In Memoriam

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that. (Bill Shankly)

This I suspect is the overwhelming feeling in Brazil today. A performance almost on a par with Barnestoneworth United. (Eight One – Eight bloody One! – And even that were an own goal!) Brazil sadly lacked a Golden Gordon and were more Right Said Fred in a Bernard Cribbins sort of way.

The WC (down which Brazil were well and truly flushed) is a nightmare to watch in Hong Kong. You need to pay vast amounts of money to a bunch of licensed bandits called PCCW and have the resilience to stay up all night to watch in the hope that something interesting will happen. Most matches simply lack bite. Not enough to get your teeth into. So Mrs. Ha and I refused to stand and deliver and instead waited for last night. For it was the first free to air transmission. Starting at 4am. At 03.58 on the dot, the alarm went off, the TV went on and the doughnuts were unpacked. It started brightly enough.

Why didn’t they stop him kicking the goal? A fair question from Mrs. Ha as it went to 1-0. I had no rational explanation to offer. After 25 minutes Mrs. Ha asked another legitimate question. Are you sure Germany are not in the yellow shirts? Yes, I replied. The ones crying are the Brazilians. I thought Brazil were supposed to win, said Mrs. Ha. I was struggling to argue with that.

As goal number 7 went in an unpleasant thought struck me. I saw in my mind a headline from the Bild Zeitung [?] in April 1978. Es riecht nach Geld. (Literally: It smells of money). I had been in the Rheinstadion the previous afternoon and watched Borussia Dortmund lose 12-0 against Borussia Mönchengladbach. At the final whistle I banished that image and momentary thought. The humiliation was plain to see. Scolari was magnanimous in defeat, a true gentleman. Events such as these make or break a man. Scolari’s footballing genius may be tarnished but not his honour, I venture to say. Some of the younger players may be damaged beyond repair. It was sad to see small children crying, adults gasping for air, their joy draining away as their disbelief rose with the each ratcheting up of the footballing disaster. The tectonic plates in the Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte, had not so much shifted as rocked violently. The foundations of Brazilian football were subsiding faster than Rolf Harris’ record sales.

And so I reflect on Bill Shankly’s famous quote. Is it ‘just a game’ or is it more important than a matter of life and death? I suspect deep down Shanks was simply a great motivator. He wanted to win above all else. The difference today lies in the money. Soccer is big business. So important it has joined the ranks of the sports bedevilled with corruption. Success brings you everything. Failure reduces you to the bottom of the 4th column of the 3rd-from-the-back page. My club is facing a winding-up order. It may not exist soon. That’s pressure. Back on the dole for some of the players. I doubt if the players who lost 7-1 will be in the dole queue on Monday. If they are resilient the younger ones have plenty of time to redeem themselves. Some of us may not live long enough to see Brazil win another WC but maybe they will bounce back in 4 years time. This may be a colonic irrigation of a defeat, flushing out all the excesses that have masqueraded as talent.

Germany may or may not go on to win the final. Brazil has to play for its self-respect in the 3rd and 4th place decider. It will be character building. And probably there will be no Fred.

I finish with another Bill Shankly anecdote:

Of course I didn’t take my wife to see Rochdale as an anniversary present. It was her birthday and would I have got married during the football season? Anyway, it was Rochdale reserves.

and a prediction for tonight’s game, which Mrs. Ha and I will watch. Argentina 1- Holland 8. Don’t miss it.

27 thoughts on “In Memoriam

  1. I completely lost interest in football when Roby Baggio retired. I have to have a hero, or there’s no pleasure in the game for me. Like all other ballgames, it’s become less of a game of finesse and skill and more of a barging kind of game. Yesyes, I know there are still some great players (or so I’m told); but my heroes they ain’t. And so, even though football remains by far the most beautiful of all the ball games, it just isn’t beautiful enough. Not for me.
    Poor Mrs Ha …

    • The wonderful Roberto. I think soccer is growing in popularity in the Antipodes but still Aussie Rules is top in OZ and Rugby Union in NZ. A Kiwi guy I know was staying with some friends in France and they had a house guest, who seemed to be quite famous. Kiwi Guy had no idea who he was. Turned out he was Gianfranco Zola. When told he was still none the wiser. Never heard of him, he said.

  2. I have always been drawn to sport that have at least a round ball. The oblong one astounded me after arriving here in Australia in 1956. I thought it was perhaps a faulty one and after kicking this strange ball found out it did not go where it was supposed to go.
    I am not surprised this ball gets carried around under arms more than kicked around the grass.
    Brazil is still a beautiful country with a passion that we can only long for in secret behind our fenced off yards and the Venetians. And only then in our much revered privacy of our own lonely self without tears or outpouring of unrelenting grief.

    • The real beautiful game is Rugby Union, Gerard. It is our religion in Wales. I often pray that we will win, especially if England is the foe. I do not think it is played in Holland, alas.

      • Wales is the team of choice in our little village. We have a lot of Welsh rugby fans. And as my late husband was of Welsh stock (his father was Welsh) my daughter takes it to heart too.

        We only watch rugby in our house, not football – there’s too much corruption in football for my taste and my daughter just finds it boring.

      • Wise indeed to follow the real game. I would go back in an instant if circumstances allowed (circumstances = tax man). Of course I’d need a debenture ticket to the Millennium Stadium too.

  3. I missed the game, but am now living it through the entire office talking through from start to finish! I really do wish I had watched, not that I had any preference as to who won, but it does sound like an historic game

    • I also had no preference James but it was just such an absorbing game. Like a slow motion car crash with no injuries, just lots of twisted metal.

  4. Well said! I didn’t watch the match (no TV at home and didn’t want to watch it on the net) but was following the live blog on NY Times. Hope of winning this WC is lost for the Brazilian team but there is still the redeeming chance for the players to regain some self-respect with the 3rd place play-off. Love the questions from Mrs Ha, by the way!

  5. Not much of a football fan (non-USA type) but I do know what an embarrassing defeat looks like and this is near the top. If one is outclassed then there can be an explanation. But this seems to be total submission. I’ve never bought the “I just didn’t get the team properly prepared” reasoning. While that does hold true at time, the players, at this level, should still have the pride to put in a valiant effort.

    • I think Scolari was just fronting up and taking the flak for the kids, Steve. A good CEO. I suspect the word PANIC was written large on the seat of their shorts.

      • Oh, I agree totally, Andrew. That is why I mentioned the players’ pride. One always hears the coach/manager take the blame, but he is not on the pitch/field. All the preparation possible can’t explain the lie down a team sometimes performs.

  6. Ich wette, dass wir Deutschen, wenn wir das Finale verlieren sollten, nicht annähernd so viel Mitgfühl bekommen werden wie die Brasilianer. Egal wieviele weinende und verzweifelte Gesichter man sieht. Wohl eher das gleiche Mass an Schadenfreude, wie immer 😦 Zumindest die ganze Schweiz wird GEGEN Deutschland schreien, egal wer der Gegner wird heute Abend.

    • I think the reaction is not because Brazil lost but that they lost in a way that was so dire it became cringe-worthy. It was embarrassing to watch. The Germans outclassed them in every respect. If (and it is a small if) Germany loses the reaction will depend on the nature of the game and the way the players behave. Germany has plenty of experience and I think they will handle themselves well. Shame on the Swiss. You can favour one team without wishing ill on the other (unless the other team is France or Australia.)

  7. There was something that told me to watch the match through to the end. It seemed the binary opposite from the 1970 final. I have failed to develop any fondness for this particular Brazilian team but I felt great pity for them as the goals started to go in. I hope the young players recover but it seems to be a wound that cuts deeper than most sporting losses.

    • I remember the 1970 final well. I seem to recall Jairzhino (?) scored in every game Brazil played but Banks and Pele are still the duel people remember first.

  8. A fitting eulogy Andrew; tastefully delivered which was more than the Brazilian team managed to do. Football is Brazil’s religion, Catholicism is more of a sport.


  9. I felt miserable for Brazil and I don’t even watch football (though I am kept up to speed by Mr G.) In fact tonight if I turn round and look through the glass door, I get a signal indicating 0 – 0.

  10. ‘This may be a colonic irrigation of defeat….’ – I think your words sum it up very well. No doubt the Brazilians also feel like a ton of frass has been dumped on them too. Great post, Andrew, except of course for your prediction at the end 😦 😦 😦

  11. What the rest of the world calls football ,we in the states, call it soccer. To be honest here, I think too much emphasis is placed on sports with people going totally beserk if their team or their country does not win. Players are paid seemingly limitless amounts of money in all sports. T Just my feelings sir and all I can say is “to each his own.”

    However your write-up is excellent. You can now add sports writer to your credentials. 🙂

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