Monday, 20 November 2017

1982 World Cup draw

The independent state of FIFA can be accused of a lot of things - probably best I don't expand on those for fear of legal action - but something that cannot be levelled at the governing body is that they don't know how to turn the World Cup draw into an event. Normally a very, very, very long event, that will probably last longer than England's three matches in Russia next year.

On December 1, Gary Lineker and Maria Komandnaya will host the draw for the 2018 World Cup. Rehearsals and military planning will hopefully ensure that everything falls into place neatly, the well-oiled FIFA machine demonstrating that when it comes to ball picking, nobody does it better; not even those involved in past Carabao Cup draws.

It wasn't always like this, though. The 1982 World Cup draw was car crash television, a toe-curling example of how to humiliate your own organisation in front of millions of television viewers. It was so calamitous that you half expected the young Sepp Blatter to peel off a mask to reveal that it was actually Jeremy Beadle who was behind the farce.

There had been a cloud of controversy even before the draw took place on January 16, 1982. When it was announced that England would be seeded in pot one, many an eyebrow was raised. You could see the logic in seeding Argentina, Brazil, Italy, West Germany, and hosts Spain in the top set. But England had not qualified for the last two World Cups, and made it to the 1982 tournament by the skin of their teeth.

England manager Ron Greenwood was probably as surprised as others when nations such as Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Poland missed out. "It's wonderful, an honour granted to England as former winners," Greenwood said. His delight was not shared with others, though. Especially when it was revealed that non-footballing issues were taken into consideration.

"I don't understand why England have been chosen as a group leader," French FA President Fernand Sastre stated. "The decision is very subjective. One should not forget that England owe their qualification to Romania's home defeat by Switzerland." Sastre's mood probably wasn't improved when FIFA Executive Hermann Neuberger added more fuel to the fire.

"The Spanish want England to play in Bilbao for security reasons," Neuberger admitted. The reputation of England's fans may have given the country a bad name, but the recent violence in Turin and Basle had perversely helped Greenwood's side to gain an advantage over the other contenders. France and Belgium lodged a complaint. But FIFA were not for turning.

The row aside, there didn't seem to much complication in determining the six groups of four. One stipulation had been agreed on; FIFA did not want any group to contain more than one South American team. Achieving this should have been fairly easy. But the sump was about to drop off FIFA's clown car, resulting in red faces and embarrassment on an international stage.

Initially, Peru and Chile would be excluded from pot three, until two European teams out of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Belgium and France, had been allocated to the groups involving Brazil and Argentina. However, this simple plan was thrown into chaos.

Peru and Chile were not removed, although FIFA got lucky in that neither were fired out of the clunky-looking cage that wouldn't have looked out of place in a bingo hall. Belgium and Scotland were the first balls released; yet the mistakes did not stop there.

Belgium should have been placed in Argentina's group, and they would be eventually. But not before confusion reigned and the FIFA train arrived at Panic Station Central. The situation was not helped when Scotland were next out of the giant fan, and were allocated to the group that Belgium should have been in.

Archie Macpherson, summarising throughout the draw on BBC Scotland, seemed to have more of an idea than Neuberger and Blatter. "Scotland have been drawn against the favourites, Brazil," Macpherson pointed out, before he became as perplexed as everyone else.

"Scotland have been drawn in Alicante, along with Argentina," Macpherson added hastily when the hi-tech board was shown to the world, although you could tell in his voice that he was far from convinced about correcting himself. "It does strike me that that would be the opening game of the entire tournament," Macpherson said in a hesitant nature. But just a few seconds later, it became apparent to the world that FIFA had made a monumental cock-up.

"I really do think there's been confusion down there because they're going back," Macpherson indicated. "And there is confusion about what is going on. The information given to us, at least it seemed to come out at first, that Scotland were in Brazil's section. But the name has been put up there in Argentina's section." Macpherson had been on the ball from the start. Soon the FIFA officials would catch up, leaving Sepp Blatter to explain the sorry mess.

"Belgium should have been in Argentina's section, as I first said," Macpherson added with a combination of relief and smugness that he was in fact right all along. "And Scotland should have been in Brazil's section. I mean that was the way it was arranged prior to the draw. That's what they said they were going to do. And they've mixed it up. Would you believe the World Cup has started with a fundamental error?" Yes. Yes, we could.

Barry Davies, also commenting on the events as they unfolded, was at his brilliant best. "Scotland have come out. And in theory they should be drawn with Brazil. Quite extraordinary. They went to great lengths this morning, FIFA, to explain the procedure, and when they have come to the draw, they have not adopted their own plans." Davies went on to talk about the sensation created by the draw. Kevin Keegan, watching in a studio, certainly found it amusing; the FIFA executives, less so. Yet there was more comedy to come.

Thankfully, the draw confusion was swept under the carpet as quickly as possible, with Belgium and Scotland moved to the correct groups. But this was an occasion that kept on giving. With impeccable comedy timing, the cages used for Spain's National Lottery malfunctioned; cue men in suits poking the balls inside the machine with their fingers and a stick. To place the cherry on top of the farcical cake, one of the balls split inside the cage, wobbling about apologetically. An appropriate ending to an evening of pure hilarity.

Naturally, the press pack covering the draw could not let the incidents of the evening go by without a mention. Focusing on the role of the young Spanish boys helping out with the draw, the UK press tore into FIFA. "Had it not been so enormously important, it would have been funny to see schoolboys decide the fate of footballing nations by plucking balls from the wrong box into the wrong sector of the draw," Frank McGhee wrote in the Daily Mirror. The Times' Stuart Jones called it "an embarrassment on the grandest scale."

"If the Spaniards mean to go on as they started, the World Cup tournament is doomed," Jones added, completely ignoring the fact that the draw was organised by FIFA. "The draw....left the most onerous of tasks in the small hands of Juan Centos Cuemeda, at the age of 11 the youngest of three carrying out the operation." With the balls of Peru and Chile accidentally left in the cage, Jones commented that the youngster then forgot to put Belgium in Argentina's group. Surely Blatter or one of his colleagues should have spotted this error, though.

After "helping" out so adeptly at the 1982 World Cup draw, the obvious progression for Blatter was elevation to the top job in 1998. During his reign as FIFA President, cries of frustration, rather than laughter, could often be heard. But we'll always have his contribution to the 1982 draw to bring a smile to our faces. And of course, that fall in 2009.

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