IT’S still too early to measure how Russia 2018 rates in terms of quality to great World Cups of the past. There’s no doubt though that the Russians have given us a splendid tournament and one that has dispelled the doom-mongers among the UK Government and its friends in high places at the BBC. Boris Johnson said that he agreed with the Labour MP Ian Austin’s idiotic claim that “Putin is going to use it in the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics”.

Johnson replied: “I think the comparison with 1936 is certainly right. It is an emetic prospect of Putin glorying in this sporting event”. It was a hugely offensive insult to the millions of Russians who lay down their lives to fight against Hitler. Without them Britain and its allies would not have triumphed in the Second World War.

President Putin has hardly been seen at the tournament and has been relatively silent on any other matter since it has started. There has been no hooliganism on the streets of Moscow or St Petersburg and none of the displays of muscular Russian nationalism which the BBC had assured us was waiting all those peace-loving Engerlund supporters. There have been no reports of gay football fans being arrested for overt displays of physical affection and no abuse of black footballers.

The football itself has given us, almost on a daily basis, edge-of-the-seat drama, unexpected victories for unfancied nations, giants toppling and an assortment of some of the best goals ever seen at World Cups.

Russia and its president didn’t need to mount a propaganda exercise at this World Cup because the tournament itself has told us a different story than the one we were being primed to expect. Compare the short and simple opening ceremony to the bizarre and overblown charade London gave us before the 2012 Olympics. That was an expensive and not very subtle exercise in state propaganda feeding us the myth that we’re all in it together; Queen, courtiers and cloth cap commoners and that we all knew our place and were ever so thankful for it.

Russia is not a backward country; ordinary Russians seem just like us; they like their football and they have organised one of the best World Cups in the tournament’s history. There has been no state propaganda.

The British state weaponises every cultural and social event in any calendar year: royal occasions, sporting events and the magnificence of the military. If Gareth Southgate’s hard-working and grounded team gets any further in this tournament this too will be fashioned into a weapon. It’s started already.

BBC and ITV stuck in the dark ages

WHILE Gareth Southgate’s admirable England team are having a good World Cup the same cannot be said for the huge BBC team covering the World Cup. This inexperienced English team possessing no players of galactico status has reached its primary objective by making it to the last eight. It would not be a shock if they were to reach the final itself. There they would most likely face Brazil and though England would be distinctly unfancied the Brazilians haven’t exactly shone here. 

England has adapted to this tournament and its demands. The BBC started the tournament badly and have gone downhill from there. 
Almost 50 years have elapsed since Mexico 1970 when the panel format of presenting these occasions was first introduced. Yet coverage of the BBC and ITV have failed to evolve into anything resembling sophistication, objectivity or competence. 

They still give important analysis jobs to ignorant and sullen fanboys and offer very few analytical insights. ITV’s performance during England’s win against Colombia was medieval. It was back to the “You Just can’t trust these Johnny Foreigner types”. 

At one point the commentator actually talked about dealing with 
“a different culture” when the Colombians started to come a bit wide. The studio analysts afterwards offered absolutely nothing beyond 
“I just couldn’t take another penalty shoot-out”. There was nothing about Southgate’s potentially catastrophic substitution of Dele Alli or the importance of having Jamie Vardy as back-up in extra-time to allow Harry Kane to play a deeper role, and nothing about the alarmingly few passes the striker ever gets from a midfield trio specifically chosen for that task. 

Football has evolved but our national television companies remain trapped in the last century.

World's top chib merchants #6

PUBLIC executions and displays of corporal punishment have long been frowned upon by human rights agencies and civilised democracies. Their eyes though must have been averted at the punishment meted out to Diego Maradona by the Italian stopper Claudio Gentile (both pictured) in a second round tie in Spain
in 1982. 

This was Maradona’s first World Cup and occurred just weeks after he had signed for Barcelona for a world record fee of £5m from Argentinos Juniors. Before this match the defenders of Belgium, El Salvador and Hungary all had a nibble at him. For 90 minutes against Italy though Gentile was given free rein by the referee to assault Maradona using every part of his body. 

The National:

It was as if Gentile was using the game as an audition for the next sequel of Nightmare on Elm Street. Gentile stalked for the entire game deploying an astonishing array of booby traps to take Maradona out of the game. If he couldn’t actually prevent the ball getting to Maradona he would prevent him getting to the ball. 

His brutal deployment of a right forearm smash to do this has lived long in the memory. If it were to be repeated these days the night-time highlights programmes would have to come with the warning that some viewers might find some scenes distressing.