The beautiful game doesn’t get any prettier than the four-yearly, month-long extravaganza they call the World Cup. The only Scot who’s qualified is a referee, so it’s time to put all partisan feelings on hold, chill out and tune in to the world’s finest. Tom Lappin celebrates the cosmopolitan eroticism of the game (below), introducing our special guide to the TV feast of drama, comedy, hyperbolic commentary and yes, soccer that’ll be dominating your screen until well into July. ‘Ere we go, ‘ere we go etc.

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or the average ten-year-old in the early 70$. idols weren’t in short sup- ply. Gary Glitter, Marc Bolan, Slade and Suzi Quatro ruled the charts, Muhammad Ali was at his peak, Kenny Dalglish and Malcolm MacDonald were the sideburn kings of soccer and Happy Harold Wilson was chuffing away on his pipe in Number IO.

Which made it an act of extreme perversity on my part to worship a stocky Polish winger called Gregorsz Lato. whose waistline was spreading as inexorably as his hairline was receding. Yet. for a couple of weeks in the summer of I974. Gregorsz (with help from his unforgettable chums Andresz Szarmach. Robert Gadocha. the late Kazimierz Deyna. Jan Tomaszewski. Jan Kasperczak and the rest) was the best footballer in the world. Poland were robbed by an ageing West German side in the semis. but for that fort- night the world was a brighter place.

West Germany ’74 opened my eyes to the cosmopolitan eroticism of soccer. There’s something profoundly attrac- tive about the experience of watching tricky-syllabled stars from every corner of the globe playing such an over-familiar game. I didn’t know where Haiti was. but could admire the exuberant violence of their tackling. Zaire’s exact where- abouts was a mystery. but did their team not form a wall at free-kicks, did they not play the offside trap, did they not bleed when tackled by Billy Bremner'?

The World Cup does extraor- dinary things to nations. Everybody knows it was the cause of a small war between Honduras and El Salvador in 1970. but there are other examples of the toumament cement- ing fractured states. Argentina’s home victory in I978 propped up the military junta for a few more years. England’s I966 triumph was the prelude to Wilson’s General Election win a couple of months later just as their 1970 quarter-final exit heralded his demise. and a brief perusal of Roddy Doyle’s The Van will give you a taste of what ltalia ‘90 did for Ireland.

The truth is The World Cup’s ramifications go beyond the game itself. in the same way the Eurovision Song Contest goes beyond music (way over the horizon in some instances). This is an international event as fraught as any UN conference. as tied in with history as any high-powered arms summit. Not that the football is a sideshow. The round ball game inspires passion and delusion unmatched by any other sport. The Olympics might claim to bring the world together, but you don’t get crowds rewriting operatic arias for the pole-vault final. or raining abuse and death threats on the man with the starting pis-

‘Nation shall speak unto nation and the words shall be “he dived, ref, I

nevertouched him,” in every tongue from Ibo to Liverpool Irish.’

tol. Soccer is the world game. and the World Cup the global village kickabout. Nation shall speak unto nation and the words shall be ‘he dived. ref. I never touched him.‘ in every tongue from Ibo to Liverpool Irish.

This year the World Cup is in dollar—grub- bing exile. temporarily resident in the only nation on the planet not to succumb to the beautiful game. For the true armchair fanatic it matters not. The Statue Of Liberty’s beck-

oning hand has ensured a huge amount of

soccer—starved first and second generation immigrants: Irish. Italian. Scandinavian. German. Greek. Mexican. and probably a few Swiss as well. who have snapped up the tick- ets and guaranteed the atmos- phere. Games have been scheduled with European TV in mind. the satellite links will work. Budweiser will be on special offer and the only place to be is in the armchair with a well-stocked fridge and an argumentative friend to hand.

Television does the World Cup brilliantly. The atmos- phere in a crammed stadium may be astonishing. but you don‘t get the moving close— ups that have provided the truly memorable World Cup memories. Archie Gemmill’s matter-of-fact wave as he scored that brilliantly futile goal against Holland. Marco Tardelli’s religious ecstasy as he slammed in the third in the l982 final. David O’Leary‘s cool grin as he scored the decisive penalty against Romania. Gazza’s tears. Gentile‘s tackles. Roger Milla’s corner- flag wiggle: all perfect moments crammed with emotion. exultation and drama. all cap- tured by TV.

USA ‘94 might be inundated by intrusive sponsors. Mickey Mouse and crass commer- cialism, but these trifling irritations won‘t be remembered as long as the little flashes of individual brilliance. the excesses of passion. anger, despair and elation that soccer still has the power to provide remain. Bergkamp. Stoichkov, Brolin. Bebeto. Chapuisat. Valderrama. Sanchez. Baggio will prove it. and if they can‘t. there are countless others queuing up to try, Gregorsz Lato is probably loitering in a Warsaw food line these days. but he‘ll be tuning in with the rest of the world, remembering those goals from '74. For a month the World Cup is the only game in town. L]

World Cup Special —1


The List 346 June 199415