BACKSIDE OF THE NET

World CupAlas poor Mick – the former Southampton centre forward named Channon was one of the few permanent fixtures of the unstable era in English international football that constituted the sad decline and fall of Sir Alf Ramsey as well as the inconsistent tenure of Don Revie. Mick Channon made his England debut in 1972 and played his final game for his country in 1977. At a time when England were incapable of finding a settled side and rarely played the same line-up two games running, Channon’s name was one of the few automatic choices on the team-sheet, and he collected a total of 46 caps, scoring 21 goals over five years. Yet he remains the most-capped Englishman never to have played in a World Cup or European Championships tournament, for he was prominent amongst a generation of great English footballers that also included the likes of Tony Currie, Gerry Francis, Roy McFarland and Malcolm Macdonald – men who unfortunately missed out on the kind of international competition today’s players take for granted because they were playing at the wrong time.

The 1970s was a curious period, almost reminiscent of that pre-war era of international football, when the England team effectively opted-out of the World Cup, regarding the newfangled tournament as being somehow beneath them; at least the team tried to qualify during the 70s rather than declining to participate, but they still failed to do so. The blow to national morale that came with the fatal draw against Poland at Wembley in October 1973 meant that, for the first time since their inaugural entry in 1950, England wouldn’t be going to the World Cup Finals. To add insult to injury, Scotland had qualified, and the tournament would be held in the backyard of another old enemy, West Germany; oh, and the Germans ended up winning it as well. 1974 could have been written off as an unpleasant blip for English football, but it happened again four years later.

After having to pretend to support Scotland at the 1978 World Cup (something that didn’t stretch much beyond the lacklustre draw with Iran), it was a relief that England finally qualified for the 1982 tournament; for my generation, it was the first time we’d been able to cheer on our own country in the contest, and the excitement in the build-up – along with familiar, misplaced optimism – was something that has become mandatory ever since; well, until this year. Indeed, given the uniquely low-key overture to the 2022 World Cup, you’d be forgiven for not knowing it kicks-off this coming Sunday. I’ve never previously experienced such muted hyperbole preceding the World Cup before, especially with England participating; and, for once, England go into a tournament having performed exceptionally well at the previous two – semi-finalists in the 2018 World Cup and runners-up at Euro 2020. However, there are reasons for this noticeable dearth of enthusiasm, and it says a great deal about the multi-million dollar business the beautiful game has become in recent years.

Qatar is a country that has never qualified for the World Cup and has no footballing pedigree whatsoever. It had no notable stadia when winning the right to host the tournament, so embarked upon an intensive building programme thereafter, undertaken by cheap migrant labour; many of the exploited labourers died during the construction of this stadia, though estimates vary as to the numbers. Mind you, considering summer temperatures in the country can reach up to 113º Fahrenheit, it’s probably fair to say hard labour in such conditions isn’t recommended. The searing heat is utterly unsuitable for running around a football pitch for 90 minutes, which is why a sacred tradition has been broken to accommodate the fact and this World Cup has been put back to the end of the year. Of course, this has meant the suspension of domestic league programmes, smack bang in the middle of the season; league football is the weekly bread-and-butter of the football fan, and the majority would rather see their own club win the title or the cup than have their international team do well instead. World Cups and Euros have increasingly become a summer side-dish to the main course of club football – the snack between meals you can eat without ruining your appetite; the prospect of a season being interrupted just so the World Cup can be held in an appalling autocracy where being gay means a prison sentence and women are second-class citizens frankly stinks. Sure, countries with dubious human rights records have held global sporting events before – the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the 1978 Argentina World Cup, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and indeed the very last World Cup, which was held in bloody Russia. But this feels even worse.

The awarding of the World Cup to Qatar back in 2010 embodies everything that is ugly, obscene and unedifying about football today. 11 of the 22 members of FIFA’s Executive Committee who gave the vote to Qatar twelve years ago have subsequently been suspended, indicted, banned or fined; two were excluded from the decision-making process even before it took place due to allegations they’d offered to sell their votes; a year after the right to host was won by Qatar, the Sunday Times alleged two other committee members had each been paid one and-a-half million dollars to vote the right way. The stench of bribery, corruption and brown paper bags has not cleared since the disgraced voting of 2010; anybody with half-a-brain knows the sole reason the World Cup went to a footballing backwater like Qatar was that Qatar bought the tournament. And this blatant truism has definitely filtered through to the TV stations, presenters and pundits, who are conspicuously quieter than usual. One gets the feeling that even the overenthusiastic cheerleaders for the competition are ashamed, toning down their normal giddiness at the prospect of the World Cup being just days away.

Unsurprisingly, some in the game have echoed FIFA’a scruples by taking the money and running with it, struggling to uphold their routine Woke posturing in the face of hilarious hypocrisy. Just a couple of months on from winning plaudits after choosing to queue-up to see Her Majesty’s coffin at Westminster Hall rather than using his celebrity status to jump that queue, David Beckham’s reputation is in the gutter following revelations of a handsome gratuity from his Qatari paymasters; similarly, infuriatingly right-on pundit Gary Neville – the arch-advocate of taking the knee – has decided not to boycott the World Cup and will instead be covering the contest on site, for a mouth-watering fee. It was almost a throwback to the glory days of ‘Have I Got News for You’ when Ian Hislop ripped into Neville a couple of weeks back, and he was as deserving of it as Matt Hancock is of being showered in koala crap on his own primetime reality show. But the hypocrisy doesn’t end there. After two years of bombarding football fans with nothing but political issues and slogans, the football authorities are now claiming politics has no place in the sport and supporters should concentrate on the games instead of questioning the ethics of holding the World Cup in a country like Qatar. You couldn’t make it up.

When the MSM has cautiously touched upon those ethics, the focus has predictably been the threat to travelling members of the ‘LGBTXYZ Community’, something a Qatari World Cup Ambassador provided ammunition for by stating, ‘Homosexuality is damage in the mind’. But as football isn’t primarily regarded as a particularly ‘gay’ sport, the impact of such prejudice is probably more minimal than some of the other unsavoury elements surrounding the whole atrocious circus. Like most, I’ll no doubt tune in to see how England fare, but I won’t be especially annoyed if they fail to make it out of the group stages this time round. The sooner the team are jetting home to prepare for the recommencement of the domestic season, the better. Qatar bought the tournament, so Qatar may as well buy the bloody trophy; let them have it. Any other winner would only be tainted by association.

© The Editor

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4 thoughts on “BACKSIDE OF THE NET

  1. The craven way in which FIFA was content to throw its major beer sponsor under the feet of a passing camel caravan a mere 48 hours before kick-off (after 12 years without the topic being raised), says a lot about FIFA and even more about who’s actually running the show. Not that any of them give an ounce of camel-turd about football anyway.

    Problem is, the billions of football followers around the world won’t work it out, nor take it out on them, they’ll still be there afterwards, eager for their next dose of plastic sport, paying whatever price is demanded, so why should the corrupted authorities and sport media worry? Kerching – the symbolic sound of modern sporting victory.

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    1. Unfortunately, the news that those who can afford to pay for corporate hospitality will be allowed to partake in quaffing whilst the plebs have to be teetotal for the duration broke after I’d already published this post; but it doesn’t really surprise me. If anything, it’s perfectly in line with everything else associated with this particular tournament. I seem to recall the wealthy dignitaries in Wembley’s executive boxes at last year’s Euros final were flown in and flown out again without recourse to the stringent Covid travelling restrictions in place at the time. Say no more.

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  2. Re: previous post. Did we forget Grover Cleveland whose second, non-contiguous, term in presidential office was considered quite successful? He had a few personal skeletons too.

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    1. I knew there’d been one previous President who came back and had a non-consecutive second term, but – as is so often the case – there wasn’t enough space to squeeze him into the post, so I had to let that one go.

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