Nobody else cares about the 'world's biggest cup final', discovers globetrotting Chris Fyfe
If you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth. In the days when World of Sport and Grandstand both covered the FA Cup final, Frank Bough and Dickie Davies told us that two billion people were watching the game live. We believed them.
Even those of us who watched the Scottish Cup final instead believed them, despite the evidence of our own eyes. For no sooner had the world been welcomed to Wembley than we would be transported to Archie MacPherson in the BBC Sportscene studio or to the slow motion world of Arthur Montford on STV. But Scotland is a small country and there could easily be another two billion around the world watching the English final. Frank Bough wouldn’t lie.
May 1992, Guyana. Roll forward 15 years and I am a VSO volunteer in Georgetown. With a few other friends we embark on the hunt for someone with a telly who knows what channel will show the match. I ask my Guyanese colleagues which channel will have the Cup final. I get bemused looks. Responses vary from “Why would anyone want to watch football when we can’t even get Test matches?” to “What sport is that?”. We listened to the match on the World Service.
May 1993, Guyana, 10.30am (1.30pm BST). Roll forward one more year. A Brazilian diplomat surreptitiously helps us to open up his embassy, which has a six-foot gyroscopic satellite dish that fries any passing tropical birds. We have a dish, we have someone who knows how to work it, we’re near the equator and there are 90 minutes to go through every channel in the world.
We did go through every channel in the world. We saw the Bold and the Beautiful in English, we saw Dallas in French, we saw numerous Argentinean soap operas (including an episode about the secret drug habit of the world’s best footballer), we saw lots of Brazilian motor sport. We got Canal Plus, we got Russian current affairs programmes, we got more American religious broadcasting than anyone could stomach.
Wembley, 2.45 pm. The crowds have moved from singing We are the Champions to Abide with Me. The Princess/Duchess of Wherever is in the royal box. Meanwhile, back in Georgetown, the thought dawns: we have been systematically lied to. No one else is interested in the FA Cup final; no one else thinks Wembley is the home of football. Few know that the match is even taking place and fewer care.
Three pm. God Save the Queen has been belted out in a manner ill-befitting a dirge. The captains have tossed up and shaken hands.
The ref blows the whistle and supposedly the greatest football occasion on the planet commences. There is a power cut in the Brazilian embassy in Guyana; the lights flutter out and a debate is started on whether to put the generator on or just go to the national park and play football. One last chance. On we go, trying and trying, winding the dish across the heavens.
Three-fifteen pm. No idea what’s happening at Wembley. We give up. Such was our belief in the power of Frank Bough that no one thought of bringing a radio to listen to the game. We trooped off to the park, despondent and defeated, where we were even more outclassed by the Brazilians than usual.
May 1995, Goma, Zaire. There is a large satellite dish attached to the house in which I am staying. I make discreet enquiries. The TV can, I am told, pick up a local channel, a few French ones and... Canal Plus. My heart sinks as I remember. I persuade people to wind the satellite around to try all the channels available. It doesn’t take long. Sure enough, there is no coverage in Zaire, nor in nearby Rwanda or Burundi.
It’s like finding out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist or Elvis is dead. You can’t get the FA Cup final live in 200 countries. A childhood truth carelessly smashed.
From WSC 164 October 2000. What was happening this month