Give Him a Ball (and a Yard of Grass)

It’s already the start of June and that means that the 19th football World Cup is about to begin. I remember being first taken by the sport when I watched the 1982 tournament in Spain on a black & white Ferguson television set. The game between Italy and Brazil is still one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen and each of the subsequent six competitions brings back many memories. In Mexico ’86, it was Maradona’s goals against England. I have fond recollections of happy days in packed pubs spent watching Ireland’s debut at Italia ’90 that reached its zenith with Packie’s Bonner’s penalty save and Dave O’Leary’s winning spot-kick in the game against Romania. We got knocked out by the hosts in the quarter-final, but got our revenge four years later with a Ray Houghton goal against Italy at USA ’94. France ’98 was notable for the host’s win against holder’s Brazil in the final

The 2002 World Cup was the first to take place outside of Europe and the Americas and it was the first one I watched outside of Europe. I’ll never forget the morning that my friends, the Gilday family, collected me at dawn for an early breakfast and took me to a pub in Cincinnatti to watch Ireland win only their second match at a World Cup finals. That 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia was accompanied by sausages and pints of Guinness and lots of laughter. Four years ago, my brother and I went to Germany and spent a week travelling around Bavaria, drinking and eating with Germans as we cheered on the host nation. At the top of this post, you can see a photo I took in Stuttgart in 2006 of some Dutch fans celebrating their victory over the Ivory Coast

The above photo was taken in Longford last week by a football fanatic friend of mine named John. It features a break in play in an Irish First Division league match between Longford Town and Limerick FC. The picture highlights two things you won’t see at this year’s World Cup. Firstly, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever see all twenty outfield players within spitting distance of the centre circle at any time during normal play. Here, the players are awaiting a kick out from the goalkeeper. The tendency at the World Cup will be for teams to play the ball out from the back, so the players will be spread out all over the pitch. Secondly, this year’s World Cup will not feature any Irish players. The team came close, but forces conspired to prevent Ireland from making to its fourth finals. Nevertheless, sports fans in Ireland will be glued to the telly over the coming weeks and we’ll find ourselves shouting for many teams, especially whatever team France happens to be playing

Since 1982, when the competition expanded to 24 nations, the tournament has become even more international and this is the fourth occasion that 32 countries will compete. Prior to 1982, only four teams from outside of Europe and South America had made it past the opening round: the USA (1930); Cuba (1938); North Korea (1966); and Mexico (1970). European and South American teams will again dominate the latter stages this year, but a number of sides from North & Central America and Africa have a good chance of making it to the knockout stages. Over the next week, I’m going to feature songs by bands from each country competing at South Africa 2010. Here are some tunes from a few countries that didn’t make it this time. And don’t forget to tune into the wonderful Football and Music over the next month. It does exactly what it says on the tin

Pressure Drop – Toots & the Maytals (Jamaica)

We’re From Barcelona – I’m From Barcelona (Sweden)

Jungle Drum – Emiliana Torrini (Iceland)

Kick Me with Your Leather Boots – Sultans of Ping FC (Ireland)

One Last Round – Ron Sexsmith (Canada)

Big In Japan (Alphaville Cover) – Ane Brun (Norway)

Ce N’est Pas Bon – Amadou & Mariam (Mali)


9 thoughts on “Give Him a Ball (and a Yard of Grass)

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  7. Well, Jim, the States’ opening game against England’s going to a humdinger as our island neighbours have been unimpressive recently. It seems to be between you guys and Slovenia for that second spot, though that would most likely mean against Germany in the next round. I think that Spain and Brazil will be the ones to beat and Holland are certainly in with a shout. However, I think Portugal will have a fight on their hands with the Ivory Coast and will be doing well to make it out of their group.

    Pressure Drop is some song alright and I had the pleasure of seeing Toots and the Maytals in action a few years ago. They were marvellous. I’m afraid that ice hockey is not so popular over here, but best of luck to the Blackhawks. I had a look at how they’re doing and they seem to be in control

  8. While I have to cheer for my home team, the US side has historically made an early exit and while they have a good chance to emerge from Group C, I’m not seeing much beyond that this year. I’m boldly predicting the eventual winner will emerge from Group G, provided the early matches don’t sap them too much – look for Brasil or Portugal to prevail and raise the cup – jogadores de futebol da boa sorte! (or however babelfish has mangled my good luck cheer…) I’ll also root for the gents representing the House of Orange – they got some babes up in The Netherlands! In the meantime, there’s this business to attend with Lord Stanley’s Cup – GO BLACKHAWKS!!!

    ps – I vote “Pressure Drop” as the best reggae tune of all time! If you’re going Ska, I’m saying anything with Jackie Mittoo…

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