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World Cup Nostalgia: Ultimately, it was televised

World Cup Nostalgia: Ultimately, it was televised

The inimitable Archie Gemmel, on the rampage against Holland in 1978.

Like the Olympic Games, the World Cup comes round but once every four years. Unlike the modern Olympiad, the World Cup has only recently attracted the exhaustive attention of television programmers, a fact driven home to me by my friend and colleague, Dieter Schmidt, in his debut column at halphillips.net. There was indeed no international soccer on U.S. television in the early 1970s (before Dee got a bit too stoned and spent the next 32 years frozen in a northern Manitoba trash heap). Indeed, the World Cup final — the most watched sporting event the world over — was not televised live in America until 1982, and each game of the tournament was not available on TV until ESPN undertook the task for the 1994 games, staged here in the U.S.

The United States’ thrilling last-minute victory over Algeria on Wednesday was testament to the overwhelming power of the shared televised sports experience. My fellow podcaster Tom Wadlington and I watched at DiMillo’s Bayside, a nice little sports bar in Portland, Maine. It’s not every day that two strangers leap into my arms while screaming with unbridled joy, as happened when Donovan buried the winner. It’s the latest in a series of World Cup TV Memories that I will take with me always.

I have fairly visual, broadcast-enabled memories of each World Cup starting with 1974, some more vivid and complete than others. Catching a World Cup match pre-1994, even a final, took some real doing, some planning. Here’s the first in a two-part rundown of how I managed it.

1974: West Germany

I don’t know who the chick is, but that’s Hubie, at right, just as he looked in the 1970s.

I grew up playing for the Wellesley United Soccer Club in suburban Boston, and club wide for many years our uniforms were, for reasons unknown to me, a fairly exact copy of the German national kit at that time: white socks, black shorts, white shirt with black piping. So, we had a kinship with the Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Gerd Muller teams of that period. One of my very first coaches, in fact, Mr. Krause, was a German national whose son, Dirk, would fling himself about the goalmouth during practice making saves and yelling “Sepp!”, in honor of the Mannschaft’s imperious, talented keeper, Sepp Maier. Even so, while I knew the Germans had won the 1974 World Cup, I didn’t see the final until 1977, when I attended the Puma All-Star Soccer Camp — run by another Teutonic type, one Hubert Vogelsinger, an Austrian national who, rumor had it, had been banned from his native soccer community (and emigrated to San Diego) after head-butting a referee during a match in Vienna. In any case, Hubie showed films every night after running us ragged all day long. He was understandably Germanophilic and it was there, in the Taft School cafeteria, in Watertown, Conn., seated beside my Wellesley roommate Mike Mooradian, that I finally saw the 1974 final, in its entirety: Holland with its kick-ass Orange uniforms; both teams with their amazingly long hair and mustaches; Holland’s 15 consecutive passes to start the game, culminating in a penalty and converted spot kick by Johann Cruyff to put the Dutch ahead 1-0 — before the Germans had even touched the ball (!); Breitner’s PK to tie the game; Bertie Vogts dogging a sub-par Cruyff the rest of the game; and the Germans’ ultimate 2-1 triumph, with Franz raising the trophy overhead two-handed. There was a great deal of slow-motion included in the game film, an effective motif for the game action but also for visceral reaction shots of these impossibly hirsute Germans, who very much looked the part of marauding Visigoths. Even three years late, it was impossibly exotic and heroic.

1978: Argentina

Just a year later, I returned to Hubie’s camp and, if I’m not mistaken, we saw the ’74 final again one night. But we also saw a highlight reel of the just-completed World Cup in Argentina. This made less of a lasting impression, maybe because we only saw snippets from the tournament. I remember Mario Kempes on a mazy run and scoring a goal in extra time. Was it the second goal in the 3-1 Argentina victory, or the third? Who knows? … I recall a hail of goals from Argentina in a 6-0 drubbing of Peru. Only much later did I learn that this was a match Peru and its Argentina-born keeper were accused of throwing, to put the host country in the final at Brazil’s expense (back then, teams qualified for the final directly from group play; confounding)… And then there is Archie Gemmel, the Scot who scored one of the great goals in British football history vs. the Dutch in some group game. Scotland won the game but didn’t advance out of the group, while Holland went to the final. Still, Gemmel’s goal was so sublime, it’s the highlight from 1978 I remember best — maybe because it remains so talked about and, thanks to the Internet, ubiquitous. Check it out on youtube. You won’t be sorry.

1982: Spain

This was a big deal, seeing the game live. I watched it with my high school girlfriend, Renée, at her parents’ house. There were breaks for advertisements, but I don’t recall that being controversial at the time. Not to me. I was American. I couldn’t yet conceive of a sporting event that didn’t accommodate such interruptions.

1986: Mexico

I watched this game at my house in Wellesley, and I have to admit that I don’t recall anything about the game or the event that was particularly memorable. Just graduated from college and spending the requisite jobless downtime at my parent’s place, no doubt I was stoned at the time.

1990: Italy

A few years ago, my friend Dave called and asked me a cryptic question.

“Remember that time I came over to your house in Watertown and we watched that World Cup game?”

Um, yeah…

“Well, what day was that?”

What do you mean, ‘what day’? It was June 1990; I don’t know the exact day…

“Oh. Okay…”

Dave, why do you want to know this?

“Well, we ordered cheeseburger subs from that place, and I’ve just realized that was the last time I ate meat.”

Well, thanks to the Internet, now it can be told. Dave last ate meat on June 25, 1990, the same day Romania eliminated Ireland on penalty kicks in the Round of 16. I remember quite a bit from that day, and that tournament. Not every group game was televised, on ESPN, but every knockout game was. For a soccer nut who was getting only the semi-finals and finals up to that point, this was Nirvana. At the time, I was 26 and working as city editor at a daily newspaper, which meant I didn’t go to work until 5 p.m. As Italy was 6 hours ahead I could get up and watch World Cup matches all day long before heading to the newsroom. Fabulous.

One more delicious note from 1990: “That place” was The International, a fabulous pizza and sub shop that delivered — and delivered to my address with great frequency. That same day that Dave at his parting cheeseburger sub, I was in the shower and he was in the kitchen doing something when the delivery guy, Ahmed, walked in without ringing the doorbell, as was his custom. I was a regular customer; we had an understanding. With Dave looking on, Ahmed proceeds to set the food on coffee table, sit himself down in front of the television set and take a hit off the bong that was a fixture on said coffee table in that apartment. Dave, who knew nothing of our understanding, was understandably taken aback and hid in the kitchen until I emerged from the bathroom. I’ve always loved that memory, and was only too happy to add the cheeseburger sub aspect.

Soccer’s own Encinitas Man to contribute WC 2010 reports


The curious, inspirational story of Dieter “Dee” Schmidt first came to the soccer world’s attention some four ago when his frozen but otherwise well preserved body — clad in nothing but a vintage Paul Breitner Bayern Munich jersey, impossibly bell-bottomed jeans and a pair of antique adidas Sambas — was recovered, thanks to a freakish January thaw, from a towering ice and garbage heap on the outskirts of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

Still encased in a sarcophagus of blue ice, Schmidt’s corpus crystalline was quickly air-lifted by provincial authorities to St. Anne’s Medical Center in Winnipeg, where doctors discovered his heart still functioning at some 3 beats per minute — less than half that of a black bear in hibernation. Incrementally, over course of two weeks, Schmidt’s body temperature was increased. Intravenous nourishment was introduced on Day 10, and for another week thereafter he was placed in a medically induced coma to avoid further metabolic complications.

Schmidt awoke from his coma Feb. 6, 2006, and later that day was chatting amiably with doctors — about his admiration for Johann Neeskens, his plans to attend the upcoming World Cup in Germany, and his regret that England had not qualified. When told by a soccer-informed orderly at St. Anne’s that England had indeed qualified for that summer’s World Cup, besting Poland to win its group, Schmidt pointedly differed. “Dude, you’ve got it backwards,” he was reported as saying. “Poland qualified at England’s expense. I listened to the BBC broadcast myself, on my bud’s ham radio.”

Of course, Poland had qualified instead of England for the World Cup — the 1974 World Cup.

The tale Schmidt eventually told of his postponed demise continues, some four years on, to stun the North American medical community while fascinating hardcore football fans worldwide. Schmidt claims to have traveled to northern Manitoba from his native San Diego in December 1973, via Toronto, to attend the Inuit Futsal Invitational, an obscure event on Canada’s indoor soccer calendar during the mid-1970s; the event was last held in 1978.

According to reports in the Winnipeg Star-Journal, Schmidt recalls venturing out of doors one evening to “smoke some grass” with members of a visiting club from Vancouver following Burnaby FC’s win in the tournament semifinal. That’s the last thing he remembers, though Schmidt claims the cannabis to have been “wicked potent” — potent enough, he surmises, to have put him to sleep in a nearby snow bank.

Star-Journal research on the Inuit Futsal Invitation shows the ‘73 final to have been postponed 24 hours due to a heavy winter storm that dropped more than two meters of snow on Churchill in less than 18 hours.

Schmidt would be reported missing in January 1974; archival records kept at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office show a series of inquiries and all-points bulletins related to Dieter’s disappearance — including a formal provincial inquest conducted in Toronto, his last known whereabouts — but the case was officially abandoned, unsolved, on July 11, 1982, the same day Paolo Rossi scored the last of his Golden Boot-winning six goals in a 3-1 win over West Germany, earning the Italians their first World Cup.


Schmidt asserts (and Star-Journal investigations have confirmed) that he was born on July 12, 1952 in Long Beach, Calif., the only child of Franz Schmidt (an Austrian national and president of the Hubert Vogelsinger Fan Club/Encinitas Chapter, 1972-81) and Helen Fahey Schmidt, a novelist and native of Long Beach.

Mr. Schmidt died of a heart attack following Austria’s elimination from World Cup qualifying, 0-3 to Hungary, on April 17, 1985. Mrs. Schmidt passed away in 1992, of natural causes.

By his telling, the first 21 years of Dee’s life reveal him to be his father’s son, a middling player but an enormously committed fan who, despite the underdeveloped state of American soccer in the 1960s and ‘70s, lived and breathed the beautiful game and traveled the breadth of North America to see it. He claims:

• to have attended, with his dad, the 1967 United Soccer Association final at L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum (“A classico, man. Wolves [Los Angeles] beat the Whips [Washington] in OT, 6-5, on Ally Shewan’s own goal”);

• to have witnessed Pele’s U.S. soccer debut (a 1-0 Santos victory over A.C. Milan, in Boston, part the Rossinieri’s four-match tour of the U.S. in June 1970 — “Milan lost all four games of that tour, dude. It was sad.”);

• to have traveled to St. Louis in May 1972 to watch the U.S. Olympic team beat Jamaica, 2-1, earning the Yanks’ first Olympic berth since 1960.

Then a sophomore at San Diego State University and completely tapped out, Dieter couldn’t swing a trip to Munich for the 1972 Olympic finals — a fact that made him all the more determined to attend the World Cup finals, in West Germany, two years later.

In the end, Dee’s grand plans were foiled by a perfect storm of ill-fated events:

• his trip to Toronto in December 1973, where he failed to convince Metros striker Bruno Pilas to sign the no. 9 jersey Schmidt had nicked the previous July from a visitors’ locker room in Rochester (“Total waste of time. He was back in Croatia.”);

• his spontaneous decision to attend the Inuit tournament with a group of indigenous Canadians he befriended in a Bloor Street pub;

• his longstanding weakness for the kind bud;

• and his Southern Californian ignorance of just how dangerous it can be to nap outdoors so close to the Arctic Circle.

Still, it’s difficult not applaud and marvel at Dee Schmidt’s extraordinary metabolism, his love of football and his time-capsule knowledge of the soccer world leading up to the German’s first turn as World Cup host.

Four years ago, when doctors indicated a full recovery was expected, I resolved to confirm his extraordinary story and get to know this real-life, football-loving Encinitas Man. That began in 2007, and I’ve spent the last three years in fairly regular contact with Dee, helping him interpret the modern world as best I can and marveling at his singular outlook on and impressions of modern soccer.

Dee is now a friend, but this chummy association does not hide the fact that his is a keen, bristling soccer mind by any measure. He’s not a bad writer either. Accordingly, I’ve asked our own Miles Monroe to blog on this year’s World Cup from his singular perspective, and I will share his musings, alongside my own, in this space going forward.

Stay tuned to this space for Dee’s introductory effort, and please excuse his Ricky Henderson-like habit of referring to himself in the third person. Trust me, it’s not any sort of megalomania. After all he’s been through, we can hardly blame him for stepping back and observing his own life with a genuine and quite wondrous sense of detachment. Welcome back, Dee.

Hal Phillips, 26 May 2010