Moore, Pele, Esso coins, and Gerd Muller’s fat arse…Andy Robinson wonders if there was a better time to be young boy than during the summer of 1970.
It isn’t unreasonable to offer up the argument that the first time you experience something it is often perceived as the best. For men, a first car or a first love affair are often used as the shining examples of this. In my case for the first part it was car number seven, a wonderful Fiesta Diesel that stayed with me for a dozen years from my late thirties to a couple of year’s ago. For the second, chivalry prevents me from naming names. Where the “first is best” argument works for me is my first World Cup, the now very iconic Mexico 1970.
Ticker tape welcomes in the political minefield and passion of Argentina in 1978; the Brazil and French sides in the sunshine of Spain 1982; Sir Bobby, Chris Waddle and Gazza in the drama of Italia 1990 – all come close, but no cigar.
Most judges since have tended to agree with me that 1970 was indeed the best. A part of that seems to come from the fact that it was the first World Cup available for colour televisions. Not in my neck of the woods though. I had to make do with black and white both at home and at my grandparents. My “colour” came from my imagination that had been fuelled by my Panini sticker album and my Esso – Mexico 1970 coin collection. My one bit of luxury came from our new gas fire changed from a coal fire the winter previously when after a bath, me and my three year old brother had set a towel on fire. That summer the fire was to prove handy: with most matches kicking off in the Mexico sun and early evening but on the other side of the world it was daft “O” clock in England. Therefore unlike most tournaments since most of my viewing was the “highlights” show done at breakfast time before school on the wonderful BBC. Boiled egg and soldiers one day, cornflakes with hot milk the next and you get to watch Gerd Muller and his fat arse scoring from three yards out and Cubilas and Peru – a side with a red slash across the shirt, wow! – thrown into the bargain. Since the age of eight, mornings never got as good again and this perhaps goes a long way into explaining why I am such a night person now.
It wasn’t just me as a small boy seeing strange things on a football pitch for the first time either. I was still at the age where my weekly football consisted of the Sunday afternoon show on ITV and on the rare occasions I was allowed to stay up for the first part of Match of the Day plus a few visits to Maine Road.
Those games featured strong tackling, plenty of mud and lots of headers. In Mexico, the British football supporter was seeing the “Banana” shot for the first time and a succession of goals scored from free kicks. Continental players also seemed to be able to control a Ball from any angle or speed. Also, and I was unaware of this knowledge at the time, it was the first tournament to feature punditry at the forefront of the TV coverage. ITV’s World Cup panel featuring Malcolm Allison, Jimmy Hill, Brian Clough and others laid the foundation for how we have viewed the game since. When researching stuff for this piece I constantly got sidetracked by links on the internet calling me to view the loud mouthed ones. Malcolm Allison’s assassination of England international Alan Mullery really is car crash TV.
The players themselves in my eyes have still remained exotic. Ladislav Petras from Czechoslovakia scored both of their goals in the group games and was unheard of again until he took part in that side’s victory in the European Championships in 1976. The Czechs lost all their games but I can still remember him going wild and crossing himself as he scored the opener against Brazil.
Anatoliy Byshovets scored four for the Soviet Union and seemed to take on the opposition single–handedly. Every gifted and sublime midfield talent from a warm mediterranean country I have seen since has compared unfavourably with 1969 European player of the year Gianni Rivera of Italy. This is all before you even get to the Brazilians. Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostao, Rivelino, Paolo Cesar, Clodaldo, Carlos Alberto and all are perhaps the greatest side ever to walk the planet and all inspired by Pele. If he isn’t the greatest Footballer the world has ever seen then he is certainly in the top two. Even when he failed it was only because of reaching out for the spectacular. The outrageous dummy that very nearly fools the cameraman and the shot from his own half that tantalisingly drifts wide. Nobody has seen anything like the football goods on offer from the 1970 World Cup before or since.
Mexico 1970 arguably provided Football’s greatest goal – Carlos Alberto’s fourth in the final itself – the greatest save ever seen by our very own Gordon Banks and the greatest game, the epic semi final between West Germany and Italy. One – nil to Italy as it drifted into injury time, the Germans equalise and then it finishes 4 -3 to Italy at the end of extra time. When I think of Franz Beckenbaur I don’t think of the “Kaiser”; player or manager or football politician. I just see a broken man, bravely fighting on when all seems lost. The only footballer I have ever seen play with his arm in a sling.
Eerily, the characteristics of the major sides in both reality and perception have remained the same in the almost fifty years since the tournament. England; brave yet doomed to failure long before the final hurdle. Italy; flair and passion and a nasty streak. Germany; efficiency married to grace and energy. Brazil; joy and skill matched to a rhythm unseen of in any other football nation. The joy I felt at seeing my first world cup did though come with a heavy price.
June 14 1970 and a beautiful Sunday teatime. I rode my bike the mile or so to watch the match with my Grandad. England, current holders and the side to have given Brazil their one decent game so far were playing West Germany in the quarter final in a repeat of the final from 1966. I was too young for that one and too raw for what happened next. My brief two years as a football supporter up until then had seen nothing but joy. As a Manchester City supporter I had already seen my side win three cups and we hadn’t even lost a game against our rivals, Manchester United. I had never experienced so much as a minor setback as a football fan let alone a disaster of such epic proportions as throwing away a two goal lead. I was eight years old and inconsolable and I cried all the way back home. Gary Lineker who is less than a year older than me has exactly the same story to tell. I am pretty sure that day scarred both of us and I have never fully got over it.
Looking back now of course I know that is football – the agony and the ecstasy. It was football that has never been bettered.