1) A proper song
Apparently, this year’s ‘official’ anthem, a new re-recorded version of Take That’s Greatest Day has been axed after the taxman tackled Gary Barlow from behind. Good. The lyrics go ‘Today this could be, the greatest day of our lives’. It won’t be. We know it. The players know it. Gary Barlow knows it. And anyway, who wants some reheated boyband poop. This is the country that gave us Back Home, World in Motion and, my personal favourite, the 1982 World Cup squad’s This Time (We’ll get it right). They didn’t of course, but the seven-inch still got regular play at my local in the mid-80s for drunken last orders singalongs.
2) Proper players you’d never heard of
Amid the grainy footage, Megadrive graphics and commentary from inside a bath-tub, the World Cup used to create global superstars from all corners of the globe. From Josimar to Carlos Valderrama to Ilie Dumistrescu, one majestic strike and the entire planet woke up to new God-like greatness. Nowadays, we know everything about everyone and even if we don’t, we can hit Google and discover the lad’s entire back story in seconds. And no need for a big money transfer either, he’s probably been on Man City’s books from the age of 12.
3) Proper mascots
A good mascot can make or break a tournament in the memory. Think Italia ’90 (probably the last great World Cup we’ll ever see) and it’s impossible not to see ‘Ciao’ the blocky little stick figure with a football for a head. As with all good things football-wise, we invented it, with World Cup Willie in 1966. Lonnie Donegan even wrote a song about him. Can’t imagine anyone doing the same for this year’s effort, Fuleco the armadillo who has a ‘message of environmental concerns and ecology’. Hasn’t football changed for the better, folks?
4) Proper kits that don’t cost £90
In Mexico 1970, England wore shirts akin to string vests. Sixteen years later, Lineker, Beardsley and Co also took to the field in a superfly, superlight top. This year they’ve gone with Nike’s latest Dri-fit technology. It’s plain white and classic in design. And it costs £90. You’d think this would be laughed out of the stadium by most fans, but a quick visit to the Nike website shows that, depressingly, it has sold out. Oh, the irony.
5) Proper pundits
In 1974, ITV’s expert panel was Brian Clough, Jack Charlton, The Doog and Malcolm Allison. To say that lot were never short of an opinion is a bit like saying Stuart Pearce ‘didn’t mind a tackle’. Now, we have the BBC lavishing vast amounts of our money on such icons as Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer and, errr, Robbie Savage. No Mick McCarthy this year, sadly. But at least we can be grateful they haven’t taken Garth Crooks. Over on ITV, it’s the captivating insight of Gareth Southgate and Lee Dixon at half time. Hardly an inspirational front two for Adrian Chiles to work with, but to be fair, he has just lost his star player. Which brings us to . . .
6) Proper Roy Keane
When not walking out on Ireland over some perceived slight, Roy spends his time successfully managing not to punch his fellow studio guests on ITV1. Never – ever – one to back down from a challenge, Roy has been essential viewing with his honest opinions (‘Alex Ferguson doesn’t know the meaning of the word loyalty’), brooding presence and ‘did you spill my pint’ squint. Quite possibly THE greatest football pundit of all time, Roy has pulled out ahead of an expected gig as assistant boss at Aston Villa. Depending on his start date in Brum, he could be back in the studio in time for the final.
7) Proper scandals
In 1982, ITV didn’t show the opening game of the Spain World Cup because it involved Argentina – and this was 24 hours before British troops recaptured Port Stanley in the Falklands. The broadcaster feared a backlash, but actually called it wrong as most viewers would have enjoyed seeing Maradona’s team get beat 1-0 by Belgium. In 1978, Ally’s Tartan Army (don’t laugh) was derailed when Albion’s Willie Johnston was sent home after testing positive for a banned substance, which he always maintained was for his hay fever. But the biggest scandal of all (if we forget about Chris Smalling’s selection) came in 1970 when Bobby Moore was accused of stealing a £600 bracelet from a Colombian jeweller’s on the eve of the Mexico tournament. Placed under house arrest after Prime Minister Harold Wilson kept him out of jail, the England captain wasn’t fully cleared until 1975.
8) Proper goal celebrations
Once we grew out of the simple handshake, the World Cup gave us some of the greatest celebrations of all time – and some of the worst. The good included Bobby Charlton’s arm waving jump in ’66, Pele’s leap into the arms of a team-mate in ’70 and, of course, Marco Tardelli’s demented, head-shaking, disbelieving surge of emotion after scoring in the ’82 final. Passion at its finest. But a word of warning to this year’s players not to over-do it. At last week’s Aviva rugby Premiership final, Owen Farrell scored the opening try and hoofed the ball into the crowd in celebration, injuring himself in the process. Faced with a long delay while he was being treated, the referee in the stand decided to watch the TV replay – and spotted an infringement. He disallowed the try and Farrell’s team went on to lose in the last minute. Maybe there’s something to be said for just shaking hands and getting on with it after all . . .
9) Proper theme music
Hard to describe in print, but a good theme always sets the tone for a great World Cup. Just the opening bars of the Beeb’s Argentine Melody in 1978 transports anyone over 45 back to the days of ticker tape, Kempes and Ardiles. Italia ‘90’s Nessun Dorma never fails to bring a lump to the throat. This year, the BBC looks like it’s landed another winner with Stevie Wonder’s Another Star as its theme. The Beeb can’t claim any modern triumph with it however, it’s from the Motown maestro’s Songs in the Key of Life album, made in 1976.
10) Proper winning it
Yes, I know that was then but it could be again. Since 1966, we’ve let a two-goal lead slip against the Germans, we’ve let the Bull loose, we’ve sent penalties into orbit, we’ve written a book of hard luck stories. And despite nearly 50 years of failure, we’ve always expected to win. Well, not this time. No-one expects anything from Roy’s team of triers and toilers. So why not just sit back and enjoy the ride? You never know what might happen, after all, football’s a funny old game.