The World Cup Alphabet – M is for…

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Mascots have always been seen as a bit of an Olympics thing to most people. Most of the time an animal (or animals), sometimes a genetic freak designed by a freethinking graphic artist. It was the World Cup that come up the concept first though.


It all began in 1966 when the tournament was hosted in England.

World Cup Willie was created as part of a huge marketing campaign aimed mainly at kids. Designed by Reg Hoye (who did the Edith Blyton books), the jovial lion also had a song written for him by none other than the king of skiffle Lonnie Donegan. There was even a comic strip. Too bad he had on a union jack uniform seeing as it represents the home countries and not England.

Not enough skiffle Lonnie..

Juanito was the mascot in 1970, a Mexican boy who was supposed to symbolise the ‘innocence and fair play’ of football which, of course, is a bit laughable these days. He also had a shirt two sizes too small for him with his gut spilling out a bit. In 1974 Tip and Tap were two German boys. Being German, the move to have two mascots was of course innovative with the two representing both East and West Germany coming together for the World Cup in a time when things were still a little cold politically.

The gaucho styled Gauchito was the mascot for 1978 in Argentina. The Military Government choosing not to have him wearing a little generalissimo or secret police uniform. One of the favourites of over the years was for Spain 1982 with Naranjito the giant orange. Now an anthropomorphised orange seems like a risk but the smiling big colourful mascot was supposed to symbolise a new bright dawn for Spain after Franco and not just to show off Valencia’s fruit prowess. It seemed to work or least give off some Vitamin C.

In Mexico in 1986 it was different from a pudgy boy and went for a jalapeno pepper called Pique. Arguably the favourite of all World Cup mascots was for Italia 90. Ciao was a stick figure and amazing little bit of graphic design. Named after the Italian greeting and in the tri colours of the flag, Ciao also had no face or real cuddly features. A very right angled mascot if ever there was one. kind of like having an allen key for a toy.

USA 94 had Striker the World Cup Pup and more American than a photo of Kim Kardashian in the Oval Office. Designed by Warner Brothers Animation, given the star position of striker and an adorable dog he was set to be a hit. He had a better finish to the World Cup than Baggio. In 1998, France went to there national animal and had Footix the Rooster. He was kind of like a cuddly-less racist-never forgiving the Yankees version of Foghorn Leghorn but never really made an appearance during the tournament if I recall.

With co-hosts in 2002 and being in Asia of course the mascot design was a little free thinking. They even made up a sport called ‘Atmobail’ for their weird creations Ato, Kaz and Nik. I can’t even describe what they are. Pokemon meets an alien you would see in that old film ‘Heavy Metal’ perhaps. In 2006, a lion made its second appearance at a World Cup with Germany introducing Goleo the Sixth and Pille. Pille was a talking football with a big dopey Harry Taylor grin. Both the ball and lion would be at every game tipping on the ground before kick off who would win. Both tipped a different team of course to keep everyone happy no matter what the odds. I remember Pille tipping Croatia when at that pivotal game at Stuttgart. Will never forgive him for that. Prick.

In 2010 the mascot went androgynous with a cheetah (apt) called Zukumi. A bright design that got attention. In 2014 Brazil, with all its years of destroying the Amazon, decided to go environmental and had the rare three banded Armadillo Fuleco as a mascot. Finally, Russia will have the wolf Zabivaka, a safe choice from a country trying to impress the world rather than concern and alienate itself from it for while the World Cup is on at least.

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Zabivaka’s glaucoma issue hasn’t hindered his duties in being World Cup Mascot.



I’ve talked about the famous Dutch sides but Hungary have also featured a team so innovative and brilliant it deserved a World Cup but never got it.

The Hungarian side pre-1950 weren’t much at all, in fact they never even bothered trying to qualify for the 1950 cup with the country having it’s own issues post World War 2. In May 1950 they began a streak that has never been surpassed by any international side of 46 wins, 6 draws and 1 loss.

Coached by Gustav Sebes, playing a 4-2-4 and featuring unbelievable talent like Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti and the legendary Ferenc Puskas they beat England at Wembley stadium (the first time England had ever lost at the famous venue) amongst other high profile scalps. There was also the matter of winning the 1952 gold medal with the same side (many communist countries had amateur players), they were one of the great international sides and the highest ranked team ever on the ELO ratings leading in to the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

They were the ‘Mighty Maygars’ and not be messed with. An innovative side ahead of their time.

Apart from a bit of a stoush in ‘The Battle of Berne’ with the Brazilians they rolled in to the final. Over 60,000 people were shoehorned in to the Wankdorf Stadium in Berne for the final where it was expected the Hungary would win. Hungary were out of the blocks early (a tactics of theirs) and were 2-0 up thanks to a half-fit Puskas (who was back in the side) and Czibor.

West Germany though fought back to 2-2 and had done it by the 18th minute with goals from Max Morlock and Bayern Munich striker Helmut ‘The Boss’ Rahn. The Germans had done their homework this time around after being roundly beaten by Hungary earlier in the tournament. Coach Seep Herberger had the team train in the pouring rain just in case it would pour down during the final (it would) whilst Adidas provided the side with the first boots that had screw in or molded studs for the wet conditions. Hungary would just overpower a side they had beaten just a week or so before and claim the cup that was rightfully theirs it was thought. West Germany had their tails up and were digging in, not letting the flowing front four of Hungary get a sniff.

Then it happened, with the minute ticking down and extra time looking likely for the first time in the history of the cup Rahn then unchained his inner hero, cut to the left, and filled the back of the Hungarian net in the 86th minute, hardly enough time for the world to believe what had just happened. West Germany 3-2! Hungary were suddenly sparked in to action and were all over the Germans. Puskas was put through! Puskas slotted the ball home! Puskas scored! 3-3! No! Flag! Offside! Still 3-2! This was a decision that was highly controversial with the linesman raising his flag for an age after the play to Puskas. Puskas up until his death was still bitter about the decision and claims it cost Hungary the World Cup.

In injury time the desperate Germans defended like never before and took out Kocsis as he went for a shot, no penalty given and it stayed 3-2. The referee blew full time and West Germany had come from nowhere to win the World Cup for the first time, captain and wet weather specialist Fritz Walter hoisting the cup. One of the greatest sides to every play had ended up with nothing but bitterness and regrets from the tournament thanks to German smarts, bad luck and a dodgy ref/linesman combo. The win was something that revitalised a nation that was still getting over being decimated by the allies some 10 years previously, hence the term ‘Miracle of Berne’.

Many German historians see this upset win over Hungary as the turning point of getting the country back on track. It was also the first time the German national anthem had been played since the war. With hardly any television in West Germany at the time the radio commentary from Hubert Zimmerman is seen as an iconic moment, it wasn’t exactly Craig Foster’s yelling against Uruguay  but his emotion when the winning goal went in and at the final whistle is stuff of legend.

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Puskas and Ange. Lakeside Stadium is a long way from Real Madrid (Photo thanks to South Melbourne FC)

For the Hungarians, they would never reach these heights again with the Soviet tanks rolling in a couple of years later and most of their great players defecting for pastures greener (Puskas would play for Spain in later years). They have still not made a World Cup since 1986. Puskas would also coach South Melbourne in the NSL for a short time including giving one Ange Postecoglou the captaincy. One of the great tales of unfulfilled potential in the tournament.



It was pointed out to me that ‘L’ should have also mentioned Les. Les as in Les Murray the godfather, doyen, missed lovable uncle of the sport in this country.

Born Laszlo Urge in 1945 Hungary, he fled to Australia with his family settling in The Gong. I think most of us (under a certain age) always remember Les being there waxing lyrical about the World Cup et al as we normally watched in a sleep ridden state. We wondered what accent that was for someone with that name, a question posed by TISM in song in 1995.

Murray first presented to World Cup in 1986 with former Socceroos captain and fellow chain smoker and close friend Johnny Warren next to him. They would do this for the next five World Cups. It’s unsure when Les became a cult figure. His speech when SBS won a logie for their coverage of the 1997 Iran game was memorable, humble and inspiring. His pronunciations of some countries and players gave many of us a cheap thrill in the early hours. His segment with Celebrate Rifles lead singer Damien Lovelock on a Sunday were not to be missed. Two musos talking about cult players like they were in a bar in Balmain.

He was also a passionate promoter of the game but a calm and rational thinker compared to the heart on sleeve rants of Warren (who would die in 2004).

We knew that 2014 would be his last time hosting the big dance but we didn’t know he would really leave us far sooner than we had liked. On July 31 last year Les died sending a community in to mourning. He received a state funeral and leaves a massive hole to fill as SBS continues to try and fight for relevance. The Optus monster and its derided stream service gobbling up TV rights like a game of hungry hungry hippos.

Les Murray’s final words when on air still resonate and inspire. I was going to leave them for the final entry for this series just before Russia 2018 kicks off but it can’t wait:

“Football is about many things, but most of all it is about joy, a medium by which our lives can become more fun, something which makes us smile through our toils. The World Cup, more than the football, is about having a good time, about having a party, and as parties go, this has been the grandest of them all.”

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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