Thursday, 3 January 2008

Totaalvoetbal, Bloody Divots

Try as I might, the sight of one particular goal still turns my stomach every time I see it. You can watch it here after about two minutes of nostalgia and The Pogues. It’s a simple looping header from Wim Kieft at Euro ‘88, one with a wicked bounce, as well as another Dutchman standing in an offside position out of shot.

But it’s not the injustice of the linesman's decision – after all Alan McLoughlin was standing three yards offside when Kevin Sheedy blasted home against England at Italia ’90 – instead it’s just the sickening amount of time it takes to go in. Ireland slowly but surely seeing a semi final berth slip out of their grasp.

The flight of the ball barely makes sense, some odd divot is hit and football history follows. How many times have you seen Marco Van Basten’s volley in the final? At least a hundred if you’ve even a passing interest in football, near a thousand if you happen to actually like the game. No divot, no volley, no Marco Goalo volley of the century.

Kieft’s goal disgusts me to this day. I can’t help it.

The path of Dutch football rarely makes sense, be it to do with divots, lunch time seating arrangements or even the sheer oddity that is Dirk Kuyt. Therefore, Ireland’s exit at Euro ’88 to that goal should just be chalked down as another oddball moment in the history of a nation that’s usually too busy rowing to win tournaments; despite the fact that they’re often technically the best side on show.

There was a book released a few years ago by football writer David Winner, entitled Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, which I picked up again recently. When I say ‘recently’, I mean out of a desperate attempt to do anything with Christmas other than drink, eat, eat, eat, drink… oh, and avoid generally awful Christmas TV (I include nearly every live Premier League game over the festive period in that too – cheers Sky for not showing Chelsea v Villa).

It did the trick. When you see a chapter on how the ‘Provos’ changed football you generally associate it with terrace violence in Northern Ireland’s top flight in the late seventies. However, in Winner’s book he’s referring to a 1960s group of Dutch anti-establishment protestors. Their tactics for social reform basically revolved around annoying the police with clever non-violent protests and pranks to such a point that the only logical conclusion was that they would end up getting a good kicking. Public support and press headlines followed.

The book itself is about the “idea of Dutch football” rather than the Dutch national side or even their club teams. The spirit of total football, so goes the argument, comes in part from inspiration such as the Provos, who managed to free themselves from the post-war conservatism of their home country. It’s not just them though; it’s their architects, painters, anarchists and the petty differences of the middle classes that make up the nature of Dutch football.

National identity it seems, dictates the national style of football. Does the argument stand up when you take a look at other nations? Seeing the almost drunken fashion in which the FAI have gone about stumbling from one failed conquest to another in the ‘race’ for Ireland manager, our administrators certainly resemble some of our fine nation on a Saturday night out. But actual footballing style?

The grinding nature of the Charlton era matched some very hard financial times; much like the flair players of the ultimately unsuccessful ‘70s side resembled the ramshackle trad music bands that delighted home crowds but often struggled abroad when it came to making the big breakthrough. Now we’re a nation who relies on foreign workers to prop up the workforce; should a decent continental coach get the job he will sit well with our mercenary friendly attitudes.

England’s style of play? Is there one? If there is, it resembles their white van man fan-base (try saying that ten times in a row) rather than the country as a whole - not subtle and can be accused of being brainless at times. Perhaps instead of protesting Provos, Fabio, Capello could look to Have I Got News for You for how to handle genuine talent in a large, often misguided organisation. Joe Cole as England’s Paul Merton? Privately educated Lamps as Ian Hislop? Owen Hargreaves as the anchor? It could work. It won’t, but it could.

Then there’s Spain; where Civil War pretty much defines their current squad and any in living memory. There’s also the slow method of carrying out their day (how many meals and breaks do they have anyway) that matches the patient build up of their football sides.

There’s gotta be some decent masters degree in the whole subject – after all if they can give college lectures on the science of superheroes then national football identities should have some of Mensa’s finest working on this topic.

Winner’s tale of the Dutch is a great read anyway… though I still wish that Kieft’s header had bounced harmlessly wide.

Anyhoo, had to write on something other than the Premier League above as we have been battered over the head with it over Christmas. But much like Sam Allardyce’s wife (ref: Okeydoke Football’s entirely non-libelous Awards Show) we’re back for more so give us your best shot!

Tonight we’re podcasting and discussing the events of the Christmas period (winners: Chelsea, Arsenal; losers: Liverpool, Derby, and Newcastle). We’ll also have Pub Talk and comments.

Until then, belated Happy New Year, JJ

Okey Doke Football Podcast is available every Friday morning, subscribe here:


Mark said...

can i've a lend of that book?

JJ said...

Tis at my folk's house, will get it for ya soon chief. Reading the Marcotti/Vialli book at the moment, I want to believe it's Vialli's opinions contained within but all I can hear is the argmentative but excellent yank's voice. Odd experience.

Mark said...

the notion of national identity is an interesting one but i'd say it's only in specific cases - are all african countries naive, as their football is constantly described?

are trinidad & tobago fun-loving party footballers? did u see their game against england? (i'm deliberately ignoring dwight yorke)

america, traditionally strong, arrogant, etc - their football team isn't, containing down to earth, decent footballers, clint dempsey, mcbride, etc.

as for the book, i'll be seeing your mother later, i'll pick it up then....

JJ said...

I can't belive it's taken you so long to bring this blog down to that level chief, shocked it took over a month, never mind the guts of a year. School yard bully.

Donal said...

Nothing quite like a "yer ma" gag for a cheap laugh...

Our success during the late 80s and early 90s, has little to do with "de luck of de Oirish", "The best fans in the World", etc. We actually had a fantastic squad of players, at least relatively speaking. Off the top of my head, here are some names from around that era:


Now admittedly I've left out some of the more forgettable names that also starred during this era (Chris Morris, et. al.), but all the same, it's a squad that really shouldn't have been afraid of anyone. So.....who have I forgotten?

Mark said...

can't see anyone major you've forgotten there Donal, Cascarino had his moments I suppose.

it was a good squad

JJ said...

Much as he was, and indeed is, a complete gimp, Andy Townsend was a quality player for Ireland in 1990 and 1994. Kevin Sheedy as well would be worth a mention, an Everton fan I know thinks he was the best player to have put on the shirt in his lifetime until Mikel Arteta showed up. No Gerry Peyton?