World Cup memories whet the appetite

 

SPORTS ON TELEVISION/John O'Sullivan:"Sorry lads, there's no tits on Page 3, just David Beckham." That was the front-page headline in the Daily Star (English version, presumably) the day after David Beckham was sent off for his innocuous if slightly petulant swipe at Argentinian midfielder Diego Simeone during the 1998 World Cup meeting between the teams.

The headline was emblematic of the vitriol and abuse that descended on the Manchester United midfielder.

Almost four years on and Beckham's image could not be more removed from that figure reviled by the media and many England supporters. He is now "the golden boy", England's captain and inspiration to whom the prayers of a nation are devoted as they fret over his damaged metatarsal.

A little over two weeks before the start of the 2002 World Cup in Japan in Korea, it's not surprising television schedulers are whetting the appetite of their viewers for the forthcoming tournament. None may accomplish it quite as evocatively as Channel 4 managed on Saturday night with the programme, The 100 Most Memorable World Cup Moments. It was a wonderful mish-mash of World Cup memories and trivia, from the sublime to the ridiculous, punctuated by the thoughts of several of the protagonists. The presence of several "comedians" and "celebrities" to add their tuppence worth didn't really detract from the viewing pleasure. Even the wacky links provided by Bob Mortimer - one half of the comedy duo Reeves and Mortimer - were mercifully brief.

The programme represented an El Dorado of sorts for the soccer fanatic, a treasure trove of great moments that appealed to several generations. It was complied with the aid of Channel 4 viewers and despite the obvious subjectivity of their nationality - it probably would have been even more partisan had RTÉ managed to put together a similar enterprise - it included many of the outstanding moments that marked a succession of World Cups.

From an Irish perspective Gerry Armstrong's goal that beat Spain in the 1982 World Cup (83), a focus on an unlikely Irish hero in Jack Charlton (63), Ray Houghton's goal against Italy in 1994 (18) and the penalty shoot-out victory over Romania at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa to book a place in the World Cup quarter-finals of 1990 (10) certainly pricked the memory.

These though were merely cherries on top of a lavishly decorated cake. The Cruyff turn, Ari Haan's goal from the next zip code, Pele's lob from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia, his dummy that bamboozled Uruguayan goalkeeper Mazurkiewicz - and millions of viewers, Denis Bergkamp's virtuosity in grabbing the winner against Argentina in France '98 were moments of individual brilliance.

But none could top the contribution of one Diego Armando Maradona. Forget about the "Hand of God" - although former England centre half Terry Butcher clearly can't on the evidence of the programme - and instead focus on the wonderful flair and artistry that characterised his goals against Belgium and England. The latter effort was deservedly voted number one in the survey.

In deference to those who compiled the programme they also included the zany: Germany's World Cup song in 1994 recorded with the group Village People and also a self-effacing smirk from Scotland's Archie Gemmill who scored that brilliant individual goal against Holland in 1978. The midfielder, though, was to achieve even greater fame when his goal was included in a sex scene from the cult movie Trainspotting.

"I got two tickets to go to the movie and you can imagine the grief I got in the cinema when the two people were getting down to it with my goal on the television in the background," Gemmill recalled.

It also spawned a line from one of the characters to the effect that he hadn't experienced such pleasure since Gemmill scored that goal against Holland.

There were less edifying memories: English fans rioting in Marseilles (1998), the infamous battle of Santiago (1962) where Italy and Chile literally kicked and punched each other nonstop. David Coleman told BBC viewers, "Good evening. The game you are about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football possibly in the history of the game." But not even the horrendous foul by German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher on Patrick Battiston that hospitalised the Frenchman or Germany's choreographed 1-0 win over Austria - both teams went through to the knock-out phase - could equate with the ruthless murder of Colombian defender Escobar.

His crime was to score an own goal in the 1994 tournament. It is believed it caused one of the Colombian drug cartels to lose money in a bet and so soon after Escobar returned home he was shot 12 times by a gunman in a pub near his home.

The lighter moments included former England and current Manchester City manager Kevin Keegan and his propensity to back the loser in the two horse racing of punditry. He defended Brazilian fullback Leonardo even though television footage showed him striking American Tab Ramos with his arm prior to being sent off.

He answered unequivocally that there was "no way" England would lose to Romania in France '98 - they did - but his coup de grâce in the bloopers stakes came when pressed as to whether England's David Batty would score his penalty in the shoot-out against Argentina in the last World Cup.

The commentator inquired as Batty ran up to the ball: "do you back him to score?" Keegan replied: "Yes". Then as the commentator catalogued Batty's miss Keegan was heard to exhale, "Oh no". Indeed.

Football Focus on the same day also produced some top quality fare, not least the Roy Keane interview (he declared that he used to come off the pitch with a crick in his neck during Jack Charlton's reign because of the manger's long ball philosophy) but also the relaxed and humorous exchanges between anchor Ray Stubbs and Mark Lawrenson.

There is only one thing that grates and that is the presence of that muppet Garth Crooks. His fawning interviews conducted in pseudo solemn tones are irritating enough without foisting upon the poor viewer his bad dress sense and his grating war correspondent style reports. He enunciates e-v-e-r-y s-y-l-l-a-b-l-e o-f e-v-e-r-y w-o-r-d in grave tones that are incongruous with the pfaff that he is uttering. "I am here, in the rooms, in which, the England, players, will stay. There is, a bathroom, two bedrooms, a lounge, a kitchen and a heated toilet seat." Get a life.