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
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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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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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