Germany v Allies - as it happened!

Liveblogging the best football match that never took place: Germany v Allies, August 15th, 1943

3.15pm: Preamble

Greetings from the Stade Olympique de Colombes in Paris, venue for the 1938 World Cup final between Italy and Hungary, and host for this unprecedented clash between the German national team and an Allied XI. A sell-out crowd of 50,000 is expected, many wearing suspiciously 1970s-looking tracksuits despite it being 1943.

If they weren't already facing a formidable task, the Allies' preparation for this game has been far from ideal. Tony Lewis, the Irish goalkeeper, remains sidelined with a broken arm sustained in a training camp incident, so untested American Robert Hatch has been drafted in for his senior debut after making quite an impression at the Allies training camp:

Player-manager John Colby, once of West Ham United and England, will also skipper his charges in Paris this afternoon. In addition to Lewis's injury, the Allies' selection problems have been compounded by a raft of Czech and Polish withdrawals. Colby, however, has dismissed suggestions that his patched-together side will settle for a point against the might of the star-studded Germans, who include in their starting line-up such talent as Baumann, Reinhardt, Albrecht and goalkeeper Schmidt. The hosts are under the stewardship of Rainer Muller, a former international centre-half who played against Colby at Wembley only five years ago.

Kick-off is at around 4:30pm-ish.


John Colby (West Ham United and England) in deep conversation with German Director of Football Major Karl von Steiner.

Lengthy advert breaks are making this quite an easy task after all.

Despite having not yet made a senior appearance, American goalkeeper (but enlisted in the Canadian army) Robert Hatch is already agonising for a move away. His transfer request is being considered, officials say.

The protracted Robert Hatch saga continues, as he is welcomed back into the Allied fold as their physio/conditioning coach. Training methods have reportedly included elaborate sit-up routines.

Allied tactics leaked:

No stranger to controversy, Hatch (the Joey Barton of World War II) is now embroiled in a fake passport scandal. 

Team news (from this semi-official source):

With poor Tony Lewis ruled out with his broken arm, Hatch will start in goal for the Allies. Germany are unchanged (maybe).


1. Schmidt

2. Kuntz
3. Reinhardt
4. Baumann (C)
5. Kuntz
6. Kuntz
7. Becker 
8. Kuntz
9. General Bronte
10. Strauss
11. Albrecht

1. Robert Hatch (USA)
2. Michael Fileu (Bel)
3. John Colby (Eng) (C)
4. Pieter Van Beck (Hol)
5. Doug Clure (Eng) 
6. Terry Brady (Eng)
7. Arthur Hayes (Sco) 
8. Carlos Rey (Mex) 
9. Sid Harmor (Eng)
10. Luis Fernandez (T&T) 
11. Erik Borge (Den) 
Paul Wolczek (Pol) 
Gunnar Hilsson (Nor)
Nice seat at the Stade Olympique de Colombes. The stadium is filling up quickly for this one-off propoganda exercise showpiece.

The teams emerge, led out by the in-no-way-swayable match officials:

Mercifully, no Andy Townsend in the gantry, because he hasn't been born yet.

All smiles at the coin toss:

GOAL! Germany 1-0 Allies (Albrecht, 14 min)
Awful start. Albrecht nods past a stranded Hatch.
GOAL! Germany 2-0 Allies (Strauss, 25 min)
It goes from bad to worse, as Strauss fires a shot under the despairing Hatch.

28 mins
Pieter van Beck goes off injured - looks serious. Hilsson on to replace him.

GOAL! Germany 3-0 Allies (Baumann, pen 31 min)
Baumann slots calmly past Hatch, who barely moved before it hit the net behind him. This isn't quite going to plan, is it?

32 mins
The Allies are struggling to cope with the Germans' physical approach and dazzling wing play. Hatch already looks out of his depth in goal and captain Colby needs to find a way of getting the mercurial talents of Rey and Fernandez into the game. Fernandez, in particular, is already a target for roughhouse treatment. The Allies need a goal, and they need it soon. One more for the hosts and it's game, set and match.

GOAL! Germany 4-0 Allies (Bronte, 41 min)
Well, this is dreadful. Just as the Allies had started to string some passes together through Rey and co, Bronte latches onto a spill from Hatch (who else) and the Germans couldn't be homer and drier.

GOAL! Germany 4-1 Allies (Brady, 44 min)

HELLO. With Fernandez off injured with what looks like a bad shoulder injury, and Hatch bleeding from a head wound, the Allies suddenly rally. Tackles fly in on the German midfield, and the ball finds its way to Terry Brady at the back post. He taps home. Scant consolation?

HALF TIME: Germany 4-1 Allies
Fernandez looks like his afternoon is over. The Allies limp back to the dressing room to regroup. Brady's goal has given them something to cling on to, but the Germans' superior fitness will surely tell in the second period.

46 min
And we're off again! But not before a spot of mind games from the Allies, who kept the Germans waiting for a few minutes before the second half could begin. Not sure what happened there.

GOAL! Germany 4-2 Allies (Rey, 52 min)
This is a completely different Allies to the one we saw in the first half. Rey slaloms his way through, past Schmidt, and slides it home. Game on?
GOAL! Germany 4-3 Allies (Wolczek, 76 min)

Amazing! Wolczek  pounces on a loose ball and it's suddenly anyone's game!
80 mins:
Champagne stuff

Clure taps home for a dramatic equaliser....but it's ruled out! Chaotic scenes.
GOAL! Germany 4-4 Allies (Fernandez, 88 min)
It was literally in the script. Fernandez, nearly crippled with injury, slides the ball out to the right to find Brady. The cross is a little behind the Trinidadian, but he produced an unbelievable bicycle kick to hammer it past Schmidt. RIDICULOUS.

This is absolutely absurd. With seconds left, Rey upends Baumann in the area. A stupid challenge, and the referee had no hesitation.

Baumann, who had hammered a penalty past Hatch with ease in the first half, stepped up to take. Hatch eyeballed him, and the referee had to step in and send him to his line. The psyching-out clearly worked because Baumann's weak kick was at the perfect height for the American IN HIS FIRST EVER FOOTBALL GAME, and the clutched it to his chest. Baumann is on his knees!

Full-time - Germany 4-4 Allies

The crowd are on the pitch, and it's not a minority of idiots either. They've swamped the heroic Allied players, who are nowhere to be seen.

They'll make a film out of this.

So there we have it. A ramshackle bunch of POWs have out-Radforded Ronnie Radford, 30 years before he even got the chance, against a German side who were playing at the World Cup finals only five years earlier. The scoreline reads 4-4, and a share of the spoils, and this tells either the whole story or none of it at all. Four goals down after 41 minutes, and being kicked from pillar to Parisian post by their adequately-nourished opponents, the Allies staged a miraculous second-half revival, led by the English lions of Terry Brady and captain John Colby, and aided by the the magic of Mexico's* Carlos Rey and Trinidadian genius Luis Fernandez.

Fernandez, clearly hampered by a shoulder injury that had temporarily forced him to the sidelines, produced the game's defining moment when he flung himself at Brady's cross in the 88th minute to spectacularly hammer a bicycle kick past Schmidt in the German goal and send the 
Stade Olympique de Colombes into raptures. If that wasn't enough drama, rookie goalkeeper Robert Hatch atoned for a catalogue of positional errors by saving a last-gasp penalty from the normally cucumber-cool, talismanic German skipper Baumann.

It was a draw that felt every bit like a victory for Colby and his spirited side, who looked down and out at half-time, with Dutch veteran Pieter van Beck already stretchered off after a brutal tackle. German football supremo Major Karl von Steiner will likely consider the future of manager Rainer Muller after this humiliation, while the likes of Hatch, Rey, Scottish midfielder Arthur Hayes and Fernandez's tireless foil Sid Harmor have surely put themselves in the post-war shop window.

Victoire! Victoire!


The Rise and Hilarious Fall of the Football Blooper DVD

The comedy football video represents (apart from @FootballFunnys) the game's lowest common denominator. The hipster antithesis. This is "footy".

In the age of gifs, memes, Sulia links and internet streaming, the comedy football DVD is leading a charmed existence. In the 1990s, it was enough of a challenge to find footage that hadn't already been guffawed over by John Parrott and Ally McCoist on Question of Sport. Now these beleaguered producers must unearth footage that hasn't already been guffawed over by @BBCSporf, Paddy Power, Soccer AM and Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell on Question of Sport. As a rule of thumb: if a bloopers DVD includes Peter Devine's penalty, it's probably not going to be a groundbreaking hour of your life.

On the other hand, this sordid corner of the market has been boosted by the fact that football is now apparently more hilarious than ever. Top-flight supporters are now hooked on high-grade schadenfreude, as their rivals' expensive flops struggle in the high-pressure bundle for Champions League places. The unstoppable rise of statistical analysis has spawned jokes actually involving statistical analysis, with endless variables. The cult footballer used to be either a rubbish but well-meaning midfielder (John Jensen, Phil Stamp) or a supremely talented but little-known maverick (Robin Friday). Now, to be cult means to be a slightly unconventional player, of any ability, upon whom a godawful parallel universe of hilarity can be constructed - see Zlatan "Zlatan" Ibrahimovic, Mario Balotelli or Nicklas Bendtner for examples.

If we are to insist on football being a source of unsophisticated humour (rather than sheer joy, frustration, anger, relief, escapism or whatever it's supposed to be for), then we must return to the blooper, the gaff, the blunder, the ricket and the 'mare.

Much like football itself, the blooper video's Big Bang came in 1992. Danny Baker's Own Goals and Gaffs (above) is, to be frank, the genre's immediate zenith after which the returns have been diminishing ever since. Baker's habit of going completely silent, and letting the bewildering goalkeeping errors speak for themselves, is a far cry from the sound effects and pop-rock soundtracks of later, paler imitations. The original OGandG revels in its pre-multimedia age - Gary Crosby's artful dodging at the expense of a furious Andy Dibble is already two years old by this point - breathing space that YouTube would never allow nowadays.

After a digression of Danny Baker's Right Hammerings (1993), a 1994 sequel - Own Goals and Gaffs 2 since you ask - sticks to the same formula. Still the archive 60s and 70s footage keeps coming and, still, the lack of competition kept it fresh. 1995's rather more turgid Fabulous World of Freak Football signalled the end of Baker's mid-90s stranglehold on the bloopers video market. Segments shot on location in local recreation grounds were a foreboding nod to low-budget productions for the next two decades. Baker, like an over-the-hill Mark Spitz trying to qualify for the 1992 Olympics or the straight-t0-TV Home Alone 5, just couldn't resist one more flog of a dead horse, resulting in 2009's chaotic Glorious Return of Own Goals and Gaffs.

Nick Hancock's Football Nightmares (1996 - eventually lumped together in 2000, in an irresistible DVD deal, with Nick Hancock's Football Hell and Nick Hancock: Football Doctor) was notable for footage of Linsey Dawn McKenzie, wearing only a thong and high-heels, strutting across a non-league football pitch to kiss Jarvis Cocker. The football blooper had gone all certificate 12. Oh, and there's Noah Hickey.

Into the new millennium we went, and Rory McGrath was dragged in to replace Baker as the larger-than-life-hairy-funnyman figure for Own Goals and Gaffs - The Premiership (2002) and More Own Goals and Gaffs (2003)The series' confusing quasi-sequel of Johnny Vaughan's Own Goals and Gaffs III (2009) marks the point at which the whole thing was finally put out of its misery.

The floodgates were now creaking open and, as the number of blooper DVDs increased, a clear formula for their presentation emerged. The low-budget covers predominately feature the semi-famous presenter (often holding a ball, and occasionally also pointing to it) standing in front of a computer-rendered goalnet. To avoid product placement, there's a heavy reliance on the classic (but now obsolete) hexagonal ball design. 

Older VHS efforts would boast on their cover about how many minutes of action they contained. In the DVD era, this would graduate to vague claims about being the "ultimate" or "top" collection of football mishaps. More Own Goals and Gaffs, for example, claims to feature "NON-STOP FOOTBALLING INSANITY", which is not so much a promotional tag-line as a collection of thrown-together words.

Production companies started looking beyond jobbing panel-show comedians and tested the ex-player waters. A perma-chuckling David Seaman fronted the quickfire brace of Goalkeeping Nightmares (2003) and Jeepers Keepers (2004)which both capitalise on the well-worn caricature of the lonesome goalkeeping fall-guy. Responsibly, though, the latter effort is also punctuated with genuine coaching tips for budding custodians. David James would tread the same path a few years later with the existential thriller Who Would Be A Goalkeeper? (2009).

Unintelligible Radio 1 DJs Mark and Lard then took on the Football Nightmares franchise from Hancock, who has barely been heard of since. Meanwhile, a casually-dressed, pre-hairplugs James Nesbitt rode the wave of his Cold Feet fame by presenting Eat My Goal (2004), which sold itself with the indisputable reasoning of "Eat My Goal...because football can make utter fools out of anyone."

In 2005, Chris Kamara Presents: UNBELIEVABLE! attempted to rely on a single season's-worth of inanity, but perhaps history may one day adjudge that 2004/05 was one of the most unhinged Premier League campaigns of all. Nonetheless, the slim pickings are padded out with cameos from "Kammy's" Sky Sports cronies Alan McInally and Rob McCaffrey, and the viewer suddenly starts to feel a bit left out of the in-jokes. Actually, this DVD is a complete figment of my imagination, but it's a measure of the uniform ridiculousness of the genre that you can barely pick it out among the dross that actually made it to market.

If a panel-show comedian or recently retired player aren't available, Plan C is to rope in a celebrity who sort-of likes football. The first heinous crime of Gordon Ramsay's Football Hell (2005) is that the cover art appears to show him flambéing an Adidas Tango on a bed of rocket leaves. As is always the case when trying to shoehorn a non-footballer into a football context, some clumsy comparisons are required - "Gordon proves he's just as much of an expert on the pitch as he is in the kitchen. He's also just about as intolerant of mistakes, which makes watching this carnival of the terminally stupid even funnier."

Amazon customer Alastair Murdoch, however, is unamused: "This was bought for my son by his brother and it is okay, however if you want an exciting football video, this is not for you."

The most scathing Amazon reviews are saved for the decidedly no-frills Football Follies (2005), which just about scrapes into the top 300,000 bestsellers due in no small part to its bargain price of £15.49 (with free delivery). "Unlike the Ronseal advert," one customer laments, "this dvd has probably the most misleading title ever released. If there is an option to purchase and watch this or insert hot needles under your finger nails, the needles would give you a more enjoyable experience." Ouch.

Moving on, and another example of some if-it's-broke-fuck-it-just-do-it-again marketing strategy. Ian Wright, whose post-retirement media career appears to be going in slow motion, fronted It Shouldn't Happen to a Footballer in 2006 and, a year later, It Really Shouldn't Happen to a Footballer. A third edition, No Seriously, This Really Oughtn't Happen to a Footballer was presumably shelved.

Next to ham-fistedly try and marry footballing clumsiness with mental illness was Bradley Walsh's Soccer Shockers (2006), which promises "the ultimate collection of football insanity." And look! Fans dressed as Elvis! Mascots waving at the camera! Referees getting in the way! Gary Lineker's Action Replay (2007) took a more measured approach, and ends up being one of the most bland productions of the lot.

2007's lowlight was surely this: 
Paddy McGuinness All Star Balls-Ups (2007) - "probably the best footy bloopers in the world!". Note the lack of the possessive apostrophe on the surname, which I like to think was McGuinness belatedly trying to distance himself from the finished product. Viewers are not let down on the "All Star" side of things, though - Graham Taylor, John Aldridge, Alan McInally and a climaxing Paul Merson ably assist McGuinness in padding out the DVD with bawdy sketches, in between footage of little-known European goalkeepers conceding rib-ticklingly unorthodox goals:

Lovejoy and Redknapp's Best of Football (2007) earns a mention in passing here for both its laughably vague title and the inevitability that it contains an unhealthy dollop of banter. The football blooper landscape would seem empty without one of its most enduring clown princes. 

2008 saw more non-footballers muscling in on the lucrative Christmas stocking market. Ubercockney Ray Winstone's Football Blinders and Blunders (2008) admirably manages to find hitherto untrademarked wordsin its title to describe its arse-over-elbow football content. Phil Daniels' Football Match Day Madness (2008) is yet another bloopers-by-numbers Christmas compilation of action "from the world's favourite game, featuring the world's favourite stars." Ricky Hatton's Hotshots (2008) sees the weight-gaining boxer go twelve rounds with the autocue, backed by a soundtrack that is dreadful even by the subterranean standards of the comedy DVD genre.

It's hard to establish the alignment between irony and Danny Dyer's career path, so you can't be sure exactly how seriously he takes himself at the helm of Danny Dyer's Football Foul-Ups (2009). It currently retails on Amazon at 88p, but purchasers may yet feel short-changed when they see that the good stuff was clearly kept back for Danny Dyer's Funniest Football Foul-Ups (2010)

Speaking of actors inextricably tied for eternity to a single character, 2010 brought us Ricky Tomlinson: Football My Arse! This claims to be "the funniest football DVD you'll ever see", a groundbreaking cover-mounted boast that extends itself to both the past and future.

Robbie Savage: Football Howlers (2011)
In When Saturday Comes No.322, Cameron Carter rips apart this effort from the (oh god, I'm going to have to say it) outspoken BBC pundit: "Savage does not so much deliver lines as survive them". A 10-second trailer is all a potential customer should require in order to make an informed choice here.

Olly Murs: 7 Deadly Sins of Football (2011) features arguably the lowest-budget artwork of all. A stripy goal, two misshapen footballs and a gurning Murs is all we get. Press play, and it's even more disappointing than it originally threatens:

Finally, one of the final death knells for the football blooper DVD. Skin-crawlingly tacky TV celebrity? Check. Microsoft Paint artwork? Check. Vague superlatives about the "greatest moments from the beautiful game"? Check. Mark Wright's Football Saints and Sinners (2012) epitomises a once-flourishing genre of light sporting entertainment that is patently no longer trying. Perhaps football just isn't funny after all.


The Perfect World Cup

In Bahia on Friday, the draw for Brazil 2014 represents a crucial stage in the incubation period of World Cup fever. For the next six months, symptoms may include fractured metatarsals, a fixation with Brazilian hotel facilities and cravings for football nostalgia. Much like Second Season Syndrome, there is no known cure, but it is treatable.

The 19 previous tournaments have each provided their own iconic moments, images and (possibly apocryphal) tales. Looking back over the competition's history - and with logistical and ethical fears surrounding the 2014, 2018 and 2022 editions - just what would a perfect World Cup be like?

Format: 1998-present
The current 32-team, eight-group format arguably works better than anything before it, especially for those who enjoy the glorious televisual clutter of the group stages. The final-less tournament of 1950, despite its undeniably dramatic decider at the Maracana, would never be countenanced today.

Inevitably, though, some self-serving tinkering is afoot. Uefa president Michel Platini, looking ahead to the next Fifa presidental election in 2015, has proposed a 40-strong competition in 2018. An extra 32 group games, and the vast amount of dead rubber they would create, would test the resolve of even the most ardent group-stage marathon enthusiast.

Mascot: Ciao, 1990
The unveiling of an official mascot is traditionally one of the earliest glimpses of a forthcoming World Cup. In the years leading up to Italia '90, some creative soul provided - in the three-dimensional form of Ciao - a welcome deviation from chubby children in giant hats or anthropomorphic animals, fruit and vegetables. Sadly, next year's tournament organisers have reverted to the ever-marketable formula and given the world a cheerful armadillo called Fuleco. 

Stadiums - Germany, 2006
Established in the 21st century as the low-cost template for how to cater for football fans, the German model (as we must apparently refer to it) lent itself perfectly to staging football's flagship event in 2006. No Fifa tournament will ever boast budget ticket prices, of course, but Germany's 12 impeccable venues oozed class, without a missed deadline or white elephant in sight. The strength of the array of venues was in such depth that the ic0nic Olympiastadion in Munich, host of the 1974 final, saw no match action. 

Honourable mentions are certainly due elsewhere. Mexico City's Estadio Azteca witnessed several veritable World Cup classics in 1970 and, despite apparently being plagued by a giant spider hovering over the centre circle, provided a dramatic centrepiece second time around in 1986. 

Group of Death - Group C, 1982
A prerequisite for any World Cup. The original phrase grupo de la muerte was first coined by Mexican journalists in 1970 as favourites Brazil and holders England were drawn against Romania and Czechoslovakia in the first round. 

The deathliest group of all, though? In 1982, the second round pitted together holders Argentina, free-scoring favourites Brazil and eventual winners Italy, with only the winners progressing. A three-team group of death may not satisfy the criteria of the purists, but this was an unprecedented clash of the titans. In the end, a Paolo Rossi-inspired Italy edged out the Brazilians, while Argentina crumbled. 

Friday's draw has the potential to concoct the most potent grupo de la muerte for over 40 years. The labyrinthine draw procedure could, for example, place England alongside hosts Brazil, the USA and either Italy or the Netherlands. Agreeing on a tournament's Group of Death is as important as deciding on its dark horses; this time, it is Belgium's exciting crop of yearlings that are looking to bolt before the stable door is shut.

TV coverage - BBC, 1986 and 1990

Coverage of major tournaments has never been slicker and more comprehensive but, in the YouTube age, there is no longer the same exotic sense of detachment and fear of the unknown - 2014's World Cup stars are already well-established. As the next Roger Milla prepares an impromptu arrival on the global stage, he may find the shop window rather cluttered when he gets there.

From the well-catered modern know-it-alls, we must look back to a more innocent age of World Cup broadcasting. Nearly 24 years on, the in-game Italia '90 graphics remain a classic of their rather niche genre. Those little dots of doom running down the side of the screen are as vivid a memory as Paul Gascoigne's tear-jerking yellow card, Gary Lineker's rifled equaliser or Chris Waddle approaching the penalty spot with the look of a condemned man. 

The World Cups of 1986 and 1990 witnessed the BBC's commentary titans at the peak of their contrasting powers. Four years before a still-containable John Motson had conveyed perfectly the drama of Turin (without resorting to the crockery-themed nonsense of 2002), Barry Davies was at his schoolmasterly best in Mexico as England stuttered through the group stage:

"Agh - mistake by Fenwick! And again it's a three-against-two break...Ohhh, what an important foot in by Terry Butcher! But England just cannot afford to make crass errors like that! We've got away with it twice; we cannot tempt fate further."

Alongside Davies in the gantry was Jimmy Hill who, unlike the calming presence of Brooking in 1990, greeted England finally opening their account for the tournament against Poland in wonderful fashion:
Davies: "...four in the area...LINEKER!" 
Hill: "Haaaaaaooooooooooooooooooo! Ha-ha-ha-hooooooooooooooo!"  

At no point since Brooking and Hill left the gantry have we had a co-commentator that we felt was with us for every kick, every foul and every agonising miss. In Brazil next year, we will likely hear the overearnest observations of Andy Townsend, the verbal whirlwind of Mark Bright and -  if we're very unlucky - Mark Lawrenson, the commentary equivalent of the groan-inspiring joke in a Christmas cracker. While studio punditry has begun to get its house in some sort of order, it seems that broadcasters (and perhaps we, the viewers) are yet to identify the right formula for the modern co-commentator. However, you can rely on the Beeb for a touch of class in the end credits.

Kits - USA '94
The goal-shy Italia '90 signalled the end for many of football's increasingly stale elements. Within two years, the backpass law had been introduced, increasing the speed and intensity of the game almost instantly.

Meanwhile, the next World Cup was to break new ground. The United States had won the right to host it, despite not having a domestic league to call its own, 
and made up in sheer flamboyance what it lacked in genuine soccer pedigree. If the sight of Diana Ross bottling it from the penalty spot on the opening day wasn't arresting enough, USA '94 was notable for a kaleidoscopic explosion of 100% polyester.

With some stunning exceptions (Denmark's Hummel-designed efforts in 1986 continue to induce hipster swooning), football shirts had been mired in minimalism for decades. But now there was Sweden, Bulgaria, Norway and Romania. And Jorge Campos. The leading kit manufacturers, led by the bold stripes of Adidas, had chosen the perfect moment to throw caution to the wind.

Austerity may be about to make a comeback, however. A vaguely-worded passage in Fifa's 2014 tournament regulations refers to kits being "predominately" dark or light in colour. Spain have opted for an all-red strip, while Germany and Argentina will wear tradition-defying white shorts. An important part of World Cup iconography is under threat, but no-one is quite sure why.

Match ball - Adidas Tango, 1982

Surprisingly (or not, given that they're a rather fundamental piece of equipment) match balls have an eventful World Cup history. The very first final in 1930 was preceded by a charmingly playground-style spat between Uruguay and Argentina who both insisted on using their own ball; a Fifa compromise finally saw them accept a half each.

Brown or orange leather balls were de rigueur at tournaments until 1970, when the truncated icosahedron made its debut. The Adidas Telstar's revolutionary black-and-white design (which improved the ball's visibility for TV viewers) remains, several decades later, the universally-understood symbol for "football". Even now, given a pen and paper, nobody is going to draw a picture of a Jabulani, are they?


Then, in 1978, came a design classic - the Adidas Tango. What it lacked in visual impact in comparison to its predecessor, it made up for in understated style. The design remained more or less intact through to the 1998 World Cup, when the Tricolore signalled the beginning of the end - multicoloured match balls. 2002's official abomination, the Fevernova, was blamed for a catalogue of poor free-kicks before World Cup balls reached their widely-accepted nadir in 2010 with the seemingly anti-gravity Jabulani. It remains to be seen what the goalkeepers' union think of the freshly-unveiled Brazuca.

The technique of thermal bonding, where stitching was once used, has produced near-frictionless beach balls that veer through the air and consternate the world's leading goalkeepers in the run-up to every tournament. Bring back the Tango. Or perhaps the delightfully-named 1962 ball, "Mr. Crack".

Goalscoring - Spain, 1982 
Until the expansion of the competition to 32 teams in 1998, the 1982 World Cup was the highest-scoring in history, but quantity did not come at the cost of qualityFree-kicks flew in from every direction and Brazilians Eder, Socrates and Zico held their own personal goal of the tournament competition - mainly at the expense of a forlorn-looking Alan Rough in the Scotland goal. 

1982 also gave us the greatest goal celebration of all time when Marco Tardelli wildly wheeled away, fists raised, as he put Italy in the driving seat against West Germany in the final. The sheer pace of Tardelli's celebratory spree, and the subtle arc of his run, makes it worth a thousand Roger Milla corner-flag jigs or Bebeto cradles.

More recently, the 2006 tournament featured an increasingly absurd selection of long-range efforts. In 1994, cavernous, billowing, luxurious goal nets characterised a World Cup of excess - record attendances, soaring temperatures and goals, goals, goals. 141 of them rifled, curled and slotted their way into these voluptuous onion bags, plus a visibly emotional Rashidi Yekini.

Indiscipline - Germany, 2006
Media previewDespite repeated Fifa directives aimed at quelling them, acts of violence and disorder are an indelible feature of the rich World Cup tapestry.

Cameroon's attempts to cut Claudio Caniggia down to size in the opening match of Italia '90 are remembered as fondly as Francois Omam-Biyik's gravity-defying headed winner. Italian enforcer Claudio Gentile's 90-minute bullying of Diego Maradona in 1982 included a mere 23 fouls (despite, record books say, him being booked in the first minute). It was undeniably effective, though - Italy claimed a vital 2-1 win, and Gentile presumably pocketed Maradona's dinner money. After three consecutive tournaments of being kicked from pillar to post and back again, an ephedrine-fuelled Maradona would himself see his World Cup odyssey end in crazy-eyed ignominy in 1994.

Statistically, the 2006 finals stand out as the dirtiest of all. Their crown jewel of indiscretion was Portugal's second-round clash with the Netherlands, melodramatically dubbed the "The Battle of Nuremberg", which saw four red and 16 yellow cards and eclipsed both the Battles of Berne and Santiago in the process. 

World Cup officials haven't always made life easy for themselves. Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno's eccentric decisions in favour of co-hosts South Korea raised a few eyebrows (and broke a few Italian hearts) in 2002. Moreno would go on to be banned for 20 games in his home country for some suspicious timekeeping, and then jailed for 26 months for attempting to smuggle heroin into the US via his underpants. All of which makes Graham Poll's infamous administrative error in 2006, when he managed to book Josip Simunic three times, look rather tame.

Official World Cup Film - Hero (1986)
An immediate thing you notice when looking back at Mexico '86 is the unrelenting sunshine. It created a tournament-long shimmer that more than compensated for the absence of potentially more dramatic floodlit matches, and Fifa's official film, Hero, unashamedly basks in the rays. Michael Caine's unhurried narration, backed by some genuinely wonderful Rick Wakeman synths, betrays a detached awe of foreign football that would seem quaint now: Michael Laudrup, "from the glamorous Juventus club in the Italian league", slaloms about in slow-motion, and the irrepressible Hugo Sanchez drags the hosts to the quarter-finals.

The main protagonist of this World Cup is undeniable - Maradona is the anti-hero and the narrative is compelling. You suspect they could easily have made this entire film from footage of him either being fouled or appealing in vain to unmoved referees. The muscular cannonball twists, turns and tricks his way past Uruguay, England and Belgium in the knockout stages before West Germany loom in the final at the Azteca. Argentina contrive to throw away a two-goal lead but, with one final piece of magic, Maradona releases Jorge Burruchaga to slide home the winner and complete El Diego's script - the greatest solo effort the world's biggest team sport has ever seen.

This hypothetical, perfect World Cup offers a chance for history's greatest also-rans to shine. The Brazil side of 1982 could only curl, dink and swerve their way to the second round but, 12 years later, Romario would finally toe-poke the Selecao to their fourth title.

Still waiting for their first triumph, and unfortunate enough to fall at the final hurdle to two consecutive host nations in 1974 and 1978, are the Netherlands. The first of those finals has taken on more and more of a hard-luck hue as the years have rolled by but the Dutch arrived in Munich after putting six goals past Brazil and Argentina without reply in the second round. A training-ground passing session led to Johan Cruyff being felled by Berti Vogts in the opening minute and, well, you know the rest.

For once, this perfect World Cup will risk the commensurate peril of writing the Germans off. The Italians and Brazilian trophy cabinets are already well-stocked, and Spain's possession-hoarding metronomes have already seen the early rumblings of a backlash. Cruyff gets his hands on a World Cup trophy (not the punier Jules Rimet version, although it's a close call) and his legacy, like Maradona's, has its crowning glory.

Cue Luciano...

Celebrity Referees: More Trouble Than They're Worth?

If the best referees are indeed the ones you don't see, this has been a particularly inauspicious week for officialdom. Mark Halsey's overexcited lambasting of the current crop of top-flight referees, which followed his replay-by-replay dismantling on BT Sport of the weekend's big decisions, was met with disdain from former colleague Graham Poll. The public show of disharmony within the traditionally tight-knit referees' union is remarkable, but the belligerents in this war of words are perhaps less surprising.

There are frequent calls for referees to be more accountable, and to "come out and explain their decisions" after a match. Their governing body, the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), are steadfast in their opposition to opening this particular can of worms, which may explain the enthusiasm with which some retired officials have taken to the media after hanging up their whistles. 

Dermot Gallagher's stern appearances on Sky Sports News, Poll's newspaper columns and Halsey's BT Sport residency all had the potential to demonstrate the extreme difficulties and pressures of being a modern-day football referee, but each of them (to various degrees) has descended to cheap shots or vague "six and two threes" observations. God knows what Segar Bastard would make of it all.

The era of full-time match officials has brought with it some earnest professionalism (more on this to come), while bringing to an end quaint practices such as broadcasters mentioning a referee's home town before kick-off, apparently abandoned through fear of encouraging harassment. A shame, because the Chester-le-Streets, Trings and Orpingtons of this world deserved their brief moments of fame. 

Professional referees are not just expected to get decisions right, but to look deadly serious in the process. No referee can compete with the array of camera angles the broadcasters have at their disposal but, faced with a 50-50 tackle or a coming-together in the box, they have developed a strange crouch-and-squint technique which, at least, assures us all that they've really, really looked at the incident. 

The wonderfully emphatic gesture of both arms swept in a scissor motion across the chest instantly relays a message of "nothing doing" as a hopeful penalty appeal is raised among players and fans. The cult spectacle of a referee pointing out various areas of the pitch to a repeat offender to justify his yellow card demonstrates the ability of the modern officials to accommodate the viewing millions as well as the twenty-two players under their jurisdiction. Things have moved on considerably from the days when their only concerns, if the Ian Campbell Folk Group were to be believed, were their "whistle, notebook and stopwatch":

At the risk of angering those who insist some referees are still star-struck by the players they officiate each week, there still appears to be room for personality among the elite referees group. Mike Dean's withering looks in the direction of hysterical players can delight or infuriate, depending on your allegiances, while Mark Clattenburg's perpetual expression of mild irritation makes you wonder how enjoyable life as a referee really is. Howard Webb has the approachable authority of a deputy headmaster, a far cry from the schoolmasterly David Elleray who, in the grand old tradition of disclosing referees' day jobs, we all know was actually a Harrow schoolmaster.

Our officials are waging a constant battle against common perceptions about what good refereeing actually is. There is a traditional proclivity, especially among TV commentators, for leniency and for a referee to "keep his cards in his pocket". Managers ask for "common sense" one moment and, without a hint of irony, bemoan a perceived lack of "consistency" the next. The referees' lack of a right of reply is glaringly exposed during the forensic post-match analysis. 

When Match of the Day resorts to freezing the action to evaluate an official's positioning for a split-second decision, complete with comic-book graphics to emphasis his line of sight, it becomes a laughably counterproductive debate.

The least forgiving, of course, are the fans - their most potent weapon is arguably the ironic cheer, a gleefully childish expression of injustice that greets a free-kick in their favour after a string of decisions the other way. The man in the middle, at least, can distance himself from the baying hordes. Not so the fourth official, whose matchday tasks include enforcing the dimensions of the technical area, fielding futile grievances from under-pressure managers, and trying to think of a brief quip to share with the next substitute who waits to enter the fray. Spare a thought also for UEFA's well-prepared goal-line officials who, because they don't wave a fluorescent flag, have their very existence questioned by ignorant co-commentators on a midweekly basis. 

On the evidence of Halsey and Poll's tête-à-tête this week, there is little sympathy for attention-seekers among the refereeing fraternity. While an inside view on the unique demands of officiating top-level football should be encouraged, it seems their careers spent sheltered from the media spotlight have done them no favours when they find themselves stranded outside their comfort zones on our TV screens. 


Stepping Up.

Rickie Lambert, you may have gathered, crowned his fairytale England debut within seconds, scoring past international football hall-of-famers Grant Hanley and Russell Martin in a 3-2 win against Scotland. He now has to prove that his meteoric rise to international level is no fluke, as he makes his first start this evening in the World Cup qualifier against many people's dark horses for glory next year, Moldova.

Just what is international level? Let's look at the evidence. We know that it's where John Terry's lack of pace gets cruelly exposed, that there are no easy games to be found, and that a one-in-two goalscoring record is not to be sniffed at.

"But can he make that step up to international level?" starts out as a stale brain-fart from an ITV studio pundit. Then it gets absorbed by the Carling-soaked brains in pubs. Then those Carling-soaked brains repeat it within earshot of their impressionable offspring. Before you know it, this country will be overrun by people in a paranoid frenzy about whether a top-flight 15-goal-a-season man can unlock a well-drilled Gibraltar rearguard to keep alive England's hopes of qualifying for the 2038 World Cup - controversially due to be held on the dwindling ice-shelf of Antarctica - and thus ease the pressure on under-fire manager Theo Walcott.

In terms of the concentration of talent, the almost total marginalisation of minnows, and sheer excitement, it must be put forward that the Champions League represents the true pinnacle of the game, even if the World Cup reassuringly remains a grander spectacle. But the concept of an international level implies that there are other factors to consider. The lessened threat of weak opposition, hamstrung by nations' populations, is tempered by a relative lack of team unity, cohesive tactics and preparation time, compared to the day-to-day environment of club football. Throw in a generally-declared indifference to international football (and friendlies in particular), and suddenly the "step up" becomes rather complex after all.

Making this mythical ascension to the national team perhaps applies most to strikers, for whom the proof is always in the goal-flavoured pudding. So, let's just see how challenging it has been for some of world football's greatest onion-bag-bulgers to take their form into the global arena. I looked at the exploits of the ten leading international goalscorers of the last 20 years, and compared those records with their domestic plundering.

Ali Daei - 103% better at international level
The Iranian legend, despite some creative accounting of his club career on his Wikipedia page, somehow managed to be twice as prolific for his national team than he ever was for Bayern Munich, Hertha Berlin or Arminia Bielefeld, among many others. His statistics are perhaps boosted by his five-goal haul against Sri Lanka and four goals apiece in qualifying games against Laos, Nepal and a 19 (NINETEEN)-nil nail-biter against Guam on route to World Cup 2006.

Stern John - 74% better at international level
CONCACAF's all-time leading goalscorer, the Trinidadian's goalscoring prowess was first noticed in 1997 during his spell at the club with the greatest name of in the history of football, the New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers. Fifteen years and 70 goals later, including 20 goals in 49 World Cup qualifiers, John was reportedly plying his domestic trade at Conference North outfit Solihull Moors.

Miroslav Klose - 33% better at international level
A well-documented phenomenon at international level. Klose has regularly filled his boots in competitive games for Germany, with his record at the European Championships (3 in 13) the only blot in his goalscoring scrapbook. Only in his three seasons at Werder Bremen did his domestic ratio get anywhere near his hit-rate for his country.

Ronaldo - 6% worse at international level
The only out-and-out striker in this pitifully flawed sample size to have enjoyed greater domestic success in front of goal, even managing to maintain a one-in-two record for Corinthians during the final, mid-1970s-Elvis-Presley chapter of his career. His 15 goals in 19 World Cup games, though, suggest that even Ronaldo's make-do-and-mend knees could handle the step up to international level with considerable ease.

Didier Drogba - 45% better at international level
When not fulfilling his day-job as a pouting, civil-war-ending talisman, Drogba has amassed a fearsome international goal haul, over 11% of which was at the expense of mighty Benin. He averages exactly a goal a game in qualifying campaigns, but his club career is perhaps hindered by his relative slow start at Le Mans in his early twenties.

Robbie Keane - 18% better at international level
An international expert at only beating what's put in front of him, with 42 goals in 69 qualifying games, Keane perhaps enjoyed the relative consistency of international duty, given his peripatetic club career.

Gabriel Batistuta - 24% better at international level
A hugely impressive barometer of international goalscoring, taking in three World Cups (plus the marathon gauntlet of the CONMEBOL qualifying format) and three Copas America. Despite averaging well over a goal every other game against miserly Serie A defences (I know, I know...), Batigol still managed to find an extra gear - or at least a quarter of one - for his country. 

David Villa - 24% better at international level
Villa matches Batistuta's goalscoring acceleration between club and international football, proving 24% more prolific in the national team's shirt. Given that his goal haul coincides with Spain's indisputable golden era, with greater knockout-round pressures, it seems Villa has had little trouble knowing where the goal is outside of La Liga.

Landon Donovan - 8% worse at international level
The first thing to note about Landon Donovan is the preposterous number of caps for his tender(ish) age. The odd one out among the pure centre-forwards in this list, Donovan's stepping-up to international level perhaps shouldn't be judged solely on his finishing ability, but his goal record at club level does look rather MLS-enhanced.

Romario - 14% better at international level
Toe-poking his way to a heavily disputed career goals tally of over 1,000, Romario benefited from Brazil's 1990s Harlem Globetrotting - 17 of his goals came in friendlies. His early-career tenure at PSV Eindhoven remained as his longest club spell, which seems rather odd. In any case, his stepping up to international level is beyond all doubt.

An obsession with goalscoring is understandable - no amount of pass-completion stats will change that - but it seems that the graduation to the national team is easier for strikers after all. It's much harder (and even more boring) to attempt to quantify what international level entails for defenders and goalkeepers, but it seems logical that they would be most exposed by the relative openness of these games compared to the more rigid, well-trained systems of club football. 

Rickie Lambert may or may not score against Moldova tonight, but the significance either way is nowhere near as much as we'll be led to believe in tomorrow's media post-mortem. 

It's not so much a step up to international level - more of a barn door.