I remember it vividly.
It was a warm Wednesday afternoon in June when I watched a fully suited and booted, relatively sober man, willingly – even enthusiastically – pour a pint of beer over his own head.
John Collins had just netted a penalty against Brazil to make it 1-1 at half time in the opening game of the 1998 World Cup, following Ronaldo’s (previous one) opener. The suited man was returning from his ill-timed trip to the bar, and most of the two pints he was clutching had become displaced during his perilous return amidst the bouncing mass of kilts, Irn Bru and tables awash with haggis that had amassed in the Ferret and Trouserleg that day.
I embellished the last bit. There wasn’t any haggis. Instead, the tables were awash with ashtrays, with so many people working on their annuity rate back then (it was before the recent Budget announcements, and the smoking ban). Everything else is accurate.
Anyway, in a moment of history-making, he poured what was left of one pint over his head, smiling in a strange, proud, kind of way. That will stick with me for the rest of my life as one of the oddest celebrations I’ve ever seen. A celebration, nonetheless.
For a fleeting moment, it felt as though we’d won the World Cup.
Not everyone was a football enthusiast (including me), but we were caught up in the collective excitement of the event. It was simply the place to be. The thing to do.
We went on to lose 2-1, although the respectability of that scoreline ensured a continued, if forlorn, hope of qualification. A 1-1 draw with Norway kept the dream faintly alive, then our very disappointing 3-0 defeat to Morocco ensured we didn’t come even close. That was our last game in the World Cup finals. Still is.
But it was a brilliant day.
Clearly this is a (factual) metaphor for automatic enrolment.
As we move through the summer with the World Cup spurring our emotions, we remain on the cusp of reaching an auto-enrolment tipping point for that collective belief in something that just seems right; being in a workplace pension scheme. With almost 4m people already enrolled, the same number again will be able to reference the collective will that precedes them; that c90% of those predecessors didn’t opt out.
But we are in danger of losing that momentum. By my reckoning, up to a third of employers failed to fulfil their duties in April and May. I could be wrong, but we should certainly be talking about that, rather than so many other things on the pensions front right now.
I hate to say this, but now may be the time that the Regulator has to take action to show this is serious. They may need to hand out some red cards or give away the odd penalty.
I hope I’m wrong, and they’re all on track. I hope the summer of 2014 doesn’t become auto-enrolment’s Morocco.
Which takes us back to football and the here and now.
Like any World Cup, this one’s difficult to call. Would you back Germany’s experience and solidity, the flare of Neymar and Brazil, the penalty pleading of Portugal’s petulant Ronaldo (newer one) or the patriotic belief in our only representative team; England. Or would you plump for one of the dark horses; Belgium, Uruguay or Chile? To be honest, I’ve now heard so many ‘dark horse’ tips that it feels like we’ll be watching reruns of Black Beauty.
I wish England all the very best. If nothing else, I hope they provide some moments for people such as those I experienced with Scotland that Wednesday afternoon in 1998.
But my money’s on Argentina, because it could get Messi.