DEUTSCHLAND DEFINITELY ÜBER ALLES
Mickey Blue Eyes
"...the greatest nation in the country..."
SPIRO THEODORE AGNEW (born Anagnostopoulus; b.1918-d.1996), disgraced US vice president.
And so, glorious World Cup Brazil 2014 came to a conclusion.
The evening before the Final there was a very small matter of the Play Off for Third Place between Brazil and Holland. I gave Brazil less survival prospects than a fruitcake in the rain; it turned out I overestimated them. Holland won it 3-0, and had they decided to expend some effort it would have been a rout similar to the quarter finals. But the Dutch were merciful. We should do the same because the result was as predictable as a Hans Zimmer film music composition. Leave the Brazilians to come to terms with decent common sense and the after-burn exhaust of Arjen Robben. Like the English, they are long overdue a healthy dose of football catharsis. Just draw the curtains on them and leave them to get on with it.
Meanwhile, Germany arrived in the Final after winning all their games except a draw with Ghana; only Algeria took them to extra time. They had covered themselves in football fame while demolishing Portugal and massacring Brazil. Their Final opponent Argentina had no glory at all and was unconvincing in the knock-out stages: defeat of Switzerland in the last minute of extra time, single goal win over modest Belgium and a penalties win over Holland in the semi-final. It looked a shoo-in for the Germans in a third World Cup Final meeting of the same teams. Argentina won the first, Germany the second. Last time in Italia 1990 the South Americans behaved disgracefully and finished the match with nine men after two well-deserved dismissals. Afterwards Maradona, a certified drugs cheat and ball handler, left the field in self-pitying tears to the sympathy of exactly nobody; then he wandered off needlessly into a junky twilight zone of his own making.
Since then the global game has undergone crucial changes in its playing laws, and an extreme right wing revolution in its economic organisation. The playing spectacle is vastly improved, more open and less brutal, stadia far better, none of it anything to do with the economics. And institutional corruption is rife. What we see on the field is much better. What we do not see is infinitely worse. Through it all Germany has held on to the remnants of its football nerve and fifty-one percent fans ownership and now reaps the playing benefits at club and national level. But the economic revolution was most "effective" in England and Brazil. Draw your own conclusions.
Given results thus far my guess was the Germans for World Champions, which hardly required the wisdom of Methuselah. The way I saw it, only Messi stood in their way and he was virtually hamstrung for the duration. Still, I hoped for an outstanding match to take the tournament to the same level as 1970. Alas, it failed. It was no more than a precarious combative contest in which Messi hardly appeared. Germany won 1-0 after extra time with a superb goal from Goetze, magnificent football athleticism at its best, a great left wing run and cross which the youngster breasted down and volleyed home from the left angle of the goal area; he will quite properly take the memory to his distant grave. I wish I could say the same for the Final.
Really there is little point expending many words on it. If Walter Smith was still active in the game he would describe it as "disappointing". Assembled viewers in my living room were more pungent. I think the best it got was "shite". Even then the conversation veered off into tracing the popular root of the epithet; eventually we settled on Bleasdale's Boys From the Blackstuff. By the time this was resolved the match was over and the presentation ceremony began.....extended by the Brazilians, you felt, to torment the defeated Argentines. In the background the sponsors assembled a row of grinning blow-up dolls to resemble air line trolley-dollies. Altogether the ceremony was as awful as the match. Then there were aerial TV shots of a giant statue of a mythical Arab overlooking Rio. Then more fireworks in the air than there ever was on the pitch. Then it was all over and we went and sat on the balcony and talked of other things, footy quickly forgotten.
Generally, TV crowd coverage has been excellent due to Brazilian directors and their sensible penchant for showing innocent elation instead of nose-wrinkling, fist-waving triumphalism. By comparison Brit TV directors have the creative instinct of ragwort. Relatively the best TV commentary team has been Guy Mowbray and Danny Murphy on BBC, though Murphy, alas, has showed latter tendencies for Lawrensonesque last-word freakery. However, I can forgive him almost anything (not including his analfieldism) because he has shown, like all other civilised locals, our accent need not sound as if delivered through a mouth full of expectorant or syrup á la John Bishop (also of course another analfielder). Mowbray and Murphy managed to combine excitement and instant agreeable analysis on live TV; no mean feat, that.
The rest of them were of varying absurdity, all the way down to the bottom of the barrel and Tyldesley-Townsend on ITV underpinned by Matt Smith and his weird Wirral verbal punctuation. This is no real surprise, since commercial TV has always been a bad joke where hysteria supposedly equals excitement. Whereas it actually sounds like vented stomach methane. Or, in the Tyldesley/Townsend case, rank narcissistic stupidity. Sad, then, the Beeb still employ the outlandish squeak of Jonathan Pearce, volume boorishness of Alan Hansen (but not for much longer) and Gary Lineker's self-admitted "Leicester drone". How we long for quality commentary and punditry the Beautiful Game and its supporters deserve.
Overall, it was a tremendous World Cup, easily the best since 1970. Unfortunately it failed to rank alongside because this time there was no equivalent to Pelè and his immortal Brazil team, and, anyway, standards began to deteriorate slowly as glory beckoned. Then again, when are we likely to see such football greatness as 1970 again? But what 2014 had was excitement and non-stop effort by the bucket load in more games than 1970. I loved it.
In my unhumble opinion the unlikely figure of Arjen Robben was the best and most consistent player in the tournament despite looking more like Magwitch than a footballer. Yet every time he hunched his shoulders, bent his back and raced at defenders you expected something to happen. He almost destroyed Spain on his own. But Lionel Messi won the award.
Alas, corruption yet again raised its head during the tournament when Brazilian police arrested chief executive Ray Whelan of FIFA partner company Match Hospitality as part of investigations into the illegal sale of World Cup tickets. He was freed after questioning and promptly fled the country. Match Hospitality said it expected him to be "exonerated". The previous week, eleven people were held over illegal ticket sales, including some originally allocated to players. Add in the ongoing furore over the World Cup 2022 award to Qatar, the fuzziness surrounding Sepp Blatter at FIFA and Michel Platini at UEFA, Ghana match-fixing allegations and apparent general economic crookedness and you could be forgiven for thinking the game is about to fall apart at the seams.
But you struggle to place this in some kind of context. The reality is all professional sports are tainted with similar suspicions or even proven criminality. Do we really need to go into the accusations in cricket, snooker, cycling, athletics, horse racing and motor racing? Then place them next to the horrors exposed on an almost daily basis in our socioeconomic system: if the link escapes you it can only be because you have your eyes shut. Nor can you rightly shut down your conscience if you work for, say, a private or public institution that was part of the theft of national and transnational wealth which caused the latest capitalist depression. One begets the other. In that sense we really are "all in it together". For the fact is our entire culture is at bay. It extends too to local amateur football where the use of "ringers" is so well known it has become a long-standing joke decades old. Football does not exist in a vacuum.
Nor is there anything new about it. A small but pertinent example: Back in 1966 Everton reached the Cup Final. At that time the city was in a football fever. Final tickets were even scarcer then than now because the Football Association gave more to association members nationwide than they did to Final clubs. The black market flourished. My friend, Billy Newman, a docker, got to hear of the possibility of tickets on sale from a Final player via a former player. On behalf of his mates he arranged a meet near the Dock Road. The former player, a well known "hard man," duly arrived driving a Jaguar. Billy said he wanted to see the tickets and hear the price. When he saw and heard he reached into the car, opened the door, got in, battered the living bejaysus out of the former player, took the tickets and left money for their face value. Later, and nothing to do with Billy, the Final player's house got accidentally brutally bricked and windows smashed. The dockers made their point summarily, as was their wont, but it failed to stop some other players selling their surplus tickets for scam prices. In that era of the maximum wage and retain-and-transfer system many players considered Final tickets a legitimate earner. So No, there never was a golden age of honest football. Corruption has existed in the game (and all other sports) since the dawn of professionalism. Only the intensity fluctuates. Anyone who thinks otherwise has simply failed to read the public record, or is a fool.
Now......none of this justifies corruption in anything. It should be rooted out and cauterised wherever it is found. Unfortunately it is as much a fact of life as Japanese Knotweed, and it exists in virtually every activity and to a greater or lesser extent in all levels of society. It always has. You ignore it at the peril of incipient insanity. If, for another minor instance, you find Rupert Murdoch and the Sun disgusting then you should avoid subscribing to his Sky TV channel; but how many do? Let he who is without guilt or compromise cast the first stone. These days, far too often you can only relish the game by closing your eyes to fantasise. But just as in 1914......you have to open them again. If you can.
In a better circumstance, if you are of a certain age the name Alfredo Di Stefano is scrolled on your football brain. Sadly, he died the day before the second semi-final of World Cup 2014. These days he would be dubbed "iconic," but at the time we just thought he was fucking marvellous. Moreover, in the remaining grey austerity (that word again) of post-war Britain his team Real Madrid played in pristine all white. Despite Spanish Falangist fascism (and, we now know, Franco match-fixing) the perception was of light in place of smog and soot, of Latin passion, sunshine and heroic footy achievements. At that time optimistic primary colours of the 1960s were a distant and unlikely fantasy. All we kids knew was Real had Gento, Puskas, Del Sol, Zaraga and other exotica; even the names were dazzling. Head and shoulders over all of them was Di Stefano. Football legends are born and relished in such circumstances. And why not? Sports glory may be fleeting and largely illusory but it can bring out the best harmless spirit in people; a sensible supporter leaves the worst to the worst.
Therefore, if World Cup Brazil 2014 proved anything it is that, despite its terrible faults, despite its embittered hate-filled cynics and enemies, football is still The Beautiful Game. What more can a civilised human being wish for?......Better days?......Revolution?