THE death of the American statesman and diplomat Henry Kissinger brought forth a torrent of analyses about his role in shaping the world in the late-20th century.

What wasn’t so well-known about Dr Kissinger was his lifelong devotion to football which had begun when he was growing up in Bavaria.

He would often deploy his knowledge of football to significant effect during his intrigues and shenanigans in the world’s hotspots.

For many years after the Cuban missile crisis, which had taken America and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war, the US government remained paranoid and vigilant regarding its thorny little Communist neighbour.

American spy planes regularly traversed the Cuban landscape watchful lest the Soviets try once more to establish a military base on the island.

Thus it was that in 1970 that a set of seemingly unremarkable aerial pictures of Cienfuegos, a naval base on Cuba’s south coast, landed on Kissinger’s desk.

As soon as he saw them, Kissinger signalled the alarm and insisted that President Richard Nixon immediately be alerted.

Senior staff in the president’s office were bewildered at Kissinger’s startled response about the reconnaissance pictures.

Official accounts of the proceedings, released decades later, record Kissinger exclaiming: “These pictures show the Cubans are building soccer fields. Those soccer fields could mean war.”

Bob Haldeman, the president’s chief of staff (who, along with Nixon, would be toppled in the Watergate scandal three years later) remained perplexed – whereupon Kissinger shouted: “Cubans play baseball. Russians play soccer.”

He’d concluded that the pictures of football pitches, which hadn’t been there the previous week, indicated that the Soviet Navy was once more messing about in Cuba.

He was right too.

Regarding Henry

Eight years later, Kissinger’s love of the beautiful game featured in a much more infamous episode. During the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, he was a guest of the brutal, right-wing military junta then governing the country as the host nation lifted the trophy.

It was becoming known by then that the Argentinian government was engaged in a widespread programme of torturing and murdering any internal dissenters.

Kissinger’s presence there was consistent with the aims of US diplomacy in South America, which was basically to undermine and remove governments in the region displaying signs of socialism.

Like the rest of us watching the 1978 World Cup back then, he would not have given a second thought to the black bands which curiously appeared around the goalposts during many of the matches.

In 2017, The Guardian published a superb article by the writer David Forrest of the “In Bed With Maradona” football blog which revealed the poignant story that lay behind these black bands.

Forrest had travelled to Argentina to discover the truth about the black bands and tracked down a former stadium worker called Ezequiel.

They had been painted by workers at the stadium where Argentina played its matches as a silent protest about the junta’s murderous activities.

Forrest writes: “And what of the black bands at the base of the posts?

Ezequiel touched his bicep and at once I realised: ‘They were black armbands? They were a protest against the disappearances?’ They were not a protest. Rather, they were a form of remembrance.

‘Everyone knew someone who knew someone that had been disappeared. The staff all wanted to protest’.”

Power play

AMONG the responses to the death of Henry Kissinger was one by the Celtic Hail Hail History Twitter account which pointed out that the old diplomat had a soft spot for the Hoops.

Several years ago, the New York Celtic Supporters Club was invited to become a member by John Butterfield, its Scots-born treasurer.

The New York Celtic Supporters

Club published a small article about it. Kissinger, the club said, “had jumped at” the invitation to become a member and quoted Butterfield’s recollections of it.

“He [Kissinger] has always loved the game and was delighted to accept membership of our club.”

Faith in Celtic

ANOTHER world leader who has indicated a preference for the Hoops is Pope Francis. Last week, the Argentinian pontiff (who also likes his football) granted an audience to players and officials of Celtic.

The Herald:

Accepting a Celtic jersey with his name thoughtfully inscribed on the back, Francis even commiserated with them following their defeat by Lazio in Rome the previous night.

“It doesn’t matter if we have won or if we have not won … victory is the entire process of playing together, playing as a team.”

The Holy Father had obviously been inspired by the words of the Celtic Song “We don’t care whether we win, lose or draw …”

Given that Celtic have won only once in their last 23 Champions League matches, it’s a sentiment in which we have all recently had to seek refuge.