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‘Tis Fifty Years Since

If you peruse Radio 2’s schedule for today you will find an unusual item at 14.50.

World Cup ’66 Live.

(If you listen to Radio 2 you may also have heard the trailers for this being aired hourly since about the end of April – or does it just seem like that?)

Guys. I know it’s been fifty years and your only major trophy win is not likely to be repeated any time soon. But it’s not as if it hasn’t been mentioned at all in the interim.

Don’t you think it’s maybe time you got over it?

After today might we possibly have a moratorium on the whole business? Please?


Thought not.

Summer Football

Way back in the dim mists of time the world was a simpler place and football did not dominate the calendar. World Cup finals were 16 teams large and the European Championship only had four qualifiers until it expanded to eight teams in 1980.

In Scotland the football season started on the second Saturday in August and finished on the last Saturday in April.

I thought it was pushing it when the season began edging into July to accommodate the Challenge Cup and altered League Cup format.

Today though is the 16th of July. The schools have barely broken up for the summer. Yet the Sons have a first game of the official season at Station Park, Forfar, in yet another alteration to the League Cup. It barely seemed the old season had ended when pre-season games began.

The squad manager Stevie Aitken has collected seems a little thin. The League Cup looks on paper to be not too daunting but I have no idea how we will fare against the three lower division sides in our group. (I expect to be beaten by Dundee.)

The league is a different matter. Already it looks tough. We’ll be relying on another full-time side to be rubbish (as Livingston were last season) to avoid the relegation play-offs and even then we’d have to finish above Ayr United, by no means a given.

How long we can continue to defy gravity I don’t know. This may be the season we don’t.

¿Qué pasa en Hartlepool?

This post’s title is adapted from an Argentinian newspaper headline (¿Qué pasa en Suecia?) I saw on a TV programme about the history of Argentine football when the national team was widely perceived to have underperformed in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden and recieved a hostile reception on their return to Argentina. (See their Group 1 results if you look on here.)

AS to the meat of the post; after bumbling along just above the relegation zone for much of this season (unlike last where they were firmly rooted there before what seemed an almost miraculous escape) Hartlepool United have gone on a similar late run, not losing in their last seven games and winning five of those. (See League Two table and current form here.)

Of course, by mentioning this I’ll have jinxed it. The ‘Pool will most likely lose at Carlisle tonight, now.

Jimmy Hill

I was sorry to hear today of the death of Jimmy Hill and especially that he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

As a player he was relatively undistingusihed (or is that perception of mine just because he played before football became plastered all over the TV?) but as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association he was instrumental in having the cap on footballers’ wages removed in 1961, leading to today’s high salaries in the upper echelons. As a manager he brought Coventry City up two divisions before leaving for a career in TV.

As a pundit he was always worth listening to but famously annoyed Scottish football fans by describing David Narey’s goal against Brazil at the 1982 Word Cup as a “toe-poke.” Both sides played up to the supposed antipathy his remark engendered but in reality he got on very well with any Scottish fans he encountered.

James William Thomas “Jimmy” Hill: 22/7/1928 – 19/12/2015. So it goes.

World Cup Draw

Hmmm. Interesting.

England, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta.

It’s tricky. Not as tricky as Group A though; or G. And it might have been better to be in Group B.

The England games will take care of themselves, I suppose, but we’ve come unstuck against Lithuania before.

We’ll just have to make the best of it.

Sepp Blatter

I still don’t quite know what to make of Sepp Blatter’s resignation.

It was only a few days after he’d secured his presidency for another term. Maybe there’s a lot to come out about his dealings behind the scenes. It would seem so.

But…. A thought occurred to me.

Is it a bit like John Major’s resignation? He resigned (as head of the Tory Party) but still managed to stay on if you recall.

And Blatter’s given himself about six months still in charge while the process of electing a successor takes place. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he tried to stand again.

Whatever, I doubt that the next World Cup will be removed from Russia. There were good reasons why it should go there. (It was Europe’s turn and Russia hadn’t had it yet, among others.)

Qatar in 2022 is another matter. (But 2022 is Asia’s turn.)

In another point; to make things absolutely clear, if there is a rerun of the voting for 2018 or 2022, to avoid accusations of sour grapes, England ought not to bid and perhaps neither ought the US given it was that country’s initiative that has resulted in the arrest of FIFA’s executives.

Arthur Montford

To Scottish football followers of a certain age (that’ll be me for starters) the name of Arthur Montford is shrouded in misty memory. Well, given that one of his trademarks was the checked jacket and in black and white TV days that caused all sorts of weird effects on the domestic TV screen that should be strobed in misty memory.

The news that he has died is sad. One of the last links to the golden age of sport (for which read football, mainly) on television – golden because there was so little of it it was all precious.

Arthur was a stalwart of STV’s Scotsport programme for many years when it was in its pomp.

No-one who heard one of his commentaries could ever forget it. Liberally sprinkled with the phrase “what a stramash” he also rarely missed the opportunity to say “up go the heads” when two or more players contested a ball in the air.

He never hid his allegiance when commentating on Scotland games, “Mind your legs, Billy” when a scything tackle came in on Billy Bremner. This perhaps reached its peak in the crucial qualifier for the 1974 World Cup at Hampden versus Czechoslovakia with his cry of “Disaster for Scotland” when the Czechs scored first. His euphoria when the game was turned round is there for all to hear.

Nevertheless he seemed a gentleman and his background knowledge of the game always shone through.

Today’s presenters have big footsteps to follow.

Arthur Montford, 1929-2014. So it goes.

MH 17 and Russia 2018

The shooting down of airliner MH17 over Ukrainian airspace was a tragedy – but more likely arising from the cock-up rather than the conspiracy wing of history. Surely no-one seriously thinks that the powers behind either side in the Ukraine fighting intended their minions to shoot down a passenger aircraft? It was clearly done by a trigger-happy clown not subject to much in the way of discipline or command and control as in a regular army. Unfortunately this sort of thing happens in civil conflicts.

The consensus that it was “Russian” rebels who did it is probably correct. That they ought not to have had the weapons to allow them to do it is also a given. But I suspect that Vladimir Putin is raging that it has put him – as the overwhelmingly likely ultimate source of the arms involved – in the wrong. One more reason for the US and EU to portray him as a villain and to increase sanctions.

Yet, unless it blows up into something bigger – in the hundredth anniversary year of the devastating fall-out of an assassination in the Balkans that prospect cannot be overlooked – in four year’s time will most people, apart from the families of the deceased for whom it will linger forever, remember it? Very few gave a toss about the contretemps Russia had had with Georgia in 2008 during the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier this year.

Yet we have our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, calling for the World Cup due to be hosted by Russia in 2018 to be stripped from that country. I wish him luck with that. The site of World Cups is in the purview of FIFA and that organisation doesn’t take kindly to outside interference.

What makes his remarks even more counter-productive in terms of his stated objective is that Clegg has said that England might host the tournament instead. Anyone who had any knowledge of FIFA at all would know that is a non-starter.


Germanic Hegemony Looms

Over the past eight years Spain dominated the international football tournaments in which they took part – though they had a premonitory blip in last year’s Confederations Cup (and what a misleading pointer that final turned out to be.)

After the win by Germany in Rio on Sunday we could be in for a longer period of domination than the Spanish enjoyed as the German players are quite young and will only have gained in confidence from their achievement. I don’t know if I can stand that thought, though.

Still, at least it gives Scotland an early opportunity to claim their scalp as the two countries meet on Sep 7th in the first qualifying game for the 2016 European Championships.

The late World Cup has unified the FIFA and Unofficial Football World Championships. Going into it Uruguay were the holders of the unofficial title but swiftly lost it to Costa Rica.

For historical reasons Scotland is actually at the top of the unofficial football championship rankings. The September game will give Scotland a chance to reclaim the actual title – if Argentina don’t beat the Germans in their friendly a few days before.

The Team That Made All Brazil Cry

So. There is to be no redemption. Brazil’s historical trauma of the Maracanã in 1950 known as the Maracanazo has been surpassed. Will this one become known as the Mineirãoza?

The country of Brazil has never been involved in a war (except, perhaps, internally.)* The national consciousness has been invested in football. The 1950 defeat was akin to a national humiliation. How much worse, then, a 7-1 hammering by a team who had never beaten them in a competitive game? And a first home defeat in competition for 29 years.

It’s been coming, though. They weren’t convincing in the group games, Chile pushed them close in the second round and Colombia didn’t deserve to lose to them either. Both those sides perhaps had too much history with Brazil to overcome. (And the hoo-hah over Neymar’s injury is over-confected. Brazil spent most of the Colombia game kicking “Oor Hamish” – James Rodriguez – all over the park. Given the outcome of the semi-final the real loss was in fact Thiago Silva.) The Germans didn’t care about reputations or history; they did what German teams do.

Brazil’s scapegoat in 1950 (“Look! There’s the man that made all Brazil cry!”) was Moacyr Barbosa. At least this time they can’t blame it on a black goalkeeper.

Make the most of the last few days of this Brazil-hosted World Cup. I doubt there will be another one.

*Edited to add. I have since found out that not being involved in a war is only true of the Brazilian Republic and not of the Empire which preceded it. The Republic has had internal conflicts.

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