Dark skies and a gloomy outlook reflect the mood among fans ahead of the most unique World Cup Finals

We are rapidly approaching what is unquestionably the most controversial World Cup Finals in recent history.
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Perhaps it is the passing of time playing a trick of the mind, or a want to be young again romanticising the past, but the World Cup Finals always meant one thing: right from my earliest memories of the tournament when as Gazza cried, Milla danced and jigged and Schillaci screamed at Italia 90 to waistcoat-wearing Gareth and clinical Kane leading England to the semi-final in Russia, there was one common denominator.

Even for a lad growing up in the North East, the summer sun only added to the anticipation of a World Cup Finals. It became as familiar and timely as the memorable tear of a packet of stickers, the inevitable warning against using sellotape on the wall chart in fear of damaging the wallpaper or the always underwhelming final England friendly that serves to limit expectations before the real stuff gets underway.

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Summer days under sunny skies meant racing home from school for the first of two games or the 5 o’clock finish from work leading to a race to the pub in time to get served at the bar before picking a prime spot in front of the screen. Blue skies, belief, beer and barbecues - that was what the World Cup Finals have meant to me throughout the last 32 years.

But this tournament, inexplicably handed to Qatar will provide a completely different experience. A winter World Cup means gloomy skies and pitch-black nights that will match the dark emotions evoked by FIFA’s controversial move to give responsibility for welcoming the world’s greatest players to the Gulf state.

At best, the decision to hold a finals in Qatar is baffling to say the least. At worst, it is a cash grab by those who masquerade as having the game’s best interests at heart. Yet use positions of power for personal gain and favour.

It is hard not to be cynical about it all. The human rights issues, the workers’ rights or lack of, the unanswered questions, the uncertainty over figures of workers lost during the rushed manufacture of stadiums around the country, the uncomfortable comments from our own MPs on the treatment of the LGBTQ community or how they should conduct themselves in Qatar.

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England manager Gareth Southgate and captain Harry Kane have both discussed the possibility of speaking over over such subjects and refusing to bow to FIFA’s quite frankly ludacrious suggestions to ‘focus on football’ and not let the sport ‘be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists’. Both England men should be both applauded and admired for their response. Not for the first time, this Three Lions squad are representing the best of our country.

Of course, on a sporting level, the disruption to the Premier League season, a major international tournament slapped bang in the middle of a campaign, offering little respite for players in favour of increased workloads and pressure on their bodies. To misquote Jeremy Corbyn’s General Election campaign slogan of 2017, this is a tournament ‘for the few, not the many’.

The sun will no doubt be out in Qatar - but there will be metaphorical and meteorological dark clouds overhead throughout the tournament and it will take a long time for them to clear.

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