15 April ~ In WSC 43 Andy Lyons sought out the best peripheral activity at the 1990 World Cup, including finding the "World's Most Tasteless Man" and several examples of frenzied behaviour
Hardly a vintage World Cup, was it? Instead of persevering with ‘Goals of the week' competitions, the TV companies should have conceded defeat and instead asked viewers to vote for the most boring moments of the tournament. Likely contenders would have included mind-numbingly dull segments of Cameroon's matches v Romania and Colombia, Czechoslovakia's sleep-walk to victory over the snoozing Austrians and, of course, that miracle cure for insomnia posing as England v Eire.
The Final itself was saved only by the lively commotion brought on by the first sending off. FIFA should certainly hold an enquiry into touchline brawls involving coaches, players and substitutes. There weren't nearly enough of them. Over the years, most major international matches worthy of the name have incorporated a keenly-contested lusty dispute or two. Yet in this tournament there was scarcely a hint of a push-and-shove until the quarter finals.
Argentina belatedly realised that an important part of World Cup tradition had been sorely neglected and set about righting matters with a vengeance. Bearded midfielder Sergio Batista seems to get particularly cross on such occasions, having now perfected a simple technique. It involves picking out the official least likely to understand Spanish and having a good old yell about anything that comes to hand – your bank balance, the fact that you've never been signed by a European club, the defective plumbing in your flat, that woman in the fruit shop who always short-changes you. Your associates soon get the hang of it and chip in with some major pointing, a few mimed shoves and a burst of shadow boxing as the opposition respond in kind.
For all that, it's difficult to dislike a team managed by such a complete 24-carat nutter as Carlos Bilardo, the lost Marx brother, who managed to top his animated displays of 1986 with even more intense dugout prowls, occasionally interrupted by a nippy dash to the touchline to blurt out incomprehensible instructions. Having satisfied himself that the message had got through, he would then saunter back, heaving up his trousers like a music hall comedian about to launch into a trademarked silly dance routine.
Bilardo's frenzied behaviour was almost matched by, of all people, Franz Beckenbauer. Or at least a stand-in posing as Beckenbauer. In the last World Cup Der Kaiser had cut an imperious figure, standing alone, arms folded, gazing intently into the distance as though trying to remember a favourite recipe. This time, he had clearly been replaced by a nervy man in specs watched over, you may have noticed, by a ‘minder' in an unpleasant red cardigan who was always at his shoulder. The doppelganger bellowed at the referee and waved his arms around while the real Beckenbauer sat in a dimly lit corner of the stand, ostensibly so he wouldn't be bothered by intrusive TV cameramen, but also so that he could secretly negotiate with the US Soccer Federation via a cellphone.
Most of the coaches on view favoured sombre suits, indeed Bobby Robson insisted on wearing one even in the blazing heat of Sardinia, as though seeking expiation for past sins through sweating. Top marks for lack of sartorial style to Luis Suarez of Spain whose distinctly non-fetching brown suit and haunted expression recalled a seedy high school maths teacher with no sense of humour and a passion for brass-rubbing.
On the subject of clothing, unkind souls might suggest that the edict requiring players' shirts to be tucked in at all times is evidence that senile dementia is infectious, and that a particularly virulent strain is on the march inside FIFA headquarters in Zurich. In fact, it looks more like the beginning of a laudable campaign to cover up the greater part of a players torso so that at least some of the hideous manufacturers' designs are no longer visible.
As ever, shirts were adorned with ludicrous Bits Of Stuff, by far the worst of which was the scaly rash creeping across the chests of the Soviets and Czechoslovaks. At first glance it seemed to have been crafted in the shape of a flag, but repeated viewing confirmed that it was indeed just some Stuff.
A word should also be said about the goalkeepers' outfits. The word is YEEUUUCHHH! Anyone bidding for the title of World's Most Tasteless Man would struggle to better the effort made by Austria's goalkeeper, Klaus Lindenberger with his lime green candy striped shorts. If this is a sign of things to come one can only hope that any new Puma catalogues entering the UK will be seized under the Obscene Publications Act.
Sadly, there were no new innovations in goal-celebration techniques this time, just variations on established fashions. The vertical pile ups widespread in 1986 (scorer standing motionless while colleagues clamber on his back) were not much in evidence this time, though there was plenty of enthusiasm for the horizontal love-in with the object of affection flattened on the ground by eager team-mates.
Before the tournament began, referees had been asked to keep injury time to a minimum so as not to interfere with TV schedules. Michel Vaurrot, in charge of the Argentina v Italy Semi-Final, showed magnificent contempt for this instruction by adding on what seemed like an extra hour to the first period of extra time. We will probably never know whether this was due to admirable bloody-mindedness or simply the result of a sharp blow on the head during normal time which led him to believe that the game had only just started.
A number of matches overran in any case thanks to finely-honed time-wasting techniques perfected on training pitches around the world. Most of the perpetrators escaped punishment save for an unfortunate South Korean who was dismissed and the Egyptian goalkeeper Shoubeir, booked in the game v England. Little wonder that he attracted the attention of Everton. A black belt in the art of shilly-shallying is bound to come in handy when you're grinding out another 0-0 draw away from home.
We are often told that football needs to become more of a spectacle if it is ever to attract bigger crowds. Lessons can surely be learned from the World Cup's magnificently-choreographed closing ceremony wherein several young women strode about purposefully with facsimilies of Roman monuments on their heads. It's a humdinger of an idea crying out to be adopted by Football League clubs. Think of the extra thousands who would flock to, say, Fratton Park to see great naval battles re-enacted on a variety of hats. Has to be a winner. We're already hopping about with excitement at the thought of what 1994 has in store...