Researchers at Oxford and Bristol universities found in a study of 3.5 million GCSE students, that their results in each subject dropped on average by a quarter of a grade in a year when a European Championships or World Cup was on. I was fortunate enough to be doing my big exams in odd years, so never had the temptation of ignoring my studies to watch dead rubbers between Bosnia and Iran or the most pointless of football matches, the 3rd place play-off. Do those former students regret disregarding their schoolwork to watch the biggest sports tournament in the world? Maybe. But you can be sure that when they were in the middle of it, the notion of missing out on the inevitable drama that a major tournament brings was impossible, and the thought of piles of flashcards and walls plastered in mindmaps could not have been further from their minds.
I remember moments of my life based on big moments in football. I still work out when I completed University courses or started jobs based on how long before or after it was that Chelsea won the Champions League. My first memory of watching football in a major tournament was in 1996 when I ran outside to inform my dad, who was tarmacking the path outside, that Gazza had scored what I later appreciated to be one of the great England goals as he flicked it over Colin Hendry and volleyed in. I watched the Beckham penalty against Argentina in 2002 in my room and then ran through the house in celebration. 2006 was marked in our house by the purchase of our first flatscreen TV in preparation for the finals in Germany, where we watched the infamous Ronaldo wink as Wayne Rooney was sent off.
With the Premier League coming to an end it won’t be long before the first plays of ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Vindaloo’, won’t be long before grown men and women come to the realisation that the £800 it will take to complete this year’s Panini sticker book isn’t really worth it, and won’t be long until watching Morocco vs Iran of a Friday evening becomes the norm. So will this summer’s World Cup form memories that make it worth dropping grades in exams? Will it be a memory like that in 2002, of pure joy with the retribution of Goldenballs Beckham, beating the Argentina team who had contrived to get him sent off four years previously? Or the memory of stony, disbelieving silence as it was at my house in Birmingham 2 years ago as the Vikings banged their drums and clapped their hands above their heads? Fortunately for me, I don’t pin my hopes on England success. In fact, the tournament I most enjoyed was 2008, when the ‘golden generation’ failed even to qualify under the guidance of the ‘Wally with the Brolly’.
So to all of those exam year students, don’t skimp on the flashcards, but also don’t miss out on the football, as then you will never be able to remember the year of your GCSEs through THAT Harry Kane goal against Belgium or THAT John Stones howler against Tunisia.