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The World Cup, Charlie Brown, and Me

By John Burns :  12/07/2010 :  Comments (18) :

So Spain won. Nice. No doubt they deserved it for attempting to play flowing football. The Dutch? It seems they have officially abandoned the concept of total football for total thuggerey. It sucks. The game I have loved and followed since a child completely sucks. The South African 2010 World Cup has seen to that. The beautiful game has been totally stripped of its glamour and charm. Christmas came but Santa never.

So what went wrong?

1 Let?s blame the ball. The much hyped ?Jabulani? ball designed specifically for the World Cup 2010 has come in for a great deal of criticism. Too light and too unpredictable have been the major complaints throughout the tournament. This ironically, from a ball translated as ?Celebrate?, but which has actually caused nothing but moan.

So what can be done? Well for a start we could bring back the pig?s bladder. We would much prefer glorious imperfection against mad scientists' attempt to create the ?roundest ball? ever. Wasn?t Frankenstein created in a laboratory? Today?s ?white coats? have created a ball so perfect it lacks in nothing but a soul. It?s a monster that needs ?nuking?. I want the pig back.

2 Let?s blame the referee. Blaming officials is the perennial tool of soccer fans and players. Dirk Kuyt blamed the ref for favouring Spain more and brandishing so many yellow cards. This, according to Kuyt, cost Holland the cup!

Kuyt maybe up the creek on that one, but quite honestly, how could any ref have missed the blatant ?off side? goal in the Argentina v Mexico game? Or, how about the ball that crossed the goal line that was not given by the referee in the England versus Germany match? This could have caused a war a few years ago.

The call for goal-line technology and other video evidence is now so overwhelming that even Fifa have had to concede their objections to it. But in the meantime can?t all referees and Dirk Kuyt be supplied with spectacles?

3 Let?s blame bad sportsmanship. In reference to the above said travesty in the England v Germany game, the call for technology to eradicate such errors is now without precedent. But how about a return to sportsmanship? No-one seems to have mentioned this pivotal underpinning of any sport. It seems to be taken for granted that like, ?Labour doesn?t do God'? ?football doesn?t do sportsmanship?.

Bobby Jones, the famous American golfer playing in the US Open in the 1920s, called a penalty on himself when his ball moved ever so slightly as he was preparing to play a stroke. The infraction was not seen by anyone else, but Jones insisted on taking the penalty. It cost him an outright victory in regulation, and he lost a 36-hole playoff to Willie MacFarlane. "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank," Jones said famously after the press praised him for his sportsmanship.

With such principles in mind, what would it have taken for the German goalkeeper to have said something like, ?Herr Referee, ze ball voz much much over ze line?. With these words, immediately we would have had a sporting hero dominating the World Cup headlines for all the right reasons. Also, imagine the world-wide phenomena of a lovable German. How weird would that have been?

4 Let?s blame the players. The super soccer trinity of Messi, Rooney and Kaka were to dominate this world stage. What a let-down. All three consistently produced performances of the most ordinary and generally far less. We longed for the artistry and magic their feet possess, instead we got a faltering mess of mediocrity from these overpaid prima donnas.

Imagine had the ?The Three Tenors? signed up for a prestigious Albert Hall concert? Expectations would have soared as the 100-piece orchestra made their way to the pit and the full house of premium-paying patrons took their seats. Anticipation would have been palpable. What would have happened if this golden trio, having stumbled to the footlights, hummed a few sea shanties then made a stage left and was replaced by Jimmy Tarbuck and pals? Ok, Iniesta isn?t exactly Jimmy Tarbuck, but you know what I mean. We woz robbed.

5 Let?s blame the supporters. Some years ago, hooliganism was the domain of the English. They reigned supreme and terrorised all other soccer nations. Not any more, which I suppose on balance, is a good thing. However, that mantle has now fallen to any soccer nation embracing the vuvuzela. This hooligan horn is horrible. Please? never let it be heard at Goodison. I would rather twenty ?Bovver Boys? chase me down a ?cul de sac? than sitting next to a vuvuzela blower. Ban vuvuzelas from planet Earth!

6 Let?s blame the expectation. Remember Charlie Brown of the ?Peanuts? cartoon strip? He is the loveable loser, a great un-success story. A major weakness of his is in constantly trusting another character called Lucy. She tricks him all the time. She always pulls the ball out of his way as he is about to kick it. Each time he is flung up into the air and lands hard on his back.

I am Charlie Brown because I always trust Lucy?s promises of great expectations for soccer. I believed the hype and embraced the glossy adverts that told me to expect the greatest World Cup ever. I dreamed of something wonderful and of skills unimaginable, but once more, Lucy pulled the ball out of my way and again I ended up on my back.

I want to return to childhood where we kicked the ball about for fun. I want to see smiles and not fear on the faces of footballers. I want fair play, not technology. I want the African soccer nations to get rid of European tactics that stifle their natural way of playing. I want a World Cup where the biggest personality is not Paul the prophetic Octopus. I want big money deals to end. I want joy returning to the faces of players and supporters alike. I want utopia.

But until utopia comes, I want to kick that pig?s bladder again. Sorry, little piggy... but somehow you make life more beautiful.

Reader Comments

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Colin Potter
1   Posted 13/07/2010 at 09:48:40

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I agree John, the whole World Cup to me was an utter farce, by far the worst I've ever seen, and I'm 71. Football, as we want to see it, John, is most likely gone forever.
Ray Robinson
2   Posted 13/07/2010 at 10:34:27

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Feel the same way, John, but I put it down to being an old fart who looks back with nostalgia to when "things were better." Maybe, just maybe, they were?

The one single incident that disillusioned me beyond anything else was the Suarez incident - I actually can understand the "instinct" to fist the ball off the line, having done it myself once, but surely to God, the penalty goal should be introduced where it is clear that the goal would have been scored? That result changed the World Cup for Ghana and my view of football.
Phil Paulson
3   Posted 13/07/2010 at 11:34:52

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The Beautiful Game was probably some journalist's drivel that you've picked up and now believe you use meaningfully. Are synchronised swimming, show jumping or ice skating beautiful games? ? if so watch those instead.

If anything is likely to see the end of football as we have known and loved it, it's the sterile Spanish keep-ball. It was interesting for two tournaments, now let's get back to the way it should be played.

Honestly, if it's as good to watch as people are saying now, imagine how it will be if they play the same way and win the next two European Championships and World Cups.

Worse, imagine Spain playing against ? er, oh yes ? Spain. The entire match takes place in the middle third of the pitch. Not so much a football match, as a training session.
Rupert Coghlan
4   Posted 13/07/2010 at 12:12:46

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Sorry, but I don't really see the point of this article. It sounds like a child who didn't get the bike he wanted for Christmas.

Often in life, things don't live up to their expectations. There's no need to go searching for blame all the time.

Sometimes you just have to enjoy things for what they are, and the World Cup was 64 matches of International Football, on terrestrial TV, high definition, via website, red button etc etc for a month. That's really not so bad is it?

Back to the good old days of pig's bladders, hooliganism and war jokes? Give me a break. Some golfer nearly a hundred years ago? How on earth does that compare to today?

"Also, imagine the world-wide phenomena of a lovable German. How weird would that have been?" ? what nonsense. Maybe you should fly out to the friendly in Wolfsburg and find out just how friendly and happy German people are.

1 ? The ball: Spain did ok with it!
2 ? Refs have always been blamed: there's nothing new here other than the increased scrutiny in this era. People make mistakes. Who's worse, the guy who makes the mistake or the guy who sits and watches and points the finger?
3 ? Bad sportsmanship: money is the problem. More at risk than ever. Do you honestly expect a goalie in the World Cup to do this?
4 ? Players don't always play well: Kaka was injured, Rooney and Messi looked drained. However, Forlan, Sneijder and Iniesta had fabulous tournaments.
5 ? The vuvuzela isn't a great tool at all, but it's a part of African football. We can't have meat pies and rattles everywhere you know. Hooliganism instead? Please.
6 ? Expectation: it seems you only have yourself to blame here. What do you expect the adverts before the World Cup to tell you? That's it's "probably not going to be that good actually".

You are Charlie Brown. You haven't grown up.
Fergus McCarthy
5   Posted 13/07/2010 at 12:37:47

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Good article, John.

I hardly watch anymore. Other people are beginning to feel the same way. Still love to see Everton do well, but from a season ticket holder many years ago, who went to watch a game at Goodison hopefully by two good sides, and applaud good play by anyone. When did angst come into the game? Must win and everyone knows exactly where we are in the league?

My son says it is a great game to play, but rubbish to watch. I used to play every day at school lunch time, and we refereed ourselves. No whistle. Playacting would not get you a free kick. It would get you laughed at. Of course contact was allowed then. Maybe too much as I still have lumps on my shins. But now, if you touch a player he falls over.Also, if he gets fouled and does not fall over, he does not hear the whistle (Robben in the Final).

Where has the honesty gone? Snooker has big money, but players call fouls on themselves as in golf. Rugby Union still has the sporting ethos, but there are worries of gamesmanship creeping in and it is continually addressed by clubs and RFU.

Ref's need common sense not strict guidelines, and most of all MUST be respected. Try abusing a ref in Rugby and see how quickly you get to the showers! They will have reasonable dialogue and they are not perfect, but make less mistakes than the players.

Football has become boring, which is a shame as the athletes are very good. Maybe reduce the numbers on each side and allow more time and space. Allow contact under the rules, and yellow card anyone trying to draw a foul or calling for the ref to card someone. Also let's find a difference between shielding the ball and obstruction.

Dave Smith
6   Posted 13/07/2010 at 13:01:17

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Ray - The worst thing about the Suarez incident is him standing on the touchline, going crazy over the penalty miss. That was just sickening.
Thor Sørensen
7   Posted 13/07/2010 at 13:44:47

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I feel the same way as John Burns and Ray Robinson.

It could be that I'm just being an old fart myself, even at 28 years old, but I do look back and think that things were in fact better before.

-But next season's gonna be great! ;-) (forever an optimist with high levels of expectation)
Brian Waring
8   Posted 13/07/2010 at 18:25:11

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As Rupert mentions, there were 64 games, so there was bound to be some howlers from the refs. Apart from a few strange decisions, I thought the refs did okay.

Sportsmanship; I can just see it now... Howard in an important game for us, like an FA Cup Final, telling the ref that the ball crossed the line... yeah right! You would all be on here berating him to death for doing it.
Andy Crooks
9   Posted 13/07/2010 at 19:18:56

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The most amazing thing on this thread is that Colin Potter is 71. Colin, you have the passion of a man half my age.
Lyndon Lloyd
10   Posted 13/07/2010 at 22:41:27

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It wasn't a great World Cup. I loved watching it ? every game apart from where games were played simultaneously at the end of the group phase ? and was proud to see the land where I was raised portrayed as beautifully as it is (FIFA doing everything to mask the poverty gap notwithstanding) but there were precious few games with real drama and exciting end-to-end football.

Mexico 1986 was my first as a real football fan and even though my affection and nostalgia for that year's tournament is no doubt amplified by the perspective of a wide-eyed twelve year-old, it was unquestionably better than the one we've just seen.

From individual feats like Maradona's goals against England and Belgium, Josimar's thunderbolt, Negrete's jaw-dropping volley, and the goalscoring exploits of the likes of Lineker and Elkjaer to thrilling matches like Belgium's 4-3 win over the Soviet Union, penalty drama in three of the four quarter finals and then, of course, the final itself, there was just so much more that sticks in the memory.

Platini, Zico, Socrates, Lothar Matthäus, Trevor Steven *grin*... great players gracing the biggest stage.

Italia 90 was special, not least because of England's exploits, but I don't think I've seen a better Finals than '86.

As for the more recent tournaments, maybe it's because so many of the top players play in Europe and therefore know each other so well and adopt a similar style, and maybe it's because everything seems to carry such unbelievable pressure, but the matches are so much more cagey and lower-scoring.

And, yes, the ball was a major factor. I've had my bitch about it but even David Villa ballooned a direct free well over in the Final when you know with a proper ball, he'd probably have hit the target.

The Final itself was poor but I disagree that watching Spain is boring. I found Iniestia a joy to watch in the absence of Messi in the latter stages (Messi played well throughout but was let down by his teammates) and the way that he Xavi and Alonso stroked the ball about and found ways to pass to feet in seemingly impossible situations was terrific.

Maybe the setting of Brazil in four years time will evoke some of that magic from Mexico but I think the game has undoubtedly changed in the last couple of decades and not really for the better.

Kevin Clarke
11   Posted 14/07/2010 at 00:10:29

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By some considerable distance, the worst tournament I've ever seen. Teams, for the most part, more afraid of losing than trying to win. A total bore in the group stages, I didn't watch one game from start to finish. This, sadly, is the way football is going. Inter's strategy against Barcelona in the European Cup should've given you a clue.

Yes, I know the game is 'evolving', but it's becoming boring. Thank god Spain won, the only team to try & play the game as it should be played. The criticism they got (in this country) was that they played the same way! Good, I want to see a team with great players passing the ball, it's not their fault that all the teams they played were shit scared of them & stuck everyone behind the ball to try & soak it up then catch them on the break. What's the point of going to a World Cup & seeing how good you are just to try & stop the other team from playing?

Football's going down the pan, you know it, it's a fact. Players like Messi will find themselves crowded out more & more often because tactics, not skill, will decide games. Rose-tinted glasses? Too right, this game is going to get even worse ? enjoy.

Jamie Sweet
12   Posted 14/07/2010 at 02:21:41

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Great article, John. I have to disagree with putting Rooney in the same boat as Messi or Kaka though. The latter two at least managed a few moments of magic in the tournament and were still influential figures in a number of games.

Rooney, on the other hand, looked completely useless. I really don't know what happened to him... I understand that he was closely marked throughout, but that doesn't excuse his complete lack of a first touch or ability to beat a man. He had a complete shocker.

I would love to see his stats for how many times he lost the ball. I'm trying to believe that it wasn't because he couldn't be arsed... but everything I saw from him tells me that he really couldn't. Very sad.

England aside, I still enjoyed the tournament, although I agree with Lyndon that it wasn't a patch on '86 or '90.
Adam Fenlon
13   Posted 14/07/2010 at 02:43:06

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Lighten up everyone. While I agree with the complaints re the ball and the standard of refereeing, at least we saw some top-drawer football from Germany, Spain and Argentina.
Mike Oates
14   Posted 14/07/2010 at 14:17:21

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To me, the game has changed dramatically over the last 10-15 years. When I lived in Liverpool in the 60s, 70s, 80s and watched Everton games, the whole ethos by both teams was to always go out and try to win. Being defensive was never in it until the George Graham Arsenal came along and started to win things by predominantly being ultra tight at the back. Things stated to change and to me the present day philosophies are one of three:?

(i) Defend at all costs and hope to score from a set piece ? Stoke,Wolves, Blackburn, maybe Italy;
(ii) Defend well but counter-attack fast ? Chelsea, Utd, Germany, Argentina, Holland and realistically most International teams;
(iii) Keep ball and try to find a piece of skill to open up defences ? Spain and Arsenal, and you're maybe a bit surprised but I think Moyes fancies this way and is trying to develop a team which does it.

The only problem is that the difference between Spain and Arsenal is that Spain win things (because the players play that way in the Spanish League, which allows slower play, almost also a non-tackling game) and Arsenal don't ? mainly because they are out-muscled, outpaced at times in the Premier League.

Can Everton combine a footballing philosophy with the agressive approach sometimes needed? Who knows... we'll all wait and see this season.

Gary Creaney
15   Posted 14/07/2010 at 16:25:27

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Ah... good old nostalgia, forever keeping the old farts from at least attempting to embrace anything modern because ?it wasn?t like that in my day?.

Being from Ireland, Gaelic Games are at the forefront of most sporting discussions and one team that always gets mentioned is ?The great Kerry of the 70s and 80s ? The Golden Era?. Well, to my mind, the greatest game of Gaelic Football I?ve ever seen is the game of Armagh v Tyrone All-Ireland semi-final 2005 and not the more popular Kerry v Dublin All Ireland Semi-Final of 1977. I got a re-recording of both games and forced my father to watch both back to back and even he the nostalgic old fart admitted that the 2005 version was literally light years ahead in terms of pace, basic skills, difficult skills etc.

And just to draw comparisons to world football ? since the turn of the millennium, Gaelic football has been nationally criticised for the defensive approach of teams.

My point is that, when we look back on the good old days, we remember what we want to remember. We only ever see highlights on TV and it is those highlights that continue to make us believe we were right. But if we go back to the ?86 World Cup, in 64 games there was also some rubbish games, rubbish players, rubbish shots etc but they never get shown on TV.

By the by, one of the best games of football I?ve ever watched didn?t even have a goal until the 117th minute ? Germany v Spain semi final at the 2006 World Cup, enthralling stuff.

Brendan O'Doherty
16   Posted 14/07/2010 at 21:34:33

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Yes Gerry. Too many people listening to Pat Spillane and his dislike of the Ulster Championship. The Kerry paranoia knows no bounds. A Kerry person I work with thinks that "Tyrone are all on drugs"!

That semi-final was Germany v Italy by the way. Fantastic game.
Gary Creaney
17   Posted 15/07/2010 at 08:44:12

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Germany v Italy is correct - noticed that as soon as I submitted but couldn't be arsed correcting it.
Phil Paulson
18   Posted 16/07/2010 at 16:06:03

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How old is Gary Creaney and how good is his memory?

Let's go back, he suggests, to the 1986 World Cup and remember all the rubbish games that are never shown on TV.

The problem with nostalgia is that you have to be old enough to experience it ? if you're too young, it's another country.

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