Football and television have long been natural bedfellows. And from Thursday if you’re not a footie fan then the next month’s TV schedules are not going to be to your liking.

But for those of us who love the beautiful game the World Cup is viewing heaven. Between here and July 13th, whether you watch on an old fashioned TV, your office or home computer or a phone or tablet, there are 64 matches to be anticipated, analysed and argued about, their results then filled-in on wall charts the globe over.

These 64 games don’t come cheap to your favourite networks who each pay a chunk of the $1.7 billion, according to Forbes, FIFA expects to generate this year from global television rights.

For this wallop of dosh it gets a hefty audience. 909 million television viewers around the world tuned in to at least one minute of Spain’s 1-0 extra-time win in the 2010 final over the Netherlands in Johannesburg. The average official rating was 188.4 million for each match.

I was waaay too young – ahem – to remember the 1966 World Cup that my English mates for some reason hold so dear, but clearly recall being allowed stay up to watch some of the big games four years later.

Even though Mexico ’70 was the first World Cup broadcast in colour, my memory is of pictures at the time in the O’Mahony house being black and white, dad not renting the colour TV ‘specifically for the tournament’ – that then, of course, never went back – until 1974; an older brother has a different recollection, saying dad actually rented it in 1970.

The brother and I are agreeing to disagree until someone can prove it one way or the other.

Whichever, whether in black and white or colour, over the years television has provided us all with many magical World Cup memories, the most famous trotted out repeatedly since so even if you missed them first time round, you’ve probably seen them so often by now it feels like you witnessed them as they happened.

I’m thinking of

  • Gordon Bank’s spectacular save of Pele’s impeccably placed header in the classic 1970 England-Brazil group game;
  • the snowstorm of ticker tape in the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires and the unpleasant stalling tactics Argentina employed to help win their first ever final in front of a raucous home crowd in 1978;
  • Northern Ireland’s great 1-0 win over hosts Spain in 1982;
  • Diego Maradona’s contrasting Hand-of-God and Goal-of-the-Century goals against England in Mexico in 1986;
  • Ireland’s great last-16 penalty shoot-out win against Romania in Italy ’90;
  • Ray Houghton’s cheekily volleyed goal for Ireland in their opening-game 1-0 win against Italy at Giants Stadium in USA ’94;
  • Dennis Bergkamp’s brilliant late winner for Holland against Argentina in the France ‘98 quarter final;
  • Robbie Keane’s added time equaliser for Ireland against Germany in Japan-South Korea 2002;
  • English referee Graham Poll mistakenly handing out three yellow cards to Croatia’s Josip Šimunić in their match against Australia at Germany 2006;
  • and Frank Lampard’s goal that wasn’t for England against Germany in South Africa 2010.

Of course there are millions of other moments that I haven’t included or have forgotten about – feel free to show me the error of my ways in the comments section below.

But we remember all of these great World Cup incidents – and more – why? Because we saw them live, as they happened, along with a massive global audience, on television.

And one story perfectly illustrates how this television coverage has changed over the decades.

In June 2002, the afternoon before England and Brazil were set to face off against each other in a highly anticipated early morning (in this neck of the woods) quarter-final kick off, the BBC showed in its entirety that famous 1970 encounter in Mexico between the two teams that many rate as one of the greatest international game of football ever.

Having only a vague memory of the original – in fact I’m not actually sure I saw it at the time so often have its best known moments been played out since – I booked the couch for what I assumed would be a 90 minute masterclass in magnificent football.

Not that it wasn’t – I’ll leave the pundits to debate that – but what I couldn’t ignore throughout it all was the truly appalling state of the pitch and the much slower pace of play than we’re used to in the modern game.

That wasn’t all. So used have I become to the current TV football coverage I was gobsmacked by how few cameras covered the game – maybe eight in comparison to the 20 or 30 that might be used at every big game now.

More markedly, the action replays, which were, in fairness, relatively new at the time, were just slowed down versions of what we’d just seen. No multi-camera angles revealing every aspect of every analysed incident from every conceivable direction with a dollop of computer graphics thrown in for good measure. No, just the same again please, except not quite so fast. Today’s pundits – and viewers – would be appalled.

So as you settle down to your games of choice from the 64 on offer on this, the 20th time countries from around the globe have gathered to determine which national team stands above the rest, make a note of any occurrences that may be worthy of inclusion in the above – and below – highly subjective hall of fame and remember you still probably saw it on television first.


You might also be interested in this post about why, in contrast to football, music programmes no longer works so well on television:

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36 Comments. Leave new

  • I love this; so evocative of warm sepia hued summer evenings crowded around the telly.
    Why is the World Cup so romantic? Is it that dreams and hopes are channeled (no pun intended) into these 90 minute sporting vignettes – each mini soap operas of their own making.

    • And you know, I sometimes think we enjoy it more when Ireland *isn’t* there. It takes all the pressure off so we can savour it more.

      • Possibly. But when I see those famous clips I’m instantly transported to that time in ‘that’ place with those people remembering the unadulterated optimism and joy and subsequent disappointment and it moves me, every time. Pressure or no pressure, I am saddened we are c100 in FIFA rankings and therefore so far away from qualifying for the foreseeable World Cup’s. The reality of not re-experiencing anything close to that feeling of “this could/might/maybe happen for us” again, well it eats away at my soul.
        Hate to bring it all down…!

      • Are you off your trolley? I really lament our absence. It would have been another opportunity for homespun comedy and massive craic…and that’s just with the neighbours coming round to borrow more tonic and staying for the gin.

  • Schumacher taking out Battiston in the 1982 semi-final. The b*stard.

  • I think international football was always very slow paced (and especially so in tournament finals where multiple games would be played in a short period, not to mention hot countries) until the back-pass rule was introduced. So the first World Cup with it in place was the 1994 one in the US which was a great tournament, notwithstanding the stinker of a final. And Brazil have always played the slow short-passing patient, patient game with the odd explosion of pace – very different to patterns of play of Argentina and Uruguay.
    The changes to the offside rule have also now made a huge difference to how football was back in 1970.
    I could list goals here forever, straight from the youtube of my mind – Nelinho, Haan, Rats, Milla, Tardelli, Gemmill, Eder, Baggio, Cambiasso, Negrete, Owiran, Elkjaer.
    There was one great goal though that my first memory of wasn’t from television – Michael Owen’s goal against Argentina in 1998 – while the lads were inside watching it on the telly, I was in the kitchen listening to it live on the radio. It sounded great.

    • Good points. I remember as a kid when similar rule changes in basketball – eliminating the backcourt backpass, especially – sped up the game noticably.

  • With the current level of TV coverage, or pre-coverage, I’ve seen all of your magic moments, bar Keane’s goal against Germany, in the last 6 days. I’m already getting bit fed up with the World Cup. However, like an alcoholic given a bottle of whiskey on the morning after, once it starts up I’ll be flying again.

  • Padraig McKeon
    June 11, 2014 7:52 am

    The best part of that set of clips is the Dutch commentary over the Bergkamp goal – “Denis Bergkamp, Denis Bergkamp, Denis Bergkamp, Denis Bergkamp, Denis Bergkamp, ahooooooooooo….. Dennnnis Bergkamp….” 🙂

  • Whenever I think of the world cup, I can’t get away from that England v Argentina game in 86. Jimmy Mage e’s ‘Different class’ times 4 or 5 still ring in my ears. More so than the more famous Hand of God.
    Can’t quite get myself excited yet for this world cup, but it will come I suspect as the tournament gets going. Looking forward alright to the early big games – England v Italy, Holland v Spain and Germany v Portugal.
    Whether my marriage stands up to my lack of attention to the family, we’ll have to play that one by ear.

  • You have a point about kind of enjoying it more when ireland isn’t there.

    My favourite tournament – controversial! – is Euro 2008. Thought it had a bit of everything. As far as world cups go, tbh I don’t have enough of a memory to pick a best one yet, having only been conscious for five of them. Wasn’t mad on 2010 at all, though you picked out the one standout moment for me perfectly – was watching it at 7 or 8am in New York in my hotel room. It was such a cracker of a goal. Doubt it would’ve materially changed outcome had it been allowed, but how individually annoying to not have that chalked up as a goal: it was inch perfect.

  • I’ve never liked football and proberly never will , but it does bring lovely high spirits and I’m all for that !

  • Seamus Ruttledge
    June 15, 2014 6:47 pm

    Pat. Indeed your timing could not have been better. It may seem to some that you planned it that way but you and i know that you did not plan this to coincide with the world cup. For football fans this is brilliant. The video clips that you have posted are wonderful. Are you intending to have this as an overview of media. I hope in some way that you can make it a platform for strong and critical analysis and comment of the media. For now the media and the world are all about football so when that is over it will be interesting to see where you take it.

  • I am a total fair weather fan. Generally speaking; if we’re not there, I don’t care. But some glutton for punishment in my job has run a competition. You know the kind of thing, guess the score of each match, x points for a win, y points for correct score… And, so far, I’m playing a blinder!
    My favourite World Cup so far. 🙂

    • Nine games down and not one draw so far, even in the earlier not-that-exciting Switzerland-Ecuador game. And we’re only getting started….

  • Cliodna O'Flynn
    June 17, 2014 11:44 am

    If we’re allowed mention the bad bits too – when Ireland allowed themselves lose the match against Spain in the 2002 World Cup – not apparently realising they were playing against 10 for most of extra time due to Spanish injuries, and certainly looking as if they had decided that they had done enough to be proud of going into the penalty shoot out, and Spain went through. It was my first World Cup living here in Spain. Now as a follower of La Roja I have lived some incredible TV World Cup moments – ah Iniesta…. but I’m not sure we’re going all the way this time, or even as far as the quarter finals!!!

    • I watched that 2002 Spain game in an overcrowded O’Connor Don pub in London and we’re were gutted afterwards…though beating England on penalties out in the street afterwards lifted spirits slightly. Be interesting to see how Spain react tomorrow to their first-game shock defeat. I mean, they SHOULD beat Chile….

  • Lovely memories Pat. I remember the 1970 World Cup as my first. Late night matches. Pelé, Gérson, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Goalllllllllllll! It’s funny, but I know we only had a little BOSCH black and white TV, yet remember it all in colour. I think as we get a little older the ‘random access memory’ gets a little strained and perhaps a little confused. What do ya think Seamus?……Sorry, Pat. :)One other memory I have is that awful song ‘It’s Four In The Mornin’ which was a big hit from which there was no escape at the time. By the way, you’re a hard man with those quiz questions! You should be the next ‘Chaser'(if you get that you’re a true quiz show nerd):)

    • Careful, we’re showing our age, Ronan. And the mammy’s a great Chaser fan so I hear ya. BTW this week’s questions are a lot easier…I hope…the general consensus ok last week was I was a tad tough…we’ll find out tomorrow afternoon…

  • Siobhan O' Donoghue
    June 21, 2014 9:15 pm

    This is great. Had me reminising about where I was during those great moments too. I do pubically admit to still not undestanding the ‘off side’ rule (something to do with it being explained endlessly by raving supporters under the influence of alcohol!) Perhaps you might do your next blog on the’ off side’ rule?

    • There’s a blatantly sexist offside explanation that uses women queuing to buy shoes and purses being thrown as an analogy that I won’t go into detail on here. Or in the nearly-finished next blog that pits HD against 3D via a 52″ screen. Who said size isn’t important?

  • I always remember Ray Tracys comment after Brazil v NIreland in 82 ” I thought Jozimar came from Ballymun”

  • I think one of the reasons Brazil – England was so slow placed was that it was played at altitude. I’ve never rewatched it but it still sticks in my mind as one of the great games.

    • Yup, of course the altitude was a factor, I hadn’t thought of that, nice one, but the general pace of the game 50 years ago (almost) was also slower, no?


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