Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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100 Greatest Surveys

    What good are lists and surveys? Are the votes of a few thousand people really indicative of the feeling or mood or a country? Or are they just an easy way to give your TV programme or magazine article gravitas?

    Whatever, as it is World Cup time again the British people have been asked to pick their '100 Greatest World Cup Moments' and last night it was presented in a three hour television 'extravaganza' - or a surprisingly cheap way to fill three hours of primetime television with sexy football clips, if you are a TV executive.

    The people who vote in these things are never really indicative of the 'general public' (whatever that is) and this is especially so this time as the survey was conducted by Channel 4, a niche market, supposedly high-brow channel that although it shows Test Match cricket, Horse Racing and Italian Football would not be most British people's first point of call for information about football. That is of course until there is a World Cup on the horizon when everything goes football mad for six weeks.

    Given then that most of the votes came from - I'm generalising I know, but advertisers and media companies do it, so I can - middle class, middle to high income, broadsheet newspaper readers, the results of the poll are quite close to matching the many others that have been released in the past. It does tell us quite a few interesting things about the mood of the British, and about what they truly like and dislike. And if nothing else it lets me write an easy article!

    What are the headlines then? Well first - and this should be no surprise - the majority of these 100 'greatest moments' involve England in some way. Whatever country this survey had been conducted in the result would be the same, our thoughts and feelings about the World Cup are shaped through the experiences of our national team. So that explains why English people look back on 1966 fondly, and almost every event - no matter how small - is considered 'great'. The same would apply to the French when remembering 1998 or the Italians remembering 1982 or the Germans remembering 1954, 1974 and 1990 - if you win it suddenly becomes the best, most competitive and toughest contest ever.

    On the other hand if you lose - or don't even compete - no one cares about the tournament. This survey criminally ignores the 1974 and 1978 tournaments and even worse, no great moment in World Cup history happened at all before 1958. So the Magical Magyars or Fritz Walter never happened, neither did Leonidas or Vittorio Pozzo. And if you are Uruguayan, look away now. Your two World Cup victories - double what France or England has achieved - don't count. You see you played in black and white, and before the days of television cameras, so sorry we have to ignore you. Stupid.

    Looking at the 100 moments as a whole - and if you want to it is at Channel4 Top 100 - the high esteem the people of Britain view all things Brazilian in general, and all things Pelé in particular, stand out. This the survey has nailed on - Britain loves Brazil.

    Any team that runs out in Gold and Green is instantly given godlike status, and if you manage to score a goal against them - never mind beat them - you become a hero. But that is not the point. Britain does not really like winners in sport, we are not used to it. We prefer decent, honourable, courageous losers - as the list proves time and again - but just occasionally we like to see winners. Few people in sport ever reach that pantheon of unquestioned, unfaltering worship by the British public. Bobby Moore made it there, as did Muhammad Ali. And so do Brazil and Pelé.

    19 of the 100 greatest moments involve Brazil - only England feature in more. Pelé features in three-quarters of those underlining his undisputed place as the most popular (if not necessarily greatest) footballer in British eyes. The moments picked out follow his career: his first appearance in 1958 as an impossibly young superstar, Portugal hacking his legs to pieces in 1966, his return and triumph in 1970. They celebrate something British people don't see in our homegrown players: audacity, verve, skill and unadulterated genius. But it is not only Pelé that is remembered in this way. The survey is peppered with Brazilian goals, some amazing - Nelinho in 1978, Eder, Zico and Socrates in 1982 - some not so special: Rivaldo's goal against Denmark in 1998 ranks a bizarrely high 41.

    Many British people will be fully expecting Brazil to win the World Cup this summer, regardless of how they played in qualifying, and regardless of how much better France are. Quite famously once Brazil were eliminated in 1982 loudmouth football manager and TV panellist John Bond said "Well, that's the World Cup over for me", ignoring the fact that Paolo Rossi had just outplayed them and that France and West Germany were about to play the greatest semi final ever. But it does go someway to explain how Britain views Brazil, and what they are expecting from this summer. Most English fans anticipate being able to compete with France and Argentina, yet at the same time would expect to lose to Brazil. It doesn't make sense, but does show how much Pelé and Brazil have ingrained themselves into our psyche.

    As well as reminding us how much we love Brazil, the survey also tells us how many painful memories the World Cup has for British teams. It is not just England here, the only times Scotland feature in the list the story ends in failure and defeat. Showing just how far Scotland have fallen the best this once proud nation can muster is eleventh place, for Archie Gemill's mazy run and goal against Holland in 1978. The rest of the Scottish memories? Brazilian goals flying past Alan Rough in Sevilla, dodgy defending and Willie Johnston's 'pep pills' are about as far as it gets.

    But if you are looking for pain at the World Cup look no further than the English entries. Now here we have to keep the 1966 memories separate - and I'll come back to those later - and instead focus on the one's that finish higher. The most savoured English memory in all the history of the World Cup is Michael Owen's solo run and goal against Argentina in 1998. Now this was a euphoric moment for anyone watching, but it also came in a game England lost in awful circumstances. It is not Britain's greatest World Cup moment either - it came second.

    The vast majority of these English moments are failures. Even number 100 is a failure: Jimmy Greaves catching the dog that ran onto the pitch during the 1962 quarter final against Brazil. What was being remembered was Greaves down on all fours with the dog, but as England's greatest ever goalscorer himself said it should not be a good memory - Brazil beat England 3:1. What else makes the list? Terry Butcher bleeding profusely in Sweden in 1989, Bobby Moore being arrested in Colombia in 1970, Butch Wilkins being sent off in 1986 and the Norwegian commentator shouting "Maggie Thatcher, Maggie Thatcher, your boys took a helluva beating!" when it looked like Ron Greenwood's England would not even make España 82 following defeat in Oslo. It is a sorry list. Then of course there are all the memories from 1986 and 1990.

    England could genuinely have won two World Cups under Bobby Robson, and came agonisingly close to beating the eventual winners in both tournaments. But both times the country was crushed by punishing elimination - by Maradona in 1986 and German penalties in 1990. There is much more to come from Diego Armando later, so it is a good time to look at what Britain really thinks of Italia 90.

    Twelve years have past now since that night in Turin, and hardly a month has gone by without those penalties being replayed and agonised over. But many people seem to prefer it that we lost. It makes us valiant losers, and lets us hate the Germans in public without fear of being ostracised or accused of being racist. As long as we stick to football we are allowed to say we hate Argentina and Germany. But if we go too far (like the Daily Mirror did in 1996 with it's 'Achtung Surrender - for you Fritz, ze war is over!' headline and pictures of Stuart Pearce and Gazza in army helmets before the European Championship semi final) the chattering classes go berserk, as if there is any difference.

    Why anyone in Britain should hate Argentinian or German people because we once fought a war against them and have lost football matches to them is frightening and is something I cannot understand. I remember as a child feeling the same way - I sat at home booing every touch Maradona had of the ball during the football league centenary match just like everyone at Wembley - but once I grew up I soon realised that that is something only an immature child should do. Unfortunately there are lots of people in Britain who think differently, and as this survey shows it is fashionable to recall 1990 and 1986 and to commiserate with the likes of Terry Fenwick, Terry Butcher, Chris Waddle or Stuart Pearce for glorious failure rather than criticise them for not getting their tackles in or for missing penalties. Thankfully the survey redeems itself at the very end.

    So what was number one then? Geoff Hurst, Booby Moore and the boys of 66? Surprisingly no, the best they can manage is fourth, and then it is Kenneth Wolstenholme's "They think its all over…" commentary that is being remembered and not really the goal. Why? Well to actually remember the 1966 World Cup victory, England fans need to be over 40 (and nearer 45 or 50) and don't forget that this survey was voted for by middle class, middle to high-income people - not Sun newspaper readers. And also don't forget what I said earlier - Britain is so use to sporting failure it doesn't really like winners. It is not British to boast, old boy!

    The winner was Diego Armando Maradona, the greatest footballer to ever live. He was pushed very close by all accounts, not only by Michael Owen in 1998, but also by England's 5:1 victory in Munich last September. This tells us that people in Britain are expecting an awful lot from Sven's team - victory is being talked of much more than at any time since 1970. Why? Well English clubs and players are awash with money and hype, and have held their own in European competition. England also have a nucleus of very talented, world-class footballers. But surely 2002 is much too soon, especially without Stevie Gerrard. Regardless though in the end even Becks, Michael and Sven could not beat Maradona.

    The little genius had two entries in the top ten and another two in the top 25. Being Maradona though two of those had to be destructive - his drug's ban in 1994 and the Hand of God goal. But thankfully neither of them won. That honour went to his finest moment, the jinking, magical run and goal that beat England in 1986. Words don't really do justice to this moment but the one that has come closest is the late Bryon Butler commentating for BBC Radio and preserved for all time in Hero-Maradona, the 1986 Official Film.

    "Maradona," he said "turns like a little eel, he turns away from trouble. Little squat man comes inside Butcher - leaves him for dead - outside Fenwick - leaves him for dead - and puts the ball away. And that is why Maradona's the greatest player in the world." He continued, "He buried the English defence... It's a goal of great quality by a player of the greatest quality... Maradona has put the seal on his greatness... He scored a goal that England just couldn't cope with, they couldn't face up to; it was beyond their ability. It's England nil, Diego Maradona two."

    Maybe the survey did know something after all.



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