Football: Cynicism Loses When Popular Culture and High Art Collide; ...but Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad Refuses to Kowtow to Retrospective Romanticism

The Birmingham Post (England), September 8, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Football: Cynicism Loses When Popular Culture and High Art Collide; ...but Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad Refuses to Kowtow to Retrospective Romanticism


Byline: Hyder Jawad

The death of Luciano Pavarotti, that great icon of football (!), sparked the inevitable wave of blind revisionism about the summer of 1990.

How well we remember it: Paul Gascoigne's tears, Cameroon, Ireland, Roberto Baggio, David Platt, Lothar Matthaus, and the BBC World Cup title sequence (starring Pavarotti's very own Nessun Dorma).

But, of course, Nessun Dorma was not Pavarotti's "very own" - and the 1990 World Cup itself was a 31-day study in cynicism and mediocrity. Seldom has a tournament been so romanticised in retrospect yet been so ugly in actuality.

And yet Italia 90 tells us everything about what is important about the World Cup. In the age of television, the images matter more than the product because the images last longer.

We have forgotten how poorly England played against Ireland, Egypt, Belgium and Cameroon. We just remember Gascoigne's tears, the penalty shoot-out against West Germany, and that superlative volley by Platt against Belgium.

Most of all, we remember Nessun Dorma when "Vincero" (I will conquer) is sung three times to form a dramatic crescendo. To complement the denoument, the BBC used footage of Marco Tardelli's goal celebration from the 1982 World Cup final.

By the end of Italia 90, which Germany won after defeating Argentina in a wretched final in Rome, Pavarotti and Nessun Dorma became inextricably linked. Few realised that the song is from the Giacomo Puccini's opera, Turandot.

But that was written out of the story because Puccini was not as loveable as Pavarotti, or as marketable.

Nessun Dorma (Let No one Sleep) was more than opera's most famous "popular" track; it was the World Cup's unofficial soundtrack.

During the 1994 World Cup, Pavarotti was invited to Los Angeles the day before the final to perform. Officially, it was an operatic event but it was sold to the world as a football event - and football people, most of whom had never been to an opera before, littered the audience.

Popular culture and high art had finally collided. So what if the art was more inspiring than the football. It was the images that mattered; and Italia 90 provided images that are unlikely to fade.

It was the same at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. Apart from Michael Johnson's genius in the 200 metre and 400m finals, and Linford Cristie's foolishness in the 100m, what do we remember? For me, the single defining image of Atlanta 96 is Tara's Theme, the BBC's title track, which owes its conception to Gone With The Wind.

No media outlet has a better feel for sporting imagery than the BBC. For them, the link between music and sport started with the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, the soundtrack of which was more successful than the sport.

The first realisation that music could set the scene for an entire tournament came in 1978 when Argentina hosted the World Cup.

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