It was Wednesday 26th June, 1996, and England were playing Germany in the Semi Finals of the UEFA European Championships at Wembley Stadium. After 120 minutes of high blood pressure-inducing football, the score finished 1-1, and England found themselves faced with a penalty shootout against the organised and resilient German team. Put it this way, if there’s ever a situation you don’t want to be in, it’s having to take penalties against Die Mannschaft. And that night was no exception.
I remember the miss like it was yesterday; I believe everyone watching the game that night does too. For me, it’s my, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” moment.
I was sat on the living room floor, wearing my fetching black and orange Kappa tracksuit, sporting a bowl head haircut so spherical it defied the laws of physics. Both teams converted all five of their penalties, and with sudden death now in place, it was Gareth Southgate’s turn to try and salvage England’s Euro 96 hopes. His effort was easily saved by Germany’s Andreas Köpke, and after Moller converted his penalty, England were out of the competition.
I cried. Bucket loads. My Dad tried to console me with a meagre pat on the back, but nothing was going to shake my blues. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. My sister, Hannah, barged into the room to see what was going on.
“Oh my God, are you CRYING Charlie?!”, she yelled unsympathetically, basking in the schadenfreude with a wry smile. Like a shitting dog being stared at, I felt helpless and exposed, but I had no option but to let it all out. It was a grim ending to what had promised to be a fairytale. After 30 years of hurt, mine had only just begun. Well, that’s what I thought.
Fast forward eighteen years and it’s the World Cup 2014 in Brazil, and what a tournament it has been. Goals, drama, vanishing spray. The lot. We’ve witnessed the frenetic energy of the South American teams on their home soil, a revival of Holland’s Total Football, a newly energised French team that have found their Va Va Voom again, as well as the rise and fall of the mighty giants Spain. It really has been a joy to watch, and we’re barely half way.
For Roy Hodgson’s England, however, things haven’t gone so well. After two early defeats, England were eliminated from the group stages. In part due to being seeded in an extremely tough group alongside Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica, but largely down to the fact that we’re just, well…a little bit shit.
When Suarez scored to make it 2-1 to Uruguay, hammering the final nail in England’s proverbial coffin, you’d be right to assume that I was disappointed. Was there a repeat of the Euro 96 floodgates though? Was I a blubbering, inconsolable wreck? No. I was pissing myself with laughter, and I have the internet to thank for that.
Within seconds of England’s untimely World Cup exit, my social media channels were awash with viral images and videos. Here are some examples:
These memes offered light relief in a time of loss and disappointment. What could have been a miserable evening turned out to be a rather amusing one at that. I spent the rest of the night scouring Twitter with the hashtag #suarez, which was trending Worldwide at that point. It seemed I wasn’t alone in using the Internet to take solace from England’s World Cup set back.
Memes have been a key feature of the tournament. According to Zero Hora, a Brazilian national newspaper, this World Cup has been dubbed as Copa dos Memes, or ‘The Cup of Memes’.
Robin Van Persie’s swan-dive header against Spain has become a viral sensation too. Known as ‘Persieing’, the wonder goal has been followed up with photoshop parodies and photo fads, with Robin’s 93 year-old Grandad even getting involved.
Other incidents that have gone viral include Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa depicted as Superman after his heroic display against the hosts Brazil, Bruno Martins Indi’s laser eye stare at Diego Costa, and a levitating Claudio Marchisio.
A particular favourite of mine is of Cameroon midfielder Alex Song’s imbecilic foul on Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic. Unprovoked, Song elbowed Mandzukic in the back, and has subsequently been banned for three games. Feeding off his moment of lunacy, several GIFs have emerged providing an alternative as to why Mandzukic went down so sharpish.
According to the Wall Street Journal, this World Cup is predicted to generate “more social media posts of any mega-event in history”. The fact that Brazil has a population of 200 million and is the fifth-largest Internet market by population must have an influence, but I believe we’ve all caught the viral bug. The memes compliment the beautiful game. They add a different dimension. And what’s more, they’re universal. They reflect just how much social media has changed the way we watch television. Whilst Phil Neville is sending us to sleep with his monotonous, torturous, yet oddly endearing commentary, most of us have one eye on our Twitter timeline, waiting for the next viral hit to pop up.
Now it’s Tuesday 24th June 2014, and England are out of the World Cup. I’ve ditched the Kappa tracksuit. I’ve destroyed all evidence of the bowl head haircut. And I’ve swapped the tears of pain for tears of laughter. No more years of hurt. Bring on the memes. Well, that’s until we ever have to face Germany in a penalty shootout.