Siphiwe Tshabalala, South African footballer, South Africa 2010
Even the bears are playing vuvuzelas at this summer's FIFA World Cup in Russia. It was the South Africa World Cup finals eight years ago that gave us the loud, monotone-note horn instrument (after their international introduction at the previous year's Confederations Cup).
Siphiwe Tshabalala—or "Shabba," as he's known—is the South African footballer who scored the opening goal in the 2010 World Cup finals, a worldie that was shortlisted for that year's FIFA Puskas Award alongside nominations from players like Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr.
"The funniest thing for us during the 2010 World Cup was the vuvuzelas," Tshabalala says. "People didn't really know what to make of vuvuzelas, what they were for. They felt they made too much noise—that they caused a problem for players to focus.
"To us, we were used to vuvuzelas. They motivated us. When fans started blowing those vuvuzelas, we knew that 'it's on now.' They brought hype. It was important for us to teach other countries our culture, of how we did things here. Most fans loved vuvuzelas. Some didn't. The important thing was to show the world: This is how we do things, and this is your opportunity to learn about other cultures as well."
The World Cup gripped South Africa like a fever. Two days before the tournament started, some players from the South Africa team were told they were going on a parade through Johannesburg. "Initially we were told we should expect about 10,000 to 15,000 people," Tshabalala says.
According to Goal.com, about 185,000 screaming fans lined the streets, as six or seven of the team's players snaked their way through the crowds on two open-top buses.
"Just as we were about to leave our hotel, we heard a lot of noise out on the streets, too much noise," Tshabalala says. "There were a lot of people out there. People gathered on the streets and on every corner to wish us luck. We had to go there and show our appreciation—and honour it. It was amazing to hear all the vuvuzelas and horns.
"At first, our manager [Carlos Alberto Parreira] was not happy about it. He thought players now need to rest and start preparing for the first game against Mexico. On the other hand, he knew that the people wanted to see the team. The people wanted to wish the team the best of luck, and it was the only opportunity many of them had."
The country's former president, then-91-year-old Nelson Mandela, was one of the team's biggest fans. He met the squad a week before the tournament started. He wore a team jersey with the captain's name, Aaron Mokoena, on the back of it.
The team watched the film Invictus, the inspirational film starring Morgan Freeman about Mandela and the post-Apartheid build-up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, a couple of days before the Mexico game; Tshabalala watched it again, alone, the day before the match.
"It was very, very special meeting Madiba [Mandela's clan name] because Madiba is one of the great men in the history of South Africa," Tshabalala said. "He's celebrated worldwide. He's still an icon. We went there to visit him, just to get words of encouragement, best wishes and wisdom from the old man. He told us he was rooting for Bafana Bafana [the Zulu nickname for the team, which means 'the boys, the boys']."
South Africa's match against Mexico was played at FNB Stadium (also known as The Calabash), the site at which Mandela made his first speech after being released from decades of imprisonment in 1990.
Tshabalala remembers he was surprised when they left the team hotel for the stadium. It took about seven minutes to join the motorway. The streets were practically empty. There was no one about. There were hardly any cars on the motorway.
"It was like a ghost town," he says. Funeral quiet. All that could be heard were the police sirens chaperoning the team coach. The players started singing together on the bus.
"Just as we approached the stadium, all of a sudden from nobody around there were huge, huge crowds," Tshabalala says. "Huge traffic. That's when we felt it. Wow. Our people are here. They were cheering left, right and centre. It's time."
South Africa struggled in the first half, but 10 minutes into the second half, Tshabalala struck. South Africa slalomed through Mexico's defence with a counter-attack from deep in their own half. The ball was fed to Tshabalala, who was haring up the left wing. He took one touch to control it, and then … boom! The ball flashed into the top corner of the net.
The bleating sound of vuvuzelas was unleashed around the stadium.
Tshabalala sauntered over to the corner flag to dance in celebration with four of his team-mates. It was premeditated, he says: "The dance was practiced during our training sessions. I'm going to score, and this is the dance. It's not something that came out of nowhere. The confidence was there. I believed that I was going to score, and I believed that I was going to have a good tournament because I prepared very well. I was in the right frame of mind. When it was announced years earlier that South Africa was going to host the World Cup, I said to myself: 'I'm going to be part of that squad.' And it happened."
Mexico equalised late on. South Africa beat France, the 2006 FIFA World Cup finalists, but lost to Uruguay in their other group game, and there ended their World Cup adventure.
Tshabalala—who grew up in his grandparents' house and its outlying rooms along with his parents, uncles, aunts and cousins in a township in Soweto, and who is still playing for Kaiser Chiefs in South Africa's premier division—will be remembered for the rest of his days because of that wonder goal.
"It changed my life," Tshabalala says. "I get recognition everywhere, not just recognition but respect and love. I get messages almost every day, from fans all over the world, especially on Instagram. Still today, there are those football pages where fans post videos like 'what is your best moment in football history?' and people will tag me, saying 'Tshabalala's goal against Mexico.' I get fans letters from Asia, Europe, USA, everywhere, appreciating what I've done."
Kevin Sheedy, Republic of Ireland footballer, Italy 1990
When the Republic of Ireland team returned from the finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup, about 300,000 people—which was almost a tenth of the country's 3.5 million population at the time—lined the streets of its capital, Dublin, to cheer them on.
Earlier that day, Nelson Mandela had been given the freedom of the city. "OOH-AH, PAUL McGRATH'S DA," chanted the Irish fans in Dublin's College Green, where a stand had been erected to present the players. "I SAY OOH-AH, PAUL McGRATH'S DA!" they roared in appreciation for their Dublin-born, black centre-half.
Ireland's World Cup odyssey began when it played England on a greasy night in Cagliari. Things went awry for Irish fans when, after eight minutes, England's Gary Lineker scored a poky little goal, like something you'd see on a curling rink. He seemed, in the words of Irish novelist Roddy Doyle, "to whack it in with his gooter and crawl after it into the net."
Two-thirds of the way through the second half, Ireland snatched an equaliser from its left-sided Everton midfielder. Kevin Sheedy, an ex-Liverpool player, lost control of the ball to England's Steve McMahon, an ex-Everton player then on the books at Everton's cross-city rivals, Liverpool, only to regain possession again. It was a curious little dance before Sheedy finished expertly into the corner.
"I remember I got the ball," Sheedy says. "I tried to make a pass, but Steve McMahon cut it out. He'd just come on as a sub. He was a little bit cold, not up to the pace of the game, and he failed to control it. I reacted quickly to it, and it came to my left foot, and I hit it. As soon as it left my boot, from years of doing it, I knew it was in. I caught it as sweet as I could. I think that more or less finished his international career. He was just unfortunate, but fortunate for me that he made the mistake and I was able to capitalise on it."
Sheedy spent a decade with Everton, winning a clutch of medals, including two league titles and a European Cup Winners' Cup in 1985. His father was from Darragh, a small village in the west of Ireland, but Sheedy grew up in Hereford, England, where the family ran a pub called "The Tram Inn." He was part of a brigade of second-generation Irish players from Ireland's diaspora who made up half of the Republic of Ireland team, getting in under what was known as "the granny rule."
To Irish fans, though, Sheedy was more Irish than the Irish themselves, the scorer of the Republic of Ireland's first-ever goal in a World Cup finals. "I think it was a brilliant match. Only for Kevin Sheedy we wouldn't have won," gushed a female fan, ensconced in a pub, on Irish national TV after the match against England finished in a draw, 1-1.
Ireland drew its other two group games, against Egypt and the Netherlands, but it was enough to get them into the knockout stages. In its last-16 tie against Romania, the Irish team played out another boring draw, 0-0, after 120 minutes of play, so it went to penalties.
"For the penalty shootout, Jack [Charlton, Ireland's manager] was going around looking for who was going to take a penalty, and I said I would take the first one," Sheedy says. "I had about 10 minutes—from the final whistle—to wait. It is a long time, and you have the long walk up. My parents were in the stand, so it was a case of not letting them down as well.
"I decided I was going to hit it down the middle, hard and high. Usually, I'm thinking: the first penalty, the goalkeeper will have to dive. He's not gonna just stand there and let me roll it into a corner. The reason for it being high was that if he did dive, then he leaves his legs there. Then he can save it with his legs. I went for power, hit it cleanly, and it went in."
Both teams continued to score until the fifth round of penalties. The Irish goalkeeper Packie Bonner saved Romania's Daniel Timofte's effort; Ireland's substitute David O'Leary then scored the goal that sent the Irish team through to the quarter-finals. The unlucky Timofte did, however, manage to salvage something from the debacle—he later opened a bar in Petrosani called Penalty.
World Cup mania transformed the island country of Ireland over the month of the tournament. The bars were packed for its team's matches, with fans wielding giant, inflatable bananas. Supporters cashed in insurance policies to travel to Italy for games. The predominately Irish team even had an audience with Pope John Paul II, decked out in their green-and-white tracksuits. It seemed a bit premature. You didn't see Italy, the hosts, and Ireland's opponents in the quarter-finals, scrambling to meet "papa."
Sure enough, the Irish team went down 1-0 to Italy in Rome's Olympic Stadium, following a goal by Salvatore "Toto" Schillaci, winner of both the tournament's Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards. Sheedy's abiding memory is how tenacious Giuseppe Bergomi, Italy's captain and a World Cup winner in 1982, was in defence and a sense of what might have been.
"The right-back, Bergomi, marked me tighter and closer than anyone ever did," he says. "I couldn't move. He was by far the hardest opponent I played against in my career. Whenever you were in a position to get the ball, he'd be there.
"We were obviously disappointed to lose because we'd gone close. When you look a bit further, Italy had Argentina in the semi-finals—obviously they still had Diego Maradona—but they weren't the force that they were. We'd probably done as well as what we could have done but when you get that close you still feel maybe..."
Brian Glanville, English journalist, Sweden 1958
Much has been made about boredom being the enemy of team camps at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. During the 1958 tournament in Sweden, the Russian players took off fishing to distract their minds in between games. It was a momentous time for Brian Glanville, a doyen of football writing, as it was the first World Cup finals he covered.
Glanville's main employer, the Observer newspaper in England, sent another journalist to cover the tournament, so Glanville organised a deal with a rival paper, the Sunday Times at a rate of £20 an article, no expenses. The Observer were unhappy with that and didn't allow him use his byline at the tournament, so his articles were published under his second name, Brian Lester.
The competition was unrecognisable from the month-long jamboree in Russia this summer, which has thousands of accredited journalists covering the matches. Glanville was one of a select band of international reporters to cover it. He had enviable access to players and coaches and went on one memorable drinking session with five of the Wales team on the night after they had been unluckily eliminated from the tournament in the quarter-finals by Brazil, 1-0.
The England team stayed in the Park Avenue Hotel in the middle of Gothenburg. Glanville remembers Bobby Charlton, England's 20-year-old attacking-midfield genius, only once telling a joke. It was in the lounge of the hotel, and it was about a bus queue in the north-east of England, where Charlton grew up. A man in the queue, who was unable to get on the bus, asked: "How long will the next bus be?" The bus conductor replied: "About as long as this one."
Charlton had reason to be morose. His coach, Walter Winterbottom, unaccountably never played him in the tournament. It was still only a few months from the Munich Air Disaster that killed eight of his Manchester United team-mates in a plane crash, including the spine of the England national team. Charlton had been torpedoed out of the airplane strapped to his seat, but they survived. The tragedy hung over the England camp and the English public's expectations like a pall.
"The Manchester United air crash," Glanville says, "in which we lost three of our players—Duncan Edwards, above all; Roger Byrne; and Tommy Taylor were all killed—resulting in three of our best players being immediately removed. England went there, and they were also too light. Only 20 travelled, when you were allowed to bring 22 players. They could have brought two other players, including Nat Lofthouse, whom they left behind—their best centre-forward—which was ridiculous."
England also left Stanley Matthews at home, and Tom Finney, another of their world-class players, got injured. The team lost to Russia 1-0 in a group-game playoff. It was the only time that four nations from the British Isles qualified for the finals—Scotland finished bottom of their group, but Northern Ireland and Wales progressed to the quarter-finals.
In the days before private team jets, Northern Ireland submitted their squad to a 210-mile coach ride the day before they met France in their quarter-finals tie, losing 4-0—half the goals coming from exhaustion, half because of the genius of France's Moroccan-born centre-forward Just Fontaine, who scored a brace in the match and finished the tournament with 13 goals, which is still a record, per FIFA.
Wales had the misfortune to lose their "galactico" striker, the hulking John Charles, to injury for their match against Brazil in which a 17-year-old Pele scored the game's only goal—one which, according to Glanville, Pele has claimed was the most important of his career, as Wales proved a tough nut to crack.
The Wales goalkeeper, Jack Kelsey, had been imperious—it took a deflection for Pele's goal to get past him. After the game, Glanville congratulated Kelsey on his handling. "Chewing gum," he replied. "Always use it. Put some on my hands. Rub it well in."
There were many newfangled innovations at the tournament. Brazil—who are not normally known for their defensive nous—unveiled the 4-2-4 formation to the world for the first time, forsaking the traditional three at the back that other teams used to favour at the time.
Brazil also brought a team psychologist with them. He wore grey sweaters, spectacles and went about unfashionably unshaven, what would be known as designer stubble today.
He saw footballers as coming from two camps: They were either instinctive or intellectual. To find out where they fell, he encouraged his players to draw pictures of a footballer. Those who were instinctive, he argued, drew matchstick men while those who were cerebral sketched more elaborate drawings.
He believed defenders should contain their aggression and that attackers should unleash it.
Brazil's team coach, Vicente Feola, wasn't an admirer of his psychologist's mind games. When Feola was asked about the work of the psychologist in a press conference, the interpreter—much in the way that Jose Mourinho used to adjust Bobby Robson's instructions when he worked as his translator in the 1990s—responded with his own interpretation of Feola's feelings: "Senhor Feola is not saying that he wishes the psychologist would go to hell, but he is thinking it."
Something worked, however, because Brazil went on to win the tournament, defeating Sweden in a thrilling final 5-2 to claim their first World Cup title. Sweden had taken the lead, but Brazil came back to win handsomely. Pele scored two goals, including an unforgettable circus-type goal in the box. He trapped a cross on his chest, scooped it over an onrushing defender and volleyed past Sweden's goalkeeper.
Glanville returned to London after the World Cup and fulfilled a long-held ambition in securing a full-time job as a football correspondent for the Sunday Times. Pele did OK, too, going on to win a further two World Cup winners' medals—in 1962 and 1970. What Leo Messi wouldn't do for just one.
All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.
Follow Richard on Twitter: @Richard_Fitz