Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Radio Times: 1986 World Cup preview issue

For the vast majority of us not able to visit the 1986 World Cup in Mexico personally, the Radio Times did a pretty good job of making you feel like you were actually there. Every possible detail about the build-up to the competition, the British teams involved and the climactic challenges awaiting them was covered comprehensively.

Jimmy Hill’s opening gambit, ‘Here we go!’ prepared us for a slower, more skilful brand of football better suited to the heat and altitude of Mexico. Luckily for Bobby Robson, Hill pondered, England “couldn’t be in a better group if they had applied for it.” It’s a shame that Portugal, Poland and Morocco didn’t end up sharing the BBC man’s sense of logic in the fullness of time.

In ‘Viva Mexico!’ Barry Davies looked at the creeping invasion of commercialism into the World Cup in contrast to the abject poverty of many of Mexico City’s inhabitants. In the wake of a crippling magnitude 8 earthquake the previous September, the Mexican capital was trying to rebuild and create the infrastructure for a successful World Cup. Uppermost in the minds of many, however, were the people that had died and the ongoing destitution they themselves were living in.

“The hoardings of the 12 official sponsors gained by FIFA’s agents, ISL Marketing, were at first slow to appear. Now they look down from every corner and surround the playing areas of the 12 venues” claimed Davies. Of the poor in the city, he said: “It would be nice to think that the World Cup will offer them – the people in the street – long-term gain and not just a passing lift to morale. But history may support the doubters.”

The hotels and base camps awaiting the squads of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland were detailed in ‘A place in the sun.’ While the Mexican heat provided a universal problem for all northern European teams to cope with, Monterrey served up another for the England team. At only 522 metres, it had the lowest altitude of all the venues, and what’s more it was only “designed for the overnight traveller or for a weekend away.” Nice.

Northern Ireland, meanwhile, were "living in style" at their hotel not far from Guadalajara, scene of England's classic encounter with Brazil in 1970. "Every possible sporting diversion is on offer from tennis to horse riding, baccarat to a golf driving range, with four nearby courses open to guests. There is even a bullring" we were told. But which of the hotel's useful facilities did the Northern Ireland squad make most use of? "As for the swimming pool" the article went on "it is one of those where crawling to the bar – freestyle fashion – is quite acceptable."  Question answered.

Acclimatisation to the heat was discussed further in ‘Soccer at the highest level’ where, according to Byron Butler, “the lessons of 1970 have been digested.” As part of the medical preparations the England party took 20,000 pills with them across the Atlantic – enough “to make Bryan Robson and the team rattle.” As if dehydration and a lack of the appropriate medication wasn’t bad enough, there was also ‘the Aztec two-step’ to consider – “a mixture of diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain and fever” better known to many as ‘Montezuma’s Revenge.’ Never let it be said it’s an easy life being a footballer.

John Motson, Des Lynam and Bob Wilson were on hand to give their views on the chances of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively. According to the former Arsenal goalkeeper, Scotland’s place in the ‘Group of Death’ with West Germany, Denmark and Uruguay was no bad thing given their propensity for failing at the hands of minnows down the years. With Graeme Sharp of Everton up front with “West Ham’s 28-goal scoring sensation Frank McAvennie,” they could hardly lose, yet lose they did in two of their three games to end their Mexican campaign earlier than planned.

Page after page of team profiles were also provided in this edition of the Radio Times, all written by great figures from the British game including Ron Greenwood, Emlyn Hughes, Terry Venables and Bobby Charlton. And if that 24 pages of World Cup content wasn’t enough, you still had the job of building your viewing schedule for the week ahead.

World Cup Grandstand was where the BBC’s coverage began at 6.10 pm on Saturday 31 May. Italy v Bulgaria and the opening ceremony were featured in the first programme, preceded as it was by The Keith Harris Show and a re-run of Whatever Happened to The Likely Lads? From Day 2 onwards, live matches were broadcast at an altogether less sociable hour of the day, usually from 10.50pm, with highlights shown at around 5.30pm when ITV had live coverage.

And what other televisual delights were on offer throughout this momentous week on the BBC?  Well for children there was The Kids of Degrassi Street, John Craven’s Newsround, We Are The Champions and Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds. For older viewers there was a choice of viewing including Les and Dustin’s Laughter Show, M*A*S*H and Terry and June. Yes, it was entertainment all the way during the first week of June 1986… but mostly on the pitch rather than off it.


  1. I love Bobby Charlton's use of national stereotypes. Portugal would be "used to the hot conditions" (lol, bit of a difference between Lisbon in January and Central America in June). Poland would be "disciplined" (after all, hadn't they just recently emerged from martial law?). Bobby would've been a good writer for 'Mind Your Language'. :D

    1. Ha ha! If he'd just said "A thousand apologies', we'd have all been happy with that... :)

  2. What was the competition please? Mentioned on the front cover? It wasn't by any chance to win an Adidas Azteca from the World Cup, was it?