IT came in a box that could have accommodated a morbidly obese elephant. It consisted of so much wood that it could fairly be described as a sophisticated forest and it took up most of the bottom end of the living room. In its centre, lay a screen the size of Alan Partridge’s breakfast plate. 

This was 1970 and it was a colour television. It was the family’s first foray into decadence, ironically just  as the sixties had ended, and the box arrived with a late run to coincide with the greatest World Cup ever with the most fabulous, exciting and enthralling international side ever.

In the half century since, I have been asked every four years who I will be supporting at the World Cup. The answer is always Brazil, though yabba dabba doo, I obviously support the boys in blue when we make our occasional cameos.

It is difficult to impart the sheer wonder of the 1970 tournament and the enduring romance of Brazil to succeeding generations. It was my first tournament as a teenager. 

I was a 15-year-old football obsessive when the screen flickered, the colours reared and screamed like a demented Jackson Pollock, and the tones of David Coleman and others brought me into a world of fitba gluttony.

The fare was delicious and the portions were massive. Live football on the telly in those days was normally synchronised with Halley’s Comet. Football was snatched by the viewer in moments, highlights, snippets.

Now it was laid before our eyes. Similarly, there was a mystery about players. Nowadays every third-string Uruguayan can be assessed on YouTube clips or Twitter feeds. Then views of foreign players were on a par with sightings of fresh fruit at a school dinner. You knew both existed but you had no tangible evidence for co-existence.

Pele, the greatest player of his age, would occasionally appear on clips on World of Sport or Grandstand. He would be battering in goals for Santos, normally on European tours, or being featured in retrospectives, most notably of the 1958 World Cup where he could be said to have exploded on to the world scene but only if an explosion is detonated by grace and features the whiff of romance. He was 17.

HeraldScotland: Brazil celebrate the 1970 World CupBrazil celebrate the 1970 World Cup (Image: Getty)

Twelve years later, he was awaited with the same mixture of joy and expectation that my grandmaw bestowed on my granda’s brown pay packet. There was a certainty  about Edson Arantes do Nascimento. He was the greatest. There was, though, a lack of detail.

From that moment in 1958, the average Scot might have seen brief moments of his scrub career, his curtailed involvement in the 1962 World Cup in Chile and his nadir in the 1966 World Cup when he was booted out of the tournament with exuberant violence, in particular from the Portuguese. Some 74,933 Scots had seen him in the flesh at Hampden just before the World Cup, where Brazil held Scotland to a 1-1 draw.

But 1970 was different. Here he was in living colour in your living room. And you could watch every minute. I did.

Thus Brazil stepped from the fog of myth and legend, through a gaudy mist of colour on the screen, and straight into my heart and soul. The images were accompanied, of course, with cliches that danced to the edge of condescension, even racism. There was the narrative that here was a bunch of playful, innocents who barely knew how they were achieving greatness but were the best team in the world because of a mixture of skill and affecting naïveté. And all to a samba beat.

Thus Brazil stepped from the fog of myth and legend, through a gaudy mist of colour on the screen, and straight into my heart and soul

Nonsense, of course. This was a team that was bruised, perhaps scarred, by the brutality of the 1966 World Cup and wanted to restore the country to global supremacy achieved in 1958 and 1962.

They were led by Pele, a player who accepted his position and responsibilities as king of a footballing nation and who knew that this would be his final chance to restate what most found obvious. The message: I am the greatest now, perhaps ever.

Even to a teenager, the clunky TV commentary and manufactured image of Brazil as some sort of ball-juggling circus troupe did not convince. 

One could see that this was the greatest of teams built on the simplest of traits. They were fit, powerful, organised and very, very skilful. They knew all of the above. Eventually the world caught up.

Dazzled by their brilliance, subsequent coaching generations have been awed by their tactical cohesion and physical strength. This was a Brazil that would not tire. This was a Brazil that would not be bullied out of the tournament. This was a Brazil that careered through the competition, being tested severely only once and that by an excellent England side.

HeraldScotland: Jairzinho scores the third goal against ItalyJairzinho scores the third goal against Italy (Image: Getty)

The tournament had a huge effect on me. I saw in it something of the fabulous, much of the artistic. Football had already consumed me. This was a period of digestion. This was the time when I first realised its importance to me. 

Football was not a hobby, a pastime, or even a sport. It was a joyful, exciting and inspiring part of my life.

It has largely remained so. Pele, Garson, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Clodoaldo, Tostao and the rest showed what the game meant to them. It was the pursuit of beauty, but a quest involving physical effort and the need to avoid the beasts with sharp studs and sharper elbows. Crucially, they imbued it all with a drama that required not a samba soundtrack but something from Puccini, all soaring voices and heart-stopping climaxes.

So Brazil 1970 has stayed with me all my life. Fifty years on from that victory I had the privilege of interviewing Carlos Alberto Gomes Parreira. In 1994, he would coach Brazil to World Cup triumph. In 1970, he was a fitness coach who went into the hills above Rio de Janeiro before the Mexico World Cup to harden the players to the  realities of what awaited them in terms of lung- testing altitude and leg-busting attitude.

He quietly confirmed what my innocence had perceived. The players had been prepared, the strategy formed and the execution was carried out by cold-eyed professionals rather than jaunty jesters. 

Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970 were depicted as carefree entertainers. This was and is a misconception. It has haunted subsequent teams, even the most successful. Parreira’s World Cup winning side of 1994 was damned for its solid practicality. The 1974 side (finished fourth) and the 1978 side (finished third) were dismissed as failures at home and are largely forgotten in the wider world.

The 1982 side has achieved a dubious merit. Many who saw them declare that team of Socrates, Falcao, Junior and Zico as the greatest side not to win a World Cup. They were not. That dubious honour lies with Hungary of 1954 or the Netherlands of 1974. The Brazil team of 82 was infected with the need to play with flamboyance without receiving the inoculation of powerful defence. The romantics may swoon over their play but the realists know they failed the tests of true greatness.

The Brazil team of 82 was infected with the need to play with flamboyance without receiving the inoculation of powerful defence

The most conspicuous of these orders – laid down by the Brazilian public – is to win. To do so with style, if possible, but to do so by any means. Carping can follow a dour World Cup triumph (see 1994) but insurrection can be prompted by failure, particularly one as conspicuous as fourth place in 2014 in Brazil when a German rout should have been stopped on humanitarian grounds.

This was the Brazilian dilemma in 90 minutes of trauma. The drive to play attractive football was undermined by the inability to play any sort of defensive football. They had been shafted both by an excellent German side (the event winners) but also by a misguided belief that style would trump substance.

The wonderful aspect of Brazil is that they know this mixture of  basic foundations and lofty stylistic ambitions is necessary but that they indulge in mass amnesia before every match.

This pressure can cause hopes and players to implode. The great, original Ronaldo surely succumbed to that burden in 1998 before he played with a forgiveable lack of lustre in the defeat to Zinedine Zidane’s French team. Wonderfully, he came back in 2002 to score two goals in the World Cup final defeat of Germany in Yokohama. 

HeraldScotland: Cafu and Ronaldo after the 2002 finalCafu and Ronaldo after the 2002 final (Image: Getty)

This is Brazilian football. This is the spirt of 1970. Pele was carried off, legs dangling as trainers gripped his thighs, and conveyed him to temporary sport in oblivion in 1966. In Mexico, he returned to soar high to score the first goal in the final, to lead a team to its due, to slip a pass to his captain for a goal that put an exclamation mark on the greatest football story ever told.

It was a role reprised by Ronaldo. His ordeal was outlandish. The striker had what he described as “a convulsion” hours before kick-off of the 1998 final. He was told he was not playing. He demanded to play after tests. Brazil lost. Four years later, he illuminated the final and was named man of the match.

It was a cause for celebration in the MacDonald household. The colour screen had grown from the size of a plate to the size of the wall. I had passed on my affection for Brazil to my son, Ally. His rite of passage was to place his first bets: Brazil to win the World Cup and Ronaldo to be the tournament’s top scorer. His joy on the night was thus enhanced by financial gain but he shared in his old man’s respect for great players doing great things after great disappointments.

This, too, is the Brazilian way and it stretches back, at least, to 1950 when they lost a World Cup final against Uruguay at the Maracana in front of 173,850 supporters. The ball slid under the goalkeeper, Barbosa, and Brazil lost a World Cup to an error.

They were proved humanly fallible and have been in subsequent years. But the country came back to win five World Cups. They were humanly resilient, capable of redemption. 

In Qatar, they will feel the pain and breathe the inspiration of the past. They will have Allison, Thiago Silva, Casemiro. Fabinho, Gabriel Jesus, Neymar and Vinicius Junior. Some of them bear the welts of previous World Cups. All of them share the burden of meeting a nation’s demands for victory and the world’s craving for extravagant entertainment.

It is the toughest of asks. But they have been answered before. The spirit of 1970 and 2002 lives on, though. Not least in the shape of MacDonald Senior and Junior MacDonald. On Thursday, November 24, we will stride up to the Lusail Stadium to watch Brazil play Serbia in the World Cup. 

There will be yellow shirts and brighter hopes. There will be recollections of Pele and Ronaldo. There may even be a thought of that colour televison and its power to transmit enduring joy.


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