Politics On The Pitch #5: Groups of Death Part 2 (1970-1979)

Last time out in Politics On the Pitch, Groups of Death part 1 provided a looked at some controversial match-ups and politically motivated withdrawals of national teams in the post-WW2 period, finishing off with the infamous Football War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. We continue now with a decade not short on classic international incidents, as well as classic international football matches: the 1970s.

  • 1974 World Cup Qualifiers

As the Cold War went on without any actual battle in Europe, UEFA’s qualifiers continued to pit different ideologies against each other on the football pitch. Like the campaign for World Cup 1958, staunchly anti-Soviet Finland were once again surrounded by communist countries in Group 4; this time Albania, East Germany and Romania replaced the USSR and Poland.

Poland in Group 5 found themselves in a similar but reversed situation, with the all-British opposition of England and Wales. Group 7 was perhaps the most extreme, as Tito’s socialist Yugoslavia fought it out with both Franco’s fascist Spain and a Greece ruled by a far-right military junta. Conversely, Group 3 of Belgium, Iceland, Netherlands and Norway was a northern European purist’s dream.

As with previous World Cups, one legged play-offs on neutral ground were used to differentiate first and second placed sides who had finished level on points and goal difference, determining who would get the sole qualification spot in the group. Upcoming World Cup hosts West Germany were a natural choice for the venues, with Sweden defeating Austria in Gelsenkirchen, and Yugoslavia triumphing over Spain in Frankfurt.

Such “emergency” fixtures were later rendered obsolete, as “goals for” became the more important tie-breaking factor, especially away from home (although in 1995 Ireland and the Netherlands would uniquely play-off in Liverpool for the last Euro 96 spot, as the two lowest ranked 2nd placed finishers in qualifying). One play-off that would survive from this time however (if not always involving UEFA these days) was the inter-confederation version, returning after having been dropped for the previous two World Cup.

For the first time ever, the play-off was to be between European and South American teams; a positive move as far as the less well represented continents were concerned. But surprisingly, the “real world” events of September 1973 made the coinciding qualification clash a rather problematic fixture.

UEFA–CONMEBOL Play-Off:

USSR
Chile

The Soviet Union had been in Group 9 of  UEFA’s qualifiers along with France and Ireland, coming out on top. The winner of this group had somewhat unfairly been pre-determined to enter the play-off, rather than being the lowest ranked group winner as in the years that followed.

Their opponents, Chile, had been in Group 3 of the South American system, with Peru as their only opposition after Venezuela withdrew. In April and March 1973, 2-0 wins for the respective home team in both group games meant another play-off was needed to separate the sides, won 2-1 by Chile on August 5th in Montevideo, Uruguay.


A young fan runs on the pitch in Montevideo to celebrate with Chilean players after their defeat Peru in a qualification group play-off, 05/08/1973.

***If you are interested in countries withdrawing and not playing games, then you’ll love our look back at the 1950 World Cup qualifiers.***

Like with Europe’s Group 9, the winner of this group had always been destined to enter the intercontinental showdown, the first leg of which was scheduled for 26 September in Moscow. But then, on September 11th 1973, Chile’s democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende (in power since 1970) was overthrown in a US/UK backed coup d’état and replaced by an authoritarian, right-wing military junta that would come to be led by army chief Augusto Pinochet.

The new regime quickly cracked down on any left-leaning organisations, banned any travel out of  the country, and, to quote Wikipedia, “thousands of people deemed undesirable were taken to the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, (and) tortured and killed”; the same Estadio Nacional where the second leg of the football was to be played in November. With the anti-communist stance of the junta, it was somewhat fitting that the first international encounter of any kind for the “new Chile” was set to see it face off against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.


Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile, turned into a detention, torture and death camp by the new regime, September-Novermber 1973.

The Soviets had been an ally of the Allende presidency and relations between the two countries were immediately severed following the coup. Less that two weeks later, the Chilean national team traveled to Moscow for the first leg with tensions high.

Many of the team were apolitical, or even harboured ties to the previous government, and the players were under strict order not to state anything of a political nature on the trip under threat of their families lives. Indeed the Chilean government only allowed the squad to travel in order to project a veneer of normality, while institutionalised terror reigned at home (an all too familiar tactic).

Upon their arrival in Moscow airport, no authority was on hand to receive the South American team and some players were detained due to supposed passport irregularities. Adding to the drama was the rumour that the Soviets would arrest Chilean players to later exchange with socialist prisoners of war.

On September 26th nearly 50,000 entered the Central Lenin Stadium for the game, but among them were no journalists or cameras, as ominously ordered by the authorities. Admirably, Chile – who had made several World Cup appearances already including a 3rd place finish on home soil in 1962 – were able to hold their large and intimidating hosts to a 0-0 draw, much to the humiliation of all involved on the home side (both of a sporting and political nature).

With the return leg in Santiago scheduled for nearly two months later on November 21st, the horrors of the oppressive Chilean dictatorship continued in the national stadium and only came to an end on November 7th. The USSR appealed to FIFA to have the game moved to neutral ground, fairly refusing to play in what had been turned in to a legitimate death camp. But both FIFA – who as we have discussed were equal opportunists to states of all political orientations and atrocities – and of course Chile themselves, denied any such move.


Chilean Dictator Pinochet giving a press conference in the stadium, Autumn 1973.

The Soviets traveled to South America anyway to play stand-by friendlies against neighboring countries, showing that they were serious about the match should the venue be changed. It was not to be, and in fact the “game” was to go ahead without any opposition as approved by FIFA; mostly in order to display a political show, but also to avoid the loss of income from refunding all those already purchased match tickets.


Soldiers keep watch outside the ground before the "match", Chile vs an absent USSR, 21/11/1973.

Come match day and 15,000 were in attendance, with many younger supporters unaware of the political significance of the situation, as Austrian referee Erich Linemayr blew the whistle to kick-off what was to be quite literally a one-sided affair. The Chilean players casually ran the ball down field to score into the empty net, after which the ref blew the whistle again to conclude the farce. A 2-0 walkover was awarded, and Chile qualified for the World Cup.


Chile score into an empty USSR net; with no opposition present to take kick-off, the referee would then blow the full-time whistle, 21/11/1973.

With their place on the moral high-ground firmly secured, it was later suggested by players from the time that the Soviet authorities were motivated more through a fear of losing the game to their political “enemies”, rather than a concern for human rights. Either way, having finished runners-up in the 1972 European Championships, the aborted play-off was to prove a negative turning point for the USSR as they would miss out on the following two World Cups and Euros respectively.


The stadium scoreboard following the only goal in the one team game, Chile vs absent USSR, 21/11/1973.

Chile, on the other hand, went to West Germany for the 1974 tournament where they had been drawn in a group with the hosts, along with East Germany and Australia. But attention to the grim situation in their country was drawn once again at their final game against Australia, when shortly after kick-off a group of political protesters carrying a large Chilean banner invaded the pitch, causing the match to be paused.


Political protesters on the pitch interrupting Australia vs Chile, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

It would not be until 1988 that democracy would return to Chile. When the Estadio Nacional was eventually renovated in 2010, one sector of the ground – Salida 8 – was left untouched, to serve as a memorial and reminder of what happened on the site.

AFC/OFC Zone A

Hong Kong
Japan
Malaysia
Isreal
South Vietnam
South Korea
Thailand

As we saw in Part 1, the Asian and Oceanic section was always interesting to keep an eye on due to the inclusion of exiled “colonialist African” teams (South Africa for 1966, Rhodesia for 1970), and because of the Israeli problem, with neighboring Arabic and Islamic countries refusing to participate against the Jewish state. To avoid a repeat of the resulting withdrawals in 1957, Israel had originally been placed in UEFA for the 1962 and 1966 qualifying campaigns; strangely in the former as part of a mini knockout tournament group with Cyprus, Italy and, for some reason, Ethiopia.

Now, for the second time in a row they were back in the AFC section, but like 1970 were placed in an otherwise all-east Asian zone. One omission was North Korea, who had also refused to play Israel in the previous qualifiers on political grounds and so were conveniently swapped into Zone B-Group 1 along side the Middle Eastern states of Iran, Kuwait and Syria, where Israel should rightfully have been.

(Note: all Zone B-Group 1 games were played Iran, while in Zone B-Group 2 Iraq were forced to travel to the other side of the world to play in/against Australia, along side New Zealand and Indonesia)

The entirety of Zone A was to be held in Soul, South Korea, beginning with three classification matches on May 16th and 17th 1973 to determine which teams would be placed in what group (with the hosts already allotted to Group 2). Israel took on and beat Japan 2-1 on the opening day, but only after another controversial country in the midst of it’s own war of destruction amazingly took part in their first ever World Cup game.

Vietnam had won autonomy within the French empire in 1949 as the “State of Vietnam”, but by 1954 shock military victories for local communist forces drove the colonialists out for good. This resulted in the division of the country, creating of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam – recognised by the likes of China and the USSR – and the formal foundation of the western-backed Republic of (South) Vietnam the following year. South Vietnam had quickly established a football team, participating in the Asian Games since 1954, and finishing a respectable 4th in the first two Asian Cups (granted, only four teams took part).


Flag of South Vietnam, 1949-1975.

But at home, with the Republic refusing to sanction elections that would potentially reunify the country as guaranteed by the Geneva Convention (which had formalised the partition but not been signed by South Vietnam), their strategy of US-backed force to retake the North began two decades of the Vietnam War. This didn’t stop participation of the football team in international competitions though, as they would continue to take part in Asian Games until 1970.

As the conflict went on and disaster unfolded, an embarrassed United States formally began withdrawing ground troops from the warzone in 1969, although air power and financial support were still used into the 70s to combat the North Vietnamese Army and it’s Viet Cong liberation front in the South. But in January 1973 the Paris Peace Accords were signed, officialy removing America from the war and creating a shaky ceasefire between North and South Vietnam.

Fighting still continued, however, and on March 15th, one day before South Vietnam were set to play Thailand in Seoul, President Nixon threatened more US military intervention should the North launch a new full offensive. Under this shadow, the team made it’s World Cup qualifier debut with a 1-0 win through an own-goal in the 83rd minute.

Throughout the rest of the month, the Zone A groups were played out with 1st and 2nd placed teams progressing to semi-finals, before a match to reach to an ultimate play-off against the winners of Zone B. Theoretically this could have ended with Israel coming up against a Middle Eastern team, but they were eliminated by the home side South Korea in the Zone A final.

South Vietnam, meanwhile, were unsuccessful in Zone A-Group 1, with 4-0 and 1-0 defeats to Japan and Hong Kong respectively. Along with the previous game against Thailand, they would turn out to be the only three World Cup games ever played by the state, as North Vietnam did indeed launch another offensive that year, and, far from successively intervening, the last US helicopter eventually left Saigon in chaos on April 30th 1975.


The US Embassy in South Vietnam is evacuated as Saigon is about to fall, 1975.

By the time the next qualifiers rolled around, the Republic of Vietnam was no more, now annexed into a unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It would not be until 1991 that a Vietnam side would once again take to a football field.

 

  • 1974 World Cup

Group 1:

Australia
Chile
East Germany
West Germany

We talked last time about how the short-lived post-World War 2 state of the Saar Protectorate – administered by the French, but German in every other way – took part in their one and only World Cup qualifying campaign (for 1954) in a group also featuring their West German countrymen. When the World Cup would come to West Germany itself twenty years later – by which time Saarland was long absorbed back into the Federal Republic of Germany (as the West was formally known) – it seemed inevitable that the remaining, third post-war German state would not only qualify for the first time, but also be drawn along side the hosts for a debut showdown between capitalist west and communist east.

The Democratic Republic of (East) Germany had been formed in 1949 and, under the Deutscher Fußball Verband der DDR governing body, participated in their first international football match against Poland three years later. As discussed back in in Politics on the Pitch #2, blue and white were chosen as kit colours to reflect the uniforms of the East German socialist youth organisation.


Flag of East Germany, 1959-1990.

After their entry to FIFA in 1952, 1958 to 1970 had seen fruitless World Cup qualifying campaigns before the aforementioned qualifying Group 4 brought real East German hope for the 1974 edition. Albania and Finland were like East Germany in having not yet made a tournament finals, leaving Romania – boasting three finals appearances back in the 1930s, and more importantly a spot at the recent 1970 World Cup in Mexico – as group favourites, although not exactly an elite squad either.

As they had done during World War 2 against the Russians, the Finns did the Germans a favour early in the group with a heroic 1-1 draw in Helsinki against Romania in September 1972. It would prove a vital slip up, as Romania would go on to take “all two points” (awarded for a win instead of three until the 1998 qualifiers) against East Germany in Bucharest the following May; ultimately the latter’s only dropped points in the group.

The most crucial group game came on September 26th 1973 in Leipzig for the return fixture, with a 2-0 win for East Germany putting them back in the driver seat. Still with a chance to go through, Romania would take their revenge over Finland at home with a desperate 9-0 drubbing in October, but it was to be in vein as a 4-1 East German victory away to Albania in November delivered top-spot by a point.


East Germany clinch World Cup qualification for the first time with a 4-1 away win over Albania, 03/11/1973.

While no internationals had yet taken place between the two divided halves of Germany, a number of friendlies did occur between club sides from East and West in the 1950s before the wall. The introduction of European competitions later resumed such encounters, starting with Dynamo Dresden vs Bayern Munich in 1973 for the 73/74 European Cup, and Fortuna Düsseldorf vs 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig in the UEFA Cup of the same season.

And so the stage was set in January 1974 for the final World Cup draw in Frankfurt. Seemingly admitting the fallibility of grown men in the 70s, FIFA used the “innocent hand” of a young, local choir boy to draw the teams, eliminating any element of potential dirty play from a morally corrupted adult.

With West Germany automatically placed in Group 1 as hosts, the dramatic moment came when East Germans were also drawn in the group, drawing first a moment of hushed shock from those in attendance before emotional, spontaneous applause. Even though it had always been a possibility, along with the fact that the tournament was on “enemy” soil anyway, it was later falsely rumored that the East German regime would withdraw the team to avoid the overtly political encounter.


Group 1 with the two Germanys, World Cup 74 draw, Frankfurt, 31/01/1974.

Adding to the intrigue, one of the locations for games in the group was the enclave of West Berlin, amazingly meaning that East Germany would play a World Cup game in a city entirely surrounded by itself. Unfortunately, the all-German clash wasn’t scheduled for here, but both sides fittingly took on none other than Chile in the Olympiastadion, less than 10 kilometers from the Berlin wall.


World Cup 74 opening ceremony in the Olympiastadion, Munich, 13/06/1974.

The political atmosphere was matched by surprisingly poor June weather for the tournament, with particularly dreary and wet conditions – perhaps the worst ever (at a World Cup that is, not of all time). As Chilean protesters attempted to grab the attention of the world with regards their country’s dictatorship in the match against Australia in West Berlin (three out of three at the venue for Chile, who technically could still progress), most fans and non-fans alike were concentrating on what was to come that evening across the country in Hamburg for the final group game.

On June 22nd more than 60,000 crammed into the Volksparkstadion – where West Germany had also taken on Saar in 1953 – for the 19:30 kick-off and thankfully the setting sun shone low in the sky. There was a respectful silence for the DGR’s national anthem and a section of East German supporters was visible in the ground.


East German team and fans after their national anthem, vs West Germany, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

East Germany, who had been primarily using white shirts and blue shorts as a first preference by this time, were the official “home team” in the tie, but had graciously emerged in their change kit of blue shirts and white shorts allowing West Germany to continue wearing their usual home white jerseys. Interestingly, the East Germans were in short sleeves while the hosts were in long sleeves.


Short sleeved blue shirts of East Germany vs the long sleeved white shirts of West Germany, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

Finally the time came and the heavy favourite western professionals kicked-off against a team who all had day jobs back in the East. Early on West Germany were close to opening the scoring, but it remained 0-0 until the 77th minute when Jürgen Sparwasser – a member of the 1. FC Magdeburg side that had just impressively beaten AC Milan to win the Cup Winners Cup in Rotterdam – broke through the West German defensive to score for East Germany.


Sparwasser scores the most famous goal in East Germany history, vs West Germany, World Cup, 22/06/1974.

The TV cameras went to the celebrating away supporters in the crowd, who were doubtlessly all involved in the East German government in some way rather than regular fans who may have taken the chance to defect. Permits had been in effect since 1972 that allowed younger East German citizens to cross the border (pensioners, who were less valuable to the state, had been able to visit the West since 1964), although in reality they were only usually granted to ruling party elites and their ilk.


East German players and social elite supporters celebrate the only goal of the game, vs West Germany, 22/06/1974.

The shocked home crowd looked on as the clock rolled down before the final whistle confirmed it: the lowly East had conquered the West. Granted, West Germany’s two prior victories against Australia and Chile had already secured them a place in the next round, but, like in qualifying, East Germany ended the group in pole position.


Classic graphics after a replay of the winning goal, East Germany vs West Germany, 22/06/1974.

In the end the result was possibly the best thing that could have happened for the hosts, as they entered a manageable Round 2 group alongside Poland, Sweden and Yugoslavia, while the unfortunate East were placed in the far tougher group with Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands. Elimination came after two defeats, with respectable 1-1 draw against the Argentinians in the other game.

West Germany of course went on to secure their second World Cup trophy in the tournament, but East Germany had won the arguably more important all-German cup final, and would always have that. Well, until the 3rd of October 1990 at least, when the state would formally cease to exist.

  • 1980 European Championships Qualifiers

Group 1

Bulgaria
Denmark
England
Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland

In the 1958 qualifiers, Ireland had met their former colonialist masters of England for the first time in a competitive setting. But following the the Irish War of Independence in 1921, not all of the country had been freed from the British crown.

Before it would happen to Germany, Korea or Vietnam later in the century, Ireland was partitioned as part of it’s independence treaty, with the Anglo-Scots-dominated north-east becoming “Northern” Ireland and remaining in the United Kingdom. As we have discussed before, Northern Ireland inherited the old Belfast based Irish Football Association that had been established under British rule, while a new organisation – the Football Association of  Ireland – was founded in Dublin to represent what would become the Republic (first the Irish Free State).

As with East and West Germany, there had been no football meeting of any sort between the two going in to the 1970s; a decade that would show the world that tensions on the island had not gone away. Sparked by civil rights protests from the discriminated ethnic Irish population, conflict between Irish nationalist paramilitaries, their British equivalents and the British Army exploded, with civilian atrocities from all sides along the way.

As things escalated and the body count rose, the slightly less significant soccer qualifiers for Euro 80 brought the Irish and English football teams into direct competition once again in Group 1. But this time, Northern Ireland were thrown in to the mix to create truly the “Group of Troubles” (not an official UEFA title), with Bulgaria and Denmark filling up the rest of the “non-Troubles” spots.

Ireland started the group away to Denmark with a thrilling 3-3 draw on May 24th, 1978; typically it was the home side who had clawed back the point from 3-1 down after 79 minutes. This would be followed by 3-4 and 2-2 affairs at home for Denmark against England and Bulgaria respectively, showing that Copenhagen was an unusual place to play at the time.

But next was to be the inaugural all-Ireland clash (at least in an association football sense, rather than the Gaelic games version) with Dublin as the location on September 20th for the first of the two ties between Republic and North. As soon as the Northern Ireland team bus had crossed the border it was joined by a police escort, which stayed all  the way to the stadium – the indomitable Lansdowne Road.

By the standards of the time, a heavy police presence was on hand at and around the historic ground also, as “football special” trains from the North arrived at the nearby station with groups with energetic away fans. Unease was in the air as Union Jacks were waved and unionist songs sung en mass in Dublin for the first time in about 57 years, but, despite some minor confrontations, no violence broke out.




Northern Ireland fans arrive by train near the stadium for the match vs Republic of Ireland, 20/09/1978.

Minor confrontation between home supporters with large Irish tricolour and Northern Ireland fans chanting "The Ulster" (province of Ireland within which Northern Ireland is located) on the way to the match, 20/09/1977.

Inside the ground, the traveling contingent occupied a large section of the North Terrace, which remained unsegregated. Like many of the continent’s major stadiums, imposing fences had at least been installed around the Lansdowne Road that year in an attempt to prevent any potential rowdies from taking their trouble away from the stands where it belonged.


Northern Irish away fans singing "Protestant songs" (according to the BBC News report) in Lansdowne Road's North Terrace ahead of the match with Ireland, 20/09/1977.

Even though green was worn by the Northern Irish team for historical reasons, many of their fans chose the blue, white and red colourscheme of Belfast’s Linfield, Glasgow Rangers and the Union Jack. With the Republic also of course usually in a green, sportspersonship akin to East Germany choosing not wearing white against West Germany seems to have been displayed, as the home side donned a fetching all-white change kit with delicious green and yellow trim.


The captains before the match with Ireland's white change shirt being worn at home, vs Northern Ireland, 20/09/1977.

The sense of anti-climax for those who had come to witness any potential trouble will have been matched by those who came solely for the football, as an Ireland containing stars like Brady, Giles, Highway, Lawrenson (who’s bloodied shirt suggests the tone of the game) and Stapleton were held to a 0-0 draw against a North led from the back by legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings. Apparently nothing further of note occurred among supporters either, but things may not have been so serene had the events of the very next day – when the Provisional IRA bombed an RAF airfield in Derry destroying a terminal, two hangers and several planes (although no lives were lost) – happened slightly earlier.

Ireland next kept their streak of draws going with a somewhat satisfactory 0-0 in Lansdowne against England, while the North picked up excellent back to back wins at home to Denmark and away to Bulgaria, spurred on by striker Gerry Armstrong. Despite more good performances from the the Republic, results like England 4-0 Northern Ireland, Denmark 4-0 Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland 1-5 England, put the North out of the running going into the final series of games, with an unbeaten England looking set to claim the sole qualifying spot and their first tournament appearance in ten years.

Following a 3-0 win over Bulgaria in October 1979, Ireland still had a mathematical chance to pip the English in the unlikely event that the Bulgarians went to Wembley and won, followed by Ireland doing the same in February 1980. But first on November 21st would be a trip to Belfast’s Windsor Park, home of Linfield FC, for a Northern Ireland keen to kill any any Irish hopes in lieu of their own failed prospects (and not for the last time).

Unlike in Dublin, it will have been very unlikely that many, if any, away supporters traveled north of the border for the encounter, due to the potential “security risks” for those with caught with a “southern” accent among a certain type of hardcore British loyalist. In the 13 months since the reverse fixture, there had many more bombings, high profile assassinations, and civilian casualties from Northern Ireland to London and even The Hague, meaning the game was even more emotionally charged than before.

Keeping in the spirit of fair play though, the North returned the kit favour of the year before by emerging in their away strip. Minorly problematic was the fact that their white/green/white created an “overall clash” against Ireland’s green/white/green, an effect previously negated by Ireland’s use of all-white in Dublin.


Northern Ireland in white/green/white at home to Republic of Ireland, 21/11/1979.

With 15,000 creating an intimidating atmosphere in the small fortress of a ground, that man Gerry Armstrong popped up on the 54th minute to give the home side a lead they would hold on to until the end, thus dashing Ireland’s theoretical qualification hopes (had England not gone and defeated Bulgaria the next day anyway). Again blue was the most prevalent colour of those celebrating on the caged terraces.


Gerry Armstrong scores for Northern Ireland, vs Republic of Ireland, 21/11/1979.

The Windsor Park terraces celebrate the only goal of the game, Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland, 21/11/1979.

Unlike the Germanys, this would not be the last time that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be drawn together before one ceases to exist. And with the Troubles not ending any time soon in our timeline, we shall quite possibly see the tie rise again when Groups of Death continues into the 80s…

*

Video Links:
Chile vs Peru, 1973
Estadio Nacional, Chile, 1973
Chile vs USSR, 1973
Chile vs USSR, 1973
Australia vs Chile, 1974
Albania vs East Germany, 1973
1974 World Cup draw
East Germany vs West Germany, 1974
East Germany vs West Germany, 1974
East Germany vs West Germany, 1974
Republic of Ireland vs Northern Ireland, 1978
Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland, 1979

*****

What Football Is Supposed To Look Like #8 (Gallery)

Last time in WFISTLL, we zoomed in on the Belgian league scene of the late 80s and early 90s with a whirlwind of pics and gifs illustrating the gritty supporter culture present in that time and place. Now we return to our usual format of a selection of images that demonstrate what used to make football so interesting, in a variety of classic 20th century ways.

Superb away jersey, Northern Ireland vs Republic of Ireland, World Cup qualifier, 14/09/1988:

Umbrella crowd, fence, classic hoarding and graphics, Chile vs Yugoslavia, Under-20 World Cup (hosted by Chile), 10/10/1987:

Raised stands and large entrance-way with row of people, Turkey vs West Germany, European Championships qualifier, 24/04/1983:

Snow-patch pitch, East Germany vs Scotland, European Championships qualifier, 16/11/1983:

Competing anthem bands (although the lot on the right look like children in comparison?) and angular team line-ups, West Germany vs Netherlands, World Cup 74 final, 07/07/1974:

Confetti pitch, Internazionale Milano vs AS Roma, Serie A, 24/03/1988:

Arabic Marlboro advert, Zaire vs Zambia, African Cup of Nations 74 (hosted by Egypt), 12/03/1974:

Amazing old-old school end with supporters on roof, Portugal vs Italy, friendly, 15/04/1928:

Rain plus no roof equals many, many umbrellas, Czechoslovakia vs Netherlands, European Championships 76 semi-final (hosted by Yugoslavia, match in Zagreb), 16/06/1976:

Classic graphics, USSR vs Netherlands, friendly, 28/03/1990:

*****

 

Politics On The Pitch #3: World Cup 1950 Qualifying

To be honest, the following episode of Politics On The Pitch was originally intended as a Football Special Report. But as politics, war, and global history are so intertwined in the 1950 World Cup qualifiers, it seemed more than appropriate to transfer the post to Politics On The Pitch. One of the main tenants of this time was the inability of many teams to actually travel to the World Cup in Brazil, whether they had qualified of not. This was of course in large part due to the proximity of the World War 2, who’s shadow from 5 years before still loomed large and had left many nations in poverty.

Background:

One of the great things about mid-20th century tournaments was the random stuff like extra unscheduled play-off games as tie breakers; groups of four instead of a final game; and coin-tosses to decide things. But the first three FIFA World Cups were actually fairly straight forward affairs: four groups of 3 with the winners progressing to the semi-finals in 1930, and straight knock-out tournaments of 16 teams in ’34 and ’38 (eventually 15 in the latter after the the withdrawal of Austria due to the “Anschluss” with Germany).

Thankfully, the introduction of World Cup qualifiers for the ’34 edition onwards did provide some classic old-school chaos. As this was in the days before regional federations such as UEFA, all potential World Cup candidates were divided into 12 groups based on location. The pre-WW2 system was marked by:

  • The frequent withdrawal of participating nations.
  • Groups of mostly two or three teams, arranged by region rather than drawn.
  • Host nation Italy forced to qualify for their own tournament in 1934.
  • Automatic ’34 qualification for Czechoslovakia from a group of two as a result the Polish government’s denial of visas for their own team to travel.
  • ’38 qualifiers Group 1 containing four teams while the rest contained two or three.
  • The abandonment of games if teams had already mathematically qualified/could not qualify.
  • No British teams, who were currently on boycott of FIFA.
  • Egypt being the only African nation competing in either campaign, as most were not yet independent.
  • Participation of historical states such as pre-Soviet Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, the Irish Free State, the Second Spanish Republic (withdrawn by the ’38 qualifiers due to the Spanish Civil War), Palestine-British Mandate (made of Jewish and British players), Dutch Guiana and Dutch East Indies.

For no apparent reason, FIFA decided to take a break for the next two would-be tournaments. But with the World Cup set to return in 1950, new qualifiers were scheduled for ’49 and ’50. Some big countries would compete for the first time, while others disappeared. A world which had been ravaged and changed by World War 2 (economically and politically if not physically and emotionally) was entering a new era, and so with it came a new era for the tournament, and more importantly for us, it’s preliminary rounds.

***

The 1950 World Cup Qualifiers

Info:

  • The 12-Group system of the pre-WW2 years was reduced to 10.

  • Groups 1-6 were to be of (mostly) European composition, with Groups 7-9 for the Americas and Group 10 for Asia.

  • Groups were arranged roughly by region, not drawn, with mostly different qualifying rules for each.

  • Two points were awarded for a victory rather than three.

  • 14 qualifying spots were available, with both Brazil (upcoming hosts) and Italy (champions in 1938) qualifying automatically to make 16.

  • West Germany, East Germay and Japan – still occupied after World War 2 – were not permitted to take part.

  • Eastern Block states such Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Hungary refused to take part.

  • No African teams were participating; the only currently independent African states were Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Liberia.

  • Other notable countries to not take part included Canada, Australia, New Zealand and China.

  • The first game of qualifying (Sweden vs Ireland) was played on 02/06/1949, and the last game (Scotland vs England) on 15/04/1950, just over two months before the World Cup kicked-off.

*

Group 1

England
Scotland
Wales
Ireland-UK

***For the purposes of continuity, we shall refer to the team now known as Northern Ireland as “Ireland-UK”, but at the time of 1950 qualifiers it was just “Ireland”. We will come back to this later, but for some in-depth information regarding why, check back to the Northern Ireland section of Politics On The Pitch #2.***

This campaign was the first that saw the appearance of the the UK sides in FIFA competition. All had been members of FIFA since near the beginning of the century (England-1905, Scotland and Wales-1910, Ireland-UK-1911), but tension was already evident following a brief period of withdrawal (1920-1924) in protest at the continued inclusion of the Central Powers following World War 1.

A “permanent” split from FIFA was to come for the four federations in 1928, as a result of the new FIFA law requiring football associations to pay compensation to their athletes who played at the upcoming Olympics football tournament. But time heals all wounds, rules change and stubborn people die. Some combination of these meant that the UK nations rejoined FIFA in 1946, perhaps now craving more global competition in the absence of the recently completed World War 2.

Two qualification spots were up for grabs, and since the groups weren’t randomly selected, Group 1 could also double as the 1949/50 British Home Nations tournament; an ingenious practice that would return for the 1954 qualifiers. The combination was dropped following the introduction of non-local qualifying groups for 1958, but it was delightfully revived for Euro 1968 when that competition went to a group based qualification system, incorporating both the 66/67 and 67/68 Home Nations tournaments.

With each team to play each other once, Ireland-UK vs Scotland kicked off the group in Belfast on October 1st with a classic old school scoreline of 2-8 to the visitors. This would have been the highest scoring game in the entire global qualifiers, except for the fact that England then beat Ireland-UK 9-2 at home the following month on front of nearly 70,000 fans in Manchester. Crowd shots displayed the alarmingly dangerous density of the audience, doubtless desperate for any entertainment in this post-War rebuilding era.


Disturbingly packed terrace at Maine Road for England vs Ireland-UK, November 1949.

As Wales didn’t fare much better than Ireland-UK – only scoring one goal in their three games – England traveled to Scotland on April 15th, 1950 with both sides assured of qualification following two wins each,  but with top-spot and the Home Nations championship yet to decide. A nauseating 133,300 spectators compressed into Glasgow’s Hampden Park, with footage showing one of (presumably) many fans who had to be stretchered away from the crush. Men in traditional dress playing saxophones, along with dancing girls (reminiscent of a Nazi Youth rally) also entertained the masses.


One fan is stretched away from the Hampden crush at Scotland vs England, April 1950..

Pre-match entertainment.

A 1-0 away win secured the honours for England, now destined for their first ever World Cup appearance. Scotland in the second qualifying position could have joined them, but declined the opportunity, apparently as they had vowed only to travel if they had won the Home Nations. As we shall see, it would be a reoccurring theme.

ENGLAND QUALIFY

***

Group 2

Turkey
Syria
Austria

Now you can see why we said Groups 1-6 were “mostly” European, as here we have what is basically the Middle Eastern qualifying section, plus Austria of course. The rules of this group, as well as Groups 3 and 4, were that the lesser two sides would play each other home and away in a First Round, before the winner would play the seeded team in the same way with a qualifying spot up for grabs.

Both Turkey and Syria were competing for the first time. Turkey had been set to take part in the 1934 qualifiers in Group 12, along with Egypt and Palestine-British Mandate, but had withdrawn before playing a game. Syria, meanwhile, had itself been a French Mandate until 1946 and were set to play their debut match as an independent state in the qualifiers.

In the first of many vintage Cold War black-ops moves, an American led military coup had overthrown the democratically elected Syrian government in  March, 1949. But eight months later, the country’s new authoritarian overlords will have been disappointed as their nation’s footballing representatives slumped to a 7-0 debut defeat at the hands of their Turkish neighbours to the north. Perhaps because the result was now a foregone conclusion – or due to the utter shame doubtlessly emanating from the generals – Syria withdrew before the return leg could be played, leaving Turkey to advance.


Players and officials at the end of Turkey's 7-0 defeat of Syria.

Turkey and Austria shared a history of their own, as the Ottoman Turks had been at the gates of Vienna more than once in the post-Middle Ages. This was probably not on the mind’s of their country’s footballers hundreds of years later, but even still the Austrians also withdrew before the games could be played.

Turkey thus qualified automatically for their first World Cup. Or that is they would have, if not for the fact that they TOO then withdraw. The Syrians were no doubt asking why the Turks couldn’t have just done this in the first place before humiliating them out of the competition.

NO QUALIFIER

***

Group 3

Yugoslavia
Israel
France

Here we have a group that doesn’t even pretend to be geographically logical, but would actually perhaps look like the beginning of a modern UEFA qualifying group if not for the fact that Yugoslavia doesn’t exist any more. France were World Cup veterans having competed at all three previous tournaments, with Yugoslavia also making an appearance as one of the few other European representatives at Uruguay 1930, and now becoming the first Socialist state in the continent to take part.

Like Syria, Israel was a newly sovereign post-WW2 nation having been created in 1948. The Israeli  national team debuted against the USA later that year, but can trace it’s footballing lineage back to the aforementioned Palestine-British Mandate who competed in the ’34 and ’38 qualifiers. Like in later years, it maybe made more sense not to place the Irealis in a group with some of their more hostile neighbors, with this perhaps explaining why Austria were in Group 2 instead of this group, and vice-versa for Israel.

The first round took place over August and September, 1949, and the obvious gulf in quality seen in Group 1 and 2 continued as Yugoslavia beat Israel 6-0 in Belgrade and 5-2 in Tel-Aviv. The Yugoslav’s following games against France in October would prove more evenly balanced as both games ended 1-1, and since this was not a modern two-legged affair (sensible tie-breaking mini-games such as extra-time and penalties were distant future dreams at this point, and players in the ’40s would have undoubtedly been too unfit to play another half an hour anyway), the only solution was for the two sides to play each other yet again in a play-off on neutral ground.


Unique stadium, Israel vs Yugoslavia.

Italian news reel reviewing France vs Yugoslavia with crowd in the background.

The deciding game took place in Florence in December, with Yugoslavia finally running out 3-2 winners and qualifying for their second World Cup. Classically, after all that, France were also offered a place in the finals but declined, rendering the previous 270 minutes of football utterly pointless.

YUGOSLAVIA QUALIFY

***

Group 4

Switzerland
Luxembourg
Belgium

Group 4 makes a little more sense geographically speaking, with the epic clash of central-west Europe’s richest, smallest, neutralist countries with long names in the first round. Compared to Groups 1-3 we finally get a bit of normality here, as all three countries had existed for some time before the qualifiers and would continue to exist to the present day.

On the pitch there was nothing too surprising either, as the Swiss picked up a 5-2 result at home in Zurich in June, 1949. Their advancement was sealed with a 3-2 win in Luxembourg, capital city of Luxembourg, in October. A nice, solid and dependable group so far, very relaxing compared to earlier. I have a good feeling that nothing can possibly go wrong.

But of course things would not be complete without a good-old withdrawal, and we get just that before another ball can be touched. Belgium had taken part in the first three World Cups, but the streak was broken through this self-imposed expulsion, graciously leaving Switzerland to qualify for their third successive tournament.

SWITZERLAND QUALIFY

***

Group 5

Sweden
Ireland
Finland

Group 5 was set to be a refreshingly straight-forward affair, comprising of a straight round robin of home and away matches between the three teams and the resulting top side qualifying for the World Cup. While Norway had competed in the 1938 qualifiers, there was no sign of them here, leaving Ireland to take what presumably would have been their spot in the token Nordic group (Denmark and Iceland had yet to take part).

“But wait” you exclaim, “another Ireland!?” Yes, here we have our second Ireland of the qualifying system. Of course this team is now referred to as the Republic of Ireland, but at this stage they were just known as “Ireland”, same as Ireland-UK  from Group 1. Ireland-UK – as the successor team of the “original Ireland” that had competed while Ireland was still fully under British rule – were still calling themselves “Ireland”, and in-fact selected players from all over the island, despite only claiming league jurisdiction over Northern Ireland.

Amazingly, some players who represented Ireland in Group 5 ALSO played for Ireland-UK in Group 1 (Ireland had also previously capped Ireland-UK capped players). Both teams also wore green shirts with near identical shamrock themed crests, adding to the uniquely confusing situation.

Anyway, back to the group, and as mentioned earlier Sweden defeated Ireland in the first game of the entire qualifying system with a 3-1 win in Stockholm in June. They followed this up with an 8-1 trouncing of Finland in October, this time in Malmö to shake things up. Ireland had also beaten the Finns 3-0 in Dublin in September, and the return fixture, eight days after the 8-1 game, saw a 1-1 draw in Helsinki.

At this point, the poor old Finns (for whom we harbour a particular affinity) saw the writing on the wall and in typically logical fashion withdrew from the group instead of facing their final, meaningless group game (and in doing so conserved energy as well as avoiding another possible thrashing on home soil). This left Ireland’s home game against Sweden in November as a virtual play-off to get to the World Cup, even though Finland’s premature exit meant Ireland would have played an extra game than Sweden. The Swedes ran out 3-1 winners, qualifying for their third successive World Cup having finished fourth at France ’38.


More pack terraces at Ireland vs Sweden in Dalymount Park.

Ireland would have to wait another 40 years to make it to the finals but this need not have been the case as, in the wake of all the withdrawals, they were in fact invited to take part anyway by FIFA. But off course money doesn’t grow on trees, especially in economically struggling, post-“Emergency” Ireland (as WW2 was known there) and the offer was turned down due to the traveling costs. This really raises the question: what was point in attempting to qualify in the first place, or were they just not thinking that far ahead?

SWEDEN QUALIFY

***

Group 6

Spain
Portugal

With their internal political issues well and truly resolved, a new Spain returned following their absence for 1938. Like the ’34 qualifiers they were placed in the “Iberian Group” with Portugal, with FIFA clearly deeming that one of the two simply needed to be at the World Cup.

In the previous version, Spain had breezed through with a 9-0 win at home propelling victory. This time Franco’s men didn’t score quite as many, but a 5-1 win in Madrid in April 1950 did basically the same job. Portugal at the time were in the midst of their own fascist dictatorship, or “corporatist authoritarian regime”, and they welcomed their peninsular pals to Lisbon eight days later. A 2-2 draw was played out allowing Spain to reach the finals as expected with little fuss.


Spain score the first of 5 goals against Portugal, on front of  a huge crowd.

Spain score the first in the 2-2 draw away to Portugal, in a ground devoid of side stand.

That is except for the fact that Portugal, of course, were then also invited to play at the World Cup, as a replacement for Turkey. And of course they declined, meaning all six European groups contained some sort of withdrawal or declination to play. This left FIFA throwing their hands up and shouting “Why do I even bother!” before bursting into tears, and then finally saying “fine then”, deciding to just leave the World Cup short of teams instead of inviting anyone else, dashing any last Luxembourgian hopes in the process.

SPAIN QUALIFY

***

Group 7

Bolivia
  Chile
Argentina

After the mess that was Europe, we now come to the Americas where things are always calmer and more settled. The three teams were set to play home and away, with the top two progressing to the final. Would a nice competitive group, played to completion with the winners going through and the losers definitively not going through, be too much to ask?

The answer is yes, as 1930 finalists Argentina withdrew leaving Bolivia and Chile (also both present in 1930) free to qualify automatically without a single second of football being played. Obviously their scheduled games to be played against each other were cancelled, as they would have been utterly fucking pointless.

BOLIVIA AND CHILE QUALIFY

***

Group 8

Uruguay
Paraguay
Ecuador
Peru

The intuitive among you (as well as those who look at nature and society in a deeper way and notice patterns) may well have already guessed the outcome of this group. And sure enough, Ecuador and Peru withdrew from the group faster than you can say “unstable puppet government propped up by the CIA”. They really could not wait to withdraw.

1930 champions Uruguay had boycotted the previous two tournaments, first in 1934 as an act of retribution against the European teams who had refused to travel to their home tournament in 1930, then along with Argentina in anger at FIFA’s decision to stage World Cup 1938 again in Europe rather then a return to South America. Paraguay had also made their only previous appearance in 1930. Both qualified again without a ball being kicked.

URUGUAY AND PARAGUAY QUALIFY

***

Group 9

USA
Mexico
Cuba

As with the British Home Nations tournament of Group 1, Group 9 also doubled as the 1949 North American Football Confederation Championship; the last time that competition would be played until 1990. However, unlike the Home Nations, all the matches would be played in a host nation – in this case Mexico – and all take place over the month of September 1949, more in lieu with a traditional tournament. The teams would play each other twice with the top two advancing to the World Cup, as well of course as North American Football Confederation Championship glory to the country on top.

The group was like the ill-fated Group 7 in that all teams had previously played at World Cups. Mexico had been statistically the worst team in their only appearance to date in 1930. The US had also taken part, both then and in ’34 where they replaced Mexico as poorest performing participant.

A pre-Castro Cuba can boast not just a finals appearance, but an oft-forgotten World Cup quarter final to their name in 1938. This is slightly less impressive when you remember that they only had to win one game to make the quater-finals, but slightly more impressive again by the fact that they drew 3-3 with Romania after extra time and then beat them 2-0 in a replay. However, the 8-0 drubbing received at the hands of Sweden in the quarter final itself does slightly take the shine off things.

Things didn’t go so well for Cuba this time though, as their only point of the Group came from a 1-1 draw with the US. The return game saw the Americans run out 5-2 winners. But the top side had not been in doubt since day one when hosts Mexico had destroyed the USA 6-0, and proceeded to put the same number past them when the sides would meet again while conceding their only two goals of the campaign. Comfortable 2-0 and 3-0 wins against Cuba, including on the last day of the group, gave Mexico the NAFC crown and qualification, along with the USA in second.

And there it is, finally after nine groups we have found one that was actually played to completion, and with the agreed upon rules adhered to through to the end. The real miracle here is the the Cuban revolution thankfully held off for a few years, for if it had happened in 1949 it would have undoubtedly disrupted the group.

MEXICO AND USA QUALIFY

***

Group 10

Burma
Indonesia
Philippines
India

Group 10 contained the only Asian side to have previously made a World Cup appearance in Indonesia, who played at the 1938 finals in their previous form of the Dutch East Indies. This feat is again made less impressive by the fact that they only reached said finals due the withdrawal (surprise, surprise) of their one opponent Japan. Tragically, after coming all the way to Europe for the World Cup, they were promptly beaten 6-0 by Hungary and sent straight home. Still, their name is in the history books. Well, their name when it was a different name.

India, meanwhile, had played their first game while still a British possession in 1938, and in 1948 had made their first appearance as an independent state. The Philippines had been around a surprisingly long time in comparison, with their first international dating back to 1913, but had not previously had the chance to qualify for a World Cup. Burma went into the qualifiers yet to take part in an international fixture of any sort.

And unfortunately this would remain the case, as wouldn’t you just know it, Burma, Indonesia and the Philippines all withdrew before the group drew could even take place. This left India to qualify by default in the one available spot, and you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you?

Except there is one last twist in the tale as India, true to these qualifiers to the very end, gave one final withdrawal. They powerfully withdrew from their default position of World Cup qualifier, amazingly with a view to prepare for the next Olympic games instead, proving that the World Cup was not exactly the global phenomenon it is today.

The infamous rumored reason had been that FIFA would not allow India to play barefoot at the World Cup, which seems too “sexy” of a story to be true and with more than a hint of racism. But while it apparently did not have a baring on their decision to pull out, they had in fact played barefoot to great effect at the 1948 Olympics, and would do so again at the 1952 edition.

NO QUALIFIER

***

Total Qualified Teams (13):

Bolivia

Brazil

Chile

England

Italy

Mexico

Paraguay

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

United States

Uruguay

Yugoslavia

*

And there we have it, qualifying done and dusted. Out of the 32 teams that entered, 11 out of the originally intended 14 qualified to join the hosts and champions, 15 either withdrew during qualifying or declined an invitation to the finals, and 9 didn’t play a game at all. Fair to say a roaring success as far as this time period goes. As for the actual 1950 World Cup, well you’ll just have to Google that for now, as it’s a story for another day (we mean that rhetorically, there are currently no plans for us to cover the 1950 World Cup).

*****