Last of the World Cup milkmen

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Manfred Schaefer is probably the last milkman to have played in the World Cup, writes Simon Kuper. Like most of the Australian team in 1974, he had to take time off to play in West Germany. This was quite common that year. Jan Jongbloed, goalkeeper of the magnificent Dutch team, was a Communist voter who owned a small cigar shop in Amsterdam and most of the Swedes were part-timers too.

The German hosts were particularly interested in Schaefer, who had been born in Hitler’s Reich in 1943 and emigrated to Australia as a child refugee after the war. Gerd Müller, West Germany’s star striker, asked him if he really was an amateur. Schaefer proudly replied that he had earned $4,600 by qualifying for the World Cup. “That’s what I earn a week,” said Müller.

The story, recounted in the Dutchman Auke Kok’s book about the 1974 tournament, speaks of a bygone age. Next Friday Schaefer will represent Australia at the draw for another World Cup in Germany. He won’t recognise much. Football today exists in a different universe from 1974.

The World Cup 2006 is forecast to be the biggest media event ever. The television rights sold for more than $1.7bn. In 1974 they went for about $12m, equivalent to $40m in today’s money. Nobody had then realised the commercial potential of football and, therefore, little effort was made to girdle the earth. Whereas 32 teams will appear at next year’s World Cup, only 16 played in 1974. A mere 66 countries showed the World Cup on TV.

Yet people in 1974 considered the tournament hopelessly commercial. Even before it began, newspapers were reporting unheard-of demands for money from Dutch, West German and Scottish players. Their captains — Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and Billy Bremner — were among the first generation of footballers to abandon deference to coaches and officials. West Germany’s football federation considered sacking its squad and finding a new one. Beckenbauer and Cruyff helped pick their teams. Now Beckenbauer is organising the World Cup.

In 1974 Pele had recently retired from international football. Visiting the Brazilian team in Frankfurt, he met his old friend Paulo Cesar. Instead of talking about tactics, as Pele had expected, Cesar raised a more important matter: “Pele, I’ve been offered a fantastic transfer to a French club. They’re offering much more than I get now. But I don’t know if I should ask for more. What do you think?”

Not that Pele himself hated money. He spent the World Cup working 29 days straight for Pepsi, to the outrage of puritan journalists. Even many television broadcasters considered money somewhat shameful. They fretted over how to screen games while hiding the advertising boards in the stadiums.

The scent of money was new to footballers in 1974. Even some of the best had become full professionals only recently. These former bricklayers, house painters and shopkeepers retained many of their off-field habits. There was a hedonism to the international game. An awful lot of players seem to have spent the tournament smoking (Cruyff doing so on the toilet during half-times) chasing women, binge-drinking or all three simultaneously.

“We often went out of our heads in the hotel,” the Dutch forward Johnny Rep told me. Archie MacPherson, a Scottish TV commentator, recalls Scotland’s first warm-up match against Belgium after a champagne-enhanced flight out of Glasgow. The Scots, he wrote, “looked like a pub team playing in borrowed boots on Glasgow Green. They looked hungover.”

No wonder the highlights of 1974 seem to be in slow-motion. A motionless player passes to a motionless teammate, who stands on the ball waiting for someone else to lumber into space. Perhaps the hangovers never quite wore off. By one estimate, today’s players run three times further in a match than did their Seventies’ predecessors.

The best football was then played in Europe and South America. Asia and Africa were granted just one place each at the finals, Australia and Zaire, whose job was chiefly to provide light relief. Most Asian and African countries hadn’t even bothered trying to qualify.

Only in the last few years has football become a truly global game. Next week’s draw will provide the unlikeliest transcontinental match-ups. But in 1974 the keynote games were still between neighbours. The final, West Germany versus Holland, carried a whiff of the second world war, while the West Germany versus East Germany match proved to be one of the great cultural events of the Cold War.

It was the only time the two Germanies played each other. The GDR sent over a party of selected comrades to act as “fans”. When one journalist tried asking them how much their trip had cost, a comrade shouted back, in Berlin dialect: “I don’t ask you what underwear you’re wearing, do I?”

The GDR won 1-0, with a goal by Jürgen Sparwasser, who later defected to the west and, on their trains home, the East German “fans” ran up a drinks bill of 84,000 Eastern marks. The German author Thomas Blees calculates that this equated to at least 56 beers per person. Of the 8,500 East German “fans” who travelled west during the tournament, eight never returned: five defected and three died of heart attacks.

A couple of things haven’t changed since 1974. The World Cup’s organisers worried about hooligans and about Arab terrorists. At the Munich Olympics of 1972, a Palestinian group had killed 11 Israeli athletes.

In 1974, neither terrorists nor hooligans materialised. We would give a lot for the same outcome next year, though this time perhaps without Germany winning.

simonkuper@ftnetwork.com

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