2030 will be the end of the World Cup as we know it - smelling of the most exclusive steak

Things that don’t happen in football anymore, number 5,763: a young Scotsman spots a hand-written note in a sports shop window.
Nusret Goekce, nicknamed Salt Bae, gets his hands on the World Cup trophy last year in Qatar.Nusret Goekce, nicknamed Salt Bae, gets his hands on the World Cup trophy last year in Qatar.
Nusret Goekce, nicknamed Salt Bae, gets his hands on the World Cup trophy last year in Qatar.

“World Cup tickets on sale.” His purchase complete – all three group games in 1974 – he rushes to a phonebox to inform his best mate. Together, with a tent from Black’s of Greenock on their backs, they hitchhike to the old West Germany for a never-to-be-forgotten adventure.

And while we’re at it, number 5,764: World Cups which take place, in entirety, in the one country. The way the tournament should be, the way it’s always been, immersing teams and fans in one place, one culture, coast-to-coast criss-crossing, friendships formed, fun and laughter, everyone having the time of their lives.

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But maybe we’ve seen the last of that. The next but one is looking awfully like it will be the end of the World Cup as we know it.

In 2030, six countries will host across three continents. When I heard about this I assumed it was all down to cost. Because the tournament would bankrupt one nation, even two, the burden would have to be shared.

But no: Fifa have organised it this way. It’s their big idea for a big celebration of the World Cup in its 100th anniversary year. Let’s go back to Uruguay where it all began then zoom across to Africa and Europe. Bigwigs and blazers will be able to do the zooming in private jets. It will be a bit harder for supporters on a budget to follow their favourites from, say, Paraguay to Morocco. Actually, it will be impossible. A wise man once said that football is nothing without fans. Well, Jock Stein’s sage words have now been junked.

This World Cup is already smelling of the most exclusive steak. You’ll remember in Qatar how the wonderful moment of Lionel Messi’s triumph was ambushed by the restaurateur and influencer who calls himself Salt Bae, when he grabbed the trophy for what for him was the World Cup of photo-ops. Throughout his chain of eateries there’s now the image of this buffoon cradling the prize – which shouldn’t be touched by anyone but select officialdom and the winners – for his tedious salt-sprinkling schtick. The tournament in 2030 seems aimed at the corporates and millionaires like him, and certainly not my friend and fellow Hibs supporter Brian.

The story of how he came to be present for Scotland glorious failure in ’74 speaks to a different era for the game: quaint, innocent, decent, when football wasn’t really aware of its power but did the right thing by the fans. I’d heard it in shortform in a pub some years ago and phoned him the other day for a fuller account.

Brian told me: “I’d just turned 19 and was heading to Thornton’s in Edinburgh’s Hanover Street with money my mum had given me for my birthday for golf balls. I was surprised to see World Cup tickets on sale in a sports shop but football was simpler back then, wasn’t it? I was going to buy loads of golf balls because I’d just taken up the game and was always losing them. The guy behind the counter asked what type I wanted. I said: ‘Actually, just give me a couple of Dunlop 65s and I’ll take tickets for all three matches – Zaire, Brazil and Yugoslavia.’”

Brian and his friend George got lucky on their travels: their ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland was on its maiden crossing so there was complimentary bevvy for the entire voyage. “We got plastered!” The pair were relieved of some of their World Cup kitty by on-the-spot fines for autobahn loitering but once in Frankfurt, venue for Scotland’s opening game, such was the novelty of men in kilts turning up in the bierkellers that they barely needed to put their hands in their sporrans. “The Germans insisted on buying us drinks,” laughed Brian. “To them we seemed to be these friendly aliens.” Or at least visitors from before the era of the professional Scotsman. Some of their hosts became friends, including Reiner, with whom Brian has stayed in touch. A 50th anniversary reunion, should Scotland qualify for Germany’s Euros, will happen next summer.

The 100th anniversary World Cup won’t allow for such stirring tales. Not unless Phil Collins, who performed in both London and Philadelphia for Live Aid, is to repeat the feat by whooshing between the opening ceremony - planned for Spain, or maybe Portugal, or possibly Morocco - and the first match in Montevideo some 6,000 miles away. Since he was confined to a wheelchair for Genesis’ last-ever gig, this is probably unlikely.

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I do not have a World Cup experience to quite match Brian’s but loved every minute of Italia 90. My brother was studying in Fiesole, high in the hills above Florence, so he managed to get tickets for Scotland’s matches and, once we went out, I could relax and enjoy myself. Plotting routes with a brilliant-value railcard I saw games in Genoa, Turin, Bologna and the Italian equivalent of HS2 took me all the way from Naples and Roger Milla’s last hurrah to Milan, just in time to see Frank Rijkaard lob spittle at Rudi Voller’s bubble-perm.

I made a new friend, too. Andrew Downie, in a Hibs strip and kilt, was juggling oranges in the Bay of Naples for beer money when we decided to hang out during the Round of 16. Now Brazil-based, he’s a successful author of numerous books with World Cup themes. 2030 might well produce a story, but I doubt it will be an uplifting one.



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