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   What a wonderful thing is football... (June 27, 1990)

What a wonderful thing is football! Nightly, I sit before the television screen, dazed and euphoric, as the ritual unfolds under sparking blue Mediterranean skies and in modern Italian amphitheatres.

Terraces packed with legionnaires, seas of scarlet, blue, yellow, flags, waving, trumpets sounding, the roll of the drums. Then the gladiators marching out from the catacombs under the stadia. The national anthems being played, proud men singning, hands on hearts, legs twitching, musles flexing, as they get ready for combai.

Roma, Napoli, Torino, Milano, last night it was Bologna, where the sauce comes from, and the ham. And the colours, the flamingo scariets of the English team and its supporters, the royal blue of the Italians, the shamreck green of the Irish. Ah, the luck of the Irish! It is holding on, voices the commentator.

Everything is there, except the lions. But there are men with lion hearts, and some with the lion's name. And the game begins. Names that we read in the papers and pronouced with difficulty a fortnight ago, now familiar face.

It is the way men would fight civilised wars. The best of youth and experience of a country in civilised combat with the best of another country, as in the terraces the suporters watch and cheer, and occasionally, if they are Latins and Brazilians and emotional Ė cry.

And nightly the drama unfolds. Teams emerging victorious and teams falling by the wayside. Men flying in the air, heading balls, dashing down the field with the ball, as if it attached to their feet by an invisible string. And the occasional goal, and grown men pilling up top of one another with physical exuberance.

But it is the ritual that gets me. The trainers in their suits, the referees making mysterious sign wityh their hands, pulling out cards from their pockets like conjurous, the human salls in front of the goalposts and the ball curving past them in a gentle arch, the waves of people rising and sinking in the stands like piano scales, the massaging of the legs before start of extra time, the ball suddenly sinking into the net, the night swiftly descending on to the stadium, and the ritual continuing under artificial lights as all such mysterious ritual should.

I am not looking forward to the time when the World Cup ends.

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