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Raffique Shah


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Warner a one-man wrecking machine

By Raffique Shah
Dec 12, 2010

The closest I ever got to a football World Cup finals was in London in 1966. No, I was not in Wembley Stadium where England beat West Germany 4-2 in a match that was mired in controversy. My friend, the late Joey Baksh, and I, watched the match on television from a flat near Brixton. That was so close to Wembley, yet beyond the reach of students who could not afford tickets.

Armed with a bottle of scotch, we settled down before the TV expecting to see Germany thrash England. Our preference had nothing to do with politics. If it did, we would have backed England, since the stench of fascism still hovered around Germans 20 years after Hitler and the War.

There was one reason why we chose Germany: it was an English "stopper" named Nobby Stiles. You see, with black consciousness coursing through our veins, our football heroes were Pele and Eusébio. Everyone knows Pele, but few will remember Eusébio. He was a magical player widely viewed as comparable with Pele, and a possible successor to the maestro.

He was black, born in Mozambique, then a colony of Portugal, hence the reason he played for that country. Like Pele, he was also a player marked for on-field death. The English player whose job it was to tackle and break both Pele and Eusébio, was "Nasty Nobby". Stiles crashed repeatedly into both men when they were miles from the ball, hurting them badly. If my memory serves me right, both players went off the field in the latter stages of the tournament, injured and in tears.

The referees did not eject Stiles, so he stayed on into the finals. I should add that in that tournament were some of the finest footballers the world has ever seen: Lev Yashin (USSR, now Russia), Gordon Banks (England), Franz Beckenbauer, the Charltons. Matches were great and we were lucky to be in England where there was live television coverage.

But Stiles' brutal tackling of Pele and Eusébio prompted Joey and me to back Germany in the final. Much to our dismay, England won. It was the only time the country that supposedly "invented" the game, won the World Cup. We drowned our sorrow in that bottle of whiskey, cussed, and then fell asleep.

Going down memory lane when one has lived the adventurous and exciting life I have, can be nostalgic. But I must leave the glorious past and address the present. With the advent of global satellite television and live coverage of most big sporting events, I absolutely enjoy the World Cup and Olympic Games from the comfort of my couch.

So I don't give a damn where these events are staged—South Africa, Korea—what does it matter? Thus, I don't understand why any country, especially those experiencing economic strife (like England and the USA), would want to stage a multi-billion-dollar tournament that will leave them in even greater debt. I agree with those who say that England should focus instead on trying to win the Cup, not stage the tournament.

However, many countries, among them some of the most troubled in today's world, pursue this cussed goal with great passion and greater budgets. England stooped so low, they had their Prime Minister, David Cameron, all but kiss Jack Warner's derriere, in their bid to stage the 2014 tournament. They lowered the bar further by adding Prince William to the begging pool. Really, why would any country go on bended knees to the likes of Warner and Sepp Blatter?

Jack reminds me of a comic strip character called "Joe Btfsplk", the world's worst jinx. Mark you, he does not have a jinx: if anything, he had a fairy godmother sitting on his head, guiding him to wherever good fortune lies—in back rooms, on playfields, in luxury hotels, wherever. Still, controversy stalks Jack, whether it's in football or in politics.

That the Brits actually believed Jack would support their bid to stage the tournament was...well, unbelievable. Yes, they have everything going for them—the best stadia, the biggest and most passionate football fans (except, perhaps, the South Americans), and all other infrastructure that is required for such a huge event.

But they also have a free and fiercely independent media, and even worse, a fearless sports journalist in Andrew Jennings. He has been like a proverbial tick in Jack and FIFA's backsides. Warner admitted that the British media—the very independent BBC and the conservative Sunday Times—scuttled England's bid. Their crime? They wrote the truth and they were damned by FIFA's tin-gods.

Warner is boldface to the point of being incredible. He and his FIFA fellow-clowns have not sued the media anywhere in the world for libel. This course is open to them if the reports the media carry are lies. So what are we to assume? That they are too poor to pursue them legally? That they do not believe they will get justice in England? Or that they are guilty as accused, but do not give a damn?

As if to add bitter cassava to his FIFA-rub, Jack is said to have misled President Obama on the US 2022 bid. I wonder if people understand the implications of this man's reckless machinations. He is a one-man diplomatic wrecking machine. When the backlash from his misdeeds hits us, we would look back and ask, "How the hell did we end up in this mess?"

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