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Odds are that the patrons of Spellow House on Goodison Row in Liverpool would not know the Chicago Bears if they ran through the bar with their helmets on—which is one of the charming things about Spellow House. But the talk is all football, nonetheless, and last week the "scousers" (natives) were caught up with the World Cup matches, as were an awful lot of people in a lot of other pubs around the world. They made up a record radio, TV and live audience, and 900 million soccer fans can't be wrong.
There was plenty to talk about. The World Cup may be the most widely followed event in sports, not bad for an affair that only started in 1930. And its enthusiasts will tell you further that the World Cup is the only truly international competition around today, considerably more meaningful and a whole lot more exciting than the Olympic Games, which also come off every four years. Three years back, some 70 teams began kicking each other lumpy in the eliminations. And this month, as the 16 finalists assembled in England for the championships, the sports scene took on shadings of the World Series, the Hambletonian and the Rose Bowl.
An estimated 35,000 fans were scattered around London, spilling over into the surrounding communities as well. Although thousands of tourists who came to England for the matches made small impact on London (a blas� city of eight million that is flooded with tourists at this time of year anyway), the Brazilian fans scattered through a considerable part of six hotels managed to make their presence felt. For one thing, Brazilians are extremely vocal, even for soccer fans. For another, their team was the two-time defending champion and a solid favorite to win once again.
Most continental fans stayed home until the day that their team was to play, then flew to England for the game, returning home as soon after as possible. Because of this, Air France scheduled 106 extra World Cup flights. When France played Mexico last week in Wembley Stadium the French fans marched in to the tune of la Marseillaise, and Air France flew 30,000 carnations over to cheer them up.
When Italy played Chile in another early game the Italians swamped the stadium, since it is much easier for Italians to reach Sunderland, in the north of England, than it is for the Chileans. But the natives of Sunderland cheered for Chile so that matters were almost even.
The players themselves were warned in advance to behave while in England, and Brazil even went so far as to forbid its bachelors to marry until after the matches. The romantic Italians, traveling through Europe on a pretournament tour, found themselves denied hotel chambermaids by the team manager, simply to insure against any adverse publicity before the World Cup began. The Swiss team, admittedly one of the weakest in the tournament, was weakened even more by the suspension of two key players who were observed returning to their hotel after curfew in the company of two young ladies. The Argentine team took quarters in the midst of Birmingham, because its players come from big cities and are accustomed to noise. And the Brazilian team, which had hunted around for solitude—practically nonexistent at World Cup time—finally settled down to peace and quiet and four gargantuan meals a day in the Lymm Hotel in Cheshire, some 20 miles from Liverpool.
But whatever the behavior of the teams off the field, measures were taken to insure that they would have no artificial stimulation once play began. Two players from each team, drawn by lot, were to undergo urinalysis after each match to make sure they were not being given pep pills.
Dr. Hilton Gosling, a plump, pleasant man, who is the medical director of the Brazilian team, immediately complained about the tests on the basis that the Brazilians were inveterate coffee drinkers and that their inordinate intake of coffee might show up as a stimulant in any kind of test. He was silenced by the British doctor in charge (who must be nameless by British law).
"Any Brazilian who drank enough coffee or tea for the caffeine to take effect," he said, dryly, "would never be able to finish the game anyway."
Once that issue was medically settled, Dr. Gosling had one final point to make. "We are better organized this time," he said. "In 1958, when we first won the cup, no one was expecting us. Now everyone is pointing for us. It will be more difficult, but I think we will win."