“I fail to understand why any of you would be interested in twenty-two illiterate young men kicking an inflated pig’s bladder around an oblong of grass.” A bible-bashing preacher doing the rounds of Lancashire’s pubs in late-Victorian England? Not quite. Actually, the headmaster of my school (see previous post) in mid- 1973 berating a hodgepodge of gormless fifth-formers for bunking off around the corner to the Hendon Hall Hotel to see the England team.
For those of you not acquainted with sophisticated evenings of lager and lime at the irrevocably stained bar of that starless Inn, whenever there was a game at Wembley (if you don’t know what Wembley is, this Post is not for you) one team stayed at the Hendon Hall and the other at the Brent Bridge. Knee-high to a grasshopper, I had accompanied my Dad there seven years earlier, and watched transfixed as Charlton, Hurst, Moore and pals passed within tackling distance of where I was standing.
A day later Moore was raising the Jules Rimet trophy, his team having shown the Hun good and proper for the third time that century who really ruled Europe. (On the first two occasions, victory had not required a disputed goal from Geoff Hurst but did involve an American front line). Of course, in 1973 the England players were gloriously on their way to not qualifying for the Finals, let alone the Final. But then, there only ever was one real World Cup Final.
As the 2014 Brazil World Cup approached, everyone seemed a little too preoccupied to pay much attention to it. The press was taking far more interest in what was waiting in store for football fans in 2022. I could not begin to understand why people were so shocked at the Sunday Times expose of the alleged corruption that bought Qatar the hosting of the competition. Now, I am a fairly ambivalent football fan. I was born with two left (very flat) feet, a left head and a left eye-for-the-ball. But even I know that, when you have an entire planet to choose from for staging the most important competition in the game’s calendar, you do not go for a country where (1)there is no beer (2) there is no grass and (3) there is no thermostat. Not unless, of course, there is money in it.
In the meantime, the almost octogenarian Septic Bladder, who has presided over the FIFA shenanigans since 1998 is well placed to be elected to a fifth term as President at the special Congress to be held next year. It turns out that the 209 member nations have an equal vote so, similar to that other den of iniquity – the United Nations, the mice can rule the house.
Various ideas have been mooted for solving the problem including, curiously, asking Switzerland (the home of FIFA) to revoke its tax-free-not-for-profit status. While I recite 15 times every morning: “tax makes the world go round”, I fail to understand how this will solve anything other than forcing the national leagues to fork out more spondoolies.
It would seem to make much more sense for the wealthy leagues and nations to insist on “one dollar one vote” , which would relegate all those runty little nations to the sidelines. In addition, similar to nations for whom democracy is not a foregone conclusion, there could be election observers. In this case, it would not have to include that gratingly annoying failed president, Jimmy (pronounced ‘Jimmuh’ ) Carter, but perhaps a group of people from another sport. Given the scandals in Cricket (‘You know, it just isn’t Cricket”) maybe they should go for Rugby (albeit, itself not with lillywhite hands). With Football traditionally a game for gentlemen played by thugs and Rugby a game for thugs played by gentlemen, they could bring in some of the Hooray-Henrys to clean things up. Even the Queen’s (there is only one Queen) granddaughter is married to a Rugger Player. And, if FIFA didn’t play the game, who could be better placed to put the boot in.
I hope it is not too late to send Qatar packing. FIFA could be reminded that there is one country that has proved itself in the last two years supremely capable of organizing a major international sporting event while having plenty of world-class football stadiums ready and waiting. And, no, I do not mean Russia. They have already bought the 2018 extravaganza to sit side-by-side on Putin’s sideboard with the Sochi Winter Olympics (Sochi, like Qatar, is short on snow). Ambivalent fan or not, in mid-July 2022 I hope to be standing outside the Hendon Hall Hotel.