60 Years of the World Cup is a personal, nostalgic, fun and frank reflection on the author’s six-decade association with football’s biggest showpiece.
Brian Barwick journeyed just five miles to his first World Cup match during the iconic 1966 tournament held in England, but later travelled the globe witnessing first-hand some of football’s greatest and most controversial moments. As a major national TV sport producer and executive, he was also responsible for how the tournament was broadcast to tens of millions of viewers on the BBC and ITV.
A stint as CEO of the FA brought him the unique experience of being personally associated with the triumphs and tribulations of trying to win the World Cup.
During his 60-year relationship with football’s greatest prize, he witnessed many of the tournament’s most famous matches, most gifted players and coaches, and iconic and controversial moments, meeting colourful personalities, making programmes that broke TV audience records and even helping an operatic aria to become a worldwide smash-hit!
(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. May 2023. Hardcover: 256 pages)
18 December 2022 – the Lusail Stadium. Lionel Messi receives the FIFA World Cup trophy after one of the most dramatic finals in the competitions history. This is Argentina’s, La Albiceleste (The White and Sky Blue), third triumph following wins in 1978 and 1986. However, for all the magnificence of the final, the first World Cup to be held in the Arab world has been a controversial one even from the point Qatar were awarded the event back in December 2010. Rumours circulated how votes had been ‘bought’ to ensure the tiny but incredibly wealthy state became hosts, with many around the globe pointing to Qatar’s human rights record as a significant and compelling reason for the country to be stripped of the 2022 event.
This however was not the first time that the staging of the World Cup finals in a particular nation has proved to be contentious. Roll back the clock to 1978 with the finals being held in Argentina for the first time and we have a tournament that was equally controversial.
Rhys Richards’, Blood on the Crossbar: The Dictatorship’s World Cup, explores what was the eleventh World Cup finals and is a brilliant read. This well researched book is not just about the tournament itself, but also social and political history within the South American country in the late 1970s.
Two years before the finals Argentina had been subject to a military coup with the democratically elected president, Isabel Peron, ousted by General Jorge Rafael Videla. This was a dictatorship that ruthlessly imprisoned, tortured and killed anyone who opposed the regime and used the World Cup as a massive propaganda exercise.
As a young teenager at the time, and even without England having qualified, all I naively cared about was the football, and knew nothing of the political situation. The book was therefore a real eye-opener in learning not only about the cruel and brutal administration, but about the opposition that existed both within Argentina and abroad. For instance, Los Montoneros (a left wing organisation who supported Peron) who as part of their protest, on a number of occasions were able to hijack the audio of Argentina’s games in certain locations. There was also deep concerns in Europe, and a Dutch alternative cabaret duo Bram Vermeulen and Freek de Jonge began a campaign for the Netherlands to boycott the finals. The title of their show was Blood on the Crossbar, and “focused on the crimes of the dictatorship and the use of the World Cup as a sports-washing project.” They attempted to work with the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) but ultimately failed and ironically the Dutch squad were then used in part of the propaganda war ahead of the Final, with an article appearing purporting to be from Rudi Krol, praising the hospitality, the organisation and the military – all the content however was a forgery.
Richards though for all his excellent exploration of issues off the pitch, doesn’t forget about those on the pitch taking readers through the matches group by group and dealing with some of the other controversies associated with the tournament, such as the allegations of drug taking by the Argentina players, and most especially the 6-0 beating of Peru that put La Albiceleste through the Final.
The teenage me remembers the Final and the sea of ticker-tape that rained down from the stands of the Estadio Monumental. I’d never seen anything like it and was then proceeded to be dazzled by the performance of Mario Kempes and his compatriots. Now though after reading this book, those innocent boyish feelings and recollections are now tempered by an adult realisation of what lay behind the scene in the name of sport.
La Albiceleste’s win in 1986 will always be associated with the brilliance of Maradona whilst 2022 saw a fairy-tale ending for Messi’s. Yet that first win in 1978 has to deal to this day with the stigma of association with the junta. However, this book redresses the balance and is a homage to the 1978 winners of Argentina’s first World Cup triumph and leaves you with some sympathy for the group as Richards attempts to give them separation from the association with the dictatorship and the horrors of the regime of the time.
(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. September 2022. Hardcover: 304 pages)
In the Introduction to In the Heat of the Midday Sun, Steven Scragg puts forward, a theory “that you’re chemically wired to your first World Cups.”
My first memories are as an eight-year old when on holiday in Torquay during the summer of 1970 and the World Cup in Mexico. I don’t recall the games as such and all my memories centre on the England v West Germany Quarter-Final and the infamous 3-2 loss. To my eyes and ears all the shops and hotels seemed awash with England squad pictures and Union Jack flags in their windows and the sound of ‘Back Home’ the England World Cup song ever present. I was still two years from attending my first ever game ‘live’ but remember everyone in the hotel we were staying at crowding round the television and the resulting disappointment as World Cup holders, England exited the competition despite leading 2-0 at one point.
Given that for me my first real World Cup was the one held in West Germany in 1974. A tournament of just 16 teams, with four groups of four, with the top two progressing to a further mini-league each containing four teams, with the winners of each meeting in the Final. Memories that are still so clear in my mind include the huge thunderstorms that affected a number of games, a meeting between East and West Germany, Scotland not losing a game but exiting on goal-difference, the beauty and brutality of the Netherlands 2-0 win over Brazil, the birth of the Cruyff turn in the game against Sweden, and the bitter disappointment that the Dutch didn’t lift the newly designed trophy.
And on that basis for me, as Scragg’s theory suggests, those 1970 and 1974 burn more brightly and more special, even taking into account England’s Semi-Final appearances in Italia ’90 and Russia in 2018.
For Scragg, whilst he admits that 1982 is his favourite World Cup, he sees 1986 in Mexico “in his mind as the last great World Cup” and in the books Introduction, he cites his reasons why each of the tournaments since 1998 “has lost a little bit more of its shine”. With Qatar 2022 on the horizon Scragg opines, “I’m not sure that FIFA will ever fully recover its composure.” Only time will tell.
The reality is that the World Cup in 1986 wasn’t supposed to be held in Mexico and Chapter One, details how in typical murky FIFA tradition, Colombia was chosen as the host country for the thirteenth staging of the competition. With Columbia withdrawing in 1982 unable to finance the hosting, a shortlist was drawn up involving Mexico, the USA and Canada (who in 2026 will joint-host the tournament). With more sleight of hand from FIFA, Mexico landed the prize becoming the first country to host two World Cups.
So within In the Heat of the Midday Sun, before he gets down to the business of the 1986 tournament, he takes readers on a wonderful aside as he describes the joy (with all the enthusiasm of the 12 year old Scragg was back in 1986) of looking at a completed Panini sticker album. These albums have been a staple for football fans since their first outing in 1970 and many of us have uncompleted versions from our childhood World Cups (this reader included!).
This is followed by a third chapter, The Hand of God, where Scragg makes the interesting point that to fully appreciate the 1986 World Cup, the infamous first goal from England’s defeat to Argentina has to be taken out of the equation. However, this is monumentally difficult because as the author observes, “it’s the defining image of the 1986 World Cup finals and it’s perhaps even the most distinguishing aspect of the entire history of the tournament stretching back to is very inception in 1930.” And we know that once the global audience is focused on Qatar later in 2022, the footage will once again be rolled out.
With these first three chapters out of the way, Scragg gets down to the tournament itself and takes an interesting path in the remaining fifteen. Rather than simply take it match-by-match as the games were played, he focuses on the teams as they were knocked out of the competition. In doing so, Scragg demonstrates his extensive research skills and tells the stories of all the participants, their path to qualification and their eventual exit from the tournament until Argentina are left as victors lifting the trophy for the second time, eight tears after first victory in their homeland.
Scragg is wonderfully able to conjure up the atmosphere of the time, such as the sweltering heat and the strange sounding commentary, always with a seemingly faraway echo, that accompanied the television images, but also some very specific things which take us back to watching certain games. From the England v Argentina Quarter-Final Scragg details the following, “a match was played out…on 22 June 1986, the midday sun blazing high in the sky, that spidery shadow lurking ominously in the centre circle.” Reading it I was instantly transferred back to watching the game at my local cricket club – a small well observed detail sparking that memory.
Ultimately this is a book which truly reflects Scragg’s joy and boyhood enthusiasm at watching the 1986 tournament and indeed comes across in every page. A tournament which despite the Hand of God goal, has a naivety and innocence that you sense won’t be felt in the 2022 version in Qatar.
(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. May 2022. Hardcover: 352 pages)
In the Heat of the Midday Sun is a love letter to the 1986 World Cup.
A tournament viewed via the shimmering satellite images of an age before the dawn of high-definition coverage – which was introduced four years later, at Italia ’90 – it was the last World Cup where the commentaries sounded like they were broadcast from the surface of the moon.
Mexico took on the tournament after Colombia failed to deliver on their host candidature, relinquishing the rights in 1983. With a devastating Mexico City earthquake just eight months before the big kick-off, it was a miracle that the Estadio Azteca was still able to be the venue of Diego Maradona’s greatest and most infamous hours.
As well as Argentina’s most gifted son, Mexico ’86 was blessed by the presence of Socrates, Platini, Francescoli, Butragueno, Belanov and Elkjaer to name but a few of the icons on display.
This is the story of an evocative World Cup that seemed to be held together by Sellotape.
(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. May 2022. Hardcover: 352 pages)
Jon Driscoll’s book The Fifty aims to spotlight fifty footballers who have been most influential in terms of shaping the history of the beautiful game. I always love these sorts of books and features but never envy the author the task of selecting the chosen few and it’s fascinating to see just who gets picked, and equally who doesn’t.
Starting from football’s earliest days through to the present moment, Driscoll’s task is far from easy. A lot of the expected names are rightfully included – the likes of Pele, Maradona and Messi – but what is great about this book is that in choosing the most influential, rather than the best players, other names like Walter Tull, Jimmy Hill and Hope Powell are given their place in football’s narrative. Indeed, it is a fantastic premise that allows a really rich and encompassing view of the sport, that takes in players that not only changed the game on the pitch but off it too, comprising issues like women’s football, racism, corruption and pay, and whether or not these are the fifty names that individual readers would choose, Driscoll makes a very valid and informative case for each.
Of the fifty players, Driscoll chooses, I was familiar with most of them to some degree, but even with those that are household names across the board, Driscoll manages to unearth lesser-known, intriguing tidbits about them, whilst introducing a few names that were new to me and raising my awareness of their contributions and histories. It was great to genuinely learn something about each individual and to have a greater understanding for names that I’d previously only had limited knowledge of, to have my impressions or perceptions of a player revised or my appreciation improved. Indeed, I came away from each chapter having learnt something new and my overall experience of the book was of a really enlightening and insightful read. It was one of those books that had a real impact on my sense of knowledge and understanding.
Of course, one of the main talking points about this book, and any selection of this kind, revolves around the choice of players and there’s always a degree of debate and discussion about such things. Driscoll has clearly done his research and aimed to create a wide-ranging and inclusive collection of players that takes in all facets of the game and, as I said before, he offers strong justification for each choice. Ask 100 football fans to name their most influential 50 players, however, and no two responses will be the same. To my admittedly less-knowledgeable mind, Driscoll seems to have done a thorough job and I particularly appreciated the inclusion of Lily Parr and Brandi Chastain, as well as the earliest selections in the book which gave me a greater insight into football’s origins. I felt that some of the more recent names are perhaps more debatable, but given time Cafu and Ozil, who were both defining and exceptional players, may fully justify their places, though for me, in terms of football’s story, the development of the Premier League and the effect of the Invincibles, Thierry Henry may have been a more fitting choice than Ozil. But every reader will have their own thoughts and neither Ozil nor Henry may feature. As Driscoll says, compiling this history is ‘like completing a moving puzzle’, but without doubt he has done a mighty fine job of laying out a comprehensive template and beginning the debate.
With the most influential players in history having thus been examined, Driscoll’s book does open up a myriad of avenues for further exploration – the fifty most influential managers, teams, Premier League players… If Driscoll has the time or the inclination, I’d be delighted to read his take on any of these as he’s proven himself with this book to be a hugely accomplished and informative football writer and it’s a rare treat to read a book that leaves you so much the wiser and discerning not just on finishing the book but with every chapter.
(Pitch Publishing Ltd. November 2020. Hardcover: ?320 pages)
Going to be honest and say that the first batch of games from yesterday which saw Group C conclude, passed me by. I’ve nothing against Denmark, France, Peru or Australia (well maybe Australia, as an Englishman it’s great to see the Aussies lose at any sport), but my focus was on the evening games in Group D involving Iceland, Croatia, Argentina and Nigeria. As a result I merely picked up the final scores in early evening that saw Denmark and France go through after a 0-0 stalemate, with the French topping the group and Australia finish bottom of the table after a 2-0 defeat to Peru in the other game.
So to the events in Group D and my match of choice involving Iceland and Croatia. I have a friend working for Iceland in their media team, so firmly nailed my colours to the mast of the Vikings hoping they would beat the Croatians and the result of the other game went their way. However, it was not to be despite the Iceland side giving it everything that they had. Chances came but in the end they looked a tired side and when you consider that in a good summer temperatures can reach 20-25 degrees Centigrade in Iceland, yet had to perform in temperatures of 30+, were the weather conditions a factor for their exit? Ultimately though they slumped to a 2-1 defeat which left Iceland with just a point from their three group fixtures.
With the game finished I switched channels to catch the last seconds of the Argentina and Nigeria game, where a cracking finish from Marcos Rojo just four minutes from time saved the two-times World Champions from exit of the 2018 tournament at the expense of Nigeria. For all the brilliance of Messi’s first-half goal and Rojo’s winner, the abiding image was of Maradona in the stands celebrating the second Argentinian strike by standing and displaying offensive hand gestures. I can’t share the opinion of those who consider him a ‘great’ since his image during his playing days will forever be tainted by the ‘Hand of God’ incident in 1986 and his banning from the 1994 World Cup for drug use. His antics since the conclusion of his playing days have reduced him to a laughing stock and embarrassment to his country.
Back to events on the pitch and those results from yesterday lead to the following last 16 ties:
June 30 France v Argentina July 01 Croatia v Denmark