Friday, June 11, 2010

Let the games begin !

I can't wait. Even though I descend into the occasional spell depression thinking about what a tragedy it is that Ireland was robbed and cheated (No I won't get over it) out of the chance to play in South Africa, I must say I am looking forward to the month long feast of football.

And it is not just the football. It's the politics and make no mistake international football is riddled with international politics. Think about it, for the first time ever both North and South Korea have qualified for the same tournament. Although the two are unlikely to meet you can be sure that both sides will want to go farther than the other as some kind of contest as to which nation has a superior system. The fact that only two months ago the North Koreans sunk a South Korean warship only adds to the tension and you can be sure there will be some sort of political incident in South Africa between the two countries.

Incidentally, the North Koreans only qualified for one previous World Cup, that being in England in 1966. It is believed that the entire North Korean squad were imprisoned on return to North Korea, simply because they could not be trusted as men who had spent time alone in a western democratic nation. Fanatical communists have always struggled with soccer. They don't quite know what to make of it. On the one hand they like it because it has a working class tradition. A good soccer team also requires communal cohesion. However a great soccer team needs individual brilliance, something which communists are terrified of.

Most of the North Korean team from the 1966 World Cup were never heard from again.

Other things to watch out for.

The political stability of South Africa is also on show. South Africa has been democratic for 16 years now. There are still tensions between black and white and I know from experience that many white South Africans fear that once the moderating influence of Mandela passes away that the more militant in the ANC will push for greater land reform. In other words, to copy the Mugabe model and seize more land. These tensions have been heightened by the recent murder of white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche. It will therefor be interesting to note how well run the tournament is. If it is not well run and is plagued by infrastructural and organisational problems it will likely be seen as another example of black and white failing to work together. Also it is unfortunately inevitable that some fans will be victims of robberies and violent muggings. South Africa has extremely high levels of conventional crime and it is likely that some lives will be lost to this. Again, South Africa is on show.

The USA are also set to play Algeria in their second game. I'm sure it will pass of peacefully but no doubt there will be some nerves as only last month the Iraqi authorities arrested a member of Al Quaeda they believed was organising a terrorist attack on the World Cup.

Spain are in the same group as Chile and Honduras which is always interesting when countries meet their former colonial masters.

Serbia (as Serbia) have qualified for their first World Cup since the break up of Yugoslavia. Watch out for fervent displays of nationalism.

Political controversies at previous World Cups
The 1934 World Cup was held in Italy. Benito Mussolini had decided before hand that Italy were going to win it. That was it really. In a similar vein to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin Mussolini used the World Cup as an opportunity to spread fascist propaganda. The final which was held in the Stadium of the National Fascist Party was watched by Mussolini who lauded over the game like an emperor at a gladiators fight. The Italians were losing the game to the Czechs with only a few minutes to go when the Italians equalised. They won it in extra time with a truly bizarre goal that should never have been allowed. Although it was never proven it has always been assumed that Mussolini who had met the referee in private had bribed or threatened the Swedish official.

The Italian team line out for the World Cup Final in 1934.

The 1978 World Cup was also hugely controversial as it was held in Argentina which was at the time in the midst of the brutal military dictatorship of Jorge Videla. Again it was never proved but since Argentina won the tournament there will always be suspicion hanging over it.

Sticking with Argentina, who can ever forget the famous "Hand of God" goal that Diego Maradonna scored for Argentina which knocked a very bitter England out of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Coming only four years after the Falkans War the Argentinians loved it where as the British went insane with rage.

The 1982 tournament in Spain was an interesting tournament. It was a chance for Spain to shout to the world, hey, look we are now a free and democratic country, 7 years after the death of Franco. It might not have happened at all had the attempted military Coup in Madrid the previous year been successful. The tournament will also be remembered for the famous collaboration between Austria and Germany who deliberately played out a draw when it suited them both at the expense of Algeria. It led to screams of cheat and "Anschluss", mocking the infamous reunification of Germany and Austria in 1938. Ever since that game all final matches in the first round must kick off at the same time to prevent teams engaging in deal making.

Then there was the Iran V USA match at the 1998 World Cup in France. There was so much tension before hand that they decided to line the teams up together (below) with flowers for the pre match photograph in a kind of silly attempt at showing how football brings people together.

Some observations of my own.
I attended the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea and the 2006 tournament in Germany. My American readers will like this one. I always remember that after Ireland's first three games in Japan it was time to travel to South Korea for the next round. We got a ferry from Fuokoka in Southern Japan to Pusan in South Korea. On the boat were many Irish and Spanish fans as well as Americans and Mexicans who were themselves playing in Korea in the coming days. The US won their second round match and knocked Mexico out of the World Cup. On the boat back to Japan a few days later there were only Irish and Mexicans on board as the victorious Americans and Spanish were staying on in Korea for the next round. The Mexican fans were utterly devastated. The only thing that Mexico is better than America at is soccer. To lose to the great northern neighbour was more than some could handle. There were grown men in sombreros weeping the whole way back to Japan.

I took this picture in Leipzig at the match between Iran and Angola at the 2006 World Cup. I couldn't help notice the Israeli flags in the Angolan section. I spoke to one of them afterward. He told me he was traveling around Germany to attend all the Iranian games as a sort of protest.

So let the games begin. I want to see some brilliant matches, some politics and a bit of controversy. My tip, Spain.


Dan said...

Ted. You have managed to make football interesting for me!

Thanks Dude!

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks Dan

I know you have always struggled to enjoy "the beautiful game". Maybe this will help.

Colm said...

Nice work Ted. Really enjoyed the article and the photo of the Israeli flag among the Angolans. Where would he have sat if Iran had drawn Saudi or Tunisia in the group stages? Surely Benito Mussolini and Italians in general would not be capable of bribing a ref?

Gary said...

Great article. I have never been a big soccer fan (like most Americans I like our "football") but have enjoyed a few of the World Cup Matches over the years. Your article has sparked a new interest and I will be paying much closer attention. Good job.

Ted Leddy said...


Glad you enjoyed the article. It would have been a tough one for our Israeli friend no doubt, if it had of been an Iran V Saudi match. Incidentally I was at the Ireland V Israel match in Tel Aviv 5 years ago. Israel nearly qualified for that World Cup in Germany. Could you imagine ? The Israelis playing in Germany. If the neo Nazis didn't go after them the Islamic fundamentalist certainly would have.

It is true. Italian football's reputation is still not the best all these years after Mussolini bought the 1934 World Cup.

Ted Leddy said...


Glad you enjoyed it. You can see the politics every where in the World Cup if you look just under the surface. A politically astute man like yourself would have no problem doing this.

I know a lot of Americans struggle to enjoy soccer. Most American sports have very high scoring rates and all the scores are of different value depending on where they are scored from. This is in sharp contrast to soccer which can be much slower and arguably quite boring.

Having said that there are many hard core American soccer fans out there. At both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups I met many American fans. They add a lot to the general atmosphere I must say.

If your interest has been tweaked may I suggest that you watch the USA play England tomorrow night. I would love to see the USA win that. Like the Mexicans the British love their football and would hate to lose to America.

Gary said...

I will definitely be tuned it. With our "Independence Day" quickly approaching (July 4th), a victory would be a nice little finger snap....

DT said...

Good article Tedzer. The culture of corruption in Italian football is clearly very deep rooted. Look at Juve a few years ago.

Another great match up was Ireland England in 1990. It was tamed slightly I guess due to the fact we beat them two years previously but a very interesting World Cup match up all the same.

Also one might say that FIFA itself is a dictatorship. Sepp Blatter has worked elections quite suspiciously in the past and I see recently he is putting his name forward for re-election again.

Paul said...

'If your interest has been tweaked may I suggest that you watch the USA play England tomorrow night. I would love to see the USA win that. Like the Mexicans the British love their football and would hate to lose to America.'

Dream on Ted. Sadly the weekend has not been good overall for British and Irish sport. English (I'll deal with the decent sport first) Rugby Union side has lost to a weak Australia (When is Johnson going to get sacked ffs?). Ireland's RU side (whom you know I also support) has been trashed by the Kiwis (who are to Rugby what the Brazilians are to footy). The only glimmer of hope was England beat France at league. The England Vs USA kissball game was way down my list of interesting weekend events, the result was entirely predictable in any case.

Anonymous said...

very interesting bit of reading . Although a bit cheap, tipping Spain as the winners, what with them being favorites n all!

What about Eng1 USA 1 ???

Who would'v thought ? E

Ted Leddy said...


Who can forget the 1990 game. You are right. There was political tension attached given that the Northern Ireland conflict was raging at the time.

I think you're being a bit harsh on poor old Sepp. Incompetent bufoon maybe, but dictator ?

Ted Leddy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted Leddy said...

To be honest Paul, I'm not even that big a soccer fan. I would rarely watch a premiership or champions league match. I just love international football. I am enjoying this World Cup even if like you, I get irritated by all the girliness. When it comes to the Irish team I would follow them anywhere in the world and seeing them in the world cup again would make be happier than anything save world peace.

I like rugby too. I went to a rugby school so I know the game inside out. However I tend to lose interest outside the World Cup and the 6 nations.

It is true. We were really made a show of by the southern hemisphere last week. Dare I say, are they made of sterner stuff down there?

Ted Leddy said...


What's your problem with me backing Spain. So I happen to agree with the bookies. Who do you want me to back, North Korea ?

England were awful. It was very typical of the English press to focus of the Goalkeepers mistake and ignore the fact that the team as a whole were terrible.

DT said...

Ted, if you doubt me, look out for the progress of the next elections. See who gets the next World Cup and who supports who in the run up to the election. It's all rigged.