The 2014 World Cup is finally upon us and for the next month and one day I intend to do little else other than lap up every single bit of this footballing carnival. There’s no way around it; the World Cup is bloody brilliant. Even the really crap ones. Not even people waving flags out of their cars and having to watch games listening to people who never watch football unless it is a Euro/World Cup tournament opine that “England should be bloody thrashing this lot” - this lot usually referring to any country other than Brazil, Argentina, Germany or Italy – can dampen the spirit.
This will be my ninth tournament (can’t include Argentina ’78 as too young to remember) and the first time is still the best. Spain ’82 was a fantastic World Cup on so many levels. Firstly, it was my first one and nothing quite prepares you for the orgy of football that invades your television screen for an entire golden month. In 1982 you only ever got to watch a handful of live matches each season so to suddenly find a bagful of them plus highlights programmes was truly wonderful.
As an added bonus you also got to collect another Panini sticker album. In none World Cup years you were confined to the Football League edition, which while more than satisfactory it couldn’t match the exotic appeal of the World Cup album. Parents up and down the country may have been appalled at this extra expense, but for us avid collectors it was an invite to marvel at footballers with funny names (anyone from Eastern Europe)and even funnier haircuts and facial hair (anyone from Eastern Europe).
You may have noticed these first two points don’t actually refer to Spain ’82 directly so here’s a list just off the top of my head that will prove my point:
The 1982 Brazil World Cup team are widely considered the best team never to have won the World Cup. This is of course a matter of opinion, but you’re wrong if you think any different. Brazil’s reputation for flair preceded them, but to see this team with your own eyes was a different matter altogether. They were footballers from another planet who wore incredibly tight light blue shorts. Brazil ‘82 played the game with a level of freedom (for freedom read can’t be arsed defending), skill and individual flair never seen since, scoring some of the finest goals ever to grace a World Cup along the way. Not only were they probably the most pleasing team on the eye I’ve ever seen, they also had some of the most ridiculously cool names ever attached to a group of footballers – Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Eder, Junior, Oscar. Who could ever want to be called Peter Withe in the school playground after being exposed to this lot? They would have made worthy winners, but in burning so bright and fading out so quickly they have ensured greater longevity in the majority of fans’ memories than most winners. Certainly more than Brazil ’94, Germany ’90, Italy ’06. The sad truth is Brazil have never been as exciting to watch since and will probably never be so again. Socrates, ever the philosopher, said it changed football in Brazil forever and saw them try to copy European pragmatism. If only they had triumphed, the face of football could have been all so different today. Mourinho would be teaching P.E. to bored Portuguese teenagers and Sam Allardyce would be running a pub. Cheers, Paolo.
England flatter to deceive
Being only seven years old at the time of the 1982 World Cup I was blissfully unaware of any media hype. This barely mattered anyway, because I had fully convinced myself that England would in fact storm their way to victory destroying anyone foolish enough to step in their way. How could they not? We invented the game after all. Our league teams dominated European club football and we had a squad full of the bestest players in the world. Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking, Steve Coppell, Trevor Francis, Peter Shilton, Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins, Steve Foster…who could seriously touch this bunch? Not only that, the whole squad assured me in their World Cup song (purchased alongside the official BBC World Cup theme) that this time, more than any other time, they were going to get it right. Presumably the songwriters had collective amnesia when it came to 1966 because I’m fairly certain England got it right then.
This unbreakable confidence in England’s inevitable victory was confirmed after just 27 seconds of the first game against France (some people’s pre-tournament favourites nonetheless) when Captain Marvel, when he was presumably still just Marvel as Mick Mills was captain, although the only marvellous thing about Mick was his tash, scored. My overriding memory was of sudden joy followed by immense pain as my older brother celebrated so wildly that he inadvertently winded me for the best part of five minutes. Still, it was a price worth paying. Despite France equalising England bulldozed their way to a comfortable 3-1 win. It was so easy that Paul Mariner was even able to score a goal that didn’t involve the use of his head.
The next two games against Czechoslovakia and Kuwait were the proverbial strolls in the park as England advanced to the second round, which back then was another league format. This time the opposition of West Germany and hosts Spain looked a little tougher, but we still had the return of Kevin ‘Mighty Mouse’ Keegan and Trevor ‘Nicest Man in Football’ Brooking to return. At the time they were England’s biggest stars and I can recall that much fuss was made about whether they should have been included in the squad as both were struggling with injuries. Details like this mattered little to my juvenile mind, Keegan was a demi-god and Sir Trevor had once scored a goal so good that the ball got stuck in the stanchion post. This was something I tried in vain to repeat for the next 30 years, even when there was no stanchion post.
In the second game against Spain with England needing to win 2-0 to qualify for the semi-finals both players entered the fray with the score at 0-0 with barely half an hour left to play. We were saved. Job done. Except it wasn’t. Keegan had one flying header which plopped harmlessly wide and we were out. We hadn’t even lost a game, which felt to me extremely unjust. This was a tragedy no young heart should have to suffer. Stoically I wiped the odd tear or two away, applauded the team’s brave efforts and carried on. It was only in later years that I learnt the correct response was to either pick a scapegoat, accuse the entire squad of not caring enough or put it down to a world conspiracy aimed at denying England’s rightful place at the top of the game. Some years you can even choose all three. All in all Spain ’82 provided the perfect grounding for getting accustomed to the upcoming years of English underachievement at major tournaments.
Norman Whiteside & Northern Ireland
Every World Cup needs a fairy tale and Spain ’82’s came in the form of 17 year-old Norman Whiteside and the minnows (customary media title for any nation with a small population or lack of footballing pedigree) of Northern Ireland. Whiteside, one of only two Manchester United players I’ve ever liked (Paul McGrath being the other), became the youngest player ever to appear in a World Cup finals, overtaking some bloke called Pele. Both he and the rest of the Irish team became living legends after beating the host country Spain to advance to the next round. In the days when I supported all Home Nations as vigorously as my own country (before I realised that fans of other Home Nations would prefer to see anyone other than England win at anything. Even a team full of Adolf Hitler’s). I gladly grabbed on to the coattails of Northern Ireland’s joy as if it were my own. I did the same with France in ’98 too just because a couple of Arsenal players happened to be on the pitch. I’ll probably do the same this year if Germany win. You’ve got to grab your kicks where you can find them in this sport.
Socks around ankles
During the 1982 World Cup there were a pleasing number of players who shun shinpads and went for the casual socks around ankles look with the obligatory shirt outside shorts look. Oppressive rules that required all players to pull up socks and tuck in shirts were still another tournament away so many games ended with players appearing as though they were enjoying a bit of pre-season training and not trying to win sport’s greatest prize. Not only is it wonderful to see such liberal attitudes to dress code in what is often a very conservative game it’s also particularly fearless/reckless to bin shinpads when you consider that this was a time when you had to virtually chainsaw an opponent in half to receive a card of any colour.
West Germany and Toni Schumacher
For every fairy tale you need a pantomime villain. Step forward werewolf-masquerading-as-man, Harald ‘Toni’ Schumacher. If I wasn’t aware that once upon a time England had had a bit of a beef with Germany, I was fully clued up after Spain ’82. It all started in the group stages when in the final game the current European champions faced their mates Austria or Osterreich as my Panini album called them although I couldn’t understand why as it looked nothing like Austria. And yes, I know there’s supposed to be an Umlaut over the ‘O’ but I can’t be bothered finding out how. Before Ozil arrived no one cared anyway.
The Germans needed a win to progress after being beaten by first-timers Algeria in what was at the time considered an upset on a par with England’s defeat to the USA in 1950. All Osterreich had to do was avoid getting beat by 3 or more goals. After 10 minutes Germany scored and then both teams stopped playing. Commentators were appalled at this gratuitous abuse of sportsmanship. My father seemed to think this stitch up had its roots in the 1938 Anschluss between the two countries and also believed it was further proof of how you could never trust anyone who spoke German as a first language. Apart from Franz Beckenbauer of course who is so nice that he’s practically British.
No one seemed to feel it was the fault of FIFA for allowing the game to take place 24 hours after Algeria had played their last group game, effectively letting West Germany and Austria know exactly what they had to do before taking the pitch. After this shambles all final round group fixtures were played at the same time so we’ve got something to thank West Germany for in a roundabout kind of way.
The second thing they did wrong was knock England out of the competition. This rather annoyingly became something of a habit for pretty much all of my lifetime. Even when we played better than them.
The last thing they did was put a man in a coma. Or rather Toni did. Patrick Battiston was the unfortunate recipient of the werewolf’s assault, feeling the full force of Schumacher’s considerable arse and leaving the Frenchmen unconscious, minus two front teeth and damaged vertebrae. Despite being the most blatant foul ever committed on a World Cup football pitch the referee decided it didn’t even merit a free-kick. Presumably because he hadn’t got out the chainsaw. Toni appeared remarkably unbothered by the sight of a motionless fellow pro on the ground and in fact began to get a little bit impatient with the hold up. Predictably he went on to be a hero in the penalty shoot-out, saving the crucial fifth penalty and walking away into the night, one gloved hand raised high like the arch-villain he was. It was only with the arrival of Jens Lehmann to Highbury that I could ever begin to like German goalkeepers again. Funnily enough, he was a mentalist too.
Tango. Finest ball ever. No discussion. A couple of years after the World Cup my junior football team bought some full size replica Tango balls (clearly they weren’t following the Dutch school of football education). It felt like kicking concrete. Despite the bruises I only ever wanted to play with the Tango. Re-enacting a Tardelli couldn’t be done with anything else.
Every single team had a genuine classic strip. For many countries, 1982 was the pinnacle in kit design. England, Italy, Brazil, France, USSR, Peru, Cameroon, Belgium all excelled in the shirt department. This was a golden age of the football jersey where Admiral, Le Coq Sportif and Adidas ruled the roost and Nike and Puma hadn’t yet been allowed to desecrate the art form. For a full appreciation of how far international football kit design has fallen just take a look at each strip of all 32 countries competing in Brazil. Not a smidgeon of style among any of them. You could write a thesis on this subject alone, but I’ve a World Cup to watch so I’ll leave it there.
If you’re still unconvinced. Watch this.