Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Football Still Has the Power to Change the World; as the 2014 World Cup Kicks off in Brazil, History Teaches How the Beautiful Game Can Be a Force for Good or Ill

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Football Still Has the Power to Change the World; as the 2014 World Cup Kicks off in Brazil, History Teaches How the Beautiful Game Can Be a Force for Good or Ill

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Murphy

WHATEVER the result of England's opening World Cup game against Italy tomorrow, football is in a sense a British triumph. For after football escaped its 19th-century publicschool origins, it quickly became more than just a pastime: it is the nation's most successful export.

In doing so it has bolstered and deposed tyrants; started and stopped wars; been an incubator of racism at home while helping bring down a racist regime in South Africa. It has assisted in building nations, influencing elections, shaping cities and inspiring resistance. Its impact is as dynamic, contradictory and compelling as the game itself.

As the World Cup kicked off in Brazil our screens were full of the riots in Sao Paulo. Without getting into the politics of the world's seventh-biggest economy, it is incredible to think that the country was a military dictatorship less than three decades ago. The size and cost of this tournament is shaking this relatively new democracy in a way no other sport could. It's as difficult to foresee the longterm impacts on Brazil as it is to pick a winner from among the favourites.

Many fans will have their own views on the most important games ever played. But in finalising the list for my new book, The 10 Football Matches that Changed the World.... and the One that Didn't, I relied on first-hand accounts from those closest to events across the decades, including footballers, prime ministers, political prisoners, cabinet ministers and journalists.

It won't surprise anyone that World Cup fixtures feature (so do other games, not least the match which failed to change the world, though we might wish it had-- the football played between German and British troops during the Christmas Truce of 1914). Every World Cup generates its own controversy.

The early tournaments were overshadowed by British boycotts over the payment of players. In 1978 the Argentinean junta manipulated the team's victory and would go on to invade the Falklands. Germany 2006 was a chance to demonstrate the achievement of a reunited Germany; in 2010 it was South Africa's chance to help heal divisions of another kind. And even eight years ahead of Qatar 2022, we are already spoiled for choice on controversy.

But there are three matches that stand out. In 1954 it was Europe's turn to host the World Cup. For the first competition on the continent since the Second World War, Fifa opted for neutral Switzerland as the venue. And while there were 16 teams in the event, there was only expected to be one winner.

The Mighty Magyars of Hungary had come into the tournament carrying a 29-game unbeaten run stretching all the way back to May 1950. As they prepared for the final, only the unfancied West Germans stood in their way.

Switzerland was Germany's first time back from pariah status, having been excluded from the 1948 London Olympics and the 1950 Brazil World Cup. And in probably the biggest ever turnaround in a World Cup final, the underdogs recovered from a two-goal deficit to be crowned champions.

Bern was then, and remains, the most important World Cup final in history. Franz Beckenbauer, the man who would go on to win the World Cup for West Germany both as a player and manager, believes that after their success "suddenly Germany was somebody again". …

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