The football World Cup tends to offer up a lot of memorable moments, from the infamous Roy Keane-Saipan incident in 2002 to Diegio Maradona’s “Hand of God” in 1986, not to mention his insane celebration at the 1994 World Cup that left everyone thinking, “He looks like he’s on drugs” – which, as it turned out, he was. However as G’ole, the official FIFA film of the 1982 World Cup that was held in Spain makes clear, this World Cup may have been the maddest World Cup of all.
The madness begins with the format of the tournament itself, so unnecessarily complicated that the narration, provided by Sean Connery, makes no attempt to try and explain it, even pointing out how little sense it makes. The format, unique to the ’82 World Cup and thankfully never repeated again, consisted of a first round group stage, similar to the one we have now, with the top two teams progressing to the next round. Here is where things starts to become a little strange: Instead of going straight into the knockout stage, the teams entered another group stage, this time consisting of four groups of three with the winners going into the semi-finals. This was set up in a way that the teams who met each other in the final did not play each other previously in the tournament. This system left the door open for two teams who were in the same group in the first round, meeting each other again in the semis, and that is exactly what happened as Poland and Italy, who came first and second in group A respectively, ended up meeting again in the semis.
If this confuses you, don’t worry; I still don’t understand what the point of it was myself, though to be fair to FIFA, and that’s not a sentence that many people would say often, this was the first tournament after the decision to expand the number of teams playing from 16 to 24, which has since been further expanded to 32, so I guess they were still experimenting with a workable system. At least FIFA learned the error of their ways, again not a sentence that would be used often, and subsequent World Cups have instead featured a more straightforward group stage / knockout system that is a little bit more functional.
They were plenty of other interesting incidents throughout the tournament. The most bizarre is what happened during the Kuwait/France match early in the tournament. After France scored a goal that would have put them 4-1 ahead, a Kuwaiti Sheik invaded the pitch to remonstrate with the referee over allowing the goal to stand, as the Kuwaiti players had stopped play after hearing a loud whistle which turned out to have come from the stands. Oddly, the Sheik’s tactic worked, and the referee disallowed the goal much to the annoyance of the French. It certainly has to go down as one the strangest moments in World Cup history, though it was all for nothing as France soon scored another goal to once again bring the score line to 4-1, which was how the match finished.
There were many other memorable moments as well. There was Northern Ireland’s famous 1-0 win over the hosts Spain as well as the World Cup debut of a 17-year-old Diego Maradona, then touted as a future star, who failed to make much of an impact at this tournament which ended with him being sent off for kicking a Brazilian player in the bollocks. Then there was joyous celebration of Italy’s Marco Tardelli in the final which has gone down as one of the most iconic moments in World Cup history.
More infamously remembered is the group match between West Germany and Austria, where a win by 1 or 2 goals for the Germans would see both teams through to the next round at the expense of Algeria. After taking the lead in first ten minutes, the two teams passed the ball around for the rest of the match, neither with any intention to make any effort to score. Everyone considered the behaviour of both teams so disgraceful, perhaps apart from Louis Van Gaal who probably thinks it is the most exciting game of football there has ever been, that in an effort to stop the same thing happening again, FIFA changes the rules that ensured that the final matches of the group stage both kicked off simultaneously. While the match is one of the most remembered of that year’s World Cup, it barely gets a mention in G’ole, only brought in passing in the narration when talking about West Germany’s progression to the semi-finals. That FIFA should ignore the most negative aspect of the tournament in a video celebrating them, it should not be any kind of surprise, but the lack of acknowledgment of the incident is quite frustrating.
While the majority of the film’s run time is dedicated to the tournament itself, the film does turn its attention on some of the countries that were making their World Cup debuts, notably New Zealand and Cameroon. The focus on the Cameroon team, who held both Poland and Italy to draws in their group stage matches and only got knocked out due to the fact that they had scored fewer goals than the Italians, is more interesting as looking back you can see that the ’82 World Cup was the beginning of countries from central and west Africa being treated with more respect that they would have been in years before. From this point on, countries like Cameroon and later Nigeria, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast would no longer be treated as minnows, there to simply make up the numbers, but as teams who were difficult to beat and are very capable of defeating the so-called “bigger” teams on their day.
However, those of you who are more reluctant when it comes to the concept of change needn’t fear, as there are some aspects of the World Cup that will never change, the most notable being Scotland getting knocked out in the first round and FIFA accidentally portraying themselves as a bunch of pervy old men, shown here in the glee the film takes when showing a lot of topless women on a beach during a segment showing a momentary break from the tournament before the semi-finals begin.
While G’ole would have some significance for anyone with an interest in football and the history of the World Cup, or as an opportunity for someone to nostalgically look back at the tournament, there are some problems with the DVD. One major problem is that it looks like the DVD is just a VHS transfer, right down to the letterboxing at the edges of the screen in order to maintain the film’s 4:3 aspect ratio. As a result of this transfer, the image quality isn’t great, but it is certainly a country road better than the audio quality, which sounds muffled and compressed, making it difficult to make out some of Connery’s narration at times. All of this is a shame because I do have a soft spot for sports documentaries and this lack of quality did disturb my enjoyment of the film. However, for people who grew up watching this on a worn out VHS then perhaps there can be some element of nostalgia to be found in this.
[Image: Movie Poster Company]