have a strained back and strained eyesight. One thing I can confirm is that no one starts a media business dreaming of sifting through bank statements, receipts and spreadsheets.

The rest of the time I’ve been mostly watching the official FIFA World Cup films on the History Channel.

One of the things that signals you’re getting older is when events from 20 years ago suddenly feel like they were yesterday. I’d watched the films from 1982, 1986 and 1990 – the World Cups of my childhood – with a nostalgic eye. Wasn’t the Admiral kit England wore in 1982 a design classic? Ditto Denmark’s Hummel strip four years later. I remember worrying that my mock GCSEs would interfere with the 1990 World Cup (rather than the other way round).

But watching the film of the 1998 World Cup and realising with shock that not only was it narrated by Sean Bean (why?!) but that it was 20 years ago this summer pulled me up short. It feels like yesterday because I can remember whole days in their entirety.

I was working as a sub-editor at the Watford Observer at the time and I took two weeks’ holiday so I would not miss a single group game. Yes, yes, I know.

A week or so before my holiday, which commenced at lunchtime on the day of the Brazil v Scotland match, one of the reporters put The Sun’s World Cup wallchart up on the office wall. It was a really sorry-looking thing. Cheap, grainy newsprint, terrible fonts, awful cartoons of the top players and barely enough room to write in the scores let alone fill in the knockout stages coherently. Even the offerings from the quality newspapers were poor and my quest for the perfect wallchart went on.

One evening I stayed late in the office to start work on something which was later described by others as ‘a masterpiece’. I set about designing a huge World Cup wallchart. I’d not intended for it to be so big but it ended up the size of four A2 sheets of paper which I spray-mounted on some board. Another part of our newspaper group had produced some kind of World Cup supplement that was going to be given away with all the titles and that featured its own terrible wallchart but it did mean I had access to high-resolution photographs of Zinedine Zidane, Alan Shearer, Ronaldo, Dennis Bergkamp and, er, David Batty, as well as a cracking image of the World Cup trophy, which were stored on the servers somewhere.

I’d not intended for it to be such a huge project but it ended up taking me a few evenings, not least because it proved tricky to print out. I was using the fancy printer in the advertising department which was used to produce high-quality proofs for big-paying clients. It used some sort of luxurious ink that left a pleasant raised surface on the paper.

Those of us in editorial were strictly banned from using this printer without permission. I assume because the ink was expensive.

Anyway, it took me several attempts to print out the four quarters of the wallchart so they lined up seamlessly. One night I had a bit of a shock because the printer ran dry. The next morning I overheard a conversation in the canteen. The fancy printer was absolutely burning through ink, apparently, and no one could work out why.

By this time, a few colleagues had cottoned on to what I was doing and had ordered copies for themselves so there was a couple of days of black marketeering as I printed out and delivered copies in various sizes to them.

And then, the game was up. The editor called me into his office.

‘What time did you leave last night?’ he asked.

‘Er, about quarter to nine, I think.’

‘Why so late? What are you working on?’

‘Oh, er, just making sure I’m up to date with everything.’

‘So it’s nothing to do with these World Cup wallcharts you’ve been making?’

Damn. Rumbled!

‘Er… Yes, it might be. How did you find out?’

‘The advertising department are wondering why they’ve gone through two hundred quid’s worth of ink in less than a week.’

‘Ah. Right. Sorry.’

‘So…’ He paused for dramatic effect while I pondered whether the cost of the ink was about to be deducted from my wages.

‘Can you do me one?’

The editor’s copy was the last one to come off the production line.

And what happened to my copy? It hung on the wall of our flat and was filled in after every match until England’s penalty shoot-out defeat to Argentina in the second round, after which it was left symbolically blank.