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Deborah Kerr/ Jean Simmons ~ Hollywood’s Brit Hits

July 23, 2014

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Talent…

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… These are the lovely ladies and gorgeous girls of eras gone by whose beauty, ability, electricity and all-round x-appeal deserve celebration and – ahem – salivation here at George’s Journal

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In a long overdue move, this nook of the ’Net is, yes, folks, finally paying its dues to two of the finest – both most certainly in terms of looks and acting chops – female stars to have crossed the pond and plied their trade in Tinseltown. And my, how they made a splash over there – and, frankly, everywhere and for all-time. Yup, it is, of course, the flame-haired fantasy that was Deborah Kerr and the lovely as a sunny summer’s day Jean Simmons – undoubtedly, then, they’re the latest double-entry in this blog’s Talent corner

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Profiles

Names: Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer/ Jean Merilyn Simmons

Nationalities: Scottish/ English

Professions: Actresses

Born: September 30 1921, Glasgow (Died: October 16 2007)/ January 31 1929, London (Died: January 22 2010)

Known for: Deborah – undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s greatest female stars of the ’50s; she lent her beauty, class, grace, intelligence and outstanding talent to every one of her roles (often subtly suggesting a fragility and sexuality beneath their ice-cool exteriors), most famously, governess extraordinaire Ann Leonowens opposite Yul Brynner’s Thai monarch in monster hit musical The King And I (1956) and disloyal military wife Karen Holmes in drama From Here To Eternity (1953) – which saw her, against type, notoriously romp in the surf with Burt Lancaster. She also, to great popular acclaim, romanced Cary Grant in comedy An Affair To Remember (1958), played three different roles in Powell and Pressburger’s wartime masterpiece The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943), portrayed a repressed nun tested to the limit in the same filmmakers’ Black Narcissus (1947), was a Christian martyr in ancient epic The Robe (1953) and shone as the oldest ever Bond Girl (at 46) opposite David Niven in 007 spoof Casino Royale (1967). Nominated for the Best Actress Oscar six times (for 1949’s Edward, My Son, From Here To Eternity, The King And I, 1957’s Heaven Knows, Mr Allison, 1958’s Separate Tables and 1960’s The Sundowners), but never winning, she finally received a long overdue honorary statuette in 1994. Her greatest love, though, as with many of the best actors, was the stage.

Jean – blessed with big, brown eyes, a glorious grin and often a marvellously mischievous expression, the preternaturally beautiful Ms Simmons enjoyed a long career in cinema and on TV, even though it rarely featured the great roles and acclaim her talent suggested it should. Most memorably, she burst on to the screen as a teenager opposite Deborah Kerr in Black Narcissus and as surely the ultimate Estella in David Lean’s adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations (both 1946) and then exceeded many’s expectations by going blonde to play Ophelia in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), for which she was Oscar-nominated. Moving to Hollywood with husband (and fellow Brit movie star) Stewart Granger, she was snapped up by a smitten Howard Hughes for a terrific femme fatale turn in Otto Preminger’s film noir Angel Face (1950), sang and hoofed it up with Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra in Guys And Dolls (1955), essayed Burt Lancaster’s and Kurt Douglas’s love interests in, respectively, Elmer Gantry and Spartacus (both 1960) and co-starred with Kerr again in both Young Bess (1953) and The Grass Is Greener (1960). Later, she married filmmaker Richard Brooks (whom directed her to another Oscar nom in 1969’s The Happy Ending), appeared in legendary TV serials The Thorn Birds (1983) and North & South (1995-86) and battled and beat alcoholism.

Strange but true: Deborah was reputedly offered a fee as much as the rest of the cast’s combined to appear in Carry On Screaming! (1966), but turned it down in favour of a stage play that was eventually aborted/ Jean dubbed the voice of lead character Sophie in the English-language version of Studio Ghibli’s animation Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Peak of fitness: Deborah – utterly charming and beguiling in her tri-character-turn in The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp/ Jean - finally free from Roman servitude, frolicking in a lake with her hero lover Kurt Douglas in Spartacus

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Deborah's Patience

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Retro World Cup: let them entertain you ~ the 30 greatest ever World Cup players

July 13, 2014

retro_world_cup_mascotsretro_world_cup_mascots

greatest_world_cup_players

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Pitch perfect: the soccer superstars of lore in this heroes’ gallery all make it into this post’s World Cup top 30 rundown, but is its numero uno among them? (Image credit: Daniel Nyari)

Here we are then. World Cup final day, at last. But, wait a tick, this isn’t 1986, is it? Or 1990? No, folks, it is indeed 2014 and, yes, it is Germany versus Argentina. Again. If you’re anything like me, you may not be looking forward to this final this time out quite as much as you have others; the third time these two nations have met each other in the climax to football’s quadrennial showpiece. I mean, it’s hardly a triumph for variety, is it?

Unlike, if I may be so bold, this post is. For, yes, in celebration of today marking the conclusion of the most goal-happy, most surprising, most exciting and – genuinely – the most entertaining World Cup in at least 20 years, I’ve decided to conclude this blog’s season of World Cup posts by rather painstakingly putting together my rundown of the very best players to have graced every edition of the thing. Using a rating system described below, it ranks every footballer – from 30th down to 1st – according to the number of matches they played; the number of goals they scored; the number of times they reached later stages of tournaments (and which later stages); the number of tournaments they won and, most important of all, the amount of singular talent they possessed.

So, if you will, folks, please take a few moments and indulge me; pass your peepers over this labour of love dedicated to the ‘special ones’ of soccer lore. Trust me, it shouldn’t take you as long as watching a knockout-round tactical-mine-field-of-a-match going the full 90 minutes, plus extra-time and, of course, the dreaded penalty shoout-out. Well, hopefully it won’t, anyway…

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Key to symbols:

football_ability  Football talent

(Maximum ‘football talent’ available 30 pts/ 1-30 pts)

matches  Total World Cup match appearances

(1-9 World Cup matches = 1pt/ 10 or more World Cup matches = 2pts)

goals  Total goals scored in all World Cups

(1-4 goals scored = 1 pt/ 5-9 goals scored = 2 pts/ 10 or more goals scored =3 pts)

quarter_final_appearances Total World Cup quarter final appearances

(Each quarter final appearance = 1 pt)

semi-final_appearances Total World Cup semi-final appearances

(Each semi-final appearance = 1 pt)

final_appearances Total World Cup final appearances

(Each final appearance = 1 pt)

jules_rimet_world_cup / fifa_world_cup Total World Cups won

(Each World Cup won = 1 pt)

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CLICK on each player’s name for a bonus video clip

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30. Sándor Kocsis

Soccer - Sandor Kocsis

football_ability_14  matches_5  goals_11  quarter_final_appearances_1  semi-final_appearances_1  final_appearances_1 = 21 pts

Nation: Hungary

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 8)

World Cups: Switzerland 1954

The lowdown: The figurehead of the ‘Magnificent Magyars’, the outstanding Hungary side of the ’50s (yes, the one that was the first ever team to beat England at Wembley), Kocsis shook the world at the ’54 tournament by scoring an incredible 11 goals in five appearances. He’d be overtaken at just the next World Cup as its highest ever scorer, but a full 60 years on from his exploits he still possesses the best goal-to-game ratio (2.2) of multiple World Cup goalscorers.

The abiding memory: Netting a double hat-trick (against South Korea and West Germany) – the first man to do so in World Cup history

Strange but true: After defecting to the West in ’56, Kocsis played for Barcelona along with fellow ex-‘Magnificent Magyar’ Zoltán Czibor; both of them played in the ’61 European Cup final against Benfica held at the same stadium as the ’54 World Cup final, in which they’d both scored – in this match they both scored again and lost the match, again, 3-2

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27. [1] Teófilo Cubillas

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football_ability_16  matches_13  goals_10  quarter_final_appearances_1 = 22 pts

Nation: Peru

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: Mexico 1970; Argentina 1978; Spain 1982

The lowdown: Affectionately nicknamed ‘The Pelé of Peru’, Cubillas was a diminutive dynamo in the white (and that ace red diagonal stripe) of Peru, an outstanding ‘second striker’ whom boasted terrific technique and a marvellous knack of scoring from direct free-kicks. He netted five times each at two World Cups held eight years apart (’70 and ’78) and was named ‘Young Player of the Tournament’ at the first.

The abiding memory: A sublime free-kick strike with the outside of his foot against Scotland in ’78 that bent the ball round the wall and into the top corner

Strange but true: While playing in a 1981 match for Fort Lauderdale Strikers (alongside George Best) against Los Angeles Aztecs, he scored a hat-trick in seven minutes

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27. [2] Dino Zoff

greatest_world_cup_players_dino_zoff

football_ability_14  matches_13  quarter_final_appearances_2  semi-final_appearances_2  final_appearances_1  fifa_world_cup_won = 22 pts

Nation: Italy

Position: Goalkeeper (classic shirt number: 1)

World Cups: West Germany 1974; Argentina 1978; Spain 1982

The lowdown: Sure, both the USSR’s Lev ‘The Black Spider’ Yashin and England’s Gordon Banks may technically have been better goalkeepers, but the reason Zoff’s on this list is that in ’82, hardly tub-thumping but a cool, calm customer, he became the first ’keeper to captain a World Cup winning-side in modern times – beating Spain’s Iker Casillas to that honour by 30 years. He was also Italy’s ‘Number 1’ for a decade and went on to manage them.

The abiding memory: Surrounded by jubilant teammates, Zoff serenely lifting the World Cup trophy in triumph

Strange but true: He holds the record for going the longest period of time without conceding a goal at multiple international tournaments (1,142 minutes between ’72 and ’74)

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27. [3] Gheorghe Hagi

Soccer World Cup 1994: Romania vs Argentina - Gheorghe Hagi

football_ability_18  matches_11  goals_3  quarter_final_appearances_1 = 22 pts

Nation: Romania

Position: Attacking/ left midfield (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: Italy 1990; USA 1994; France 1998

The lowdown: ‘The Maradona of the Carpathians’, Hagi lit up the ’94 tournament, in particular; indeed, Brazil’s Romario won that year’s ‘Golden Ball’, but the best on show was surely the Romanian playmaker par excellence. Hagi had everything; excellent technique, passing, finishing and vision. He captained his nation to the last eight in ’94, including a terrific 3-2 victory in the ‘Last 16’ round over Argentina.

The abiding memory: The goal he scored out of nowhere against Colombia in the ’94 group stage, curling the ball into the net as he lobbed the keeper 40 yards out from the left side

Strange but true: More sad and true – at the end of the ’80s, Hagi was prevented from joining both AC Milan and Bayern Munich because Romania’s then Communist regime wouldn’t let him leave the East; eventually, however, he’d play for both Real Madrid and Barcelona

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24. [1] Just Fontaine

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football_ability_17  matches_6  goals_13  quarter_final_appearances_1  semi-final_appearances_1 = 23 pts

Nation: France

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 17)

World Cups: Sweden 1958

The lowdown: The highest scorer in a single World Cup, the small, squat 24 year-old Fontaine put four past defending champions West Germany in ’58’s third/ fourth place play-off to top-off a staggering tournament tally of 13 goals. Although having only played in one tournament (six matches), he still stands fourth on the all-time World Cup scorers’ charts – and, overall, bagged a total 30 goals in 21 international appearances.

The abiding memory: That double-brace against France’s old rivals the West Germans

Strange but true: Before the tournament, Fontaine had scored just one international goal in 53 months and, throughout it, he actually wore a teammate’s borrowed boots

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24. [2] Geoff Hurst

greatest_world_cup_players_geoff_hurst

football_ability_15  matches_6  goals_5  quarter_final_appearances_2  semi-final_appearances_1  final_appearances_1  jules_rimet_world_cup_won_1 = 23 pts

Nation: England

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: England 1966; Mexico 1970

The lowdown: England’s World Cup hero for all-time thanks to his three goals defeating West Germany in the  hallowed ’66 final on home soil, Hurst remains the only man to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final – a feat which, on its own, would surely secure him a place in the pantheon of the precious soccer prize-seekers’ greatest

The abiding memory: “They think it’s all over… it is now” – blasting that ball into the top corner to make it 4-2 and win England the Cup

Strange but true: Despite his incomparably heroic exploits, Hurst had earned so little money as a footballer that, when he retired from the sport, he became an insurance salesman

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24. [3] Grzegorz Lato

greatest_world_cup_players_grzegorz_lato

football_ability_14  matches_20  goals_10  quarter_final_appearances_2  semi-final_appearances_2 = 23 pts

Nation: Poland

Position: Right-winger/ forward (classic shirt number: 16)

World Cups: West Germany 1974; Argentina 1978; Spain 1982

The lowdown: After notoriously qualifying for the ’74 World Cup at the expense of England, Poland surprised, well, everyone by excelling at the tournament itself (finishing a terrific third), thanks in no small part to the seven goals scored by ace marksman Lato, which also secured him that year’s ‘Golden Boot’. Strictly speaking not an out-and-out striker, his awareness, acceleration and shot were his weapons, helping his nation to third place again in ’82.

The abiding memory: Netting the only goal against World Cup holders Brazil in ’74’s third/ fourth place play-off tie

Strange but true: Between 2001 and ’05, he served as a senator for Poland’s Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej (Democratic Left Alliance); since 2008 he’s been Chairman of the Polish FA

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20. [1] Uwe Seeler

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football_ability_15  matches_21  goals_9  quarter_final_appearances_2  semi-final_appearances_2  final_appearances_1 = 24 pts

Nation: West Germany

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 9)

World Cups: Sweden 1958; Chile 1962; England 1966; Mexico 1970

The lowdown: Before Völler, Klinsmann and both the Müllers came Seeler, a four-time World Cup-appearing West German goal-getter as dependable as a BMW. His record of nine nettings has been bettered by others on this list, but the short, stocky striker remains the only man to have scored at least twice in four separate tournaments and currently ranks fourth on the list of total minutes played at the competition (behind Italian Paolo Maldini and compatriot Lothar Matthäus) with 1,980. He also captained his nation at the ’66 and ’70 editions.

The abiding memory: Probably shaking hands with England skipper Bobby Moore at the start of the ’66 final – the only one in which he played

Strange but true: He was the first man to score at four different World Cups – beating Pelé to the honour by mere moments

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20. [2] Paolo Rossi

greatest_world_cup_players_paolo_rossi

football_ability_15  matches_14  goals_9  quarter_final_appearances_2  semi-final_appearances_1  final_appearances_1  fifa_world_cup_won = 24 pts

Nation: Italy

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 20)

World Cups: Argentina 1978; Spain 1982

The lowdown: The World Cup’s ultimate ‘zero to hero’, Rossi was the scrawny-looking striker (having just returned from a two-year match fixing scandal-related ban) whom was so inept in Italy’s opening three games at the ’82 tournament, he was described by a journalist as ‘a ghost aimlessly wandering over the field’. However, like his team, he was transformed into an irresistible, opportunistic tour de force in a do-or-die tie against Brazil, scoring a hat-trick to see Italy into the semis. Ultimately, he ended up winning the Cup, the ‘Golden Boot’, the ‘Golden Ball’ and the European and World Player of the Year Awards.

The abiding memory: His perfectly poached hat-trick against Brazil in that unforgettable match that put the Azzurri through and the Seleção out

Strange but true: Rossi’s rise to greatness is even more remarkable when one considers he also overcame injuries early in his career that required three separate knee operations

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20. [3] Sócrates

greatest_world_cup_players_sócrates

football_ability_19  matches_10  goals_4  quarter_final_appearances_2  = 24 pts

Nation: Brazil

Position: Attacking midfield (classic shirt number: 8/ 18)

World Cups: Spain 1982; Mexico 1986

The lowdown: A football legend unlike any other, Sócrates might as much deserve his place in this rundown for who he was as for what he did. Tall, lanky and lazily handsome, he was the chain-smoking, heavy-drinking political activist whom also happened to be one of the greatest footballers of his generation, captaining the marvellous ’82 Brazil side (in a sort of double playmaker role with Zico – yes, the Brazil of ’82 was that wonderful) to glorious defeat at the second group stage thanks to their lack of defence. Blessed with terrific vision and finishing ability, his trademark move was the blind-heel-pass.

The abiding memory: That fantastic goal he smashed past Dino Zoff at his near post in ’82’s fabulous Brazil-Italy encounter

Strange but true: He really did earn a doctorate in medicine while still a professional footballer (although not in Dublin as rumour would have it) and practiced after his sporting career; his younger brother Raí was Brazil’s initial captain at the ’94 World Cup, which they won

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20. [4] Gary Lineker

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football_ability_16  matches_12  goals_10  quarter_final_appearances_2  semi-final_appearances_1 = 24 pts

Nation: England

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: Mexico 1986; Italy 1990

The lowdown: Easily the UK’s highest scorer at the World Cup and the ‘Golden Boot’ winner at the first of his two tournaments, the modern-day anchor of the Beeb’s Match Of The Day was, way back when, absolutely lethal in the six-yard box – and also a decent footballer with a cute touch (as his performances in England’s much improved later Italia ’90 games attest). England’s undisputed football hero throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, he retired from international duty after 80 matches, just one goal short of Bobby Charlton’s record goal haul of 49.

The abiding memory: That late, late equaliser against the West Germans in the ’90 semi-final is very special, but his glorious hat-trick against the Poles in ’86 is truly unforgettable

Strange but true: So talented at sport was the young Lineker, it’s said he could have made it as either a professional cricketer or a professional snooker player, had he not chosen football

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18. [1] Ferenc Puskás

world_cuo_greatest_players_ferenc_puskas

football_ability_20  matches_7  goals_4  quarter_final_appearances_1  semi-final_appearances_1  final_appearances_1 = 25 pts

Nation: Hungary/ Spain

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: Switzerland 1954; Chile 1962

The lowdown: Heralded one of the greatest players of all-time, Puskás was captain of the ’50s Hungary team. Thanks in no small part to his ability, grace and goals, they reached the final at the ’54 World Cup – only to great surprise to be beaten by West Germany, although decades later Puskás was retrospectively awarded that tournament’s ‘Golden Ball’. After 85 matches for Hungary (scoring 84 goals), he defected to the West and joined Real Madrid. Eventually adopting Spanish nationality, he played for the country three times in the ’62 tournament.

The abiding memory: Playing in the ’54 final despite having endured a hairline fracture to his ankle earlier in the tournament

Strange but true: The party-loving Puskás only knew two words in English: ‘drink’ and ‘jiggy’

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18. [2] Gérson

greatest_world_cup_players_gerson

football_ability_19  matches_5  goals_1  quarter_final_appearances_1  semi-final_appearances_1  final_appearances_1  jules_rimet_world_cup_won_1 = 25 pts

Nation: Brazil

Position: Central midfield (classic shirt number: 8)

World Cups: England 1966; Mexico 1970

The lowdown: Hailed as ‘the brain’ behind Brazil’s legendary ’70 World Cup triumph, Gérson’s importance may be a little overstated by his many admirers, but there’s no doubt he was an important influence on that side, dictating play in midfield and launching defence into attack with raking balls forward. He was also arguably the best player in the ’70 final, in which he scored.

The abiding memory: Brazil’s second goal of that final (and his only of the tournament), a cracking shot with his powerful left foot

Strange but true: As the ’70s progressed, Gérson’s name became a controversial byword for the traditional Brazilian stereotype of disregarding laws and authority thanks to him declaring in a much seen cigarette commercial: “I like to take advantage of everything”

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16. [1] Eusébio

greatest_world_cup_players_eusebio

football_ability_21  matches_6  goals_9  quarter_final_appearances_1  semi-final_appearances_1 = 26 pts

Nation: Portugal

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 13)

World Cups: England 1966

The lowdown: Sure, Eusébio didn’t score as many goals in his sole World Cup as Just Fontaine or Sándor Kocsis did in theirs, but coming nearly a decade after them, it’s only fair to say that by the ’66 World Cup defensive play had improved (see Bobby Moore’s entry below); thus, it was becoming increasingly difficult to score a ludicrous number of goals in a single tournament. But Eusébio certainly did; verily living up to his nickname ‘The Black Panther’ by cracking in nine in just six matches. Prior to, during and after the tournament he was always uncannily lethal in front of goal (749 goals in 743 domestic games; 41 in 64 internationals); a deserved winner of ’66’s ‘Golden Ball and, of course, ‘Golden Boot’ awards then.

The abiding memory: Dragging Portugal back from the brink against über-minnows North Korea in the ’66 quarter final and putting them in the ‘last four’ by scoring four times, transforming a 0-3 scoreline into 4-3

Strange but true: Eusébio’s early years were so impoverished that, as a teenager, he played football barefoot with a local team he’d formed using balls made of socks stuffed with newspapers

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16. [2] Jürgen Klinsmann

greatest_world_cup_jurgen_klinsmann

football_ability_15  matches_17  goals_11  quarter_final_appearances_3  semi-final_appearances_1  final_appearances_1  fifa_world_cup_won = 26 pts

Nation: (West) Germany

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 18)

World Cups: Italy 1990; USA 1994; France 1998

The lowdown: The current coach of the United States (or USMNT, if we’re going to get all acronymical about it like the Yanks do) may not strike one as a World Cup great, but his record absolutely speaks for itself. Eleven goals in 17 matches across three World Cups – and at least three quarter-finals reached with far from a great team in his latter two tournaments, at that. He’s also the only man to have scored three or more goals at three consecutive World Cups.

The abiding memory: Following his strike partner Rudi Völler getting idiotically sent-off early in the 1990 second round tie against the Netherlands, playing the rest of the match as a lone striker to perfection, pulling the Dutch defence all over the place – and, yes, inevitably scoring against them

Strange but true: Born into a family of bakers, Klinsmann’s parents only allowed him to pursue a career in football after he’d served his apprenticeship in his dad’s bakery

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15. Bobby Moore

greatest_world_cup_players_bobby_moore

football_ability_20  matches_13  quarter_final_appearances_2  semi-final_appearances_1  final_appearances_1 jules_rimet_world_cup_won_1 = 27 pts

Nation: England

Position: Centre-back (classic shirt number: 6)

World Cups: Chile 1962; England 1966; Mexico 1970

The lowdown: The only out-and-out defender on this list, Moore has been acclaimed by many (not least Pelé) as the best there’s ever been; his positioning, anticipation, ease on the ball and distribution ensuring he was decades ahead of his time – and arguably better than the vast majority of today’s centre- and full-backs too. Critically as well, of course, he captained his country to World Cup glory (at the tender age of 25) and led England to the last eight at Mexico ’70, as well as playing in all four of England’s Chile ’62 matches.

The abiding memory: Smiling as wide as the King’s Road as he received the Jules Rimet trophy from The Queen and hoisted it high

Strange but true: The Bobby Moore Fund, the charity set up by his widow, has (as of February 2013) raised £18.8m for research into bowel cancer, from which Moore died in 1993

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13. [1] Jairzinho

greatest_world_cup_players_jairzinho

football_ability_18  matches_16  goals_9  quarter_final_appearances_2 semi-final_appearances_2 final_appearances_1 jules_rimet_world_cup_won_1 = 28 pts

Nation: Brazil

Position: Forward/ right and left midfield (classic shirt number: 7)

World Cups: England 1966; Mexico 1970; West Germany 1974

The lowdown: One of the greatest players in the truly great ’70 Brazil side, Jairzinho is remembered as a legend for scoring at least one goal in every match his nation played there – not least because he wasn’t a striker at all, but a winger with terrific strength, balance, vision, dribbling skills and an awesome shot. Nicknamed Furacão (‘The Hurricane’) following his Cup-winning and -scoring exploits, he actually turned out for Brazil in the previous tournament and in ’74 too, where he added two further strikes to his total goal tally.

The abiding memory: Given all the goals he scored in the ’70 tournament, there’s much to choose from here, but for me it’s got to be the one he notched against Uruguay in the semi-final, a terrific team goal resulting from a marvellous move he started himself in the Brazilian half

Strange but true: Jairzinho claims he received a ‘Best Body on the Planet’ prize at the ’70 World Cup; unsurprisingly FIFA have never corroborated its existence, let alone its award

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13. [2] Lothar Matthäus

greatest_world_cup_players_lothar_mattheus

football_ability_15  matches_25  goals_6  quarter_final_appearances_4 semi-final_appearances_2 final_appearances_2 fifa_world_cup_won = 28 pts

Nation: (West) Germany

Position: Central/ attacking midfield/ sweeper (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: Spain 1982; Mexico 1986; Italy 1990; USA 1994; France 1998

The lowdown: A far-more-than-decent midfielder and spot-kick specialist, Matthäus may not have been among the very best to have appeared in a World Cup match, but pretty much deserves his place here as he appeared in so many; a record-setting 25. He was past his prime when recalled in ’98, but earlier played a pivotal up-and-down-the-pitch role, getting the Teutonic ones to the final in both ’86 and ’90 and winning it as captain the second time.

The abiding memory: Oozing class as a midfield maestro throughout the ’90 tournament and, like the cat that got the cream, lifting the World Cup trophy come the end

Strange but true: Recalled again, Matthäus earned the last three of his 150 Germany caps at Euro 2000; playing at the back, he (and the team) had an torrid time, but he was 39-years-old

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11. [1] Bobby Charlton

greatest_world_cup_players_bobby_charlton

football_ability_21  matches_13  goals_4  quarter_final_appearances_2  semi-final_appearances_1  final_appearances_1 jules_rimet_world_cup_won_1 = 29 pts

Nation: England

Position: Attacking midfield/ forward (classic shirt number: 9)

World Cups: Chile 1962; England 1966; Mexico 1970

The lowdown: The man around whom coach Alf Ramsey built his World Cup-winning side, Charlton was England’s best player for nearly 20 years and considered by many one of the world’s best ever. Eventually settling into the ‘Number 10’ role, he offered much more than a (still) record 49 goals: outstanding passing, vision, creativity, goal-assists and a comforting confidence on the ball that only the great players exude. Crucial for setting the tempo in games and ensuring England controlled matches, Charlton was one of the two players (the other being Moore) without whom his nation would never have won the Cup.

The abiding memory: Probably the brace he scored against Portugal in the ’66 semi-final to send England to their first and only World Cup final

Strange but true: In Japan, those whom choose to sport Charlton’s notorious bald-head-defying ‘comb over’ hairstyle are referred to as ‘bar-code men’

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11. [2] Roberto Baggio

greatest_world_cup_players_roberto_baggio

football_ability_19  matches_15  goals_9  quarter_final_appearances_3 semi-final_appearances_2 final_appearances_1 = 29 pts

Nation: Italy

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: Italy 1990; USA 1994; France 1998

The lowdown: Baggio was basically the ’90s’ Italian Wayne Rooney, a superstar ‘second striker’/ playmaker blessed with great skill, ability and pace. The difference is he truly delivered for his nation. Following an outstanding solo goal in Italy’s own World Cup in ’90, he dragged them to the final four years later; taking the bull by the horns after a sluggish group-stage start by the Azzurri, he scored all their goals (except one) in every subsequent round. Oh, and also unlike Rooney, he was so handsome he looked like a Greek god. With a ponytail.

The abiding memory: Sadly, it’s him looking disconsolately to the ground as he skied his must-score-penalty in the ’94 final’s shoot-out, handing the Cup to Brazil. In truth, he should never have played, carrying an injury (his thigh was heavily bandaged), he could barely run.

Strange but true: Famously, Baggio is a Buddhist (his nickname being Il Divin’ Codino/ ‘The Divine Ponytail’); less famously, he became Goodwill Ambassador of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2002 and, in recognition of his human rights activism, received the ‘Man of Peace’ award from the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in 2010

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10. Gerd Müller

greatest_world_cup_players_gerd_muller

football_ability_19  matches_13  goals_14  quarter_final_appearances_2 semi-final_appearances_2 final_appearances_1 fifa_world_cup_won = 30 pts

Nation: West Germany

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 13)

World Cups: Mexico 1970; West Germany 1974

The lowdown: His successor Miroslav Klose may have now outscored him in World Cups, but the latter’s not a patch on Germany’s real master marksman. Scoring 14 goals in just 13 appearances, including a sensational 10 in his first tournament, Müller may well have looked the most unassuming player on the pitch, but the diminutive striker exploded into life like a power grid being switched on when the ball entered the penalty box, accelerating, heading or swivelling and finishing with power and accuracy. No wonder his nickname was ‘Der Bomber’.

The abiding memory: Pouncing on a teammate’s pull-back to smash home in the 43rd minute of the ’74 final and win West Germany the World Cup on home soil – his 68th and final goal in his 62nd and final international match

Strange but true: He remained the World Cup’s top scorer for 32 years (that’s seven whole tournaments), until Brazil’s Ronaldo scored his 15th in 2006

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9. Roberto Rivelino

greatest_world_cup_players_roberto_rivelino

football_ability_19  matches_15  goals_5  quarter_final_appearances_3 semi-final_appearances_3 final_appearances_1 jules_rimet_world_cup_won_1 = 31 pts

Nation: Brazil

Position: Left midfield/ attacking midfield (classic shirt number: 11/ 10)

World Cups: Mexico 1970; West Germany 1974; Argentina 1978

The lowdown: Famed as much for his glorious ‘porn star’ moustache as for his brilliant dribbling, powerful long-range bending free-kicks and perfecting of the much imitated ‘elastico’ or ‘flip flap’ feint trick, Rivelino was a key component of Brazil’s awesome ’70 World Cup-winning side and his nation’s outstanding player (for whom he became its leading playmaker) for the rest of the decade, blessing its further two tournaments with his unmistakable abilities and ensuring top four finishes for Brazil in both

The abiding memory: Probably that thunderous free-kick he scored against Czechoslovakia in the group stage in ’70 – a strike that earned him the fitting moniker ‘Patada Atómica’ (‘Atomic Kick’) from the enrapt Mexican public

Strange but true: In a test match earlier this year, the now 68-year-old Rivelino scored the first ever goal at football club Corinthians’ new stadium in São Paulo, a venue for this summer’s World Cup; it was a penalty – awarded against his own side

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8. Zico

FUSSBALL : WM 1982 , BRA - ARG  3:1

football_ability_24  matches_13  goals_5  quarter_final_appearances_3 semi-final_appearances_1 = 32 pts

Nation: Brazil

Position: Attacking midfield (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: Argentina 1978; Spain 1982; Mexico 1986

The lowdown: For many, Arthur Antunes Coimbra (or Zico for short) remains the greatest player never to have won a World Cup. Famously a member of the ’82 Brazil side, he inherited Pelé’s ‘Number 10’ shirt (not surprising, given his nickname was ‘The White Pelé’) and managed to stand out in a team bursting with talent; he was a box of all the footballing tricks imaginable, including the ability to bend fiercely struck balls in every direction. Barely ever playing as an out-and-out forward, he scored 48 goals in 71 matches for his country.

The abiding memory: The bicycle-kick-volley he thundered in against New Zealand in the ’82 group stage – two words: bloody brilliant

Strange but true: Although his ’82 teammate Sócrates is recalled for his politicalism, it was Zico who actually took public office, serving as Brazil’s Minister of Sports in the early ’90s

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7. Johan Cruyff

greatest_world_cup_players_johan_cruyff

football_ability_28  matches_7  goals_3  quarter_final_appearances_1 semi-final_appearances_1 final_appearances_1 = 33 pts

Nation: Netherlands

Position: Attacking midfield/ forward (classic shirt number: 14)

World Cups: West Germany 1974

The lowdown: For me, the greatest player never to have won a World Cup. A revolutionary (even many of the greats can’t claim to be that), the Dutch master was instrumental in translating on to the pitch the radical tactical philosophy that was ‘Total Football’ – in all its groovy glory. Captain then of the totaalvoetbal-ed-up Dutch side that took the ’74 tournament by storm, he only just missed out on winning it and (inventing and showing off the ‘Cruyff turn’ too, lest we forget) then retired from the international game, never to be seen again on the biggest stage.

The abiding memory: Could it be anything else? Flummoxing a Swedish defender in a ’74 group game as he performs the ‘Cruyff turn’ for the very first time – and rocks the world

Strange but true: Cruyff didn’t travel to Argentina for the ’78 World Cup, not because he’d fallen out with the manager or become too big- (and pig-) headed, but because death threats had been made against his family if he went, thereby ushering in his international retirement

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6. Franz Beckenbauer

greatest_world_cup_players_franz_beckenbauer

football_ability_21  matches_18  goals_5  quarter_final_appearances_3 semi-final_appearances_3 final_appearances_2 fifa_world_cup_won = 34 pts

Nation: West Germany

Position: Sweeper/ centre-back/ central midfield (classic shirt number: 5/4)

World Cups: England 1966; Mexico 1970; West Germany 1974

The lowdown: A cast-iron World Cup legend, the dominant yet elegant Der Kaiser, against the odds against the out-of-this-world Dutch, skippered his team to triumph on home soil in ’74. He was also terrific in England in ’66 (arguably marking Bobby Charlton out of the final) and awesome in Mexico in ’70, his performances and goals there (not least against England again) critical in his nation’s progress to the semi-final – an epic encounter with Italy, throughout much of which he remarkably played with a dislocated arm in a sling. Moreover, he is said to have introduced the modern ‘sweeper’ role to football – oh, and he became the first man to win the World Cup as manager as well as player, coaching West Germany’s victorious 1990 side.

The abiding memory: Lifting the new World Cup trophy as captain of a West German team that had somehow beaten Cruyff’s Dutch after falling behind in just the first minute of the final

Strange but true: After publicising a mobile phone company, he requested a number containing seven consecutive sixes, only to be flooded with calls from punters believing it to be a sex chat line (the German word for six, sechs, obviously closely resembles the English word ‘sex’)

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5. Ronaldo

greatest_world_cup_players_ronaldo

football_ability_25  matches_19  goals_15  quarter_final_appearances_3 semi-final_appearances_2 final_appearances_2 fifa_world_cup_won = 38 pts

Nation: Brazil

Position: Forward (classic shirt number: 9)

World Cups: France 1998; Japan and South Korea 2002; Germany 2006

The lowdown: Overweight; under-committed; overrated; under-performing. Say what you like about Ronaldo, but when it came to World Cups, the pot-belly-bordering, dubious-hairstyle-debuting boy from Brazil truly delivered. Two finals, 15 goals (including a mind-boggling eight in one, as well as four in another) and a performance in the ’02 tournament’s concluder that delivered the Seleção their fifth title. At his best, he was unplayable – electric acceleration, terrific ball control, incredible finishing and a brain ticking along at a full time-zone faster than the defenders around him. Practically the perfect modern-day World Cup forward.

The abiding memory: It really should be those two redemption-ensuring strikes in the ’02 final, but sadly it’s hard to shift utmost from memory what ensured redemption was ‘required’ in the first place – the pantomime that was his dazed and confused, post-fit appearance in the ’98 final (and, no, the whole farrago wasn’t actually Nike’s fault, as it turned out)

Strange but true: Having experienced a somewhat turbulent private life, including siring four children with three different women (and a notorious encounter with three transvestite prostitutes that led to extortion), he had a vasectomy in 2010 – and indelicately referred to the procedure as ‘closing the factory’

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4. Zinedine Zidane

greatest_world_cup_players_zinedine_zidane

football_ability_28  matches_14  goals_5  quarter_final_appearances_2 semi-final_appearances_2 final_appearances_2 fifa_world_cup_won = 39 pts

Nation: France

Position: Attacking midfield (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: France 1998; Japan and South Korea 2002; Germany 2006

The lowdown: The best footballer of the last 30 years, Zidane could do everything (instantly change and elegantly run games, deliver flawless dead-ball success and score incredible goals), plus he nearly won two World Cups. Establishing himself the best of his generation at his home World Cup of ’98, he was the catalyst behind eventual French glory, not least because in the final he put them 2-0 up with a pair of lethal headers. France suffered ignominy in ’02, but eight years after their triumph they almost did it again, Zidane’s ability, drive and aura dragging an otherwise unremarkable team to the final, which was eventually lost to Italy – but only after the brilliant baldy gave them the lead with an utterly unsurprisingly exquisite, chipped penalty.

The abiding memory: It should be his great performances (maybe specifically his three World Cup final goals), but for right or wrong, it’ll always be that inexplicable head-thrust into the chest of Italian enfant terrible Marco Materazzi in the ’06 final, which cost the great man his place on the pitch and the fairy-tale career end his talent merited

Strange but true: In the mid-’90s, English Premier League clubs Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers both looked into signing Zidane; the former bizarrely concluded he wasn’t good enough and the latter’s interest faltered when chairman Jack Walker reportedly chided manager Kenny Dalglish with ‘why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?’

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3. Garrincha

greatest_world_cup_players_garrincha

football_ability_28  matches_12  goals_5  quarter_final_appearances_2 semi-final_appearances_2 final_appearances_2 jules_rimet_world_cup_won_2 = 40 pts

Nation: Brazil

Position: Right midfield/ forward (classic shirt number: 7/ 11)

World Cups: Sweden 1958; Chile 1962; England 1966

The lowdown: Born with a deformed spine, both legs bent outwards and one shorter than the other, Garrincha (‘Wren’ or ‘Little Bird’ in Portuguese) still grew up to be one of the greatest ever footballers. Blessed with perhaps the best dribbling ability in history, perfect on both feet and a ferocious shot, his wing-play proved critical in his nation winning the ’58 World Cup, their first, and was even better  at the ’62 edition. Here he was Brazil’s golden boy in the injured Pelé’s absence, particularly excelling against England in the quarter final and hosts Chile in the semi – netting four goals across the two games, including a ‘banana shot’ into the corner, a header and a 20-yard screamer. He also scored a stunning free-kick with the outside of his foot in ’66.

The abiding memory: Probably those ’62 performances against England and Chile; crucial for sealing Brazil’s (and the only ever) back-to-back World Cup triumphs

Strange but true: Garrincha is arguably more fondly revered in his homeland than Pelé, owing to his evergreen, devil-may-care attitude to both football and life  (which is considered far more Brazilian than his illustrious contemporary’s) – so much so, he apparently didn’t realise Brazil had won the Cup after the ’58 final, believing its format to have been more like a league than a tournament; he assumed they had to play everyone else. Sadly, his hard-living exploits caught up with him and he died in 1983, relatively impoverished and aged just 49.

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2. Diego Maradona

greatest_world_cup_players_diego_maradona

football_ability_29  matches_21  goals_8  quarter_final_appearances_3 semi-final_appearances_2 final_appearances_2 fifa_world_cup_won = 41 pts

Nation: Argentina

Position: Attacking midfield (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: Spain 1982; Mexico 1986; Italy 1990; USA 1994

The lowdown: The most controversial footballer in history, the diminutive Diego was also utter dynamite on the ball; actually, it was often impossible to get it from him, it seemingly tied to his feet as he passed opponents to score extraordinary goals. Much was expected of him in ’82, but he failed to deliver and was sent-off in his final match. He exceeded expectations in ’86 though, dribbling three times more than any other player and scoring or assisting 10 of Argentina’s 14 goals – frankly, he pretty much single-handedly won the World Cup that year. In ’90 he finished a runner-up, fortunately as neither he nor his side played brilliantly, but in ’94 (in his career’s twilight), after scoring yet another stunning goal, he was sent home after failing a drugs test.

The abiding memory: Those few short minutes from the ’86 quarter final against England when he scored that logic-defying goal from another planet, almost immediately following the ‘Hand of God’ incident; possibly the most incorrigible, unforgivable case of cheating in all football

Strange but true: Idolised almost as a god in his homeland he may be, Maradona’s life has been that of a South American soap opera’s tragic hero; he’s suffered from cocaine and alcohol addiction, which has caused him life-threatening illness, and apparently owes the Italian government €37 million in taxes from his playing days, towards which it’s said he’s only paid back €42,000, two luxury watches and a pair of earrings.

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1. Pelé

WORLD CUP 1970

football_ability_30  matches_14  goals_12  quarter_final_appearances_2  semi-final_appearances_2  final_appearances_2  jules_rimet_world_cup_won_2 = 43 pts

Nation: Brazil

Position: Forward/ attacking midfield (classic shirt number: 10)

World Cups: Sweden 1958; Chile 1962; England 1966; Mexico 1970

The lowdown: Quite simply, the greatest footballer ever to have played the game, Edson Arantes do Nascimento (or just Pelé to you and me) is fittingly the best ever to have pulled on his boots and run out in a World Cup match too. Why was he the greatest? The common denominator for many is he simply did things none of his contemporaries could get close to doing; things that maybe didn’t even occur to them. Johan Cruyff has said: “Pelé was the only footballer who surpassed the boundaries of logic”, while the man’s ’70 teammate (and that Brazil team’s captain) Carlos Alberto suggested that his footballing genius lay in his improvisation. It’s not often mentioned, but he endured a torrid time in both the ’62 and ’66 contests, at which he should have been the star yet suffered tournament-ending injuries in both. His golden years were undoubtedly ’58, in which he came alive in the quarter final (one goal), the semi (a hat-trick) and the final (two goals) and at just 17-years-old ensured Brazil’s victory was inevitable, and ’70, in which he featured in an outrageously brilliant team of Brazilian talent, scoring four goals in a central attacking role that saw him just about still outshine everyone else.

The abiding memory: Many recall those two classic moments from the ’70 World Cup when he didn’t score (audaciously attempting to lob Czechoslovakia’s goalkeeper from the halfway line and feigning the Uruguayan goalkeeper as he and the ball passed him before attempting a shot that ended up just wide), but that may be because they’ve been shown so many times, delightfully so. Yet his most glorious moment may be the first of his two goals in the ’58 final, which saw him expertly trap the ball on his chest, flick it over a defender and then, after waiting for it to come down, volley it into the corner of the net perfectly. Quite sensational if you consider the occasion and the fact he was still a teenager.

Strange but true: There’s been much debate over how many goals Pelé actually scored. He’s supposed to have ‘officially’ notched up 767 goals in 831 matches, but ‘unofficially’ netted 1,281 times in 1,367 games. Both figures, though, definitely include 77 in 92 for Brazil. Of course, the official and the unofficial figures are – like the player himself – simply out of this world.

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ July 2014

July 1, 2014

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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Duke Ellington ~ Sister Suffragette (1965)

Eric Burdon & The Animals ~ Sky Pilot (1967)

Henry Mancini ~ Love Theme from Romeo And Juliet (A Time For Us) (1968)

Three Dog Night ~ One (Is The Loneliest Number) (1969)

Nina Simone ~ To Be Young, Gifted And Black (1970)

Apollo 100 ~ Joy (1972)

Edgar Winter Group ~ Frankenstein (1973)

George MacRae ~ Rock Your Baby (1974)

Stevie Wonder ~ Another Star (1976)1

Mike Oldfield and Maggie Reilly ~ Moonlight Shadow (1983)

Kajagoogoo ~ Kajagoogoo (Main Title Song) (1984)2

Jeff Pescetto ~ Theme from DuckTales (1987)

Soul II Soul ~ Keep On Movin’ (1989)

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1 A track from Wonder’s seminal 1976 album Songs In The Key Of Life, this tune is the opening theme for the BBC’s TV coverage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which concludes with the final on July 13 

2 As featured over the opening titles of classic John Hughes-written-and-directed, Molly Ringwald-featuring ’80s coming-of-ager Sixteen Candles (1984)

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Retro World Cup: George’s A-Z of the World Cup ~ your cut-out-and-keep guide (Part 2)

June 22, 2014

retro_world_cup_mascotsretro_world_cup_mascots

a-z_of_the_world_cup_n-z_main_image

retro_world_cup_mascotsretro_world_cup_mascots

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All right, if you’re of an English persuasion, you may right now feel you’ve had about all you can take of this World Cup. The Three Lions are out and yet the damned thing carries on incessantly; our TV screens filled by seemingly wall-to-wall coverage of three matches a day – and almost every team defending better than us. Yet, trust me, that may well change as the days pass and the terrific tournament (which, despite the English contribution, it’s undoubtedly been) continues. For that’s the magic of the World Cup – it is, as it’s so often been in the past, a dreamily absorbing sporting spectacle on an undeniably globally-engaged scale. One that only that other quadrennial international event can get close to rivalling, the awesome Olympics, of course.

So, bearing all that in mind, and if you’re still not totally au fait with the whole shebang, you might consider giving this part two (check out part one here) of my ultimate guide to previous World Cup history a read. Yup, here it is, folks, letters ‘N’ through to ‘Z’, so let’s get it underway shall we, as we verily kick-off the second-half…

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N is for… Nessun Dorma

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An aria from the Italian opera Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, the tune Nessun Dorma (English translation: ‘None Shall Sleep’) was already one of the most recognised pieces from opera, nay all classical music before it received a Toto Schillachi-like goal-bound thunder-strike in popularity when Luciano Pavarotti’s 1972 recording was adopted by the BBC as the opening- and closing-credits theme for their Italia 90 match coverageNessun Dorma, thanks to a kismet-like combination of its operatic sound over passion-packed football visuals in stylish slo-mo and England’s Gazza-fuelled surprise run to the semis, became an unlikely and unique summer anthem; that ’72 Pavarotti recording even hitting a high of #2 on the UK charts. English football, as I opined at one point in this post’s predecessor, wasn’t transformed by the national team’s performance (and all that went with it) at Italia 90, but it undoubtedly gave it a hell of a PR boost – and, don’t doubt it, Nessun Dorma was at the very heart of that. It made football (international football, so footy at its very best) suddenly look and feel like a bright, beautiful cultural behemoth, suggesting (somewhat daftly, when you think about it) ‘the beautiful game’ had Renaissance-related connotations, leading some – just maybe – to wonder why then it shouldn’t be taken more seriously and owned (not just by the hooligans) but us all in England? Nessun Dorma-itis even stretched beyond these shores; its extraordinary boost in popularity driving Pavarotti’s name (and those of the other two ‘Three Tenors’, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras) to places where mere opera stardom couldn’t reach. So much so that by the next World Cup (USA 94), the tenor trio had become such global superstars they held a worldwide TV concert on that tournament’s eve and did so four years later for France 98 – the climax of both being them performing together, yes, inevitably, Nessun Dorma.

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O is for… on the telly

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We all think of the World Cup as the pure theatre of 22 men on a pitch in a pretty stadium crammed with passionate fans from two totally different nations. But, really, that’s a tad romantic. For the World Cup – certainly since Mexico ’70 (the first to be beamed live around the world and in colour thanks to satellites) – is a TV event. Without the old gogglebox in the corner of the lounge, on the wall of the boozer or in a communal café in an African village, none of us would get our World Cup fix. Indeed, the stats don’t lie; official figures suggest fewer than a cumulative four million fill out all the stadia during a tournament, while something like a cumulative 25 billion peeps caught some – or all – of the 2006 World Cup in Germany on the box (including 400-700 million watching that year’s final live). They’re staggering figures, but that’s the power of TV. Which is why, to use the UK as an example, every four years the competition between ‘terrestrial’ broadcasters the BBC and ITV is as high as a Germany-Netherlands clash. And why they both spend millions on informed (and/ or glamorous) pundits, eye-catching locations for their ‘in the host nation’ studio (in front of the Eiffel Tower in ’98, the Brandenburg Gate in 2006 and Copacabana Beach this year) and flashy opening title-theme-combos (see entry for ‘N’ above). But things change, of course, and the unquenchable rise of the ’Net has certainly had an impact on our WC-watching habits in recent years – after all, now seconds after a major incident’s occurred in a match, someone rather pointlessly posts footage of it on Twitter or Facebook for ‘the world’ to see. Clearly this is a million miles away from the days of dependable Des Lynam (aka the king of British sport broadcasting) coolly anchoring our way through the thing. And, as if to underline that fact, Des voted UKIP in the recent elections on these shores – now, come on, Des, that’s a real step back to the ’70s and ’80s, isn’t it?

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P is for… penalty shoot-out

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Introduced for the ’78 tournament, but first forced into use at the ’82 edition, the penalty shoot-out is the means by which World Cup knock-out matches are decided if, after 90 minutes of ‘normal time’ and then 30 minutes of extra-time, scores are level (thus ensuring replays aren’t needed). Seeing both sides taking five penalty kicks alternately (the side that scores most wins) and then, if the strikes/ misses are level, ‘sudden death’, in which the first side to miss loses, the penalty shoot-out has always been a controversial tool to decide games, as it can ensure a resolutely defensive team knocks-out a more attacking, ‘more deserving’ team; yet it also offers a theatrically dramatic climax to matches, not least those that have been damp squibs throughout. A fair criticism of penalty shoot-outs is that they may not just be symptomatic of damp-squib games, but may also be increasingly to blame for them; certainly in the last two World Cups (2006 and ’10) too many games involved ‘match-play’ tactics from both teams (i.e. teams playing cagily for 12o minutes, lest they be caught out defensively, in the full knowledge they could effectively draw the match and rely on the ‘lottery’ of penalties to decide the result). The kings of penalty shoot-outs are undoubtedly the Germans, having won all four of the shoot-outs in which they’ve participated (’82, ’86, ’90 and 2006) – and scoring all but one of their 17 spot-kicks. The current holders of the wooden spoon are, yes, the English, whom have lost all three of the shoot-outs in which they’ve been involved (’90, ’98 and 2006). So far, two finals have gone to penalties; those of ’94, which saw unfit Italian star Roberto Baggio blaze over his effort to crown Brazil champions, and 2006, which saw the Italians redeem themselves by scoring all five of their perfect penalties against France – see, that’s how you shake off a penalty hoodoo, England.

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Q is for… queuing up
at the bar at half-time

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The way we watch the World Cup has changed over the decades. While the vast majority of us still primarily take it in the same way, via TV (see entry under ‘O’ above), the exact way we do so now varies. Sure, most still get our WC kicks traditionally: glued to the gogglebox in the lounge. But, if you’re a hardcore or casual fan of your nation (certainly in England), the much more fashionable – and social – way to watch matches is, yes, down the pub. Slowly, as licensing laws have relaxed and most pubs have become more women- and family-friendly (thus not just the preserve of old men and drunks), the pub’s become a cheerier, cleaner and more enjoyable entity. And this has pretty much coincided with the following  of England at a tournament, thanks to its great success at Italia 90 banishing its hooligan-related rejection in the ’70s and too much of of the ’80s, also becoming a socially acceptable practice for millions (and not just men); a genuinely pacifistic celebration of national pride. Hence, in addition to the revolution that’s been pay-per-view satellite TV coverage of top flight UK football, big flat screens have filled pubs up and down the land, ensuring that come every WC, fans in full St. George’s Cross regalia pack their local drinkeries to the rafters, cheering on the Three Lions as if they were actually at the match itself. Indeed, if you find the right venue, it’s never a bad second best. So big an event has this experience-it-all-together World Cup culture become, it’s predicted the nation will have spent £197m on alcohol come England’s exit from Brazil 2014 on Tuesday; while total spending (also including TVs, sports goods, barbecues and souvenirs) will top a staggering £1.3 billion by the same point. Yet, this approach to WC worship isn’t limited just to the UK, of course – in much of the Western world, watching (and spending on) matches in this way has become de rigeur too. Throw in the fact the tech-savvy among us are also viewing the thing on our tablet computers and smartphones now, it’s clearly a brave, new, switched-on world for the World Cup.

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R is for… the Russian linesman

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So did the ball cross the line? Well, the man whose call was crucial was Tofiq Bahramov’s – asked, as he was, by the referee. Yes, we’re talking that third goal in England’s 4-2 win over West Germany in their home World Cup final of ’66, the decisive goal that deep into extra-time pretty much guaranteed them victory and the Jules Rimet trophy. And, yes, we’re talking him, of course, the chap forever after referred to the world over as ‘the Russian linesman’. Only he wasn’t; Russian, that is. He was actually from Azerbaijan. Originally a footballer for the marvellously monikered club Neftchi Baku, Bahramov went on to forge a successful career as a referee, which saw him elected to FIFA’s referee panel in 1964. And so, he not only officiated a match in the ’66 tournament, he far more memorably, of course, served as linesman to the final’s referee, Swiss Gottfried Dienst. The moment that immortalised him occurred when, with just 11 minutes of the match remaining and the score 2-2, England forward Geoff Hurst leathered the ball at goal only for it to crash down off the bar and out and away. Hurst’s strike-partner Roger Hunt (whom, like the hapless German defenders, saw it happen right in front of him) leapt for joy and always maintains it crossed the line before bouncing out; the Germans always claim otherwise. Thus the (nowadays mild and warmly whimsical) controversy: as Dienst wasn’t sure, he deliberated for a few seconds with Bahramov, whom instantly nodded his head to say the goal was legit and… well, we know the rest. Sadly, to this day, few know the actual name of ‘the Russian linesman’ or his actual nationality; assuming that because he was ‘Russian’/ Soviet , even if the goal shouldn’t have stood, he’d instantly decided it should because of WWII. They may be right; rumour has it that on his deathbed in ’93 he claimed of his decision: “that was for the war”. Still, if he’s not as fully celebrated in England as he maybe ought to be, he is in his native Azerbaijan – the national football stadium is named after him. Yes, I kid you not.

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S is for… strikers

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What football fans ultimately want to see in a World Cup are goals – and plenty of ’em. Therefore, strikers are often the most eagerly anticipated and eye-catching players to grace a World Cup, as, yes, it’s them who usually score. In which case too, they more often than not become the stand-out stars of their tournaments. Indeed, who can forget England’s Geoff Hurst of ’66 final glory (still the only man to score a hat-trick in a WC final) and Gary Lineker (whom struck 10 goals across the ’86 and ’90 World Cups)? Plus, Germany’s Jürgen Klinsmann (11 across ’90, ’94 and ’98), Peru’s Teófilo Cubillas (10 across ’70 and ’74), Poland’s Grzegorz Lato (10 across ’74, ’78 and ’82) and Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta (10 across ’94, ’98 and 2002)? Who, indeed? The highest-scoring players in World Cup history are Brazil’s Ronaldo (15 across 19 matches in ’98, 2002 and ’06) and Germany’s Miroslav Klose (15 across 20 in 2002, ’06, ’10 and ’14). Yet, more impressively the squat German striking genius Gerd Müller scored 14 across just 13 in just two tournaments (’70 and ’74), yet the biscuit’s truly taken by Hungary’s Sandor Kocsis and France’s Just Fontaine, whom respectively scored a sensational 11 goals in five matches (’54) and 13 goals in six matches (’58) – although it’s only fair to point out that far back defences were nowhere near as effective as today’s. But what of the top scorer in a single match? That honour goes to Oleg Salenko, whom smashed five past an inept Cameroon in a ’94 group game for Russia (see image above). And, believe it or not, that match produced another record when, in claiming Cameroon’s consolation goal, 42-year-old striker Roger Milla (who’d become a household name for his hip-shaking goal-celebration in 1990) became the World Cup’s oldest ever goalscorer.

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T is for… ‘total football’

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The brand of football exhibited by the Netherlands at the ’74 World Cup, ‘total football’ (or totaalvoetbal in Dutch) is as much a philosophy as an on-the-pitch tactic, requiring a team of 11 such talented and physically fit players that any one of them is capable of filling another’s position – defender, midfielder or forward – when the initial player is out of formation in a match. A radical conceit, it was mostly devised and first deployed by coach Rinus Michels at Amsterdam giants Ajax between the mid-’60s and early ’70s, resulting in the club winning five trophies in one season (the Dutch first division and cup, the European Cup, the European Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup). Unsurprisingly, when Michels left Ajax to coach the Netherlands, ‘total football’ was the system enacted by the national team – not least because it was jam-packed full of Ajax talent, including the philosophy’s greatest exponent, wunderkind John Cruyff. Easily one of the grestest players of all-time, Cruyff was ostensibly an attacking midfielder/ forward, but was so immersed in ‘total football’ that it’s clear he (more than any other footballer) played a role in its creation – he’s been quoted as summing the thing up as follows: “simple football is the most beautiful, but playing simple football is the hardest thing”. The Dutch were a revelation at the ’74 World Cup, bemusing opponents (not least the Swedes, thanks to Cruyff’s delightful invention of the ‘Cruyff turn’; see image above) and enchanting viewers as they cruised to the final, where they were unexpectedly defeated by hosts West Germany, not least as they’d taken the lead with a first-minute penalty following 19 Dutch passes and not one German touching the ball. ‘Total football’ has been said to be the inspiration for the even more successful possession-at-all-costs ‘tiki-taka’ brand of football played recently by Barcelona and Spain.

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U is for… underdog upsets

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So far, winning the World Cup has been a pretty limited affair; that elite club consisting only of eight members – Brazil, Italy, (West) Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, England, France and Spain. But occasionally, and pleasingly, the big boys do get roughed up and knocked on their coup de grâce by total minnows – in fact, it’s actually occurred more than you might imagine. For some reason (opening night nerves for WC holders, perhaps?), it’s often happened in a tournament’s opening match; the most memorable when Italia 90′s curtain raiser resulted in a 1-0 win for Cameroon over a Maradona-led Argentina (off the back of that, the former would herald a jubilant new dawn for African football as they reached the ‘last eight’; the latter, whom frankly were crap, somehow reached the final again). However, the Argies had had their warning eight years before, when in Spain ’82′s opener they were beaten by the same score by Belgium (both made it through the group to the second stage but no further). And the whole thing happened all over again 20 years later when, again out of nowhere, another exciting team of African unknowns in the shape of Senegal beat reigning WC and European Champions France 1-0 (the former, like Cameroon in ’90 reached the quarters; the latter finished bottom of the group). Other shocks came in ’74 when East Germany embarrassed their near (but-oh-so politically-far) neighbours West Germany in a group match (see entry under ‘V’ below); when North Korea made it through to the ‘last eight’ in England in ’66 by defeating Italy; when the USA (without a single professional player) dumped England out in ’50 and, maybe most notoriously of all, when Uruguay defeated Brazil in that year’s final – in Brazil. This year’s host nation’s never quite got over that and would love to get their revenge at some stage in the current tournament, which leads us nicely on to…

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V is for… vendettas

Rudi Voller and Frank Rijkaard at the 1990 World Cup

The good (or bad) thing about the World Cup is, in these days of mercifully few major wars, it can be exploited to settle old scores. For the English, the obvious  rivalry that springs to mind – still with WWI and WWII connotations for some, sadly – is that which they enjoy with (West) Germany. Well, I say ‘enjoy’, but since England’s win in the ’66 final (see entry for ‘R’ above), the traffic’s been very one-way; yes, the Germans have K.O.-ed the Anglos every time (in ’70, ’90 and 2010, apart from a group-stage draw in ’82). No surprise then, England have become small fry for the Germans; perhaps their biggest football foes now being the Dutch. Again, for some, the wounds from WWII haven’t entirely healed, and when the two met again in ’90, the fact West Germany had punctured the Netherland’s bubble of ‘total football’ purity in the ’74 final only added to the spice, the later clash seeing one from either side sent-off (German Rudi Völler and Dutchman Frank Rijkaard; infamously, the latter actually spat on the former’s horrendous perm). West Germany also saw an odd, albeit friendly rivalry spill over on to the pitch when they faced their politically diametric neighbours East Germany in the former’s own tourney of ’74 – in a role reversal of the real Cold War, the East beat the West 1-0. Similarly, the USA met oft diplomatic foe Iran in the World Cup of ’98; the Western power again conspiring to lose. Finally, if England’s rivalry with Germany has become too one-sided, their ongoing Falklands-feud-fuelled one with Argentina has been much more balanced; the former beating the latter’s ‘animals’ (according to Alf Ramsey) in ’66, the latter thanks to Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ getting revenge in ’86 and again in ’98 and the English getting their own back in 2002. So what about this year? Well, the odds are short on the Argies meeting the side they really hate, bordering neighbours and fellow football giants Brazil, in the final - that’d be tasty tie to conclude a World Cup, and no mistake.

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W is for… World Cup Willie and co.

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For the Olympics’ legendary Waldi the Dachshund, Misha the Bear and Sam the Eagle, read Naranjito, Pique and Ciao. Yes, this trio are just, well, yes, three of the original seven World Cup mascots that still today hold a fond place in the hearts of football fans across the globe. As with so many things (ahem), the tradition started over here with the iconic World Cup Willie, a cuddly, cartoonish lion whom, despite always choosing to keep his eyes closed was forever successfully kicking footballs (take note, Roy Hodgson). So popular was this creation of Reg Hoye, formerly an illustrator of Enid Blyton books, that not only did soft toys of him sell and his image appear on everything from badges to beer glasses, his featuring in the tournament’s official anthem by Lonnie Donegan also saw it chart in the UK. When Willie hung up his boots come the competition’s end, FIFA realised it was on to a good thing and up popped Juanito in ’70 (a grinning, little Mexican boy), then the admittedly less memorable Tip and Tap in ’74 (er, two German boys) and Gauchito in ’78 (a cowboy-like boy in an Argentina kit). The mascots of the ’80s were more imaginative, though, kicking-off with Naranjito in ’82 (a Spain kit-clothed orange, whom always looked happy despite the host nation’s poor tournament), the utterly awesome Pique in ’86 (a cool football kit-, boots- and sombero-clad, moustachioed jalapeño pepper) and, finally, Italia ’90 gave us Ciao, the red, green and white (of the Italian tricolor flag) stick-figure with a football for a head, whose abstract art-cool nicely reflected the stylish aesthetics of that tournament. Frankly, none of the more recent mascots have matched the fun, innocent appeal of the legendary efforts. Mind you, some point out the World Cup as a merchandising blitz arguably began with Willie – what can I say, it’s a game of two halves…

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X is for… x-rated behaviour

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Unfortunately, maybe because of what’s at stake or just sheer madness, some World Cup matches have spilled over into historic moments – or even long phases – of ill-discipline. In recent years, the most infamous example is playmaker extraordinaire Zinedine Zidane’s head-thrust into the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi deep into extra-time of the 2006 final. Although a response to the latter’s vulgar egging-on, Zidane was the French captain and that match the last of a glittering career, let alone his second WC final. His sending-off, trudging forlornly past the trophy he could (/ should?) have lifted eclipsed even the double sending-off Argentina endured in the truly abysmal 1990 final (Pedro Monzón and Gabrielle Dezotti being the villains). But neither of these matches (nor the notorious heavy tackling of Argentina’s ‘animals’ against England in ’66′s quarter-final nor Pelé getting hacked out of that tournament in the group stage thanks to Portugal’s constant kicking) come close to the card-count racked up in the 2006 Netherlands-Portugal second-round clash, which astonishingly saw 16 yellow cards brandished and four red; a ludicrous watch, its fouling became veritably comical. And even this game doesn’t come close to the ’54 quarter-final between Hungary and Brazil (two great sides at the time, lest we forget); so brutal was it Hungary’s coach Gustav Sebes received four stitches due to a facial wound – he later remarked: “everyone was having a go; fans, players and officials”. However, maybe the best recalled, well, literal battle in World Cup history, at least in British consciousness, came in a ’62 group match, the so-called ‘Battle of Santiago’ between Chile and Italy (which had been stupidly inflamed prior to kick-off), pretty much because of supreme broadcaster David Coleman’s introduction to its TV highlights: “this is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game”. It was refereed by Englishman Ken Aston, whom would go on to invent yellow and red cards – just as well, really.

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Y is for… (wh)y do the
Germans always win?

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The truth is, of course, they don’t; but they have a lot over the decades – and in many of the big World Cup matches. The Teutonic ones weren’t, well, very Teutonic until they became West Germany after the war (East Germany possessed its own team, which in ’74 memorably defeated its neighbours’ at the latter’s tournament). In 1954, they quietly got to the final in Switzerland and, in a match referred to as ‘The Miracle of Bern’ in Germany, upended the apple-cart by beating surely the world’s best side of the era, Hungary; yes, Hungary were once that good. After that, they never looked back. They reached the final again in ’66, to be controversially beaten by England, then the semi-finals in ’70 and the final again in ’74, ’82, ’86 and ’90 (winning the Cup for a second and third time in the former and latter of that finals-appearing quartet; making them, at present, the World Cup’s third most successful nation). Frankly, not liked much outside of their homeland owing to, let’s not pretend otherwise, the two world wars, but admired the globe over for their technically sound, muscular, efficient brand of football and no-nonsense success rate in penalty shoot-outs (in which they’ve mind-blowingly missed just one spot-kick), they went into decline in the ’90s ironically following German reunification, but made the final again in 2002 and the semi-finals at the last two World Cups. Blessed with outstanding players over the decades (Fritz Walter, Uwe Seeler, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Lothar Matthäus and Oliver Kahn), they’re – no surprises here – among the favourites once more to win this year’s World Cup. Could they do it again? Well, if it comes down to penalties…?

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And finally…

Z is for… Zaire in ’74

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If you thought England’s performances at the current World Cup have been dreadful, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. For Zaire in West Germany in ’74 were surely the worst team in the entire thing’s history. Indeed, they were so bad were they might just also qualify as one of its very greatest. Clad in a truly awesome only-in-the-’70s kit, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) were drawn in a first-round group with Brazil, Yugoslavia and Scotland. And, yes, they got off to a bad start, losing their opening match 2-0 against the unimpressive Scots. Next up were the Yugoslavians, whom thumped the Leopards  (the first Sub-Saharan African team to reach the World Cup – and African Cup of Nations winners either side of this WC) an astonishing 9-0. Yes, 9-0; it’s still the largest ever win in any tournament. For many, Zaire in ’74 are the epitome of African football’s tactical frailty and naïvety at international level – a stereotype it’s still fighting to shrug off. But the worst was still to come. In the final game against Brazil (won by the former 3-0 to condemn Zaire to expulsion, having scored no goals and conceding 14), the South Americans won a free-kick not far from the opponent’s penalty area. As Brazil were organising the set-play, the Zaire defender Mwepu Ilunga stepped out of his team’s ‘wall’ and inexplicably booted the ball up the pitch and away to the total incredulity of the Brazilians and millions watching around the globe. A moment of madness? A result of a sod-it-I’ve-had-enough-we’re-rubbish-and-going-home sort of attitude? Or a complete misunderstanding of the rules? It’s a sublimely bizarre, amusing moment, but the truth behind it’s actually far darker. In 1965, the dictator Mobutu Sese Soku was ‘elected’ the country’s leader and decided his vice-like grip on power would be strengthened by a great national football team, only when the team got to the WC they were rubbish, of course – so rubbish apparently that at half-time against Brazil, black-suited Mobutu men walked into their dressing room and warned them not to lose any heavier than 2-0. Or else. Thus, Ilungu has maintained his iconic moment was a deliberate attempt to get sent-off as protest against the tyrant. Sadly for him, or maybe not, he was merely booked – and maybe because of that is still alive to tell the tale.

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Retro World Cup: George’s A-Z of the World Cup ~ your cut-out-and-keep guide (Part 1)

June 2, 2014

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Yep, football fever’s verily back again (you may ask when isn’t it, but still), we’re now just a mere 10 days away from the 2014 World Cup kicking-off in Brazil. And, following on from its first (a run-down of its picks for the 20 greatest ever England players), George’s Journal is continuing its ‘Retro World cup’ series of posts with one that’s genuinely aimed to be something of an aid to all you peeps out there – think of it like one of those public information films from ’70s TV, peeps.

Yes, if you haven’t the foggiest the idea what the World Cup is, blithely know very little about its in-and-outs or fancy brushing up your memory on all things Coupe du Monde before you head to the pub to watch and discuss England’s – or whoever’s – progress over the next few weeks, then this’ll be right up your kicking-that-old-leather-ball-against-the-wall back-alley.

So, here we go then, folks, the first half of my far from always serious, certainly not particularly profound, but always affectionate alphabetised guide to the World Cup (letters A-M)…

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A is for… And it’s a goal!

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Let’s start as we mean to go on… The thing that peeps really remember about World Cups – certainly those of many years back – are the things that most peeps watch football for (and generally hope to see once in a while, if it’s not too much trouble), yes, my calcio-curious friends, I mean great goals. And, given World Cups tend to feature the best players on the planet, they also tend to boast some terrific net-busters. And to prove it, here’s a selection, each of which may just have been the best strike of their particular World Cup (click on each of ’em for a video clip). So we have Archie Gemmil’s magical moment for Scotland against the Netherlands (1978 in Argentina); Falcao’s thumper for Brazil against Italy (1982 in Spain); Josimar’s jubilant screamer for Brazil against Northern Ireland and Diego Maradonna’s dribble-tastic second for Argentina against England (1986 in Mexico); Roberto Baggio’s brilliant effort for Italy against Czechoslovakia (1990 in Italy); Saeed Al Owairan’s outstanding run and finish for Saudi Arabia against Belgium (1994 in USA); Dennis Bergkamp’s simply stunning control and strike for the Netherlands against Argentina (1998 in France) and, for me at least, the greatest goal ever scored in a World Cup, Carlos Alberto’s strike that rounded off an amazing move from Brazil to claim their fourth goal in a 4-1 victory over Italy in the 1970 (Mexico) final.

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B is for… Brazil

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The Brazilian national men’s football team is the most successful, decorated and, frankly, adored in the history of the World Cup finals, having won the thing a record five times – and the only side to have played in every tournament. Basically, Brazil are the New York Yankees of the World Cup. They’re pretty much recognised by all and sundry as the best entertainers too, so they’re also the Harlem Globetrotters of the World Cup. Sort of. Winners in 1958 (Sweden; the first time a team won it outside its own continent), 1962 (Chile), 1970 (Mexico), 1994 (USA) and 2002 (Japan/ South Korea), their most celebrated side – and the one that ensured the world fell for the samba-lovin’, laid back, but brilliantly creative and attacking Brazilian take on football – was the 1970 winning squad, featuring the genius that was Pelé and packed with legends like Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Gerson and Roberto Rivelino. No Brazilian side’s quite matched that one; although ’82’s almost did (with the likes of Zico, Falcao and Socrates) but didn’t win as it wasn’t defensive enough for the modern era. This year’s finals will be held in Brazil, of course, prompting the world to pray it all goes off without too many hitches (or protests; fingers crossed!) and that the delightfully yellow-shirted Pentacampeões can live up to the hype and pressure and have a stonking tournament – for their and football’s sake. After all, last time the Cup was held in Brazil (1950), they lost to Uruguay in the final – and have never lived it down.

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C is for… conspiracy theories

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In pitting country against country, the World Cup is a major showcase of national pride in the name of international prestige. Yet, there’s nothing prestigious about the dubious things rumoured to have gone on to help teams win; scraping the bottom to come out on top, as it were. The conspiracy theories started in 1954 when, in beating the hugely strong Hungarian team in the final, the little fancied West Germany were said to have done a ‘Ben Johnson’ and taken stimulants. Indeed, a University of Leipzig study recently claimed the team, believing they were being given Vitamin C, were injected with methamphetamine; there’s doubt as to whether the study looked at that actual match, though. Later, Argentina were mired in controversy at their 1978 home World Cup, it being claimed another team in their second-stage group, Peru, conspired to concede exactly the right number of goals – six – against the hosts to sweep them into the final ahead of Brazil. Oh, and it was then discovered Peru’s goalkeeper Ramón Quiroga had been born Argentinian. Mind you, the Argies still believe their captain Antonio Rattín was unfairly sent off in the ’66 quarter final against England (a match which the latter won on their way to winning the Cup on home soil). Similarly, both Italy and Spain called foul on decisions that went the way of the simply cracking South Korea, hosts in 2002, when they lost their knock-out matches against them, claiming that year’s contest was rigged to get the Asian underdogs as far as possible. Yet, the greatest conspiracy of all concerns Sweden’s 1958 tourney: a 2002 Swedish-made documentary claimed it didn’t take place at all. It was all cobblers, its broadcaster confirming it a hoax afterwards; just a slice of sublime Scandinavian satire then.

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D is for… Diana Ross’s miss

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It the was World Cup’s most cringeworthy spectacle. During the USA 94 opening ceremony, a set from Diana Ross climaxed with the diva extraordinaire taking a penalty, splitting the goal apart as she ‘scored’. Only she didn’t, she missed but the goal still fell in two. It was cringeworthy because it was naff as hell and looked pathetic (had she ever kicked a football before?); basically, showbiz-related consumerism raining on the World Cup’s parade. All right, we live in capitalist times; fine. There’s nothing wrong with naff profiteering taking a ride on the back of or helping finance the thing, but when it impinges on the contest’s integrity, then surely you’re on mock-worthy ground. I mean, look at all the advertising and sponsorship. Long gone are the days when we merely had Canon and Fujifilm on billboards around the pitch; nowadays the corporations are such a huge presence they have their own ‘official’ World Cup songs – really, check this out. Indeed, FIFA’s world rankings have for years now been officially titled ‘The Coca-Cola FIFA World Rankings’. But things really turned a dubious corner when the media started to suggest the ’98 final (France vs Brazil) was as much an international battle of the sportswear brands (France wore togs made by Adidas; Brazil by Nike) – for more on that, take a look at this article; it’s an enlightening read. And there’s all the TV ads we’re assailed with; they reached such a pitch ahead of the 2002 event that an (admittedly cracking) remix of Elvis’s A Little Less Conversation made it to #1 in the UK off the back of a Nike WC-themed commercial. But, aside from its arguable vulgarity, does it matter much? Well, maybe if it’s clearly becoming too much for a ‘silent’ minority willing to do something about it – the ‘Anonymous’ Internet hackers look set to target the upcoming World Cup for all its wanton commerciality in the face of its host nation’s (Brazil) much maligned inequality. And dare one call to mind the constant controversy that’s Qatar 2022? Right, don’t worry; harangue over, folks.

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E is for… Estadio Azteca

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The only stadium – until Rio’s royally famous Maracanã does on July 13 – to have hosted two World Cup finals, Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca is arguably the most legendary of all the competition’s countless venues. Called into action when its nation put on the the World Cups of both 1970 (perhaps the best of all-time) and ’86 (another fine effort), it’s been the site of 18 World Cup matches, easily the most of any venue anywhere. In ’70 it most memorably hosted the semi-final epic between Italy and West Germany – a two-hour, seven-goal thriller which saw five strikes scored in extra-time, German captain Franz Beckenbauer play with his arm in a sling due to a broken wrist and Italy finally claim a 4-3 win – as well as the outstanding  final in which a drained Azurri couldn’t prevent a joyously rampant Brazil score the ‘Goal of the Century’ (see entry for ‘A’ above), run out 4-1 victors and keep the Jules Rimet trophy forever as they’d won it a (then) record third time. Sixteen years later it played host to the semi-final between Argentina and Belgium and the fine final in which the Argentinians were crowned champions for a second time after a 3-2 win over West Germany. However, its most notorious match was that tournament’s quarter final between Argentina and England, during which the former’s talismanic enfant terrible Diego Maradona scored two of the most extraordinary goals ever; his second, the other contender for ‘Goal of the Century’ (again, see entry for ‘A’ above) and his first, the infamous ‘Hand of God’ effort (see entry for ‘M’ below). Oh, and lest we forget, the Azteca was also the primary stadium for the ’68 Summer Olympics, ensuring it was the site of that ’60s-moment-of-all-’60s-moments, of course, the Blank-Panther-salute-as-podium-protest. Nowadays, it’s used as the Mexican national football team’s home ground – bit of a come-down, frankly.

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F is for… fantastic fans

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If flourishing, easy-on-the-eye link-play is its melody and terrific goals its soaring choruses, then football fans are undoubtedly the World Cup’s bass line; it’s heartbeat, its pulse. They’re the unfalteringly faithful few who travel to far-flung corners of the globe to watch the team representing their nation take on all comers and try to achieve that rarest thing – the claim they’re the best in the world; at football, at least. Football, most especially in England, of course, has had its problems with hooliganism, but the true fans have always believed in the football and the players in the team they spends hundreds (or nowadays thousands) to travel to watch on the international stage. They’re passionate, they’re dedicated; some even obsessive. But many are realists and boast a wonderful sense of humour. How couldn’t they if they’d come to support Saudi Arabia against West Germany in 2002 (the Saudis were thumped 8-0)? Or if they’d come to support Scotland (yes, I know, but it’s true) in Argentina in ’78; deliriously happy to be the only one of the ‘Home Nations’ to have qualified (stuff the English!) but, yet again, not getting out of the group stage thanks to disappointing form and too few goals? Nowadays every country’s fans seem to dress outlandishly (which is wonderful), but it used to be that minnows like Scotland and the Republic of Ireland had the most colourful and camera-friendly fans at World Cups – their teams unlikely to do much for the tournament so the fans mostly there for the craic (whether Roy Keane likes it or not). And yet, this is the magic of the World Cup, sometimes something incredible happens, just as it did for the Irish when, them having not even won a match, they got through to the last eight in 1990 and thus manager Jack Charlton was forced to live up to his promise and secure the players an audience with the Pope. That’s why fans go to watch their teams live, because you just never know; dreams can come true.

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G is for… Gazza’s tears

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It was at the Stadio del Alpi, Turin, on July 4 1990, deep into extra-time in the deadlocked World Cup semi-final between England and West Germany. Midfield maestro Paul Gascoigne had been a revelation for England; few in the country had even heard his name before this tournament, but his creativity had been crucial in his nation’s best showing on the biggest stage for 24 years. Yet, owing to the loveably enormous enthusiasm in his play, he’d picked up a yellow card earlier in the competition, so when he was booked at this point in this match it meant he’d be suspended for the next match; he’d be forced to sit on the bench throughout the World Cup final – should England get there. But his reaction, and the reaction to his reaction, was extraordinary. Such instances as this have now become commonplace in football and players to whom it happens usually give the impression they’ve taken it on the chin. Not Gazza. Always more boy than man (whose increasing fame as an off-the-pitch prankster par excellence had become a media sub-plot to England’s tournament progress), he lost it – but in the most sympathy-inducing way possible. His eyes welled up, his lip quivered and he started to cry. Some have suggested this eruption of emotion, full of childlike vulnerability, somehow changed English football; humanising it for the ’90s, dragging it away from the macho, hooligan connotations of the ’70s and ’80s. That’s cobblers, of course, for football really became more media friendly with the emergence of the Premier League a few short years later and, thus, seeing much more money thrown at it. Still, ‘Gazza’s tears’ became surely the most iconic moment from this World Cup – certainly in the UK – and proved elite sport can move millions irrespective of who wins or loses; it was arguably a generation’s equivalent to Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet trophy.

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H is for… Haircut 101

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… would be the name of a course about the weird and wonderful hairstyles that have graced past World Cups. And it should be too, so many have there been, delighting and bewildering football fans. Yes, aside from the glorious goals and the peerless matches, it’s the barmy barnets of chaps with extraordinary talent in their boots but seemingly little sense in their bonces that have entertained so many most of all. And quite frankly, to look at all the incredible curls and mindless mullets, it’s hardly surprising. Top of the list has to be ’90s Colombian playmaker Carlos Valderrama (top left in image above), whose enormous blond afro became so famed and adored he adopted it for life – and recently dyed it pink for Breast Cancer Awareness. Nice chap; crap coiff. The ’90s were a golden era of horrendous hair, offering us too Valderrama’s teammate Rene Higuita’s jet black curly mullet (bottom middle); the spendiferously monikered American Alexei Lalas’s sort of 16th Century ginger locks and über goatee (top middle); Nigerian Taribo West’s alien-antennae-like plaits (always green when playing for his green-shirted national team; bottom right); the – again – marvellously named Potuguese Abel Xavier with his bleached-blond-electrocuted-esque effort (bottom left) and, just entering the ’00s, the enormous monobrow Brazil’s Ronaldo wore above his forehead with nothing else behind it for the 2002 final (top right). But the biggest mistake of all must have been, ironically, when Chris Waddle shaved off his awful mullet ahead of the 1990 semi-final, opting instead for a sensible short-back-and-sides – in the match, of course, he missed the decisive penalty and England were knocked out. Ouch…

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I is for… Italian catenaccio

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Mamma Mia! You may not believe it, but it’s true – the supposedly anti-attacking Azzuri are the second most successful nation in World Cup history. Nicknamed the Azzuri as they originally wore sky-blue shirts (the colour of the pre-unified Italy’s House of Savoy), Italy have a reputation for defensive football, which to some extent is deserved. The term catenaccio (literally translating as ‘door bolt’ and a very Italian football-formation tactic) was originally deployed by a highly successful Inter Milan team in the 1960s and sees a team depend greatly on defensive stability, the back four ideally being unimpeachable, with goals scored on rare breakaway attacks. Fair dues, the Azurri would go on to play this way internationally; they did so on-and-off in the ’70s and ’80s – but to varying success. However, long before catenaccio was invented, the Italians won the second and third World Cups in the ’30s (at home in 1934 and in France in 1938; although those two sides remain controversial for their supposed promotion of Mussolini’s fascism). Since then, Italy have won the Cup twice again, their greatest moment coming in ’82 when, despite their domestic game being mired in match-fixing murkiness, their negative catenaccio flowered into breathtaking breakaway attacking football and they went all the way to seal a highly unlikely triumph. Then, 24 years later, they won the thing again in almost exactly the same circumstances. Ah, the Azurri, eh?

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J is for… Jules Rimet

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A founding member of  of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), Frenchman Jules Rimet became its longest serving president, holding the reins of the official global soccer body for 33 years between 1921 and ’54. He’s most revered (and worthy of note in this blog post) because he’s generally considered the creator of the World Cup, overseeing organisation of the first tournament in Uruguay in 1930. Such a success did the World Cup become that, following World War Two (old Jules won a French War Cross as a WWI soldier, incidentally), the competition’s trophy, originally named Victory (as it featured the winged goddess Nike, the ancient Greek anthropomorphism of victory), was renamed the Jules Rimet trophy. Indeed, the thing itself has quite a history. Standing 35cm tall, weighing 4kg and made of gold-plated sterling silver, it was hidden during WWII in a shoe-box under the bed of FIFA’s Italian vice-president Ottorino Barassi (Italy being its holders at the time) to prevent capture by the Nazis. It was eventually stolen, though, when it came to England ahead of the ’66 World Cup, later to be found under a garden hedge by a dog named Pickles. Seventeen years later, following its handing over forever after to Brazil (as they’d won it a record three times) it was half-inched once more, sadly never to be seen again and suspected melted down. Its replacement, officially named the FIFA World Cup Trophy (not quite such a romantic moniker) was made for the ’74 and all subsequent World Cups. Standing 37cm tall and containing 5kg of 18-carat (75%) gold, it’s actually hollow; were it solid, it’s estimated it’d weigh a hefty 70-80 kg – way too heavy for a triumphant team captain to lift. And, disappointingly, FIFA stipulates it can’t actually be won; the victorious team always takes home a mere gold-plated replica. Makes you wonder why they all fight over the thing really, doesn’t it?

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K is for… kitted-out

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Dare one say it, but sometimes focusing on the football just isn’t enough in a World Cup (especially if you’re watching a particularly drab match or you’ve already watched more hours of the thing than you’ve had sleep for the last two weeks). And when fixating on hairstyles won’t cut the mustard either (see entry for ‘H’ above), what takes your eye and occupies your mind? Why, considering sides’ sartorial choices, of course. Yes, there’s been some marvellous, nay majestic, kits worn by World Cup teams down through the years; equally there’s been some truly terrible togs too. Top of most England fans’ lists would be the pure, iconic elegance of the red-shirt and white-shorts changed kit the Three Lions wore the day they won the thing on home soil back in ’66. And, arguably, England have got it right more times than they’ve got it wrong in World Cups. But what of everyone else? Well, it certainly does help when you win the Cup in a particular kit – it often makes the thing look even better than before. Was this the case with West Germany’s at Italia 90? To be fair, since then, it’s be rightly heralded a boldly abstract-patterned classic. And ‘classic’ is undoubtedly epitomised by the simple, radiant beauty of the yellow hooped-collar shirt, blue shorts and white socks of the Brazil of 1970; every subsequent Brazilian kit has effectively emulated it – and been in its shadow. Mention too should go to the total-football-orange of the Dutch in 2006; the chunky collars of the Scots in ’78; the daring stripey half-shirts of the Danes in ’86 and, for me, best of all: the ebullient combination of dynamism and elegance that was the Peru kit of ’78 – all white but with that irresistible bright red stripe down the shirt (boldly on front and back). Just a shame they threw that game against Argentina then, really.

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L is for… location, location, location

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Think it’s just a load of corporate balls when suited sporting types hopelessly hob-nob and blantantly brown-nose to win their nation the honour of hosting a World Cup? Think again. Because, while winning that honour will cost the lucky country’s taxpayer several million arms and legs, it may well help its team get a long way in the eventual tournament – it may even aid it to win the thing. Still doubtful? The facts speak for themselves, peeps. Out of the 18 World Cups that have so far taken place, six of them (yes, one in three) have been won by the hosts: Uruguay in 1930, Italy in ’34, England in ’66, West Germany in ’74, Argentina in ’78 and France in ’98. Moreover, even when they haven’t converted hosting duties into victory, the home team’s finished runners-up twice (Brazil in ’50, Sweden in ’58) and got as far as the semis four times (Chile in ’62, Italy in ’90, South Korea in 2002 and Germany in ’06). In fact, even if you’re a host nation’s near neighbour you might well do the business: Italy won in France in ’38, Uruguay in Brazil in ’50, West Germany in Switzerland in ’54, Brazil in Chile in ’62, Italy in Spain in ’82, West Germany in Italy in ’90 and, in a role reversal, Italy in Germany in 2006. Alternatively, you might say of that last fact that many of the best international teams, packed full of wonderful players though they are, don’t tend to travel terrifically well. No wonder then Qatar were so eager to be named 2022′s hosts – they’re currently ranked 95th in the world.

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M is for… ‘Mano de Dios’

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The quarter final contested by Argentina and England at Mexico ’86 was graced by one of the World Cup’s two greatest goals, but it’s as much remembered for another moment. And it’s one that’s recalled in quite a different way; less incredibly famous, more utterly infamous. Six minutes into the second-half, the Argentines attacked the English penalty are, leading to, in an attempted clearance, the ball popping up off an English boot, thus, the diminutive but brilliant Diego Maradona chased after it. Realising he’d reach it just as would the  English keeper Peter Shilton, he leapt into the air and deftly punched the ball – so deftly that neither the referee nor the linesman apparently saw the foul – and it bounced into the net. Shilton and the English defence had all seen it, mind, but their protests (during which they gestured to their hands and arms to make it even clearer to the ref) fell on deaf ears. The goal stood, Maradona went on to score his extraordinary second four minutes later and his team eventually won the match 2-1. In the press conference aftewards, he said the goal had been scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (“a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”). Some have suggested this inference was merely a Catholic-related belief that God’s spirit had aided him (or something); others – frankly most people outside Argentina – believe it was a cheeky admission of guilt. Undoubtedly, it led to the British TV media and tabloids instantly referring to the incident as the ‘Hand of God’. England felt they’d been cheated out of the World Cup, Argentina felt like they’d got some kind of revenge for defeat in 1982′s Falklands War, while the rest of the world never quite looked at Diego Maradona (then the greatest footballer on the planet) in the same way again.

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And watch out for – like that little irk next door’s football crashing into your greenhouse – George’s A-Z of the World Cup (Part 2) coming soon…

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Playlist: Listen, my friends! ~ June 2014

June 1, 2014

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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England World Cup Squad ’70 ~ Back Home (1970)

PP Arnold ~ The First Cut Is The Deepest (1967)

Kay Reynolds, Robert Morse and Michele Lee ~ Been A Long Day (1967)1

The Don Ellis Orchestra ~ Turkish Bath (1967)

Derek and the Dominos ~ I Looked Away (1970)

Can ~ Spoon (1972)

Klaus Wunderlich ~ A Spoonful Of Sugar (1974)

Jimmy Helms ~ Gold (1974)2

Zoot and Mahna Mahna ~ Sax And Violence (1976)3

David Bowie ~ Always Crashing In The Same Car (1977)

The Human League ~ Mirror Man (1982)

Godley & Creme ~ Cry (1985)

New Order ~ World In Motion (1990)

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1 From the underrated cinematic adaptation of Frank Loesser’s office-satire musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967); Morse won a Tony award for originating the musical’s original lead role on Broadway and nowadays can be seen as Bertram Cooper in Mad Men (2007-present)

2 The theme from the Roger Moore/ Susannah York-starring gold-mine-themed movie, er, Gold (1974)

3 This musical skit appeared on the second episode of The Muppet Show (1976-81); accompanying – or should that be annoying? – Zoot the saxophonist on the bell is Mahna Mahna, whom is best remembered, of course, for this

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Retro World Cup: first name on the team-sheet? The 20 greatest ever England players

May 25, 2014

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It’s a numbers game: Will the wearers of these iconic England shirts be on this ultimate list?

Four years and a few days ago, Spain took on the Netherlands to win the 19th football World Cup in South Africa. And, in the lead-up to that occasion, this wee corner of the Internet blessed – if that’s the right word for it – you, dear reader, with several posts celebrating classic World Cups of lore (England 66, Mexico 70, West Germany 74, Argentina 78, Spain 82, Mexico 86 and Italy 90). And now four years later, with the 20th World Cup ready to kick-off in just 18 days’ time in sunny, exotic Brazil, this very blog’s at it again. Oh yes; pick the bones out of that; back of the net, etc etc.

So, in the first of a series of (most likely) two or three World-Cups-of-lore marking posts, let’s take a look back, shall we, at the double dectet of the most marvellous players to pull on a Three Lions shirt? The criteria for this list? Well, you have to be an outstanding English talent, obviously, but also you must at the very least have appeared in a major tournament; even better, performed with distinction at a tournament, preferably a World Cup (hence why you’ll see nary an England player from before the ’60s here; so, like it or not, there’s no Billy Wright, Stanley Matthews, Nat Lofthouse, Tom Finney, Steve Bloomer or Vivian Woodward). Sorry, folks, you’ve got to draw the (white chalk) line somewhere.

But wait… is that the billiard ball-like bonce of Pierluigi Collini dazzling in the light thrown out by the mega-wattage of the Wembley floodlights? Yes, I believe it is. And, lo, I hear his whistle tooting too. So, peeps, away we go…

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CLICK

on the player’s names for video clips of their ‘precious moments’…

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20. Paul Ince (1992-2000)

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The position: Central midfield (classic shirt number: 4)

The performances: 53 caps/ 2 goals
(World Cups: France 1998/ Euros: England 1996, Holland and Belgium 2000)

The player: Midfield water-carrier with much nous, whom balanced the forward thrusting exploits of more extravagantly talented teammates in Euro 96 and France 98

The pros: Highly reliable in the modern ‘holding midfielder’ role, yet cultured and skillful, he formed a fine central-midfield pairing with Gazza at Euro 96. Seen as a true ‘hard man’ too, he echoed the image of Terry Butcher’s bloody-bandaged head in the excellent draw away to Italy to qualify for France 98, a tournament throughout which he, in fact, played with a broken foot

The cons: Labelled by former manager Alex Ferguson as a ‘big-time charlie’, the self-styled ‘The Guv’nor’ clearly thought (too?) much of himself and his talents and, like too many players, drifted during the early ’90s’ Graham Taylor years

The precious moment: Fooling a hapless defender into fouling him by trapping and dragging the ball back as he entered the penalty area in the legendary England-Netherlands Euro 96 match, thereby winning the penalty that led to the first of England’s four goals that night

The perfectly true: He’s both the first black man to captain England (against Italy in that autumn ’97 encounter) and to manage a top-flight English club (Blackburn Rovers in 2008)

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19. David Seaman (1988-2002)

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The position: Goalkeeper (classic shirt number: 1)

The performances: 75 (World Cups: France 1998, Japan and South Korea 2002/
Euros: England 1996, Holland and Belgium 2000)

The player: The memorably moustachioed, sometimes dubiously ponytailed goalkeeper par excellence with the soft Yorkshire brogue, Seaman was the nation’s first outstanding – and thus first long-serving – man to keep goal since Peter Shilton; a hero of the Euro 96 team, his success there quickly (two penalty saves, one against Scotland and another in a shoot-out) made him a near-national institution

The pros: Easily the best English keeper of his generation, he had nary a weakness (a top shot-stopper especially) and for a brief time – basically during Euro 96 – an uncanny knack of guessing the right way at penalties and thus pulling off a fair number of spot-kick saves

The cons: His one weakness (which, to be fair, aside from Arsenal’s Cup Winners’ Cup Final appearance back in ’95, didn’t resurface for years) was on long, drooping crosses into the box, which saw him foxed by Ronaldinho’s fluke free-kick winner in the 2002 World Cup quarter final against Brazil and then a European Championships qualifier against Macedonia a year later

The precious moment: That terrific shoot-out in the Euro 96 quarter final against Spain, in which he saved a penalty, playing a crucial role in not just seeing England through but winning our only ever shoot-0ut win

The perfectly true: He decided to grow his, frankly, daft early to mid-’00s ponytail when his teammate, the, frankly, coolly ponytailed Emmanuel Petit, left Arsenal; presumably Big Dave believed Highbury simply couldn’t survive without a ‘hair rat’. Goalkeepers, eh?

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18. John Barnes (1983-95)

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The position: Left-winger (classic shirt numbers: 11/ 19)

The performances: 79 caps/ 11 goals
(World Cups: Mexico 1986, Italy 1990/ Euros: West Germany 1988)

The player: Often flamboyant and undeniably gifted left-sided midfielder, whom offered razzle-dazzle to the all-conquering Liverpool side of the ’80s and the admittedly less-than-all-conquering England side of the ’80s, thereby rightfully becoming a major black cultural icon

The pros: Young, gifted and (ahem) black, Barnes was a big up-tick for England (every time he stepped on to the pitch he looked like a star of a progressive, multi-cultural nation) when he turned on the stuff; via pacy, excellent dribbling and his sweet left foot, combined with Gary Lineker, he almost pulled England back from a two-goal-deficit in that Mexico 86 quarter final against Argentina – had it gone on 10 minutes longer, they’d have probably scored that equaliser

The cons: Unfortunately, he simply didn’t turn on the stuff often enough for England, ensuring he was something of an enigma at international level – a wonderfully talented player whom just couldn’t replicate his club form for his nation (for instance, he made little impression on Italia 90, England’s second greatest World Cup)

The precious moment: That outstanding solo goal he scored in a 1984 friendly against Brazil at the Maracanã, jinking in all white (and inexplicably red socks) through that oh-s0 gifted yellow midfield and unleashing an unstoppable shot into the net. Well, it’s either that or his rap for England’s Italia 90 song World In Motion (1990), of course

The perfectly true: Barnes’ father played a pivotal role in setting up the first and notorious Jamaican bobsleigh team for the Calgary 88 Winter Olympics, forever immortalised in the hit film Cool Runnings (1993)

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17. Alan Ball (1965-75)

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The position: Right/ central midfield (classic shirt numbers: 7/ 8)

The performances: 72 caps/ 8 goals
(World Cups: England 1966, Mexico 1970/ Euros: Italy 1968)

The player: Inexplicably squeaky-voiced midfield dynamo who worked his socks off when wearing the Three Lions thanks to – in the sport’s clichéd parlance – an enormous engine, which allowed him to cover every blade of grass in the name of his team, yet was also blessed with an excellent touch and an eye for a fine pass. An essential (and, at just 22, the youngest) member of England’s victorious 1966 World Cup winning side

The pros: Was officially named ‘man of the match’ of the ’66 final. ’Nuff said, methinks

The cons: His England career extended well into the nation’s nadir era (the ’70s), suggesting his efforts, unquestionably dedicated though they were, did little avert to England’s embarrassing slide during this decade. Indeed, he was sent off in a 1974 World Cup qualifier away to Poland meaning he was suspended for the critical and infamously disastrous return fixture

The precious moment: Although he memorably struck the bar in the classic Mexico 70 group match against Brazil, his finest moments came in his tireless performance in the ’66 final, specifically playing a prominent role in the last three of England’s four goals

The perfectly true: As a teenager, he was turned down a professional contract with Bolton Wanderers for being too small

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16. Stuart Pearce (1987-99)

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The position: Left-back (Classic shirt number: 3)

The performances: 78 caps/ 5 goals
(World Cups: Italy 1990/ Euros: Sweden 1992, England 1996)

The player: Iconic symbol of determination and never-say-die-ism in the cause of national football glory, Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce may just be one of the most popular of all players to pull on an England shirt thanks to his heart-on-a-sleeve dedication to the Three Lions, not least in two of the country’s most successful tournaments, Italia 90 and Euro 96

The pros: Aside from his unbridled passion and dedication, Pearce was a useful, often combative and always tireless left-back, as well as (at his best) a free-kick specialist

The cons: Admittedly, he wasn’t the greatest left-back ever to play for England (on occasions, he was at sea defensively) and, of course, there was that heartbreaking penalty miss against West Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-final shoot-out; a setback so big it could have broken lesser characters

The precious moment: Undoubtedly that penalty he absolutely rammed home against Spain in the Euro 96 quarter final shoot-out (and his instant celebration, see image above); redemption – both personal and public – has never been so sweet

The perfectly true: Immediately following his move to Nottingham Forest (where he would spend much of his career), the unfancied Pearce was so unsure about his long-term prospects as a professional footballer he advertised himself as an electrician in the matchday programme

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15. Wayne Rooney (2003-present)

england_players_wayne_rooney

The position: Forward (classic shirt numbers: 10/ 9)

The performances: 89 caps/ 38 goals (World Cups: Germany 2006, South Africa 2010/
Euros: Portugal 2004, Poland and Ukraine 2012)

The player: England’s best player of the last 10 years and the greatest of his generation that these British Isles has seen fit to produce (perhaps excepting Gareth Bale, or perhaps not?), he’s the one-time boy wonder whom Sven-Göran Eriksson rather dramatically warned us not to ‘kill’ following the 2006 World Cup as, frankly, any hope of our national team achieving anything of note for years to come falls squarely on Wazza’s shoulders, whether we like it or not

The pros: Supremely gifted (for a British footballer), with electric acceleration, a fast brain, an impressive passing ability, deft touch and variety of shots, as well as a willingness to wander all over the pitch to get involved in play and drive his side on, Rooney has been a talismanic figure for England ever since he made his debut as a callow yet awesome 17-year-old. Plus, with appearance/ goal stats almost identical to those of Michael Owen (but with years on his side yet), it’s a good bet he’ll break England’s all-time goalscoring record before he’s done

The cons: His desire to to get on the ball and make something happen can often be to the detriment of his (withdrawn) striker duties, plus his fiery temper (although more muted as he’s matured) has caused him and England trouble in times past, most memorably when he stamped on an opponent’s privates and got sent off in the Germany 2006 quarter-final against Portugal, thereby helping to scupper England’s chances of further progression in said tournament

The precious moment: Despite fair criticism that, John Barnes-style, he hasn’t turned up enough for England in tournaments, his performances in Euro 2004 remain an unequivocal highpoint; his pace, skill and tenacity scaring the living daylights out of world champions France and then him running the show and scoring two fine goals against Croatia (following a familiar first-half f*ck-up by England) to seal his side a place in the quarter finals. Had he not broken his foot early in that match against Portugal, who knows what could have happened?

The perfectly true: A self-proclaimed follower of the Catholic faith, Rooney boasts more than twice the number of Twitter followers of the Pontifex himself, Pope Francis

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14. Bryan Robson (1980-91)

england_players_bryan_robson

The position: Central/ right midfield (classic shirt numbers: 7/ 16)

The performances: 90 caps/ 26 goals
(World Cups: Spain 1982, Mexico 1986, Italy 1990/ Euros: West Germany 1988)

The player: England’s undoubted on-the-pitch leader for much of their up-and-down 1980s, Robson (also Manchester United skipper) was nicknamed ‘Captain Marvel’ by teammates and fans alike for his take-a-match-by-the-scruff-of-the-neck approach, ensuring he was the centre-point in the spine of manager and namesake Bobby Robson’s England team (along with Peter Shilton, Terry Butcher and Gary Lineker)

The pros: Utterly tenacious, thoroughly rambunctious, yet a fine passer and ‘reader of the game’, Robson was arguably the outstanding English midfielder of his generation, captaining his country on 65 occasions (putting him third in those terms only to Bobby Moore and Billy Wright) and chipping in with a fair number of goals – including critical ones in World Cup and Euro qualifiers and memorably in the Spain 82 group stage. He’s been hailed as one of England’s greatest ever players by Bobby Robson, Paul Gascoigne, Tony Adams and Peter Beardsley

The cons: A big con here; his non-shrinking violet nature saw him get injured far too often, most specifically in two of England’s best tournaments since ’66, Mexico 86 and Italia 90. Bizarrely, he sustained injuries in the second group match of both competitions and, ironically, manager Robson’s necessary tactical changes in his captain’s absence saw both teams’ football and form improve (indeed, Robson’s dropping from the team in Italia 90 saw arguable long-term replacement David Platt enter the side)

The precious moment: Just 27 seconds into England’s opening game at the 1982 World Cup against France when Robbo pounced, hooking the ball into the back of the net. This remained the fastest goal ever scored in a World Cup for 20 years and, in celebration, saw him pick up an inscribed gold watch from FIFA that he apparently still wears. He scored another in the second-half of that match to help England win 3-1

The perfectly true: Robson once owned a stake in the now defunct Birthdays high street chain

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13. Jimmy Greaves (1959-68)

england_players_jimmy_greaves

The position: Forward (classic shirt number: 8)

The performances: 57 caps/ 44 goals (World Cups: Chile 1962, England 1966)

The player: England’s deadliest post-war goalscorer (his goal average an awesome 0.77 for every game he played), the one-time Chelsea and Spurs forward was a cert in the stating line-up in the early to mid-’60s thanks to his penalty-box prowess, which saw him score six hat-tricks (still a record today) and ensures he stands third in the nation’s all-time scoring charts. In later years and after beating alcoholism, he became a jolly, rotund, moustachioed TV personality, most memorable for co-fronting ITV’s lightweight football show Saint And Greavsie (1985-92)

The pros: Blessed with electric acceleration, excellent anticipation an an utterly uncanny eye for goal (when one-on-one with a goalkeeper he genuinely barely ever missed), Greaves was arguably the ultimate striker of his era, both in England and maybe anywhere else in the world

The cons: It’s hard to find a fault in Greavsie’s make-up (how do you criticise practically the perfect striker?), but the low-point of his England and wider career, nay his entire life, came when he was injured in the side’s third group game in the much anticipated home World Cup of ’66. Not only did this ensure, with a gashed leg requiring several stitches, he missed out on the quarter final (in which his understudy Geoff Hurst scored the winning goal), he also missed out on the rest of the tournament, including famously of course the final itself. This slice of enormous bad luck led to his retirement from England in ’67 (he played just three more times) and may have contributed to his descent into alcoholism following the end of his professional career in ’71

The precious moment: Well, he did score half-a-dozen hat-tricks, of course, but because it’s good old, fun-lovin’ Greavsie, I’ve got to plump for him getting down on his hands and knees and coaxing an errant dog off the pitch in the 1962 World Cup quarter final against Brazil; an encounter Brazilian ace Garrincha found so funny he adopted the pooch as he pet

The perfectly true: While out of the Spurs first team, Greaves raced in 1970′s London to Mexico World Cup Rally, finishing sixth out of 96 entrants

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12. Michael Owen (1998-2008)

england_players_michael_owen

The position: Forward (classic shirt numbers: 10/ 20)

The performances: 89 caps/ 40 goals (World Cups: France 1998, Japan and South Korea 2002, Germany 2006/ Euros: Holland and Belgium 2000, Portugal 2004)

The player: The heir to Gary Lineker’s crown, Michael Owen was England’s indispensable turn-of-the-millennium striker – whenever in a tight spot, needing a goal to claim a win or a draw, it was to Owen the nation usually turned in the Sven-Göran Eriksson-coached era

The pros: An out-and-out ‘fox in the box’, Owen made his one-time national team coach Glenn Hoddle look like a right wally (without a brolly) by proving the latter’s assertion he ‘wasn’t a natural goalscorer’ utter cobblers. An essential cog in the Eriksson England machine (hence gaining vice-captain status at just 21 years of age), Owen was arguably the side’s most dynamic, significant and dependable player in this era, grabbing absolutely critical goals in World Cup and European qualifiers, as well as goals in four consecutive tournaments – the only England player yet to do so. Plus, with a ratio of just under one goal every other game, he currently weighs in at fourth on England’s all-time scorers’ list

The cons: Like that other highly prized England ‘number 10′ of the ’00s (rugby union’s Johnny Wilkinson), Owen became injury prone round the middle of the decade and thereafter. His nadir came in the 2006 World Cup – after getting over yet another injury and building up to match-fitness in the first two games, he twisted his knee after just 51 seconds in the third match

The precious moment: What else could it be? The 18-year-old Owen’s sensational run at the panicking Argentine defence and then the rocket he fired into the top corner to make it 2-1 in that electric France 98 second round match (to make the score 2-1 – after just 16 minutes). Frankly, it’s England’s last truly great tournament moment

The perfectly true: As a child Owen played for Deeside Area’s Under-11 team, for which he scored 97 goals in a single season, breaking a record held by Ian Rush (whom had also gone on to become a legendary Liverpool striker) by 25 goals

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11. David Beckham (1996-2009)

england_players_david_beckham

The position: Right/ central midfield (classic shirt number: 7)

The performances: 115 caps/ 17 goals (World Cups: France 1998, Japan and South Korea 2002, Germany 2006/ Euros: Holland and Belgium 2000, Portugal 2004)

The player: England has arguably had three ‘golden boys’. The first was Bobby Moore, the second Gary Lineker and the third – and maybe the biggest – was David Beckham. When playing away from home, as far as the local media and fans were concerned, England were a one-man-team; it was Beckham and nothing else. It wasn’t really, of course, but in his prime he was an immovable, Hollywood-handsome monolith whom, at his best, defined the ’00s England

The pros: Awarded the captaincy by Sven-Göran Eriksson at the tender age of 25, he evolved into an on-the-pitch leader by example, sometimes dragging the team along with him to a draw or victory seemingly by his sheer will, or more precisely by his talent. A supreme crosser and dead-ball specialist, he also possessed a cultured passing ability; all of which made him the second most talented English player of his generation after Wayne Rooney

The cons: If we’re being fair, Beckham-as-England-captain was as much a brand as it was a football entity. Happy to go along with any and every publicity opportunity the FA asked him to (along with all his other million-dollar-endorsements), this saw England develop into a circus, especially when it came to tournaments – and coach Eriksson too seemed only too happy with the arrangement, never deigning  to drop his captain despite the latter’s injury-related sluggish form in both the latter World Cups he played (2002 and ’06) and Euro 2004

The precious moment: Many will say that free-kick he scored in injury time against the Greeks in autumn 2001 to send England to the World Cup, but I’ll plump for a bigger goal: his nerveless penalty against Argentina to grab a decisive, unexpected and, dare one say it, vengeful win in the tournament-to-come’s group stages. That penalty, of course, was seen to be redemption for him getting stupidly sent-off against the same opposition in France 98

The perfectly true: Despite attending church as a child, his maternal grandfather was Jewish, leading him to claim he’s ‘probably had more contact with Judaism than any other religion’

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10. Alan Shearer (1992-2000)

england_players_alan_shearer

The position: Forward (classic shirt number: 9)

The performances: 63 caps/ 30 goals (World Cups: France 1998/
Euros: England 1996, Holland and Belgium 2000)

The player: Geordie striker extraordinaire who led England’s line for pretty much the entirety of the ’90s and became an undisputed national hero thanks to his scoring exploits in Euro 96

The pros: Shearer’s physical presence and aerial prowess ensured he was the first out-and-out ‘number 9′ to cut the mustard in an England shirt since Nat Lofthouse. His reliability as a striker, ability on the ball, capacity to score spectacularly from long-range and nervelessness from the penalty spot earned him not just an unconditional place in England fans’ hearts (his five goals made him Euro 96′s top scorer and he scored penalties in three separate shoot-outs), but also the England captaincy from autumn ’96 onwards (for a total 34 appearances)

The cons: It’s easy to forget, but Big Al’s England career was far from glorious for several years. He managed only five goals in his first 23 caps and, worse, went 12 games over 21 months without hitting the net in the lead-up to Euro 96. It all changed there, though, of course. He retired after England’s poor performance at Euro 2000 and, despite having hit the age of 30 by then, it’s been argued he could have carried on or at least made himself available for later tournaments; although Michael Owen was by then going great guns for England

The precious moment: He might himself point to that fine strike against the Swiss that reignited his England career in the opening group game of Euro 96, yet I have to go for that third goal (his second of the match) against the Netherlands in the third group game; it started with a terrific run into the penalty area by Gazza, then the playmaker pulled it back it across the box to Teddy Sheringham, whose deft touch moved it on to Shearer on the right, whom slammed it home via a side-footed finish. An exquisite goal and England at their best

The perfectly true: Shearer is one of the Deputy Lieutenants of Northumberland, a role that requires him (along with 21 others) to stand in for the Duchess of Northumberland when she can’t fulfill her role at engagements as The Queen’s official representative in the region

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9. David Platt (1989-96)

england_players_david_platt

The position: Central/ attacking midfield (classic shirt numbers: 17 / 7)

The performances: 62 caps/ 27 goals (World Cups: Italy 1990/ Euros: England 1996)

The player: The one shining light in England’s bleak early to mid-’90s, a dynamic, goal-scoring midfielder who more often than not kept his sides afloat, as well as usually captaining them; in happier, earlier days, he burst on to the scene to electrifying effect at Italia 90

The pros: Arguably the epitome of the English midfielder at its best, Platt was both a tireless workhorse and gifted passer, plus, of course, he loved to dash forwards and arrive late in the box to head, tap or crash an unexpected pull-back into the back of the net. The vast majority of his quarter-century-plus goals for his country were scored this way and usually for medicore or below-average England teams. To this day, he remains the second highest-scoring midfielder ever to play for England – behind Bobby Charlton, whom arguably played as a withdrawn striker half the time anyway. Moreover, Platt played a crucial role in the high-achieving Italia 90 and (to a lesser extent) Euro 96 teams, scoring in penalty shoot-outs for both

The cons: It’s hardly like he could be blamed personally, but much of England’s ‘Platt era’ was among its darkest, seeing them woefully stumble at Euro 92 and then fail even to qualify for the following World Cup. By the time of Euro 96, in which Platt played three times (twice as a substitute and once as a starter), he had lost much of his cut and thrust due to injury and, although still effective, was used as a ‘holding midfielder’ more than anything else

The precious moment:  Where it all began, naturally – that dreamlike goal in the last minute of extra time against Belgium in Italia 90′s second round. Platt drifted to the side of the penalty area to connect with a deep free-kick from Gazza, which he did perfectly, hooking it into the net with a glorious volley. He’d score (and have more chances) in the next match against Cameroon and again in the third/ fourth place play-off against Italy

The perfectly true: Platt’s total transfer fees in the ’90s, including (unusually for an Englishman) for Italian sides such as Juventus and Sampdoria, totalled £20m

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8. Martin Peters (1966-74)

england_players_martin_peters

The position: Attacking midfield (classic shirt numbers: 16 / 11)

The performances: 67 caps/ 20 goals
(World Cups: England 1966, Mexico 1970/ Euros: Italy 1968)

The player: Indispensable member of Alf Ramsey’s ‘first 11′ in both the ’66 and ’70 World Cups, the slight, barely capped West Ham (and later Spurs and Norwich) all-rounder proved a sensation at the former tournament – and thus one of the thinking England fan’s all-time greats

The pros: Peters was a pacy, two-footed, hard-working, attacking, tracking-back coach’s dream of a midfielder, who was also a dead-ball specialist, leading Ramsey to claim in 1968 he was ’10 years ahead of his time’. Debuting just a month before the ’66 tournament, he made a huge impact in the second match and became a key ingredient of the team, ensuring (along with Alan Ball) Ramsey’s experimental ‘wingless wonders’ formation worked. He kept his place throughout the competition and scored England’s third goal in the final – had the Germans not scrambled an injury-time equaliser, Peters would have been our World Cup-winning hero. He also played in all four games of the ’70 World Cup, putting his side 2-0 up in the quarter final against West Germany before being inexplicably substituted (England went on to lose 3-2)

The cons: Following Mexico 70, Peters (along with other greats) couldn’t prevent England’s failure to qualify for the next World Cup. Indeed, he was actually captain for that torrid Wembley encounter with Poland in October ’73 (the match they needed to win, but couldn’t) and later admitted he dived in order to win a penalty that resulted in England’s solitary goal that game

The precious moment: It has to be one of his cracking contributions to England’s glorious summer of ’66 – and what better than his goal in the final? Sport (and life, of course) is full of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ – and his opportunistic strike could have grabbed us glory. Could have…

The perfectly true: He played in every position for West Ham at least once, including goal

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7. Peter Shilton (1970-90)

Peter Shilton of England

The position: Goalkeeper (classic shirt number: 1)

The performances: 125 caps (World Cups: Spain 1982, Mexico 1986, Italy 1990/
Euros: Italy 1980, West Germany 1988)

The player: Incredibly long-serving shot-stopper for his country, whose longevity saw him link the ’66-’70 golden and ’86-’90 silver eras of the England team

The pros: The best Englishman between the sticks across across two generations (he first saw off his Leicester City mentor Gordon Banks, then Ray Clemence and later kept out Gary Bailey, Dave Beasant and David Seaman), Shilts literally was an immovable object in the England goal. Not only is he still the nation’s most capped male footballer, but also holds the record for the most clean-sheets (10) in World Cup finals with France’s Fabien Barthez and, playing in every one of England’s qualifying matches for Italia 90, didn’t concede a single goal in that campaign

The cons: Having played so many times for his country (and in, potentially at times, such a precarious position), he was bound to have experienced the odd cock-up – and he did have a couple of major ones. First, he was partly at fault for Poland’s goal in that notorious 1973 World Cup qualifier that ended in a 1-1 draw, but England needed to win; diving too late to save the striker’s shot in order to make ‘the perfect save’ and being beaten. And, second, when his attempted aerial punch was infamously beaten by Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ (read: handball) in the ’86 World Cup quarter final against Argentina, his leap hardly got off the ground – indeed, consider just how diminutive the devilish Diego is compared to Shilts

The precious moment: Memorably, he was beaten by all four of the expertly taken German penalties in the Italia 90 semi-final shoot-out (despite guessing the right way for every one), yet he did actually save a penalty from a German – and their penalty-converter from that tournament’s 1-0 final, Andreas Brehme, at that – in a 1985 friendly, which England won 3-0

The perfectly true: Shilts played until the age of 47 to break the 1,000 professional-appearances-barrier; his last game was for Leyton Orient in November ’96 and was his 1,005th

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6. Gordon Banks (1963-72)

England goalkeeper Gordon Banks leads the team out at Wembley

The position: Goalkeeper (classic shirt number: 1)

The performances: 73 caps (World Cups: England 1966, Mexico 1970/ Euros: Italy 1968)

The player: The other legendary Leicester-hailing keeper for England, but the one who won the World Cup in ’66 and made that save from Pelé in Mexico 70

The pros: Yes, Banks kept goal for the World Cup-winning England side, but he wasn’t arguably as tested as Shilton was in his tournaments – all of those tournaments – and won nowhere near the number of caps his 20-year-long-serving protégé did; so why’s he one place higher in this rundown? Well, out of all his 73 appearances, Banks kept a clean sheet in 35 of them (yes, more than half) and was on the losing side just nine times. Quite brilliant stats for a man whose international career stretched nearly 10 years. And then, of course, there’s that remarkable instant-reflex save in the 1970 World Cup group game against Brazil, which saw him not just save Pelé’s thunderous downward header, but also somehow flick the ball over the bar. Pelé (among many others) reckons it was the greatest save of the 20th Century. He may just be right…

The cons: Banksy’s pretty blameless here, but his lowest point in (or rather out) of an England shirt came due to catching a bug out in Mexico, thus having to sit in his hotel room and watch his teammates throw away a 2-0 lead in the quarter final against West Germany – his replacement Peter Bonetti didn’t exactly cover himself in glory on the Germans’ three goals either

The precious moment: Erm, that save. Like, obviously

The perfectly true: Banks’s nephew Nick was the drummer with top Britpop band Pulp

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5. Geoff Hurst (1966-72)

england_players_geoff_hurst

The position: Forward (classic shirt number: 10)

The performances: 49 caps/ 24 goals
(World Cups: England 1966, Mexico 1970/ Euros: Italy 1968)

The player: Lanky and front-teeth-missing West Ham ace whom became England’s hat-trick hero in the ’66 World Cup final and went on to appear in Mexico 70 too

The pros: Well, frankly, we’re talking the legend whose three goals won the nation its only football World Cup, which is why Hurst makes this list’s top five; surely only a hard-hearted soul would deny the always amiable Sir Geoff that. Or a die-hard Jimmy Greaves fan. In fact, nearly 50 years later, Hurst remains the only man to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final

The cons: No question, the records (goal volume and caps) of Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and, yes, Greaves are greater than Hurst’s. Indeed, he only made his debut for England four months before the ’66 World Cup and his international career was far from illustrious thereafter; he made little impression on the two games in which England played in the (admittedly two-game-only) Euro 68 and played in only three of his side’s four games in Mexico 70, scoring a single goal. He was involved in a few matches in England’s unsuccessful qualification campaign for Euro 72, but by then his time in an England shirt was fizzling out

The precious moment: Take a wild guess, go on…

The perfectly true: To this day, controversy still surrounds that dubious second goal he scored in the final (and, let’s be honest, wonderfully always will), but the third arguably shouldn’t have been either – it was scored, of course, with just seconds of extra-time remaining and England having just gone a goal up again, so in receiving a long pass from Bobby Moore, Hurst ran with it and unleashed his shot towards the German goal with no intention of scoring, but of firing over to waste time. Yet the ball hit a divot in the pitch just before Hurst hit it, ensuring he struck it perfectly to smash it home and confirm England’s victory in emphatic fashion

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4. Paul Gascoigne (1988-98)

england_players_paul_gascoigne

The position: Attacking/ central midfield (classic shirt numbers: 19/ 8)

The performances: 57 caps/ 10 goals (World Cups: Italy 1990/ Euros: England 1996)

The player: The impossible-not-to-love Geordie prankster who also happened to be perhaps the most gifted man ever to wear an England shirt; his talent proving pivotal to his nation’s success at both Italia 90 and Euro 96

The pros: A mercurial midfielder whose two-footed-touch, vision and unbridled creativity was matched by his spirit, endeavour and sheer joy in playing the game. Like Wayne Rooney would 14 years later, Gazza (as he was instantly nicknamed by teammates, fans and the nation alike) was an instant success on the biggest stage, the 1990 World Cup; providing moments of perfection to play a huge role in getting his country to the semi-finals – for the first time in 24 years; something they’ve not managed to repeat for another for 24 years now. In 1996, he replicated these exploits at England’s own European Championships as the playmaker in Terry Venables pseudo-‘Total Football’ side, scoring possibly one of the greatest goals of all-time in the process

The cons: Gazza’s lows are, of course, as legendary as his highs. A victim of alcoholism off the pitch and of (partly self-inflicted) injury woes on it, he simply didn’t play enough for England and, thus, wasn’t as big an influence as his talent demanded he should have been. Owing to injury, he missed far too much of England’s qualification campaigns for Euro 92 and the ’94 World Cup (he wasn’t even present at Euro 92; had he been, England may have been quite a different side and had he played more thereafter, there’s a good chance they’d have made it to USA 94). Later, following Euro 96, he was active during qualification for France 98, but was axed from that tournament’s preliminary squad, deemed not to be in good enough shape. The debate rages on whether that was the right decision; what’s unequivocal is it spelled the end of his England career

The precious moment: That sensational goal against Scotland in the second group match of Euro 96 – outfoxing the blond-mulleted Colin Hendry before volleying the ball home and reigniting a sleeping giant of the international game for another tournament

The perfectly true: The reason why, every match, Gazza stuck his tongue out to the TV camera as it passed the England line-up prior to kick-off of Italia 90 matches wasn’t because it was a cheeky gesture he couldn’t resist, but a gesture of obscure, superstitious good-luck-granting

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3. Gary Lineker (1984-92)

england_players_gary_lineker

The position: Forward (classic shirt number: 10)

The performances: 80 caps/ 48 goals (World Cups: Mexico 1986, Italy 1990/
Euros: West Germany 1988, Sweden 1992)

The player: At one time, the sight of today’s ‘Mr BBC Sport’ Gary Lineker in the England ‘No. 10′ shirt scoring goals for his country was as familiar as Maggie Thatcher dividing opinion, Aussie soap stars topping the charts and Michael Buerk telling us The Nine O’Clock News

The pros: An unfaltering servant for England, Lineker was their chief goal-getter for nearly 10 years; it’s no surprise their fortunes flourished during his era (Mexico 86 quarter finalists and Italia 90 semi-finalists) and wilted when he stepped down (ineptitude until Euro 96). Perhaps not the world’s greatest footballer, usually by his own admission, he was nevertheless the ultimate penalty-box poacher; the man who made goal-hanging glorious. Indeed, across two World Cup finals he racked up a sensational tally of 10 goals. So prolific was he, the then nicknamed ‘Queen Mother of Football’ (as he was never booked in his entire career) retired just one, single strike short of equalling Bobby Charlton’s England goal-scoring record

The cons: Admittedly, Lineker’s efforts at both Euro 88 and Euro 92 were left wanting. There’s caveats in both cases, though. His poor performance at Euro 88 coincided with him suffering from hepatitis, while Euro 92 came slap-bang in the middle of the woeful Graham Taylor era that saw creativity thrown out in favour of ‘long ball’ tactics. Indeed, so crap was England’s experience at the latter it included Lineker’s substitution before the end of the last group game, inexplicable given they had to win it to progress and everyone knew it would be his last cap

The precious moment: Purists may say his greatest moment for England came in another match they needed to win, against Poland in their final group game of Mexico 86, and did thanks to his terrific hat-trick. However, I’ve just got to go for maybe the most important strike of his career – England’s extra-time-forcing equaliser in the Italia 90 semi-final against West Germany. A brilliant finish, it saw him receive and flick the ball to his left foot and away from the two German defenders in the box, before expertly whacking it past the keeper into the far corner

The perfectly true: A national institution and housewife’s heart-throb (before and definitely) after Italia 90, ol’ Gal saw his name used for the title of a West End comedy about a group of Spanish holidaymakers watching that semi-final, An Evening With Gary Lineker (1991); he actually made a cameo appearance in its 1994 ITV adaptation

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2. Bobby Moore (1962-73)

Bobby Moore, England captain, 1966

The position: Centre-back (classic shirt number: 6)

The performances: 108 caps/ 2 goals
(World Cups: Chile 1962, England 1966, Mexico 1970/ Euros: Italy 1968)

The player: The man who led his side to World Cup-wining glory, ensuring the summer of ’66 was, in England at least, the ‘Summer of Love’; talismanic national leader at Mexico 70 too

The pros: Quite frankly, Bobby Moore was England’s greatest ever defender and, given he’s the guy who lifted the Jules Rimet trophy, its greatest captain (a role in which he served 90 times, in fact; a record shared with Billy Wright). A fantastic reader of the game, very rarely found wanting positionally and only too happy to stride out of defence and get involved in midfield play or feed a forward with an expert pass (he assisted two of Hurst’s three goals in the ’66 final), Moore was arguably decades ahead of his time as a centre-back. He also looked damn good, becoming (thanks to his ’66 exploits) the nation’s first unequivocally adored football pin-up with a gorgeous wife (i.e. the proto David Beckham). Moreover, his 108 caps was the national record for an outfield player until David Beckham beat it 36 years later, although Moore played every minute of every one of his appearances. Fellow legends including Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Alex Ferguson claim Moore was the greatest defender ever to have played the game

The cons: Most players’ careers wind down, so really this isn’t a con, but Moore’s final days for England were particularly sad. He was at fault for both the goals that Poland scored in a 1973 home victory against England, which ensured the visitors had to win the return match that October to reach the ’74 World Cup. Owing to his dip in form, Moore was dropped by coach Alf Ramsey and England infamously couldn’t gain the win (Ramsey seemingly lost in indecision when a substitution surely had to be made and, according to Moore himself, the off-field captain practically becoming de facto coach and forcing the change). Moore would play just once more for England and, eventually, a far less successful post-football life would follow

The precious moment: Receiving the World Cup from Her Maj and lifting it high

The perfectly true: According to Geoff Hurst, ahead of the ’66 final, he overheard Ramsey discussing with his coaches the possibility of dropping Moore for the iconic match in favour of other England centre-back Jack Charlton’s Leeds United teammate (and the more rambunctious than Moore) Norman Hunter. How different things could have been, eh?

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1. Bobby Charlton (1958-70)

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The position: Attacking/ central midfield (classic shirt number: 9)

The performances: 106 caps/ 49 goals
(World Cups: Chile 1962, England 1966, Mexico 1970/ Euros: Italy 1968)

The player: England’s talisman throughout the ’60s, Charlton was the ultimate gentleman’s footballer – and, both then and now, considered one of the world’s greatest ever players

The pros: Where do you start? Not only was he immeasurably talented, a terrific passer and mover who, at times, was almost balletic on the ball, he also boasted a thunderbolt of a strike from either foot. Initially, he established himself both for England and Manchester United (with whom he was equally as successful) as an old-fashioned inside-forward, then evolved into what today would be recognised as the ‘number 10’ role. Never playing as an out-and-out forward then, he nevertheless raced away to become England’s greatest ever goalscorer – and 44 years on from his retirement, his record haul – just one short of a half-century – is yet to be bettered. He also excelled in the old ‘Home Tournament’ (against the other ‘Home Nations’), scoring 16 goals and winning it with England on 10 occasions (five times shared). Plus, he remains the only Englishman to have been selected for four World Cup squads. Oh, and in ’66 he won the thing itself, of course, when Alf Ramsey’s legendary team was built around him

The cons: It’s only fair to say that as matches wore on at Mexico 70 Charlton looked past his best, tiring in the Central American heat, but really, in later years by far his biggest drawback was that ill-advised old man’s comb-over he favoured instead of embracing baldness. A noble, stubborn, thus very English gent to the end then

The precious moment: His 49th and final goal (the strike that ensures he still holds the all-time record) during a 4-0 victory away to Colombia in warm-up for Mexico 70 might just be his greatest moment, but surely his most important goals – and thus his ultimate moments – were his brace against Portugal in the 2-1 semi-final win that took England to the ’66 final

The perfectly true: Always a committed family man, Charlton’s legacy might be said to be his children as much as football memories, and in this way he could be said to have blessed TV meteorology – his daughter Suzanne was a regular BBC weather forecaster in the ’90s

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