AND so it starts. For sports nuts like me the next month is a slice of heaven.

But, as an England supporter, there will be an inevitable sizeable portion of hell thrown in for good measure.

Yes, the World Cup kicks off tonight with a spectacular opening ceremony followed by hosts and tournament favourites Brazil taking on Croatia.

Much as football commentators are making much of the romanticism of the World Cup being staged again by the competition's most successful nation, the reality is a little different.

There are mass protests and strikes in Brazil prompted by the amount of public money being spent on the tournament, the number of deaths during the construction phase of some stadiums, and the general unpopularity of the country's government.

Indeed, there are some in Brazil who do not want the hosts to win the World Cup because they fear it will lead to the re-election of the government later in the year.

None of that should be ignored by the thousands of journalists - from both news and sports disciplines - who will be covering the tournament.

But - and some may not find this palatable - the fact is that for the vast majority of the many millions worldwide watching the competition on television it is the football that matters most.

So that is what I will concentrate on.

As I say, I am an England supporter even though I have spent 35 of my (almost) 48 years on the planet living Wales. As such - and bearing in mind I was born a month after Bobby Moore and co lifted the cup - I am used to the drama, controversy and eventual misery that accompanies an England World Cup bid.

Contrary to popular opinion, my experience as an Englishman in Wales is that many people from these parts will be supporting Roy Hodgson's team at the World Cup.

For some reason, backing England at football is not the heinous crime that doing so at rugby would be.

My sons are my yardstick for such reasoning. Born and bred in Newport, they are both Welsh to the core. But while they would never dream of supporting England in a rugby match - in fact, they're always happy to see anyone beat the English in that sport - they are more than happy to back them in football tournaments.

No doubt that would change if Wales qualify for the finals of a major tournament.

But I digress. Back to the football.

I have a strange feeling that England will actually do rather well at this World Cup, largely because no-one expects them to.

Previous tournaments have seen England leave these shores burdened by a weight of expectation. This time many doubt they will get through a tough qualification group that includes Italy and Uruguay.

I think the lack of expectation will help England.

So here's my prediction (not that I'd put any money on it) - England will reach the semi-finals, where they will be beaten (probably on penalties) by the eventual winners. Argentina.

Farewell to a comedy hero

For many people of my age, Rik Mayall's death earlier this week came as a huge shock. As a teenager in the early 1980s, he was my comedy hero - not least because he grew up and went to school in my home county of Worcestershire.

I absolutely adored him as hapless investigative Kevin Turvey in A Kick Up The Eighties, as anarchist Cliff Richard fan Rick in The Young Ones, as Alan B'Stard in The New Statesman and, brilliantly, as Lord Flasheart in Blackadder.

Staying with the World Cup theme, there is an online campaign to get Rik's 'lost' song from the 2010 tournament, Noble England, to number one as a tribute to him.

Let's do it. He'd have loved it.