One year after Joe Jordan’s ecstatic, gap-toothed holler of triumph, after scoring the goal at Hampden in 1973 to qualify Scotland for the World Cup ,after a gap of 16 years, the phrase ‘global warming’ appeared for the first time in print in the scientific journal ‘Nature’. As the scientist Wallace Smith Baeker wrote, “….the climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.”

So, as I churned out commentaries on the ensuing 18 World Cup Scottish games, in the Finals between 1974 and 1998, the Arctic ice was slowly melting, Alpine glaciers were receding by the centimetre, and you could eventually fry an egg on some of our streets, as we continually polluted the atmosphere in our flights around the world , in pursuance of what we really knew deep down was the impossible dream of returning with that elusive trophy. Our recurring pretensions about our own capabilities at the highest level of football, mirrored the consequent indifference to the climatic facts beginning to stare us in the face as, perhaps even more dramatically, we were awakening to the reality of global football corruption.

These factors are bedding down together this month in Qatar. The air-conditioned stadia in a desert environment, erected in a society harbouring richly-endowed medievalism, has the potential characteristics of a freak show. But it is still highly doubtful if it will evoke within FIFA the guilt and shame they ought to feel about their deeply flawed selection process.

HeraldScotland: The World Cup trophyThe World Cup trophy (Image: Getty)

As I approached my first World Cup in Germany in 1974, I confess I was as ignorant of the arcane workings of FIFA as I was of the effect cows had on rising global temperature by their burping and farting. Life seemed simple then that year. Rain was rain, not a hint of disaster to come. But I owe it to one man for opening my eyes to the poisoned air within the world organisation, even as he often polluted the atmosphere himself with large Cuban cigars, while nursing a malt whisky. He was  Ernie Walker, the eventual chief executive of the SFA, who as an urbane man was always interesting to talk to on any subject. That intelligence propelled him upwards in FIFA where eventually he headed their influential stadia committee for years. It should be noted that when I heard him uttering his infamous, ‘Scum of the earth’ comment about the Uruguayan team in Mexico, in 1986, radioactive dust was spreading throughout mid-Europe from the Chernobyl disaster in the April of that year, thus weakening the claim that nuclear energy would be our salvation.

Blatter looked and sounded impregnable. His handshake though was limp, and his interview with me self-regarding

But it had been at the World Cup draw for the finals in Spain in 1982 that Walker afforded me a glimpse of the power within the hierarchy of FIFA, after he had introduced me to Sepp Blatter, then general secretary of the organisation. Charming, articulate in several languages, and with an unflappable manner that suggested his word was gospel to those around, Blatter looked and sounded impregnable. His handshake though was limp, and his interview with me self-regarding, and I felt he could embalm the unsuspecting with flattery. I visualised how easily he would manipulate star-struck delegates from the sticks. Jock Stein, Scotland manager at the time, saw through him. “He’s a fanny merchant!” he opined to me. But there were few Steins among Blatter’s entourage of fawning acolytes. I did though sense Walker’s unease when talking about this openly ambitious Swiss apparatchik. For a considerable period he tolerated him though with an eye to advancement himself. Then it got too much for discretion.

But I had to wait four years before Walker opened up remarkably to me about him. 
It was in the FIFA hotel, the Real Camino in Mexico City, in 1996. Walker had campaigned for the USA for the 1996 tournament, with his influence increasing in FIFA. So had Henry Kissinger, the American diplomat, powerful global political figure, and football enthusiast. He thought he had it clinched in the vote for his adopted country, given his roistering campaigning, and what his soundings at FIFA had led him to believe. But he was to discover that a combination of Havelange and Blatter was to prove more resilient than even the Vietcong had been. In disgust at rejection Kissinger uttered a requiem for his efforts with the words: “The politics of soccer make me nostalgic for the politics of the Middle-East.” 

HeraldScotland: Sepp BlatterSepp Blatter (Image: Getty)

Walker took me aside and explained the nature of a sordid deal that Blatter and the then FIFA president Joao Havelange had struck with the Mexican television company Televisa whose directors were close friends of Havelange. “Money changed hands,” is the phrase I clearly recall. I have no knowledge of what he might have said within FIFA ranks but the upshot was that Scotland played games in a stadium in the Neza –  an area of the city with open sewers and impoverished locals staring at us like we had come from another planet and none of whom would see any World Cup football. I think it is the first time I heard a consensus view of disgust among the Scottish media at what they were witnessing.    

It was when we reached France in 1998 that I experienced the Blatter regime in full force. We were summoned to a press conference in the vast banqueting hall of the Meridien hotel in Paris to hear statements about controversial refereeing decisions. In 36 first round games 15 red cards had been issued, in comparison with that same total for the whole of the tournament in the USA previously. The French press were demanding the introduction of television evidence to assist. In charge of the conference should have been the chairman of that FIFA refereeing committee, the wee lawyer from Brechin David Will, a man of unassailable rectitude, and who had been given a leg up the organisation by Walker. Instead, Blatter, previously general secretary and now newly installed as President of FIFA only days before, brutally swept Will aside and took over the proceedings, the veins in his neck bulging as he argued with the French media in particular who were demanding the introduction of television evidence to help referees. Blatter was belligerently opposed. Which made me a VAR supporter on the spot, and still am. But it was the sidelining of Will that day, which clearly indicated the start of a despotic regime.  

HeraldScotland: The World Cup kicks off in Qatar on SundayThe World Cup kicks off in Qatar on Sunday (Image: Getty)

Later outside that hall, Will introduced me to a man who claimed he had watched Scotland play Brazil in Frankfurt in 1974 and was so impressed by a game we should have won, that he wanted to talk to the man who had commentated on it. I agreed with him that the goalless draw was the finest ever performance for us against Brazil and that the Billy Bremner miss at the near post late on in the game still haunted me. His name was Chuck Blazer, a huge man with a beard that a bird could have nested in and glowing with bonhomie. In fact he was about the most corrupt of all, with a scale of charges brought against him eventually that included racketeering and money laundering.   I had been talking to the man who became the principal whistleblower to the authorities which would eventually bring Blatter down. And yet with all the hugging and back-slapping he indulged in at the bar of the hotel Blazer looked like the most popular man in Paris. Such is the ethos of corruption.  

Blatter's recent statement absolving himself from blame for the selection of the Middle-East country and pinning it on Michel Platini would have been like hearing the Boston Strangler blaming his gloves for accidental occlusions

Qatar 2022 is simply the prime product of years of incestuous interplay between figures within FIFA who could be easily shepherded into acceptance of what the immoral culture inevitably spawned. We ought not forget the country was awarded the tournament in 2010 when Blatter was in his nefarious prime. His recent statement absolving himself from blame for the selection of the Middle-East country and pinning it on Michel Platini would have been like hearing the Boston Strangler blaming his gloves for accidental occlusions. Blatter created the mileu inside of which people like Platini flourished.

Without Blatter, Platini could as well have been as powerless as the janitor in their headquarters. The fact is that graft and sleaze were endemic during his tenure. Or else we would not be contemplating this winter World Cup.  

I ache for Scotland to return to that level and wish they had qualified regardless of my reservations. I trust they will that achieve that long before that melting Arctic ice surges up the Broomielaw.  
 


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