Don’t you miss the old World Cup tournaments when the biggest controversies involved a player’s shorts falling down or a trainer knocking himself out with chloroform?
Sports writer Luciano Wernicke has brought together some of the more incredible World Cup stories in a book called, not surprisingly, Incredible World Cup Stories.
The predicament of the poorly performing shorts dates to the 1938 World Cup in France, when Italy was beating Brazil 1-0 in a tense semi-final. A penalty was awarded against Brazil and Giuseppe Meazza stepped forward. Unfortunately, the elastic in his shorts stepped back at that very moment. Undeterred, Meazza bunched up his shorts with his left hand, adjusted the ball and scored with ease. In the excitement, the Italian raised his arms with joy and was left standing in his underwear. Italy won the match and went on to win the World Cup, once again proving the old adage that the only way is up when your shorts fall down.
Chloroform took a starring role in an earlier semi-final when the US was playing Argentina in the 1930 tournament, although some of the details are contested. A US player was injured, and a trainer ran onto the pitch with his medical bag. Fifa maintains the trainer was Jack Coll while Wernicke’s book claims it was Bob Millar. But the outcome remains the same. In his rush to get to the player, the trainer’s bag fell open and a bottle of chloroform rolled out and lost its cork. When he bent down to retrieve it, he promptly passed out from the fumes and had to be carried off the pitch.
There wasn’t a bother on the injured player, however, unlike a teammate who broke his leg early in the game but continued playing until half time. And it wasn’t worth the pain as Argentina still won the match by six goals to one.
The book also tells the story of the sweating Scots who arrived at the 1954 tournament in Switzerland decked out in long-sleeved wool shirts. Playing in temperatures of almost 40 degrees, they failed to progress. Reflecting on it afterwards, defender Tommy Docherty said the Scottish FA thought Switzerland would be cold because of the mountains. “You’d have thought we were going on an expedition to the Antarctic,” he ruefully recalled.
If the Scots couldn’t handle the heat, then England and Brazil struggled to handle a more unexpected adversary in the 1962 World Cup when a dog entered the pitch during their quarter final. Several players failed to capture him, until midfielder Jimmy Greaves got down on his knees and lured him over. As he was handing him over to a policeman, the dog got his revenge. He unleashed a generous trail of urine down the player’s jersey. It left a bad smell in the air for England who lost to Brazil, 3-1. But it was a happier result for the dog because he was adopted by the Brazilian player Garrincha.
Of course, anyone who has ever played sport in this country knows that a dog in the field is nothing special. Our athletes have had to contend with a veritable menagerie of animals encroaching on their playing spaces. Horses, sheep, cows, cats and dogs all make a habit of wandering across pitches and running tracks and some even show more agility than the humans.
A rooster on the pitch is a more unusual spectacle but one that Laois fans were happy to crow about in 2005. The relaxed-looking cockerel attended a few Laois matches but came to public attention when he strutted his stuff at the O’Byrne Cup match between Laois and Kildare in O’Moore Park. He contentedly roamed the pitch for the first half of the match, and perhaps it ruffled the feathers of the visitors because the home team squawked by with a point to spare. It appears the bird later had his wings clipped as his owner turned up with a stuffed hen at the Leinster semi-final that summer.
But pity the poor young hurlers in Cork who had to contend with a much larger animal. A surprisingly energetic Friesian cow came hoofing up the pitch at rapid speed during the league match at Castlemagner in 2016.
How would today’s pampered World Cup stars contend with that encroachment? Not as well as the junior hurlers, I’ll wager. One photo shows them wielding their hurls and chasing the cow off the pitch so play could resume.
I’m tempted to milk this pun for all it’s worth but that would be udderly uncalled for.
Sure, we’d be here until the cows come home.