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Ah, 1982. A special year for football fans. The year of Socrates, Zico, Falcao and Cerezo. And Paolo Rossi. A year hindsight has informed us was the year that football died.

Well, to be honest, I missed most of the 1982 World Cup. Or at least I can’t remember most of it. It was a glorious summer, if memory serves. One of the few memories I have is only seeing the last few minutes of Brazil-Argentina or Brazil-Italy because I was out playing golf.

Ah, and of course of those brief moments of excitement when David Narey put Scotland ahead against Brazil. Even he could hardly believe it.

Still, the 1982 World Cup served me well. Since I moved to Brazil I’ve met some of the players (that’s a young me and Zico below) and written about the tournament quite a bit. It still sticks in people’s minds because of the demise of that great Brazil side.

ZIco and meThe best story from the 1982 World Cup is doubtlessly apocryphal but it still deserves telling. Scotland go one-nil up against Brazil and as the Scottish players run to congratulate David Narey on his goal one of them screams at him, “What did you go and do that for? You’ll only make them angry!” As so it came to pass. The goal stung Brazil into action and they scored four without reply against a pretty decent Scotland side. It was football as it was meant to be played.

Second best story from that World Cup has more of a whiiff of truth about it. Scots and Brazilians met on the beach somewhere in Spain and a football match soon started. Brazil were favourites, of course. But the Scots won. 1-0. “We scored a goal and then just kept booting the ball in the sea,” said one Jock.

Ah, whae’s like us?


Aregntina ticker tapeSo 1974 ended and Scotland became the first team ever to be knocked out the World Cup without losing a match. It was a classic Scottish ending: Glorious failure. We were to get used to it.

Four years later and the World Cup finals were in South America. We had qualified again and England had not.

When I think back to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina I don’t remember the specifics but the spectacle. Partly because it was on so late. I had to sneak out of bed to watch games that started at 11pm. It wasn’t perfect for a young boy.

And yet it was all so exotic. Globalisation hadn’t been invented and the way they did things on the other side of the world was so different.

There seemed to be a buzz around every stadium and I don’t just mean an excitement but a real actual buzz, a murmur of expectation like everyone was humming and talking at the same time. And the way they greeted the home side every time they took the pitch, with think clouds of ticker tape madness raining down from the stands. It was superb.

After the World Cup ended we used to tear up bits of paper on the bus home from school and then throw them out the windows and scream AR-GEN-TINA! AR-GEN-TINA!

Before we even got there, the spectacle had started, at home, with a triumphant send off. Ally McLeod’s men were presented to a big crowd at Hampden and then rode round the stadium in an open-topped bus. I was only 11 but I distinctly remember thinking: Is this normal? Isn’t this kind of celebration meant to take place after the tournament, not before it?

McLeod, of course, had convinced us we could win the competition. People laugh at that now but he wasn’t delusional, he was just badly prepared. We beat Holland, remember.

But we seemed to have no idea that Peru were a decent team and after going 1-0 up and then missing a penalty (thanks Don Masson) the house came crashing down. We lost 3-1 and looked shell shocked. A 1-1 draw to no-hopers Iran a few days later almost confirmed our departure.

There was still hope, however. If we could beat Holland by three goals we’d go through. And this being Scotland, after losing to the wee teams, we beat the big team, defeating the eventual finalists 3-2 in a game that included a goal that was to go down in Scottish folklore (see below).

It was brilliant stuff but it wasn’t enough. Once again it was glorious failure. Much more than that I can’t remember. Perhaps it’s for the best.






The World Cup is just a week away. I approach the tournament with mixed feelings, excited at the prospect of covering such an important event (not to mention the football) but broken-hearted at the shabby way Brazil has planned and prepared. So much more could have been done. So many promises have been broken.

But 99 % of the world doesn’t care if Brazil hasn’t built the metro lines it said it would, or if if the airports are still under construction, or if the new bus lanes turned out to be a fiction peddled by politicians.

They care about football. They want to see their team and their heroes. They want goals, noise, colour, fans doing crazy things. They want to hear commentators screaming “Gooooooooool!” like only South Americans can.

My first World Cup memory came in 1974. I was seven years old and Scotland had qualified for the first time since the 1950s. The opening game was against Zaire and I remember the match was played on a Friday night (the ‘facts’ in all these memories could be totally wrong, but they’re how I clearly remember them).

Throughout my childhood I was a regular at the Boy’s Brigade and only occasionally went to the Cubs (the BBs had a football team and the Cubs didn’t), but for some reason I was at the Cubs that Friday night. It was a beautiful sunny evening, and this being June in northern Europe it was still light at 7pm or 8 pm.

The Akela sent us home early so we could see the game. I’ll never forget her face when she packed us off from the school playground. Or our excitement.

I was too young to really know what the World Cup was all about. It was much smaller then (only 16 teams qualified) and there was none of the commercial madness that surrounds it now.

But I remember how excited I was running home to see Scotland play in the World Cup that glorious Friday night.

I can’t remember much about the game. I’m sure I watched it with my dad in our sitting room. We won 2-0. It was only Zaire, but we won 2-0. Brazil were up next and the possibilities were endless.

It was downhill from there.


Rafael-ScheidtAsk any Scottish football fan about Rafael Scheidt and you’ll get a guffaw, a roll of the eyes or a shake of the head.

Or all three.

Scheidt signed for Celtic from Gremio for around 4.8 million pounds in 1999. He had three full Brazilian caps but he more than lived up to his name.

Scheidt by name, shite by nature, as anyone who saw him play, might say.

The Observer Football Monthly rated him the second biggest waste of money in football history. The Celtic Wiki page said he was arguably the worst signing in the history of the club. One team mate reportedly said, “he couldn’t trap a bag of cement.”

leomarI thought of poor old Rafael yesterday when I wrote this piece about Leomar (left), a midfielder who was allegedly called into the Brazil squad in 2001 in return for a bribe.

The president of northeastern club Sport said he paid to get Leomar a call up in 2001 and an investigation has been launched.

The idea was that players who can say they are worthy of wearing the famous yellow shirt can command higher fees on the transfer market.

That led me to think of Scheidt. Nothing, I should hasten to add, other than the fact he was rubbish and yet played three times for Brazil, suggests that Scheidt’s call up was underhand or questionable in any way.

But it wouldn’t be a surprise if we heard more such reports.

As Romario said: “The president of Sport had the courage to go public and prove what we’ve been hearing for a long time: the national team is a cartel.”

Brazil is known as the country of football.

But it’s not, at least not according to this interesting study of attendances by Brazil’s Pluri sports consultancy.

An average of 14,897 people go to watch first division matches in Brazil. That puts Brazil in 13th place on the world table, behind countries like the United States, Japan and China.

Germany is first, with an average attendance of 45,083; England is second with 34,604 and Spain is third with 28,400.  More people went to see games in the English and German second divisions than the Brasileirao.

The reasons are varied and have to do with the high ticket prices charged in Brazil, run-down facilities and insecurity in and around stadiums, and the large number of games shown on television.

The top 14 is here. (Country followed by total fans and average attendance)
1 Germany      13,795,286      45,083
2 England      13,149,676      34,604
3 Spain      10,791,927      28,400
4 México      3,877,500      25,343
5 Italy      8,330,161      21,921
6 USA      2,935,882      18,700
7 The Netherlands      5,954,191      19,458
8 France      7,167,940      18,863
9 England (Second Division)      9,969,699      17,899
10 China      4,242,026      17,675
11 Germany (Second Division)      5,266,941      17,212
12 Japan      2,204,074      16,572
13 Brazil      5,660,987       14,897
14 Scotland      3,163,154      13,873



Today is a special day for Scots all over the world.

January 25 is Burns Night, when we celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard, who was born on this day in 1759.

The most famous event to commemorate Burns is the Burns supper. It is a traditional meal of cock-a-leekie-soup, haggis, tatties and neeps, and of course, lots of whisky.

Haggis, for those uninitiated in this singularly delicacy, is made from the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep mixed with onion, oats and spices, and cooked in the sheep’s stomach. (It tastes much better than it sounds.)

Today is also the anniversary of the foundation of São Paulo, and a local holiday, so I held my own Burns night at home last night.

Armed with two beautiful haggis (that were, as per the usual specifications, warm, reekin’ and rich), and also with specially imported tins of fragrant orange turnips (which you can’t get in Brazil), a group of friends met and were treated to an introductory course in Burns.

At formal Burns Nights there are a series of traditions, that include speeches, bagpipes and of course the reading of Burns’ famous poem, Address to a Haggis.

I didn’t have any bagpipes so the haggis was instead carried triumphantly into the room to another quintissentially Scottish sound, the music of  The Proclaimers.

Then I read the homage to the national dish (that’s me in the photo on the right reading the poem) and explained a little about Burns to my guests, most of whom did not know him.

This is what I wrote about him in this Time magazine piece three years ago about putting on a Burns Night in Brazil:

“The Brazilians in the room knew little about the man and were shocked to know that it was Burns who wrote Auld Lang Syne, the global hymn of friendship and farewell. Still, it’s not hard to identify with a man whose most celebrated traits were his humanity and his romance. Burns was first and foremost a man of the people, and much of his poetry is about life’s cruel injustices. One of his most famous works is To a Mouse, written after seeing a field mouse almost cut down by a farmer’s plough.”

Just as happened three years ago, the Brazilians took to haggis with a gusto and they were both quickly gone.

To  my surprise, haggis found a new international audience. And Burns did too.

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