When it comes to sports journalism, Brian Glanville is a British institution. He was football correspondent for the Sunday Times for thirty-three years, before moving to The People to become a sports columnist.
Having covered every World Cup tournament since 1958, his definitive guide to the competition; “The Story of the World Cup” was first published in 1973 and ahead of this summer’s competition in Russia, his anthology has received another update.
Ahead of its long-awaited release, Steve Mitchell sat down to talk to the author himself, and he began part one of the interview, by asking him what it was like covering the most famous moment in English football history.
SM: Apart from the obvious, what was your abiding memory of the 1966 tournament in England?
BG: Well of course it would have to be of England winning the trophy because I don’t think we would have done it anywhere else. You have to remember, we did it the hard way after starting with a very dispiriting goalless draw against Uruguay.
Every England match was played at Wembley, which was very controversial at the time as it was assumed it would give them an unfair advantage. I think it was perfectly justified to play our games at the National Stadium.
It took England until the semi-finals to find any real form, and I actually believe that if Argentina would have played with more discipline against them in the quarter-final, they could have actually knocked England out.
SM: Having been with Sir Alf Ramsey at close quarters, how did you find him as a person?
BG: The relations between the media and Alf were pretty strange, but he could be quite amusing about it at times.Embed from Getty Images
I remember sharing a train carriage with him and other journalists going to watch a match and I remember him declaring in his best Sergeant Major’s voice; “I don’t know why you keep telephoning me.” Then he went around the carriage, pointing at us one by one saying, “I don’t keep telephoning you,” and so on until it came to me, when he stopped and said, “And you, you don’t even telephone me!”
SM: Did you feel going into the Mexico 1970 tournament, that England could successfully defend their title?
BG: There was a strong case for thinking that we could retain the trophy. But of course, the whole tournament changed for us in the quarter-final against the West Germans. Gordon Banks had been taken ill prior to the match as everyone knows. Poor Peter Bonnetti deputised in goal and had an atrocious match.
I remember the morning of the game, waking up on a friend’s floor in his chalet as there were no hotel rooms available, and seeing the England doctor, a gentleman called Mr. Phillips, escorting a stricken looking Banks to hospital. Having spoken to him in detail in later years, there was no doubt in my mind that he had been poisoned.
SM: What were your feelings when you first saw the Brazilian team in that competition?
BG: Well we knew just how good the Brazilians could be back in 1958. I remember back then they had a psychologist with them, a funny little man who told the players to draw a picture for him. Any player, who drew a sophisticated picture, would be played in midfield and any player who drew a dour picture, would play in defence.
His advice to the Brazilian coach at the time, Vicente Feola, was not to pick either Garrincha or Pele as neither were psychologically adjusted enough to play for the team. Before Brazil played in the final against the hosts, Sweden, Feola was asked what he felt about the psychologist and his interpreter replied; “Mr. Feola is not wishing that he would go to hell…but he is thinking it!”
SM: As a lover of attacking football, which comes across clearly in the book, who pleased you the most; the Brazil team of 1970 or Holland in 1974?
BG: They were both remarkable teams; the Dutch should have won the ‘74 tournament, but after scoring an early (penalty) goal in the Final, they decided to almost taunt the West Germans.Embed from Getty Images
The bitter history between the two nations is well documented, but Holland should have extended their lead and their failure to do so ultimately cost them the title in my opinion. Both teams had some absolutely remarkable players.
SM: It’s well documented that the Dutch defeat in the 1978 Final left a bitter taste in their mouths. Do you agree with their comments that Argentina could not have won the trophy (at the time) anywhere but in their own country?
BG: That is absolutely true. Where the Argentine team got that extra spurt of energy in extra-time in the Final is a mystery to me. Yet again though, the Dutch threw away a great chance to win the competition. They were by far the best side in that particular tournament.
SM: How aware were you, of what was happening behind the scenes in Argentina, a country torn apart by military rule?
BG: We all knew perfectly well what was happening. It was a shocking time but the show went on; just like the Nazis were able to put on the Olympic Games in 1936. We had to travel past this building to go to some games in Buenos Aires, knowing it was where the military regime had tortured dissidents. It was truly shocking.
SM: Did you feel the revised format used in Spain 1982 probably deprived England of a serious shot at winning the trophy?
BG: That (Ron) Greenwood team was very boring in my opinion. I think the Football Association had almost dragged him out of retirement to take over from Don Revie. Harold Thompson, who was in charge of selecting the manager, probably remembered Greenwood from his days coaching at Oxford University; he just wasn’t the right choice at all.Embed from Getty Images
The team was dour on the whole but yes, they still should have got through that second-phase. The problem, of course, was that Greenwood loved Kevin Keegan and he should have never even gone to Spain in the first place. He missed the whole competition until the Spanish game, and when he came on (with Trevor Brooking who was also not fully fit) he missed the perfect chance to score. He was clearly not fit enough but like I said, Greenwood was almost infatuated by him.
SM: So were you one of the press-pack championing the arrival of Brian Clough to replace Revie?
BG: No. I never felt he was the right choice. He was a semi-benevolent dictator in my opinion, and although his methods worked in a club context, I believe they would have never worked at international level.
SM: So who was your choice at the time?
BG: I always felt at the time that one of the best coaches we had was Jimmy Adamson. He was at Burnley then he moved to Leeds United. If I remember, he was the footballer of the year and he never got an England Cap.
SM: 1986 was the Maradona show. How would you best describe him?
BG: I’d put him about number four in my all-time list, behind Pele, Cruyff and Beckenbauer. When I met him however, it was rather pleasant. He was playing in a friendly for Napoli at the time and after the game I went down to the dressing-room area and when I got there, his PA recognised me from an interview I’d done with him in Buenos Aries.Embed from Getty Images
He was in good form during that period and I remember him going onto the field with a group of small boys to train them. He also played the whole of that friendly match; he just loved his football at the time and was totally different from what I had expected.
SM: You spent a lot of time working as a journalist in Italy, right?
BG: I went when I was 21 in 1952. It was an important time for me and I was based in Florence and then Rome. Although I preferred Florence, Rome was extraordinary because at that time, both Roma and Lazio had English managers.
A Liverpudlian called Jesse Carver was at Roma and a little Yorkshireman called George Raynor was in charge at Lazio. I was the only English journalist there at the time, so it was fabulous for me.
SM: Paul Gascoigne, the global superstar of Italia ‘90. In your opinion, if he’d joined Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United instead of moving to Spurs, would we now be talking of him as one of the all-time England greats?
BG: I think he was anyway. The last thing he ever said to me was, “You can f**k right off!” when I went to see him train at Lazio, as I’d been critical of his lifestyle at the time. I thought he was a magnificent talent however; but unfortunately, when I think of Gascoigne I always think back to that ghastly moment when an Italian radio reporter put the microphone in front him and he belched right into it.
I think Gascoigne was best summed up by a former Inter Milan goalkeeper who declared that, “To understand Gazza you would have to get inside his head.” At that time I was working for The People so I wrote, if we got inside his head, on one side we would find a magnificent footballer, and on the other side we would have, as Groucho Marx once said to Chico, “The brain of a four-year-old and I bet they were glad to get rid of it!”
SM: You have been quoted as saying that Bobby Robson was “Grotesquely Overrated”. Why?
BG: Well, he was. He made some sort of recovery in Italia ‘90 but when he was in charge of England in the European Championships, everything he did went wrong. Robson best summed himself up when we reached the quarter-finals in Mexico when he said, “We’re here, but I don’t know how.”Embed from Getty Images
We were unlucky against West Germany in Turin that I agree, but looking back on his career as England boss, he made some terrible selection choices in my opinion.
I’ll give you a prime example. In Mexico he took Bryan Robson who was clearly not fit and Ray Wilkins who, in my opinion, was too negative. It took Robson getting injured and Wilkins getting sent-off to galvanise the team, who then got to the last eight on their own steam and almost by accident.
In part two, Glanville gives us his verdict on Roberto Baggio, how the French tried to galvanise a nation, whether the German model is now the one to follow and why he fears for the future of the game at international level.
The Story of the World Cup 2018 published by Faber & Faber is now available from Amazon HERE
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