The World Cup.
It only happens every four years.
A cornucopia of cultures from all four sections of the globe meeting head to head in a series of sociological experiments to determine who is the best at kicking a ball around a field. A feast of sport: some days there are up to four different games on, which nutters like myself try to watch all of. An event which has settled a civil war, and caused a gang land style murder, the World Cup brings out the best and the worst in the humanity of the near billions who invest heavily in it.
It was all too easy to look at it as just a game, and a mad one for the non-fan at that. (90 minutes, draws, the offside rule? No wonder the Americans don’t take to it!) If I had come into the game via the usual route, of osmosis through childhood, the strands that lead off in myriad directions might have obscured themselves. As it was, my dad’s fatal attempt to get me into football at ‘the right age’ was to take me to see Gala Fairydean vs Arthurlie, his home town team. The skill on display, and the end to end excitement... bored pre-school me to tears, and put me off football for a decade. Nah, it was in my mid-teens, through the spectre of culture and history, that I started to take a note of football.
And my Grandad Bob, who was the biggest shill man for Partick Thistle and the World Cup I’ve ever known.
Not that Partick Thistle and World Cup go together in many sentences. Unless we mention Alan Rough. Or that after dear Mandy was bored senseless by the dour 2010 final (she watched it at her own request, reader, honest!) she later suggested I take her to Firhill, as “it was probably a higher standard of football”. She’s not been yet, so I’m not going to talk her out of this fallacy!
The World Cup started with Scotland winning 14 of the first 29. That these were the international matches between Scotland and England, and that counting this apocraphyally adds substantially to England’s trophy cabinet, is neither here nor there. Its just a personal canon of mine. What do you mean it doesn’t count? This is Scotlands peak!
The World Cup started as an idea with lots of bragging. The Olympic games had football from the 1908 games onwards, when Team GB won the home field advantage and the gold medals amongst allegations they’d tipped the field in their advantage. A friendly tournament organised by Sir Thomas Lipton in 1909 was won by an amateur English side after the English FA refused to enter a professional team, on a huff.
Seeing the way the world was going, in 1914 FIFA declared war. I mean, they took over the Olympics football. FIFA (the Federation Internationale de Football Association) was formed in 1904, mostly by the French. They didn’t have Death Stars and the religion of Havelange back then though. They did however have Daniel Burley Woolfall, a grim Lancashire football man who was their second President. Under his reign, both North and South America started to affiliate to the football cause, and he had hoped the Olympics tournament could springboard into something bigger.
Alas, the nascent hopes of the early 1910s were felled by the sound of battlefields. The First World War happened. Football was on the backburner (bar a famous ceasefire game in No Mans Land on Christmas Day 1914), nearly the entire Hearts football team of Edinburgh signed up en masse after some heavy handed bullying as one example. FIFA remained under threat of extinction, as did the male population of many European towns.
It’s difficult to truly express the effect the War had on the people after in sporting terms. Some of the founder members had been neutral, in the case of Denmark. Others had been destroyed, in the case of Belgium. The DFB (German Football Association) and the FFF (French Football Associations) had been on rival sides of the war. All quiet on the Western Front? The idea of co-operation to form a tournament seemed as farfetched as a twenty year ceasefire.
To further complicate matters, the War hadn’t even ended yet when Daniel Burley Woolfall, the man who had simplified the laws of the game and began worldwide integration of the sport, died in October 1918. He was merely 66 years old.
“Mr. Woolfall was clerk to the Commissioners of Income Tax for the extensive district of East Lancashire, and was a prominent member of St. John's Church. He had a long and close connection with football. Originally he was associated with the Blackburn Rovers and served on the committee for some time but was not a playing member of the famous club. He was a representative of the Rovers on the Lancashire Football Association, to the Council of which important organisation he was elected a member no fewer than 37 years ago. He subsequently became a vice-president and in May, 1901, was selected as president of the L.F.A., a position he held at the time of his death.”
Blackburn Times, 26th October 1918
Blackburn Times, 26th October 1918
This death was a near fatal blow to the world game. The British FAs, smarting from the war, pulled out of FIFA to avoid dealing with their recent enemies. The French and Germans weren’t exactly bosom buddies either, yet they remained in the organisation, just. The world game needed a spokesman though, before the dreams of unity through sport became one of those early Edwardian pipedreams, looked back on with the hint of nostalgia and amazement like zeppelins, the Alsace-Lorraine disputes, and the Liberal party governing Britain.
Enter Jules Rimet.
Rimet wasn’t new to the idea of a World Cup. He had been pushing for one since the turn of the century, and had been heavily involved in the creation of the 1908 Olympics tournament. When the War scuppered his ideas, he enlisted, and won the Croix de Guerre, one of the highest awards for bravery in the French army. He was the kind of passionate Socialist whom would haunt Joao Havelange every day of the afterlife if it existed. Rimet was appalled by the amateur v professional debate which gripped sport in the early 20th century, as he saw the fight not as one of ethics v money, but of the elite aiming to keep the working classes out of the game. Humanist by nature, he hoped that international tournaments would “mellow the virulent nationalism which had disturbed the 19th century but only if it reached out to all social classes.” (Indepedent, 5 June 2006)
Rimet’s view was that if you can understand sport, you can understand the differences in society. And if you can understand that, the underlying tensions between nations would simmer down.
There was yet more bickering before FIFA and Rimet announced in 1928 that in 1930 the first ever FIFA tournament outside the Olympics would take place. By 1928, the thawing of international relationships seemed possible. Gustav Stresseman, a man who could have been a pivotal roadblock against Hitler’s Nazis, if only he hadn’t suffered a work related early death, had tirelessly striven to improve the perception of Germany. As winners of the 1924 and 1928 Olympics tournaments, Uruguay were selected as the first hosts. The British FAs refused to take part still, the English FA viewing the world of football outside Blighty as irrelevant and weak. [This is still seen today when the likes of Harry Redknapp will sum up the pre-match atmosphere of a Germany v England game as “none of the German lineup would get in this England team”, then watch in baffled horror as the clearly inferior Germans smashed the English 4-1. As Mark Lawrenson once said in one of his few sensible philosophical points, they lose because they will not learn. ]
Now we had a tournament, all we needed were teams. Uruguay and their neighbours naturally jumped at the chance. The USA took part, which was amusing, as one of the pressing points that brought the World Cup into being was that the Americans didn’t want football at the LA games in 1932! Getting Europeans to join in the fun proved more difficult. Rimet himself had to persuade some nations, and only four, including his native France, took part.
France, whose captain, Alex Villaplane, called the Cup “the happiest day of his life”. A George Best meets Reggie Kray character, Villaplane became a gold smuggler, a fixer of horse races, and sadly, a murderous collaborator of the French Gestapo, for which he was executed for war crimes in 1944. Football is always shaped by the history which surrounds it.
The 1930 tournament was won by Uruguay, 4-2 over neighbours and bitter rivals Argentina. A former Spanish military stronghold, were under the rule of Juan Campisteguy. A man who was into socialist reform and giving women the vote, he was replaced less than a year after the tournament by Gabriel Terra, a dictatorial man who jailed university graduates, suspended the constitution, and was a friend of Mussolinis. It would be twenty years before Uruguay returned to the World Cup. [Worth to point out, for fairness sake, that Uruguay were neutral during World War 2, and when they finally entered it, after Terra’s death, it was on the side of the Allies.]
Argentina, beaten finalists, were months off their own Coup d’état, a bloodless revolution which had mass support. Alas, Uriburu, like Terra, suspended the constitution, elections but also reformed Argentina towards Fascism. The deposed President, Hipolito Yrigoyen, had increased the Argentine working class standard of living and introduced universally education in the years between the 1928 FIFA conference and the 1930 World Cup.
The USA, semifinalists for the first and only time, were ruled by President Herbert Hoover, a man with the single worst timing of all the US Presidents. Calvin Coolidge, a man beloved by Reaganonomic fans, had gracefully departed the scene in 1929 after the Swinging Twenties provided year after year of booming financial success. What goes up must come down, and the Wall Street Crash brought about the Great Depression for much of the next decade. Coolidge was too smart a man not to realise what was about to happen, hence his quick exit from the Presidency – an attribute not continued on by his many followers who fail to see cause and effect and assume the large boom, and the Wall Street Crash, were not connected.
As for the fourth Semifinalists, Yugoslavia, their history would require a book to look into! In 1928, a Serbian MP shot five Croatian MPs, killing the Croatian leader, Stjepan Radic. In January 1929, this issue gave the advantage needed for King Alexander I, before he was to become the most famous filmed assassination outside of Kennedy, to install himself as dictator.
So in 1930, the most free of the original Semifinalists was swiftly to be the United States. But don’t spread it around in case they get an ego!
The 1934 World Cup was held in Italy, fully under the grasp of Mussolini. Mussolini saw football as the ultimate PR opportunity for his regime, and FIFA wilfully stood in line as the Italian dictator stacked the deck in favour of his team. It is perhaps charitable to note at this point that Jules Rimet, being a humanist and idealist, was unable to realise the abuse men with darker ideals could warp his baby to, be they Benito Mussolini or Joao Havelange. The entire tournament took place akin to something like the Nurnberg Rallies, refereeing decisions seeming to go in favour of the Italian side regardless of intent and ignoring much violence. Not that they needed that. In Vittorio Pozzo, Italy had the finest manager around. Pozzo was a complex man, not anti-fascist but not fascist either, a political survivor, a master tactician and talent spotter, and a man who would cloak his team from the maelstrom outside.
In 1934, Alexander of Yugoslavia was building up to his end of year assassination, and Yugoslavia suffered their own assassination, becoming the first big name nation to fail to qualify for the World Cup. They lost a qualifier to Romania, 2-1. Uruguay refused to travel to the World Cup, not merely done in by home factors, but upset about the European treatment of their own tournament. The United States returned, but any hope of a repeat semifinal was vanquished by the Italians, to the tune of 7-1 in the first round.
“Only fine goal-tending kept the score as low as it was.”
New York Times.
New York Times.
Italy met Austria in the Semifinals. Austria’s captain was the superb Matthias Sindelar, still considered the greatest Austrian footballer of all time. The Mozart of football, Sindelar was a committed anti-Fascist. Going up against the Mussolini Azzuri was not the sole impact into sport Sindelar had with the Fascist cause. The Austrian side were on course to be the finest in Europe, when Hitler brought the Anschluss into being. He set up, as a propaganda exercise, a derby of reunification between the Austrian Wunderteam and the German national side. It was to be a draw, in the spirit of the occasion of German brotherhood. Sindelars team played the match as if agreeing to the plan, until the last twenty minutes when he scored and set up another, and the Austrian team beat the Germans. Sindelar celebrated the result passionately in front of most of the higher up Nazi figures.
He was dead within the year. A terrible accident, a blocked pipe leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. An accident? Maybe, but you’ll never convince most people it wasn’t murder. Especially with rumours that the death certificate details were fabricated.
“"According to the Nazi rules, a person who had been murdered or who has committed suicide cannot be given a grave of honour. So we had to do something to ensure that the criminal element involved in his death was removed.”
Egon Ulbrich, a friend of Sindelars.
Egon Ulbrich, a friend of Sindelars.
The other 2 semifinalists in 1934 were the aforementioned Germans, and the Czechoslovakians, soon to be the centre piece of another international intrigue.
The tournament turned homewards in 1938, to France. Italy won it again. International issues reared their head once more. Argentina joined Uruguay in snubbing the European World Cup. Spain couldn’t enter due to the Spanish Civil War raging on. A disjointed Anschluss team lost 4-2 in the first round to Switzerland. Cuba had their greatest ever football result, reaching the Quarterfinals. They were independent, but had just undergone two coups in the space of a year. The Brazilians, with their first great superstar, Leonidas, reached the Semis, as did Sweden. But it was the Hungarian Magyars who reached their first final.
Mussolini decided to inspire his side to victory, sending a telegram to the teams changing room. It merely read: “Win or die”.
Later, Szaba, the Hungarian goalkeeper, was to have rallied his team after the 4-2 defeat, saying “We may have let in four goals, but at least we saved their lives.”
It may have been metaphorical, but one can never tell with Fascist dictators...
There was no World Cup in 1942. There was more of a war going on. Hitler’s Germany had appeared to be the front runners to host the 1942 World Cup, had the Second World War not got in the way, so perhaps that was just as well. A Mussolini PR show would have seemed childs play next to what the Nazi party would had in store for the world. During the war, the Italian vice-president of FIFA, Ottorino Barassi, removed the Jules Rimet Trophy [as it was later to be known in memorial after 1956] from the bank vault in Rome it was held in, and hid it in a shoebox under his bed, to protect it from the Nazis.
Rimet couldn’t see his baby die out though, and so the World Cup returned in 1950. His efforts to continually strive towards peace through sport led to his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1956, the year he died.
In 1950, the most football mad nation on the planet was chosen to host the World Cup. This was Brazil. The Germans were banned, as a consequence of the Second World War. The English made their debut, their long huff over international football finally ending. [Though I’m sure they swiftly wished they’d kept it up a few months longer!] Scotland were offered a place, but turned it down on a huff of their own, sadly. Austria were involved in qualifying, but had to withdraw. The French were eliminated in qualifying by Yugoslavia, now firmly under Tito’s rule. The Swiss qualified after the arduous task of seeing off Luxembourg in a playoff. India qualified for their only World Cup, only to withdraw with money issues and issues with FIFA regulations. Hungary and the Czechoslovakians could have been strong contenders, but had been submerged by the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union, and refused to take part politically.
Italy did qualify, but severely under strength, the result of national tragedy. On the 4th May, 1949, an airplane crashed into the Superga Hill by the east of Turin, killing all onboard. That plane had held the Torino side which not only contained most of the Italian first team, but was one of the finest club teams of all time. The Italian side took a while to recover from the tragedy, exiting in the first group stage of the 1950 World Cup, Torino (city rivals of Juventus) are yet to. But for a navigational error due to low cloud, the Italians might have retained their World title in 1950, and Torino might have been a stronger threat to Real Madrid in the early European Cups.
There was only going to be one winner of the 1950 World Cup though. Brazil. The people knew it, the organisers knew it , the press knew it. Before the final had even been played, the newspapers wrote about how Brazil had become World Champions. It was seen as inevitable.
Uruguay returned to the competition after a twenty year absence. They reached the final round, carrying on where they had left off. All Brazil had to do to win the World Cup was draw the final game against Uruguay, due to the slapdash vagary of the rules put in place. (The organisers had forgotten to organise a Final, but luck gave us one.) Brazil had beaten the Swedish 7-1 and the Spanish 6-1 – what could Uruguay, who had struggled against both, hope to do? Carnivals were organised in Rio, an alleged actual attendance of 210 thousand Brazilians were in the national stadium, the Maracana, to see the expected trophy celebrations. “These are the World Champions” said the dailies, and the Mayor of Rio had conducted on field congratulations... before the kick off.
I have this great theory that the great the hubris inflicted, the greater the football gods bring that karma down to earth...
Uruguay won, with Ghiggia’s winner coming 10 minutes from the end.
“The silence was morbid, sometimes too difficult to bear"
Rimet had practiced his Portuguese, as he had assumed Brazil would win too! He was left alone with the World Cup trophy, which he had to personally present later to the Uruguayan captain. The Brazilians had made gold medals ready for their victory which never came. Suicide, heart attacks, and incriminations. The Maracanazo, as it is commonly referred to, was one of the most profound effecting moments in Brazilian history.
“Alex Bellos, a British author and expert on Brazilian soccer, suggests that the defeat was especially hurtful to Brazil because football is inextricably linked to the Brazilian identity. To truly understand this link, it is important to consider Brazil’s history as a key participant in the Atlantic slave trade.From 1502 to 1860, Brazil was the world’s largest importer of slaves; during this period, 38 percent of slaves brought to the New World ended up in Brazil, where they primarily worked to cultivate and harvest sugar.Brazil was the last country in the western hemisphere to outlaw slavery in 1888.At the beginning of the 20th century, black Brazilians—slaves or descendants of slaves—became scapegoats, and it was common to blame them for society’s various problems. However, during the 1930s, a group of particularly gifted black football players became national heroes and, as a result, they encouraged their compatriots to appreciate the diversity of their country. Since the 1930s, football has served to unify Brazil.”
Matthew Schorr, Maracanazo: Brazilian Tragedy and the 1950 World Cup
Matthew Schorr, Maracanazo: Brazilian Tragedy and the 1950 World Cup
Nelson Rodrigues, the famed Brazilian playwright, was to refer to this defeat as “Brazil’s Hiroshima”. That few in the country viewed this as hyperbole speaks to the psychological blow losing the 1950 World Cup was for them.
[A final footnote on 1950. Finally entering the World Cup, the English sense of superiority was dealt a bloody nose at the end of a 1-0 defeat to the United States. The press were unable to deal with it, assuming the English had won 10-1! Sadly, Gaetjens, the US goalscoring hero, was later murdered by the Duvalier family in Haiti.]
Whilst the 1950 World Cup final was to end in a physical blow that shook a country, the 1954 final was to produce the stimulus to an entire country raising back on its feet. The setting was Switzerland, in the middle of a sizzling summer. The favourites were Hungary, the wonderful Magyars, undefeated for four years.
Scotland made their World Cup debut! Yay! They were prompty gubbed 7-0 by Uruguay, one of the biggest scoreline deficits in World Cup history, and exited at the first hurdle. Boooo! Uruguay were to reach the Semifinals, before suffering their first ever World Cup defeat at the hands of the seemingly invincible Hungarians.
The English returned with one of their finest teams – Byrne, Broadis, Tom Finney, Johnny Haynes, Lofthouse, the evergreen Stanley Matthews et all – and reached the Quarterfinals, undone by the Uruguayans 4-2. The English might have been Conservative at home, three years into a Tory government that lasted thirteen, but they were anything but at the tournament, scoring and conceding eight goals apiece, the highlight being an incredible 4-4 draw with the Belgians. Italy crashed out in the English group, still not having recovered from the Superga Incident. They were, at least, free from the shadow of Fascism, and beginning to enjoy the growth of their Economic Miracle.
Brazil aimed again for the World Cup, but after scraping through their group, came undone in a foul tempered quarterfinal against the Hungarians in which three men were sent off. Austria reached their second Semifinal, a year before they became independent again. They were never to truly reach the Sindelar era heights again though.
So, Hungary, Uruguay and Austria, all World Cup big guns at this point in time. Who were the fourth semifinalists?
The DFB were fully reinstated after war time related suspension in 1950. The West Germans qualified for the 1954 tournament by beating the Saarland and Norway in qualifiers. Little was expected of them, a view increased when the West Germans lost 8-3 in the group stage to Hungary. On they went, however, and they crushed Austria 6-1 in the Semifinals to reach a repeat match with the Magyars.
Hungary went 2-0 up in the final, their injured inspirational figure Ferenc Puskas doing his all. Done and dusted, neutrals thought. Then Germany levelled the score out of nowhere, and it was Rahn who scored the winner near the end. The comeback complete, the Hungarians suffered their first defeat in four years, and West Germany were World Champions. It had rained heavily, and in an example of German know how, they had used boots with retractable studs to aide their footing on the pitch.
To say this victory had a galvanising effect on a nation still haunted by Hitler is to do it a tremendous disservice of understatement. 60 years on, films and documentaries are made about the match that “made” Germany. And I don’t just speak as a footballing nation, though this was the birth of one of the greatest of footballing superpowers. The 50s were the era of Adenauer and Erhard in West Germany, as the economy rallied from destroy to one of the strongest in the world, and unemployment crashed to record lows. Victory on the world stage gave self-belief and a sense of being back to many millions of German people, and soon after the tournament, the London and Paris Conferences were held, securing West German independence, entry into NATO and the cessation of its occupation by the Allied countries.
The World Cup continued to grow, past the death of its creator. In 1958, it travelled to Sweden, where the Brazilians finally won the World Cup, aided by their teenage sensation, Pele. All four home nations qualified – even Wales. Argentina, now under the slightly schizophrenic leadership of Arturo Frondizi back home, returned to the tournament for the first time since 1934. The Scots returned, and even managed a draw against the Yugoslavians, a result which must have giddied them, for they lost the next two and went home early again.
The world powers of football were shifting. Hungary, undone by the mass exodus of their finest players after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution was so brutally suppressed by the Soviets, crashed out in the group stage to WALES. Admittedly, the Welsh were led by Juventus star John Charles, the Gentle Giant, the finest of their players. But..still! The Austrians crashed out in the group stage too, and would not another World Cup for two decades. Uruguay failed to qualify. Italy also failed to qualify, but they would bounce back. The French were at their peak, Just Fontaine scoring 13 goals in a tournament (a record yet to be broken) but this would be it for them as a major force until the rise of Platini in the 80s. It was the West Germans, the Soviets and the Brazilians were who the teams on the rise.
Despite that rise , the Swedes managed to shock both the Soviets and the West Germans to reach the final. There, they were done in 5-2 at the hands of the majestic Brazilians. The win off their back, the Brazilians only went and did it again in 1962.
They had been troubled briefly by the Welsh in the quarterfinals.Wales responded to this by never qualifying for another tournament in their history. Tragic. Heh. (Yes, my often co-writer, Jon Arnold, IS Welsh – whatever gave you that impression?)
The 1962 tournament was held in Chile, but two years before the games, and after the original hosting decision had been made, the Chilean earthquake of 1960 brought the country to its knees. FIFA were worried, Stanley Rous at the helm, and Argentina made the plea to bring the tournament to them instead as “they could host it tomorrow, we have everything ready” as Raul Colombo put it. Carlos Dittborn, the CONEMBOL President, and a Chilean patriot, made a direct plea to FIFA: “because we have nothing, we will do everything”. He won the argument, and had two years to make Chile World Cup ready. Dittborn was a man possessed, doing everything to raise the infrastructure of his country to be able to host an international tournament. Dittborn’s words became a national slogan for Chile as they raced towards recovery. In the end, it wasn’t the best organised tournament, due to circumstances, but certainly it was one of the most heartfelt genuine hosts.
The 1962 World Cup opened on the 30th May 1962.
Carlos Dittborn died of a massive heart attack on the 28th April 1962.
He was only thirty-eight years old.
In fighting to bring his country back from the brink, he had used himself up.
Which, you know, is why when folk like Jimmy Greaves mutter about how the tournament shouldn’t have been held in a place like Chile, you wish they’d just shut up. A chap died so you could whinge about your lack of five star accommodation, Jimmy, now how about those misses in the Quarterfinal?
Brazil had been military dictatorship since 1958. Argentina was heading towards the Dirty War. Uruguay were back at the tournament but a few decades off democracy. Chile were democratic at this point – their troubles were yet to start.
The Soviet/Spanish football war of the early 60s passed through the 1962 World Cup. Franco refused to let the Spanish team play in the 1960 European Championships as the Soviets were playing. The USSR thus won the competition. By 1962, Spain were fancied as one of the finest, if not the finest, teams in Europe, and with the likes of Gento, Di Stefano, Puskas (now naturalised), Santamaria, the original Luis Suarez, Echeberria et all, had to be considered one of the favourites to win the tournament. So one of the great World Cup shocks had to be the Spanish exiting in the first group stage, ousted by Brazil and the Czechoslovakians.
In 1964, Spain hosted the Euros. Franco had no qualms about allowing his side to take on and beat the Soviets in the final. Ego over politics, always!
The 64 tournament was a strong field though. In Group 1, the Soviets, the Yugoslaves, Uruguay (who should need no introduction by this point!) and Colombia, outsiders but who managed to be tricky opponents. Group 2 had the West Germans, the Chileans, Italy, and the Swiss, who were usually tough opponents at the World Cup, but were overwhelmed entirely by the group and lost every game. Italy took another early exit, but worse was to follow soon. Group 4 had Hungary (inspired by their newest ace, Florian Albert, top scorer at the 1962 tournament), England, Argentina and the hapless Bulgaria. And even Bulgaria nearly eliminated the English. Come the final, it was the Czechs and the Brazilians once more, and despite taking the lead, the Czechs lost 3-1.
The 1962 World Cup was also home to the infamous Battle of Santiago, the football match between Chile and Italy. The Italian press had said mean things about the Chilean nation. The Chilean players did mean things to the Italian players faces and knees in return, and the Italians have never been willing to be second bested at the dark arts. The game ended 2-0 to Chile.
“"Good evening. The game you are about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game. Chile versus Italy, this is the first time the two countries have met, we hope it will be the last. The national motto of Chile reads: By reason or by force. Today, the Chileans were prepared to be reasonable. The Italians only used force. The result was a disaster for the World Cup.”
David Coleman, introducing the match highlights on the BBC
David Coleman, introducing the match highlights on the BBC
“Let’s hope they meet MANY more times!”
Michael S Collins, now.
Michael S Collins, now.
In the 1966 qualifying, South Africa were banned, due to apartheid. This was despite the efforts of Stanley Rous, who supported the South Africans. Exit one issue, enter another – from the combined Asian, Oceanic and African qualifying route, came one qualifier: North Korea! The team from the land of Kim il-Sung were an unknown force entering the 1966 World Cup, and shocked the world by eliminating Italy! The Italians went home in disgrace, and the North Koreas gave Portugal an almighty scare going 3-0 up in the quarters before losing to the one man efforts of Eusebio. Given the general secrecy that surrounds North Korea, for decades it was rumoured that Pak Doo-ik and co had been sent to labour camps on return to Pyongyang, as a result of being overcome by Western sins. In actual fact, a documentary team allowed access to the country a few years back found out the truth: much like everywhere else in the world, Pak and his team mates are national heroes. In 2008, he carried the Olympic torch through the streets of Pyongyang.
The games were hosted by England, and the UK had just voted Harold Wilson back into office in a landslide victory for the Socialist government. In the midst of the greatest social reforms since Disraeli and Gladstone were exchanging barbs, the English had a cool and cocky character in charge of their team called Alf Ramsey. They had a streak of world class through the team – Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton – complimented by hard grafters and toilers. They started slowly and the press were merciless.
The French were in Englands group, but lacked the power of De Gaulle, who that year both expelled the American airbases from France and walked away from NATO. Proving that you can’t count the great spoilers out, Uruguay knocked them out with a 2-1 victory. Uruguay, it should be noted, have merely a population of just under 3 million, and a sports record to put most of the rest of the world to shame. The West Germans and the Argentines combined to get rid of the Spanish again. How tragic for Franco. Chile couldn’t repeat the Semifinal heroics of 1962, out with one point in the group. And in the Group of Death, a surprising victim, as Hungary and Portugal saw off Brazil, through injuring Pele.
In the quarterfinals, Uruguay and Hungary limped out. It was the last hurrah for the Hungarian football. In the final quarterfinal, however, there was a bad tempered affair between the English and the Argentines. They played like animals, claimed the English. They bought the referee, claimed the Argentines. Whoever was telling the truth, it started a mutual disdain between the two countries which continues to this day, both in a sporting and in a political sense.
The final was a rematch from the Second World War, as the Sun might have put it. Thankfully, we are too mature for any of that. The English won 4-2, but even non-sports fans know all the details by osmosis. England have yet to win a single tournament since. I suppose one could note the democracies were down 3 to 5 in the Quarterfinals, and the dictatorships were expelled entirely by the Final.
1970, Mexico, and Brazil win a third tournament, killing all in their path. Italy reach their first final since the 30s, as reigning European champions. The biggest newcomers were Peru, who would be a footballing power for the rest of the decade. Peru alternated between democracy and military dictatorship several times in the 20th century, and by 1970 it was dictatorship under the reign of Juan Velasoc Alvarado. They reached the Quarterfinals and gave the Brazilians a good game. Uruguay, proving once again you ruled them out at your peril, reached the Semis, axing the USSR along the way before also coming unstuck against the impervious Brazil. The English had hoped for a repeat title, but defensive errors and tactic blunders cost in a topsy-turvy quarterfinal against West Germany.
The West Germans lost the Semifinal to the Italians, in a match dubbed the Game of the Century. Franz Beckenbauer, nicknamed Der Kasier by German fans, broke his shoulder early in the game. There was no subs left, so Beckenbauer continued playing the game, a World Cup semifinal, with his arm in a sling. The Italians won 4-3 in extra time.
The Italians were primarily moved by the philosophy of catenaccio at the time. “Door-bolt” tactics, designed more to prevent the opponent attacking rather than being adventurous themselves. Gianni Berra defended catenaccio as the “right of the weak”, so just remember that when Jose Mourinho ‘parks the bus’ in a high profile match. He can’t help it, hes just exercising his right as a weaker manager...
In the clash between catenaccio and Brazil, Brazil won 4-1. With the involvement of football men like Enzo Bearzot and Arrigo Sacchi, catenaccio was to be replaced by more expansive football. Todays Italy are one of the strongest attacks in Europe. Yet the spectre of the 60s hangs about the football media. Stereotypes, once gained, are hard to dispel.
At least it never became a war though. Which is not what can be said for The Soccer War. El Salvador and Honduras had an 100 hour war in 1969, called such as it degenerated from a World Cup Qualifier between the two nations, but was really about immigration, economics and land disputes.
Worth to note also, as Brazil won the tournament for a third time, they were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy. It was subsequently stolen in 1983, and never seen again.
1974, the tournament moved to West Germany, winners twenty years previously.
It also saw the return after 16 years of the wonderful Scotland! Hooray! Scotland even managed a draw against Brazil, and ended their tournament undefeated! Hooray! In the group stage, on goal difference, Brazil’s goal difference being better by one. Oh sod it. Also in Scotland’s group were Zaire (better known as the DR Congo now) who were easily beaten in each game. Their seeming misunderstanding of the games rules led to many jokes about the stereotypes of African football. In actual fact, outclassed perhaps, but they knew the rules, and were making a protest about the military dictatorship back home. Lost in translation, Western media were content to make ethnocentric jokes. Zaire lost 9-0 to Yugoslavia, but the Scots could only beat them 2-0, and that was that.
An interesting clash was East v West, East Germany v West Germany in fact. In a shock result, East beat West. They were joined in the group by Chile, who had undergone traumatic transformation since their last World Cup. Out was the democratically elected Allende, in was General Pinochet. His brutal regime, which sadly many Western powers turned a blind eye to, sent shockwaves throughout the Chilean nation, and an early exit from the World Cup wasn’t that surprising. They had gotten through a playoff by default, the Soviet Union refusing to play in the National Stadium of Chile, where so many of the brutal coup murders had taken place. (And when you are deemed too brutal in human rights for Brezhnev’s Soviet Union...)
Uruguay returned, under a new dictatorship, but this time Holland and Sweden had done their homework and swiftly eliminated the troublesome South Americans. And the Italians, proving their continual reliance to be utterly unpredictable, went from being finalists in 1970 to crashing out in the first round. They even managed to fall behind to Haiti, who had survived Papa Duvalier only to remain in the clutch of Baby Doc.
As for England? They didn’t qualify for 1974 or 1978.
The second group stage saw the Total Football espousing Dutch destroy the Brazilians and the Argentines. (And the East Germans, but they had done well to get this far. And this is the only East German World Cup, so get your Kessler jokes in now...) The West Germans used the elements to get through a group containing the Swedes, the Yugoslaves, and the highly efficient Polish. Poland was to beat Brazil to third place. Both countries were about to slowly make the path to democratic process, though it was a quicker one for Brazil.
Cometh the final, and its Holland v West Germany, two countries that generally don’t get on very well. The Dutch wanted to humiliate the Germans, to get back at them for World War 2 (their words, not mine!). The Germans merely wanted to win, and did so. Three tournaments, and Franz Beckenbauer finally had his hands on the World Cup.
The 1978 tournament was held in Argentina. This was controversial in itself. Jorge Videla had taken power two years previously, and it wouldn’t be until the Falklands War that the overthrow of dictatorship in Argentina would truly succeed. He would remain at conflict with Chile, who didn’t qualify for the tournament, and I’m afraid the conservative government of the UK in the 1980s took the side of Pinochet under the pathetic “enemy of our enemies is our friend” rule. The manager of the Argentine side, however, Cesar Luis Menotti. Menotti was, and is a left wing rebel outspokenly critical of the military regime. He was being outspoken about the need for democracy in his homeland, whilst being the manager of a team which was in the midst of a tournament of such Propaganda Styles not seen since Mussolini. In other words, he had more balls than most British football ‘hard men’ ever had.
Menotti’s men swiftly got past the French and a fading Hungarian side. It was in the second round that they nearly came a cropper, before controversy hit. Argentina needed to beat Peru by four goals in the second round to reach the final at the expense of Brazil. Allegedly, bribes were sent by Videla to the Peruvian dictatorship, and Argentina did, factually, win that game 6-0. So into the final they went.
Scotland had hoped to win the tournament, but a loss to Peru and a draw with Iran meant they would exit early once more unless they beat Holland 4-1. They nearly did, but won 3-2 instead and it wasn’t to be. The Dutch won their second group stage, but it was a close run thing. The Austrians defeated West Germany to prevent their old rivals getting to the final, then the Italians who lead for so long come undone with a Dutch winner 14 minutes from time. For all the talk of Total Football, Italy 1978 were the team who could and should have made the final, but just fell short. Speaking of falling short, Argentina won the final, 3-1. Dictatorship PR won out again. Somewhere, Rimet was spinning in his grave.
1982 was hosted by Spain, who after the death of Franco, had become a thriving democracy, surviving a coup d’état in 1981 through the efforts of Aldolfo Suarez, Santiago Carrillo, and Juan Carlos.
It was a tournament of emerging nations. Cameroon, undefeated, but out early. Poland, fully into their Solidarity movement, but governed by Jaruzelski, went on a long extended run in the tournament. Fernando Belaunde was the democratic leader of Peru (though fairly right wing), and Peru took their last World Cup spot to date. A favourite to progress far, they over trained and subsequently tired out against fresher opponents, leading to an early exit. Algeria made their debut and beat West Germany, only for a footballing Anschluss between West Germany and Austria to rob the Algerians of a deserved second round place. Chile were back, but continued their rotten form under the Pinochet administration, losing every game. Hungary returned for a brief hurrah, demolishing El Salvador 10-1, but forgetting to pick up enough points against Belgium and Argentina.
England made a return to the World Cup, and started strongly with three victories, but ran out of steam and went out goalless in the second group stage. Menotti was still in charge of the Argentines, but they went out in the second stage also, despite the young Diego Maradona. The Spanish looked vulnerable when Northern Ireland pulled off a shock result in round one – both qualified but soon exited. Kuwait caused a stir when they threatened FIFA rebellion after a French goal was scored after a whistle in the crowd. Fahad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti Sheikh president of the Kuwait Football Association, came down to demonstrate with officials and keep his players from walking off. This is a much laughed about shot in clip shows. Alas, Sheik Fahad was later killed by Saddam Hussiens forces trying to defend Kuwait in 1990.
And, oh look, Scotland! Scoring five against the New Zealand. Taking the lead against Brazil! (And losing) Only needing a win against the Soviet Union... only for Alan Hansen to clatter into his own player, the late Shengelia to score, and Scotland to be out at the first hurdle AGAIN.
The crux battle came between Italy and Brazil. Brazil were the allstars of Zico, Socrates (a chain smoking, football playing, exercise shunning actual Doctor, sadly no longer with us), Falcao, Eder, et all. This was the first World Cup since democracy returned to Brazil, and they were seen as the best team in the world. Then they took on Italy, and through Paolo Rossi, only returned to the lineup after a two year ban due to betting scandal, the Italians won 3-2.
In the semifinals, Italy bested the Solidarity movement of Poland, 2-0. West Germany took on France in a well remembered and bad tempered clash, and won on penalties. The final was won by the Italians 3-1, their first World Cup since 1938. Sandro Pertini, the Italian President who had survived internment by Mussolini, being sentenced to death by the Nazi party, and became the great Socialist opponent of apartheid, Pinochet, Soviet aggression and organised crime, was pictured celebrating like a mad man in the stands. And he was 85 then! The moment was for Marco Tardelli, his supreme joy at scoring the winning goal etched on the memory of all who’ve seen it since.
The 1986 tournament was carried out in Mexico, with Argentina and Diego Maradona winning, dispelling England along the way. In 1990, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire corresponded with West Germanys third World Cup.
It would be a mistake to suggest the political and cultural impact of the World Cup died with the Soviet Union though. We see its use as a galvanising tool in African culture. Heck, in 2006, the Cote D’ivoire civil war found a ceasefire, so that everyone could watch their debut appearance at the World Cup safely. The English used their 1990 appearance as goodwill PR to bring their country back into the European game after a clubs ban due to the Heysel incident. It brings and mingles peoples of all nations together to talk their common language.
Or to put it another way, the World Cup has allowed hundreds of nations, all with chequered pasts against each other, to play in the spirit of completion for 84 years. And only one war has ever occurred out of it. Like the EU, it might be a flawed beast, but that idealistic Jules Rimet might have had a point.
One could look at how the combined forces of Havelange and Sepp Blatter warped Rimets child into a monster corporation, but that’s another story. A sad one, I admit. But ignore the corporations and vested interests. At the end of the day, the World Cup was formed to promote peaceful means. May it continue to do so.
“He once predicted that, through football, the human race would one day achieve a state of humanist grace in which "men will be able to meet in confidence without hatred in their hearts and without an insult on their lips."
Independent, Jules Rimet: The man who kicked off the World Cup, 5 June 2006
An idealistic romanticist, yes, but the world needs more Jules Rimets and less Joao Havelanges.
And maybe one day, Scotland might even qualify for it again!