Let the Dancing Begin – Samba or Flamenco?
June 15, 2010

Four days in and the 2010 World Cup hasn’t caught fire yet. To be brutally honest, in the main, it’s been downright dull. With the exception of Argentina, flattering to deceive against Nigeria, and our old friends the Germans, running in four against the pretty inept Socceroos, there has been very little to write home about.

Yesterday, one of the favourites, Holland were well off the pace and a million miles away from the ‘total football’ of yester year, whilst current holders, Italy, put in a characteristically dour display against Paraguay.       

The tournament is in desperate need of some dancing feet and spectacular goals. Let’s hope that Kaka and the samba boys of Brazil ignite the competition this evening in their game against North Korea.

North Korea have hardly been regulars when it comes to World Cup finals (twice in 44 years) but they will forever remain in football folklore for their spirited performances in reaching the 1966 quarter finals.  

The smiling faces and twinkling skills of the little Koreans (they were all about 5 feet nothing!) won the hearts of North East England. Totally unexpectedly they removed Italy from the tournament, with a 1-0 group stage win at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park, courtesy of a goal from Pak Do Ik (right). It’s one of those names that remains with you, and it’s certainly one the Italian journalists never forgot. For years after they referred to him as ‘il dentista’ (the dentist) for the pain he had inflicted on the national psyche!    

And, as if that wasn’t enough, North Korea then set about Portugal in the quarter-final. Playing,  in front of 50,000, at Everton’s Goodison Park, they took an amazing 3-0 lead, in the first 24 minutes, before eventually succumbing 5-3 to the ‘golden boot’ of the legendary Eusebio, who collected 4 goals!  If tonight’s game is anything like that it certainly will set the 2010 tournament alive. And of course all of those memories will come flooding back again when North Korea meet Portugal in Cape Town next week!  

Tomorrow the rhythm of the samba will be replaces by the foot tapping flamenco of Spain, as Fernando Torres (if he’s fit) and the European Champions take a bow against Switzerland in Durban. In 2006 the Swiss, better known for their mountains and cuckoo clocks than their footballers, set the dubious record of being the first team ever to be eliminated from the group stages without conceding a goal (harsh but true!). I don’t expect them to be a push-over but if Spain play as we know they can it could be fiesta time!

While the heart still says ‘England’, over the coming couple of nights we could be watching the dancing feet of the eventual tournament winners but will it be  the samba or flamenco?

The Spirit of ’66
June 14, 2010

This weekend was a rare event – all four of the ‘A Team’ meeting up in the Shire! It had been on the calendar for some time, an opportunity to catch up following my return from Africa and neatly wedged between my birthday, the previous Sunday, and Fathers’ Day, next week of course.

We had a great time. The house echoed to music and laughter. We ate and drank too much and generally put the world to rights! Saturday of course centred on the England v USA match. I’m pleased to say ‘the girls’ enjoy the big games and as the kick off approached, the neighbours were treated (several times) to Badiel and Skinner’s ‘Three Lions’, still the best football anthem by a country mile!

Of course “30 years of hurt”  might all too soon become 44 but, ‘we still believe, we still believe!’       

1966 and all that  is forever etched into the minds of English football fans old enough to remember. As a 13-year-old schoolboy I’d followed the tournament, in flickering black and white of course, from the inauspicious goalless opener v Uruguay through to the thrilling 2-1 semi final victory over Eusebio’s Portugal. Sandwiched in-between had been Bobby Charlton’s  thunderbolt against Mexico, which galvanised our campaign, and the infamous quarter-final brawl against an Argentina side, later labelled ‘animals’ by Sir Alf!

Come Saturday July 30th, with the whole nation focussed on Wembley Stadium, I was on my way to the coast, Great Yarmouth to be precise, and never saw the final live! Some months before, I had been invited to go on holiday with a friend and his family and had been looking forward to it until the realisation dawned that we would be missing out on the greatest day in England’s football history.   

I remember my friend’s Dad had a transistor radio so we were able to keep tabs on the score. We were staying at a guest house, four of us in a single room with a communal bathroom facility on the landing. On our arrival, having hurriedly unpacked, the gong summoned us to the dining room for our evening meal, just as extra time was about to get under way and my friend’s Dad had to ask permission for us to take the ‘tranny’ in with us!

Of course, I’ve seen the match highlights and goals so many times since that I feel as if I was there. One family member, my late uncle, was! I’ve always loved sporting memorabilia (ask Chris!) and he kindly passed on to me the ticket stubs for every game played at Wembley and his tournament programme. These are still a prized possessions. In the back of the programme, on the ‘notes’ page, he had carefully written the teams and goal scorers together with a brief summary of the game, which concludes, “The final whistle blew and Wembley erupted!”    

England’s hat trick hero that day, the legendary Geoff Hurst, now lives in the Cheltenham area. Just before I retired from Naunton Park School, it was brought to my attention that one of his grandchildren had started at the local playgroup. The playgroup leader very kindly asked Sir Geoff’s daughter if her Dad might provide me with a signed photograph, which I’m pleased to say he did!

44 years on, here’s to the spirit of ’66. “We still believe, we still believe!”