In Living Colour

We take it for granted nowadays, but there was a time when watching colour television was a real treat. It was like having a cinema in your front room, and an invitation to come and watch the World Cup Final was definitely one not to be missed.

Azteca Stadium, Mexico City

Azteca Stadium, Mexico City

This was the lucky position that I found myself in, in the summer of 1970, as Brazil were preparing to play Italy in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Both teams had played great football, particularly Brazil, to get to the final, and the experts were predicting a feast of skilful action. They certainly got that right with Pele, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and the other Boys from Brazil becoming household names for their brilliant, exciting play. It was an unforgettable moment, and seeing them in glorious colour left a mark that has never faded.

My friend Caro, whose brothers played football with me and my friends, invited us to watch the game on her family’s new, colour television. During the days leading up to the game it was, I remember, the only topic of conversation as we discussed what might happen. It was an exciting time and the tension increased as Sunday approached and bold forecasts about scores and scorers were made. Most of us went for Brazil and Brendan, a good friend and a more than useful centre-half, even suggested that Brazil would win 4-1.

‘Yeah, sure,’ I said ‘in your dreams!’

Mid-summer’s Night was warm and bright as I headed up to Caro’s house and entered a maelstrom of excitement. There was noise and activity everywhere as boys arrived and her Mum and some neighbours made popcorn in the crowded kitchen. In the front room a large television dominated a corner, and the game was the only subject on everybody’s lips. Most of the boys were there when I arrived and I sat on a sofa with Eddie and Paul. Others were seated on chairs, pouffes and cushions while Brendan had parked himself on a beautiful Chippendale chair a few feet from the television.

Italy & Brazil - colourful greats

Italy & Brazil – colourful greats

We were glued to the television as the transmission from Mexico ‘went live’ and we were transfixed – and momentarily rendered silent.

The bright, yellow jerseys of the Brazilian players contrasted with the blue of the Italians and the luscious green of the pitch. I had never seen anything like it and couldn’t help but smile at my good fortune. A chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ went up as the commentator named the teams while the camera panned about the packed stadium. It was brilliant and, unable to contain our excitement, we started cheering. We shouted and nudged each other in anticipation, with Brendan’s grin as broad as Dublin Bay. He raised four fingers on one hand and one on the other. ‘Remember, boys, 4-1.’

The game started and we were enthralled by the wonderful play, and cut and thrust of the exchanges. Brazil, with their fantastic technique, probed the Italian defence constantly in what was a meeting of giants. The game flowed back and forth before Pele broke the deadlock and scored the first goal with a decisive header. We leapt about like salmon, as the room was suddenly a cauldron of noisy hysteria. The television picture was so real and the noise in the room so loud, that for a moment, I thought I was actually at the match. It was a fantastic atmosphere.

Popcorn - vital sustenance

Popcorn – vital sustenance

But it was too good to be true and the Italians equalised a few minutes before half time. A morgue-like silence hung in the room and smiles were replaced by deep frowns. This was not meant to happen, and only Brendan seemed happy with the score. We sat back at half-time and talked excitedly about what we had seen. It was infectious and we grabbed handfuls of warm popcorn when the bowls made their way around. Just past the hour, Brazil scored again, 2-1. The room was like a madhouse with popcorn falling like snow before we settled down and willed the inevitable Brazilian victory. A third goal soon followed and it was Samba-time in the noisy room – at least that’s what Caro’s mum called it!

In the dying minutes Brazil began a move that went the length of the pitch before their captain, Carlos Alberto, crashed in a fourth goal. We all jumped up again but Brendan fell backwards on his chair and a horrible, cracking sound split the air. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence he stood up and found that the back of the expensive chair had snapped off like a dried twig and now lay flat on the floor. He was mortified but Caro’s mum shrugged and told him not to worry about it.

Game from a throne

Game from a throne

In the days and weeks that followed we played football and imagined being our heroes. We argued over being Pele, Rivelino or Carlos Alberto but Brendan never had any trouble about who he was. And now, whenever I see replays of that famous fourth goal I often wonder where I might find The Chairman.

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Filed under Dublin, short stories, Sport

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