World Cup 2018: (Posted) From Russia With Love?

CB writes….

Whilst rummaging round online for interesting and unusual World Cup-related things to post on ASRV, I noticed that commemorative postage stamps are most definitely A Thing when it comes to football, and have been for many decades: going back to the first World Cup competition in 1930, in fact.

Nowhere has this been more the case than in Russia itself (and in its predecessor, the USSR too) – so you probably won’t be surprised to learn that even in this age of emails, texts and instant messages the Russians have released several sets of stamps for the 2018 tournament, one of which features the tournament’s furry and enthusiastic mascot Zabivaka (above).

Now, I’m not a philatelist and I wouldn’t know a Penny Black from a 2nd class Christmas stamp, but I was intrigued to discover that World Cup stamps have also been produced in some decidedly unlikely countries over the years.

We’re talking places you wouldn’t necessarily associate with football at all (including some of those tiny, tiny little states that gained independence when the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s), all celebrating the World Cup alongside some of the biggest names in the international game past and present.

Below, you’ll find a slide show of some of the more interesting World Cup stamps I encountered, representing every edition of the competition since the first. Some of these stamps are simply great pieces of design, some are strangely beautiful, some strangely puzzling (my favourite is probably the bodyless pair of legs playing football from Azerbaijan), and others…. well, my mate’s toddler daughter could do a better job with a cheap packet of crayons, let’s put it that way…

Oh, and if you’re in Russia right now, send us a postcard!

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Uruguay 1930: First Things First

CB writes…

13th July 1930: It’s 3pm in Montevideo, and the Uruguayan referee Domingo Lombardi raises his whistle to his lips and blows. The French and Mexican players gathered on the pitch of the Estadio Pocitos have been waiting for this – the first ever match of the first ever World Cup has begun…

It doesn’t take very long. Nineteen minutes later, in front of a crowd of less than 5,000, a 22-year-old Frenchman by the name of Lucien Laurent (above) finds the back of the net and makes history.

Lucien Laurent had scored the first goal in the first World Cup. Many years later, he described the move that led to that historic moment:

[I]t was snowing, since it was winter in the southern hemisphere. One of my team mates centred the ball and I followed its path carefully, taking it on the volley with my right foot. Everyone was pleased but we didn’t all roll around on the ground – nobody realised that history was being made. A quick handshake and we got on the with game. And no bonus either; we were all amateurs in those days, right to the end.

France went on to win the game 4 – 1, but they were narrowly beaten 1 – 0 by both Chile and Argentina in their other group stage matches, and crashed out of the tournament as a result. It wasn’t really their finest hour in the competition (that, as we know, was yet to come). The eventual winners were the hosts, Uruguay, who beat Argentina 4 – 2 in the final, with the USA finishing third.

Lucien Laurent himself was one of two brothers who both played football for France (and who were both in that 1930 World Cup squad, although his brother Jean did not get a game). Born not far from Paris in December 1907, Lucien played professional, semi-professional and amateur soccer for a variety of teams in various parts of France during his career, often while also holding down a full-time job.

Indeed, he had to take unpaid leave from his position with the car manufacturers Peugeot to travel to the World Cup in 1930, and he was only paid expenses while he was abroad. It was a long journey to Uruguay by boat and the French players did their best to maintain their fitness on board, as Laurent describes:

We were 15 days on the ship “CONTE VERDE” getting out there. We embarked from Villefranche-sur-Mer in company of the Belgians and the Yugoslavians. We did our basic exercises down below and our training on deck. The coach never spoke about tactics at all.

One wonders what today’s national team squads and coaches would make of that! Eventually capped a total of ten times for France, Laurent scored twice for his country – the other goal being an equaliser against England in a 1931 friendly (that game finished 5 – 2 to the French, much to the English football establishment’s mortification). Injury kept him out of the 1934 World Cup in Italy, and his final cap came less than a year later.

Then, almost a decade after that memorable match in Montevideo, geopolitics noisily interrupted the football when war broke out and France was occupied by German forces. Laurent survived World War Two, despite spending three years as a prisoner of war (incidentally, this is in marked contrast to the wartime fate of France’s proud captain on that same July day in 1930 – Alex Villaplane (below) notoriously collaborated with the Nazis and was executed as a traitor in late 1944).

In 1946, Laurent retired as a player and went on to work in coaching, with an emphasis on youth teams. It is pleasing to report that he lived long enough to finally see France lift the World Cup trophy in 1998, and on home soil too. By then, he was the last surviving member of that somewhat unlucky French squad of 1930, making him the centre of much media attention. When asked for his views on the modern game, he commented:

It has developed enormously in terms of fitness, technique and tactics. But today there is too much negativity and cynical play. We used to bump into each other, not much more than that, there was no real tackling. We had respect for our opponents and for the referee. In the modern game there are no wingers: it’s the fullbacks who penetrate down the flanks as they say, but they can’t replace a good winger

He died, aged 97, in the much-changed footballing world of 2005, still holding one of the few World Cup records that can never be beaten.

For completeness’ sake, the first World Cup clean sheet was kept by the USA goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas in their game against Belgium on the same day. You can see some fascinating images of that, and the France v. Mexico match discussed above, in these videos below.

Incidentally, there were couple of first goals in the opening match of the 2018 World Cup. That game, between Russia and Saudi Arabia, saw several – the first goal of the tournament was scored by Russia’s Yuri Gazinsky (also his first goal for his country), and another debut international goal was scored by Denis Cheryshev (who also became the first substitute to score in the opening match of a World Cup).

(That’s enough firsts, I think! – Ed.)

Gareth Southgate’s weird hidden talent…

Two years [after Southgate’s Euro ’96 penalty miss] we were at France ’98. Tournaments can be a bit boring, doing the same thing for four or five weeks. We came up with the idea to fit as many song titles as possible into the interviews that we gave.

Because the players’ room was next door to the TV room and the interviews were going out live, once we got the song title in, you could hear a roar when the players realised you’d done it.

Gareth managed to sneak ‘Club Tropicana’ and ‘Careless Whisper’ into an interview with Bob Wilson. He was definitely one of the brighter ones, so he was better at that than most. He was certainly better at song titles than he was at taking penalties.

Alan Shearer

Ideas for Articles

Want to contribute to ASRV but have no idea what to write about? Here’s a few suggestions you might like to contemplate…

In no particular order:

  • Who is your footballing hero? Why?
  • Why do you support your team?
  • History/origins of the game. How has it changed? Stayed the same?
  • Football during World War One/World War Two.
  • Impact of changes in the laws of the game over time (back pass rule, offside rule etc).
  • Memories of your first match, or a significant/famous match you were at.
  • World Cup/Euros (history, memorable matches, memorable goals, great players etc).
  • Football stadia (new and/or old).
  • Football memorabilia.
  • Football and football culture in other parts of the world.
  • Safe standing. Do you agree with the idea? Why?
  • Non-league football (in all its glory!)
  • Women’s football (early popularity, the FA ban, women in the men’s game, Lionesses, sexism, legendary players etc).
  • The FA Cup/League Cup (history, classic matches, giant killing, views on the modern competition etc).
  • Europa League/Champions League (and predecessors).
  • Referees/VAR etc. Will we ever see another Collina in the game?
  • Footballers acting (adverts, TV shows, movies etc).
  • Fictional football (movies, TV shows, novels etc).
  • Reviews of books etc about football.
  • Transfer fees and the transfer windows (also players’ wages).
  • Football mascots and their antics (I would love an article about Sad Gunnersaurus please!)
  • Animals and football (animal players, pitch invaders, live mascots, predictors etc. Loads here!)
  • Great goals/matches/players/managers, and what makes them great.
  • FIFA/UEFA/FA scandals.
  • Footballers/managers in trouble with the law (Cantona, Barton, Big Dunc, Woodgate, Venables etc).
  • Match fixing and football betting.
  • Discrimination and equality in the game (race, gender, sexuality, class etc).
  • Football clubs and their local communities/the wider society.
  • The Academy system and its impact on young players.
  • When football was played on Christmas Day (yes, I know it’s only June…)
  • Football derbies (oldest, newest, most closely fought etc).
  • Rivalries between clubs/players/manager etc.
  • Record-breaking clubs/players/managers etc.
  • History and development of football kit (shirts, boots, balls etc).

If you have any more ideas (or would like to contribute photos or artwork etc too), please get in touch!

So why Ricky Villa?

CB writes…

Well, I am a Spurs fan, and Villa’s magnificent goal in the 1981 FA Cup final replay against Manchester City is one of my earliest football memories. Rightly considered one of the greatest Cup final goals of all time and a celebrated part of FA Cup folklore as a whole, Ricky himself has said that people still regularly ask him about it – and, to this day, it is a big part of his status among the Lilywhite side of North London as a Spurs Legend.

It’s come to McKenzie. What a good tackle by Graham Roberts. And now Galvin. Spurs have got… two to his right and Galvin wants to go on his own. Villa…. AND STILL RICKY VILLA! What a fantastic run. HE’S SCORED! Amazing goal for Ricky Villa! – John Motson

It’s that famous commentary as much as the goal itself which makes the whole thing so memorable, I think. Listening to the legendary John Motson’s enthusiasm is infectious, and you can’t help but share in his delight at Villa’s talent and skills. Motson’s words have echoed down the decades since, and it seemed somehow appropriate to use them for the title of a new blog which begins its life at the end of this, his final season as a BBC commentator.

But the choice of Villa is about more than that. The somewhat unexpected arrival at White Hart Lane of Ricky Villa and his Argentinian compatriot Ossie Ardiles in the summer of 1978 marked a turning point in the history of English football – and we’re still feeling the impact of that unprecedented international transfer several decades into the 21st century.

Villa and Ardiles were, in their way, pioneers. We’re so used to players from all over the world at British clubs these days that it’s easy to forget that this wasn’t always the case. Indeed, there had been a ban on players from abroad for a large chunk of the 20th century, after Arsenal’s Herbert Chapman had attempted to sign an Austrian goalkeeper in 1930. Naturally, this had not gone down well with the English football authorities.

The Football League were distinctly unimpressed with Chapman’s unmitigated gall, pompously describing it as “a terrible confession of weakness in the management of a club”. However, the FA was eventually forced to lift the ban in 1978 after a European ruling (probably implemented with much grumbling on behalf of its officials), and Spurs were quick off the mark in exploiting this new freedom of movement for players from other countries.

Although Ossie and Ricky weren’t the first foreign players in the English leagues by any stretch of the imagination (FA rules had allowed players like Manchester City’s famous German-born keeper Bert Trautmann to play if they met a two-year residency rule), the South American duo were among the first really big names to make the journey to the UK – and to succeed so very far from home.

At the time, English football was very insular. There was one way to play and it was not particularly our style. But we found a happy medium. Glenn Hoddle helped a lot with that because he played like us anyway – Ossie Ardiles on joining Spurs in 1978

They’d just won the World Cup with Argentina, and radiated South American poise and cool on and off the pitch (Villa, of course, scored on his Spurs debut), even famously being photographed outside White Hart Lane not long after their arrival in a pair of very 1970s sporty-looking cars!

In that respect, you might argue that very little has changed in the forty years since, but, shiny new motors or not, the then Spurs manager Keith ‘The General’ Burkinshaw’s instincts had proved to be good and the two Argentinians were a huge hit with the fans almost immediately.

We were the first ones arriving to the league and this was an honour for us. The first times in England were hard because we didn’t know the language, but the club supported us a lot and people were also very warm. This made us feel comfortable… I think that the arrival of foreign players gives the Premiership prestige. I also believe that the step of Ossie and mine was successful and it opened doors to future players – Ricky Villa on the impact of arriving at Spurs in 1978

But not everyone was happy, unsurprisingly. PFA secretary Cliff Lloyd sniffily announced that “[e]very foreign player of standing in our league represents a denial to a UK player of a place in the team.” And the PFA’s chairman, Gordon Taylor, added ominously: “There could already be two players out of a job at Tottenham.” Ossie’s description of English football in the late 1970s as “insular” certainly looks pretty spot on here…

You can still hear variations on such negative comments floating around in the game today, but it hasn’t stopped the influx of glorious footballing talent arriving in Britain from far-flung lands. And, in turn, that hasn’t stopped the development of a new generation of potentially world-class English players coming up through the ranks at clubs like Spurs in recent years.

The cosmopolitan nature of English top flight football as we know it now arguably truly began on that summer’s day in 1978 when two young and slightly confused Argentinians arrived in North London, and went on to win the hearts of a nation traditionally somewhat suspicious of ‘foreign’ players.

As Ricky says, their arrival “opened doors” for several generations of players from all over the world, which has resulted in what is now one of the most exciting (albeit often frustrating!) league structures anywhere. If Keith Burkinshaw had not taken the risk of signing those two young men from Argentina after the transfer ban was lifted, modern English football would be very different indeed.

So yeah, it’s still Ricky Villa…