Many of us will have their memories of their all time favourite World Cup and many things, footballing and otherwise lend themselves to this. They can be team partisanship, favourite other teams, players, goals or just good all round bits of everything that contribute. At a push I’m thinking to myself that Argentina ‘78 probably would do it for me but at the same time I don’t want to make that decision right now as this article is not about that. But Argentina 1978 certainly plays its part.
Throughout the seventies there were several big ‘wow’ signings and this was in the era when marquees were simply large tents. Martin Peters, Rodney Marsh, Bob Latchford, Malcolm McDonald, Kenny Dalglish and Trevor Francis would be on most lists but the signing of Argentinian World Cup winners Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa topped the lot for me. In that summer of 1978 dominated by all things ‘Grease’ this double transfer became the word – a back page story that made the front. Particularly Ardiles.
If that World Cup had been memorable for the ticker tape blizzards that dominated Buenos Aires’ home games off the pitch, the Argentine team on the pitch was equally memorable for the flying black locks and goals of Mario Kempes and Leopoldo Luque alongside the obdurate defensive leadership of Daniel Passarella. But strikingly, the deft and silky fine boned lawyer Osvaldo Ardiles in midfield was unmissable with his short hair and high tempo laser short passes. Has English football ever had another Osvaldo? Ricardo Villa had tended to be a substitute but was very much part of the team. If Ossie provided the tango, the physical Ricardo tended to provide the beef and was more the Fray Bentos, though his 1981 FA Cup final goal would counter that line of thought.
When Keith Burkinshaw, manager of newly promoted Spurs announced the signing of these two to the world it was a mind blowing announcement. South American World Cup winners playing in England! It was rock and roll cockerel. This impact resulted in the media becoming obsessed with them and few could wait until their debut away to champions Nottingham Forest. This interest stayed with them for months.
I had decided that I simply had to go to England to see this guy and am fairly sure it remains my only piece of cross channel football tourism in order to specifically see a player. I’m not going to count a cross – border trip to see Diego Maradona in Dublin in 1979. Me and a few mates decided to cross the Irish Sea to see Everton at home to Spurs on Saturday 30th December and Liverpool play Aston Villa at Anfield on New Year’s Day. That was the plan and never mind the football, it was my first trip without my parents into the big world so rites of passage and all that. It was to be an interesting trip.
Friday, 29th December in Belfast gradually deteriorated weather wise as the snow and ice slowed life to a halt. Two of the travelling party were unable to get to the docks and it was left to Steve and I to set sail. The overnight boat across the Irish Sea had all the lack of glamour one might imagine at that time of the year. This was the famous ‘winter of discontent’ that bedevilled Britain and was the slow fuse that ignited the end of the Callaghan government to let in Thatcher’s five months later. Landing in grey, damp and miserable Liverpool that early morning was only for football’s keenest. Not a problem as for me the river Mersey might as well have been the river Plate that dank Saturday morning.
We scuttled through the dawn up to Mount Pleasant where we were topically staying at the YMCA- soon to be the song that was the nation’s next number one after present incumbents Boney M. Base camp and breakfast sorted we ‘moseyed’ around before the trek up to Goodison. The big grey flank of the main stand towered in front of us like an entrance to a kingdom and the frenzy grew. A pub lunch with the gathering fans down near Gladwys Street did the business and we ambled out to find our way into the ground. A commotion at the far end of the street startled us as a huge guttural growl bounced off the brickwork as a couple of thousand Spurs fans announced their arrival. Hissing and snarling they were shepherded by dogs and mounted police into their Park End terracing. Football had a fairly different atmosphere in the late seventies.
The programme was bought and it had an interesting Hogmanay cover picture of Everton’s Scottish players looking the part around a Christmas tree. We paid in and aimed for the halfway line behind the managers’ dugouts. Goodison took my breath away and for various reasons probably still is my favourite English ground. The pitch sat like a green tongue in the midst of a cavernous blue and white mouth. The height of the stands competed with the closeness to the pitch – a formula which resulted in intensity. The men in coats walked round the perimeter throwing toffees into the crowd.
The next incident can only be described as freakish. The year previously I had started watching Irish League football and had been taken there by my mate Jimmy who had in turn been taken by his mate Robin. I had only met him once or twice but had been told he had moved to the Wirral. Who should be standing beside me but the very same Robin Geddes – now confirmed Everton supporter. Stunned and delighted we both considered how weird this was. Not so much one in a million as one in forty- four odd thousand I suppose.
The teams came out to warm up and players you had watched and followed on TV were there in front of you. As a very young lad I had an Everton top and I loved the royal blue in it though any goodness was probably destroyed by Alan Ball’s white boots which were challenging in those days shall we say. This was well before replica kits as we know them today but I can assure you I wasn’t an Everton or Spurs fan. Nonetheless I had eagerly followed Everton centre-forward Bob Latchford’s race the previous season to score thirty goals in the top division which he managed in the final game against Chelsea. Steve Perryman who seemed to have played for Spurs forever came into view. And then the pride of Argentina danced on to the pitch followed by the more lumbering Rickie Villa. I was taken back six months to ‘O’ levels and the World Cup. Their swarthy skins stood out against the mid – winter Merseyside twilight. I stood bewitched.
Spurs played towards the Park End in the first half in an all yellow strip with navy lapels down the sides. Captain and bulwark Mick Lyons scored not too far from half- time for Everton I think and England international and future caretaker manager Peter Taylor equalised. Taylor had caught my eye a couple of seasons earlier in third flight Crystal Palace’s epic FA Cup semi – final run. Can any of you imagine a League One Player getting an England cap nowadays? At half – time there was a fair bit of banter as the presence of Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness right above us in the main stand came to greater light. Their game had been frozen off.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw and though neither Argentinian player had dazzled they had done the job for me as had my first visit to an English League ground. Spurs I would imagine were happy enough with the draw, having taken a heavy 7-0 defeat on their last trip to Liverpool in September. Sunday involved a trip to the pictures to see Jaws 2. Back at the YMCA a possibly dubious angle to the trip was some older bloke inviting us back to his room for some whiskey, but the fact that Steve and I polished a few off neat ones with no problem killed any possible impropriety if indeed there was anything nefarious at all.
Monday morning and 1979 arrived full of snow and anticipation to be dashed as the Liverpool game was called off. Disappointed but not surprised we took a gamble and took the bus to Melwood in the hope of seeing Liverpool train. Bingo, and perhaps surprisingly, even in those days it wasn’t a problem to get in to see it. If I remember correctly there seemed to be a very frivolous atmosphere perhaps due to the unscheduled nature of it. The players ratted around in their red training tops and black shorts. Goalkeeper Ray Clemence clearly fancied himself as a player. I bantered with Phil Thompson as to what he thought the score would be in England’s next international with Northern Ireland the following month in Euro Qualifying. Even he didn’t envisage the 4-0 hammering that it was. I had.
But then another turn of luck. We got chatting to coach Joe Fagan who on learning of our story took us back to Anfield to give us a personal tour of the place allowing us to hold up the European Cup in the trophy cabinet. Powerful memories. We got home and told it all to the two who hadn’t made the trip but do you know….I’m not sure the two who did not make the trip would actually have appreciated all that was on show. An interesting postscript was the fact that when Liverpool actually did get that Villa match replayed it was in May and they won the league in that game with a 3-0 victory.
Who would have thought that as I watched wide-eyed at the paper blizzard in Buenos Aires that June, the nation would get to see some of those players decorate the game in England a few months later. The left back Alberto Tarantini soon followed to play for Birmingham and Alex Sabella later played for Sheffield United and Leeds. Funnily enough, Ardiles and Villa eventually made an appearance in Belfast in August 1981, with Ardiles scoring for Spurs in a 3-3 friendly draw with Glentoran at the Oval.
I’ve never forgotten that trip over to Liverpool. To somehow manage to bring a piece of Cesar Luis Menotti’s team at that point into my little life was huge. The game still keeps giving to me. Spurs’ first Saturday home game that season was against Chelsea and the Sunday afternoon highlights show, ‘The Big Match’ did a slow motion film of Ardiles in action to the backdrop of Lindisfarne’s ‘Run for Home’ which was a striking piece of videotape. To this day I always think of it anytime I hear that song.