That’s it, the end of a series Salut! Sunderland has been proud to present,
Pete Sixsmith‘s magnificent memories of 11 World Cups. With more warning that Pete had such a great idea up his sleeve, it would been worth turning into a slim volume. He began with the 1966 tournament in which (West) Germany were beaten by England, and ends in (reunited) Germany where the final will forever be remembered for the final gesture of Zinedine Zidane’s career* (captured rather neatly in Mads Boedker’s photo). …
And so we reach the last of our reviews of past World Cups What I Can Remember, with a look at Germany four years ago. Another European tournament, another terrific set of stadiums and another one that pulled a nation together for four weeks through the magic of football.
England were there, but my interest in their progress had continued to wane due to the fact that Kevin Phillips had more or less been ignored earlier in the decade. The squad was full of the usual suspects, hand picked by the London based media and everyone thought that the mystical Swede, SGE, had pulled a rabbit from his capacious hat in Theo Walcott.
As it happened Walcott was reduced to carrying the bags as media attention turned to the WAGS. They occupied the spa town of Baden-Baden and spent the two weeks that England were in the tournament shopping, dancing and making middle aged men like me shake their heads and say: “I really don’t know what’s going on out there.”
In 1966, the teams based in the North East had stayed in exotic spots like the Five Bridges Hotel at Gateshead, the Teesside Airport Hotel at Middleton St George and Houghall College at Durham. I don’t recollect People’s Republic of Korea WAGS hitting the highlife of Dinsdale Spa or Allen’s West and the hotties from Chile were certainly not seen in Shepherds of Gateshead (“The Biggest and the best store. There’s so much to see and the car park is free, Come shopping at Shepherds for the whole family”).
This ridiculous circus, set up by less reputable members of the media, seemed to be more important than the football. Not that England did much to push the WAGS out of the news. The group was won thanks to wins over Trinidad and Tobago (Kenwyne, Carlos, Dwight Yorke and Stern John all played) and Paraguay (Paulo da Silva was on the bench and Riveros played) took them to a quarter final against Portugal and the infamous Ronaldo wink.
The game was lost on penalties, Rooney was sent off and the WAGS had to leave Baden-Baden for Knutsford-Knutsford or Lakeside-Lakeside. Not quite as classy.
The elegant Swede also left and was replaced by his principal coach, Steve McClaren, to sighs of relief from Boro fans, who had had quite enough of his rather dreary style of play.
The football wasn’t bad, but the tournament was remarkable for the outpouring of positive patriotism from the German people. For obvious reasons, they had refrained since 1945 from banging on about how wonderful Germany was. Flags were to be respected, not waved. However, in 2006 all that changed and Germany covered itself in flags and found plenty to be proud of as an unfancied and unheralded team made its mark by reaching the semi finals, only to fall to traditional rivals Italy in a fascinating semi final. Two goals in the last two minutes of extra time won it for the The Azzuri.
The final was remarkable for the assault perpetrated by Zinedine Zidane on Marco Materazzi, spotted by the cameras and the fourth official. Off went Zidane and Italy eventually won on penalties.
There was much conjecture about why he had done it. The most convincing explanation I have come across was that Materazzi had uttered a grave insult at Zidane, by asking him whether it was true that he was thinking of signing for Newcastle.
The other highlight of the tournament was watching Graham Poll make a complete a*** of himself by booking the same player three times. The look on his face when he realised what he had done restored my faith in the essential fairness of life and almost made up for his abysmal performances at the Stadium of Light, Roker Park and anywhere else where his natural inclination for the top teams showed. Many folk got enormous satisfaction from his downfall.
So, that’s the end of this series of looking back at the Mondial. The last two or three tournaments haven’t really captured my imagination and the memories are not as strong. Let’s hope that South Africa is one to remember and that the Guaranies can come home clutching the Jules Rimet Trophy – or at least get as far as England do.
* Zidane has said he would rather die than apologise for butting the neanderthal Materazzi in retaliation for an abusive remark about his mother. Materazzi’s gloating take on the episode, comes from his own website, and suggests that it would be unwise for him to look up Zidane any time soon. As far as the French are concerned, Zidane was wrong to react as he did when he did, but can easily be forgiven in view of the provocation and is still a revered figure. Which makes him, in their eyes, a nutter – but a right nutter.