Linesmen, Referees’ Assistants or simply ‘Linos’, the guys running up and down the sidelines of half of the playing area are often considered the least significant characters in the passion play that is a football match. These are the ‘extras’ that make up the lower listings in the dramatis personae.’ They’re the ‘non-speaking’ participants, who have to wave a flag – or perhaps press a buzzer as well these days – to remind the rest of us that they’re there.
When you’ve been following the ‘beautiful game’ as long as I have, you’ve seen a few World Cup tournaments. I think I remember elements of Chile 1962, but can definitely do so with the one that followed four later as England were crowned as champions of the world. The downside of this of course means that I’ve also seen some skulduggery of the lowest order in the four yearly event that should present the highest standards of the game.
The genius of Maradona was sullied when when he punched Argentina past England and then was banished as a drug cheat in the 1994 tournament. Harold Schumacher assaulted French full back Patrick Battiston with a malice that may have earned a prison sentence had it occurred anywhere but on a football pitch. And then Luis Suarez reprised his dental belligerence by biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in last year’s tournament.
For conspiracy and mass inclusion however, there’s one instance that stands out, and it involved neither violence or cheating per se. No-one was banned. Indeed both of the ‘guilty’ parties progressed in the tournament, and the only injuries and damage were to broken hearts and shattered dreams. It occurred in the 1982 tournament in Spain – the very same event where Schumacher displayed an aggression well beyond the pale, but on this occasion the problem was a lack of aggression, rather than a surfeit of it. Continue reading →
You didn’t need to be a lip-reader to understand the mouthed words. It was a typically overenthusiastic tackle, not malicious but, in fairness, it probably warranted a yellow card. Thomas Berthold certainly didn’t help matters, and why would he? Rolling around on the ground was very much de rigueur during Italia ’90 when a foul had been committed. The Brazilian referee with the English surname, Jose Roberto Wright, brandished the card and, knowing he wouldn’t play in the World Cup Final if England got there, Paul Gascoigne began to cry. Skipper Gary Lineker looked to the side-line at manager Sir Bobby Robson, or plain Bobby as he was then, and nodding at his tearful teammate asked his manager to, “have a word.”
Wind the clock forward two dozen years, and that same Paul Gascoigne is probably past tears now, having probably shed a million or so in the intervening years. His life, once so full of promise, has turned into the sort of tragic story that seems destined to end in the most tragic way. I’ve seen various opinions of Gascoigne as a player in his pomp. Some have said he was ordinary and over-rated, and of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. For me however, he had that ability to run at pace with the ball at his feet and beat a player on either side, creating problems for opponents at the heart of their defence. Enough of any debate about his talents however, that isn’t really the issue now. Were he a more ordinary type of player the story would not be any less sad. The fact that he appeared so mercurial, and with what the late Sir Bobby described as a, “daft as a brush” mentality means however that Gascoigne’s dilemma is being played out in the full glare of publicity.
Remember the day? It was the glory time of Sven Goran Erikssen. England had rocked up at the Olympic Stadium in Munich to play a qualifying game for the 2002 World Cup and scored five goals after the Germans had initially gone ahead. It was the first day of September 2001, and just as the leaves were starting to turn brown, German football recognised that the fortunes of the Mannschaft were also on the wane. Something must be done. The previous year, in the European Championships, played in Belgium and Holland, Germany had finished bottom of their group, garnering a single point from a draw with Romania with just one goal scored. Now even the unthinkable of a potential failure to qualify for the World Cup was in prospect. Continue reading →
Indulge me for a moment. Let me paint you a scenario. England actually got through the group stages and ploughed on through the competition looking increasingly impressive until they came up against the hosts, Brazil, in the semi-final of the World Cup. Sure, Brazil would be without the talismanic Neymar, plus the suspended skipper and defensive rock, Thiago Silva, but this is Brazil – in Brazil. Nevertheless, England turn in one of the most complete performances in world Cup history to trounce Brazil 7-1. Yes, I know it’s stretching the imagination a little – a lot, in fact – but bear with me a moment longer. Now, just for a few seconds, imagine how the team, the fans and especially the media would be reacting. OK, stop now. Get down from the ceiling. Pull those flags back in from the windows. Calm down, it’s not real.
What is real however, is that Germany completed that that very journey described above. They went into Brazil’s backyard; a place where the Selecao have not lost a competitive game since 1975, and delivered the comprehensive beating of a former champion in the history of the World Cup. ‘Brazil 1 Germany 7’ may well never be beaten as the most outrageous, but fully-deserved result in the World Cup – ever. They turned up at the Copacabana and kicked over Brazil’s castle built on sand.
So what was the reaction of the German team and media? Was it for outlandish celebration? Would they be glorying in the victory? Are they contacting their agents to demand more money for sponsorship deals? Not so much as you’d notice. Continue reading →