Sunday, 12 October 2014

World Soccer: August 1981

With less than a year to go until the 1982 World Cup, there was much concern among the writers of World Soccer. Concern over Spain's readiness to host the tournament, concern over England's ability to qualify, and concern over the standard of football being played by Europe's top clubs.

A survey of officials and observers in Spain suggested the twelfth World Cup hosts would indeed be ready when the tournament started in June 1982, however while the areas of transport and accommodation appeared to be in good shape, the upgrading of certain stadia appeared a little sluggish.

Despite having been appointed as hosts in 1964, work on improving the Balaídos Municpal Stadium in Vigo and the San Mamés Stadium in Bilbao was only just beginning, and a similar tale could be told for many of the other 15 venues too. Barcelona's Nou Camp was due to increase in capacity and have a new roof fitted, while elsewhere media facilities were being beefed up too.

On this latter point, some foreign executives were wondering about the quality of the facilities they'd find around Spain when the competition was due to start. A full-time colour service had only been introduced in 1977, and it was feared that broadcasters from around the world might find things a little primitive when they arrived.

Still for all that, the tournament was almost certain to generate a profit for its organisers. "You can expect to be inundated with World Cup promotions material from the eight multi-nationals who have bought the commercial rights" explained the article.

As far as England's place in the Finals was concerned, Brian Glanville was cautiously optimistic as Ron Greenwood's team went into their final pair of qualifying matches. England's form was all over the place; an opening 4-0 win over Norway and an impressive 3-1 victory against Hungary was outbalanced by a first defeat to Switzerland since 1947 and an inability to beat Romania home or away.

Glanville's view was that England should be 'notionally capable' of winning both of their remaining games, but "notionally they should have got the better of Romania and Switzerland. The fact is, despite their fine victory in Budapest, you cannot rely on them to do anything; any more that you can be sure that their manager, Ron Greenwood, truly knows what he is doing, has any kind of consistent policy."

Harsh words, but in essence fair. With Hungary setting the pace in Group 4, England's results were inconsistent and this, as Glanville noted, was largely down to Greenwood's team selection. An early intent on using a core of players from Liverpool was soon changed, with various members of personnel coming, going or switching positions at regular intervals.

"Now England had wingers; now they didn't" explained Glanville. "Now Bryan Robson played in the back four, now in midfield. Now Peter Withe stood marooned in the middle, without the assistance of a Gary Shaw figure... Now he had a Woodcock with him. But come the game in Basel, and Withe wasn't there at all..."

In their two remaining games, England, needing only to finish second in the group, made heavy weather of things and were assisted greatly by Switzerland nullifying the threat of Romania. When Greenwood's squad travelled to Oslo for their penultimate match, they took a hell of a beating by two goals to one before finally and desperately crossing the line with a 1-0 Wembley win over Hungary in November 1981. They had qualified, but quite how still remains a mystery to some.

Leslie Vernon was in distinctly pessimistic mood as he reviewed the main happenings of the previous season. Despite Liverpool notching up yet another English victory in the 1980-81 European Cup Final over Real Madrid, Vernon felt the fans had little to get excited about.

"It has been a deeply disappointing competition, and yet another undistinguished Final, which has aptly demonstrated the poverty of real talent amongst the Continent's top clubs" he said. Going on, he explained: "The sad truth is that teams are so afraid to lose these days that they are not willing to risk anything, and simply refuse to play attacking football - even at home! Goals are at a premium, and it is no accident that the last four European Cup Finals ended in 1-0 victories."

If Leslie Vernon was hoping for better just around the corner, he'd be disappointed. The following Final gave Aston Villa a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich, and the season after that, Hamburg won 1-0 over Juventus. There was even a 1-0 win in the 1984-85 Final as Juventus triumphed over Liverpool. So much for 'goals galore'...

Among the other stories featured in this issue of World Soccer were Eric Batty's assessment that 'Brazil still play good football' (based on a successful Brazilian tour of Europe), Joe Jordan's £250,000 transfer from Manchester United to Milan, and a chance for the dwindling NASL to recapture some of the public's interest in the wake of a baseball strike in the United States.

The NASL was, by August 1981, falling into decline but one recent development, NASL Indoor, attempted to keep fans engaged even when the main outdoor league wasn't playing. For several years, a number of teams had opted to play indoor friendlies or informal tournaments during the winter months. This led to a formal indoor league being introduced for the 1979-80 season, and such was its popularity that it expanded from 12 to 19 teams in 1980-81. This while a separate indoor-only competition, the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL), had also been gaining more of a following since its inception in 1978.

There was, however, a problem. Some teams in the NASL were considering their futures amid falling attendances, and for one, the indoor game was proving a tempting option, as reported by Paul Gardner:

"The [Atlanta] Chiefs have always been also-rans, and have never been able to muster much in the way of fan support. Alas, that is still true: the soccer is good, the crowds are lousy... This has led to rumours that Atlanta would like to play only indoor soccer. Well they can't do that in the NASL... but they could if they were to drop out of the NASL and join the Major Indoor Soccer League."

Ultimately the rumours never materialised, but the 1981 NASL season was to be the last for the Atlanta Chiefs. Disbanded shortly after, the NASL itself only had three more years to run before it, too, came to an end. As Paul Gardner commented: "The season never stops - outdoor pro in the summer, high school and college in the Autumn, indoor in the winter, back to the summer pros. It is altogether too much. There has to be a break there somewhere, for the fans as much as the players."

Food for thought where the American game was concerned, and indeed for football around the globe back in August 1981.

-- Chris Oakley


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