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Page last updated at 11:44 GMT, Sunday, 20 June 2010 12:44 UK

Back to World Cup basics

By Tim Mansel
BBC World Service

Pele celebrates with Vava after scoring in the 1958 World Cup final
Pele celebrates with Vava after scoring in the 1958 World Cup final

Was there ever such a fuss about a football?

The Jabulani, with its eight "spherically moulded" thermally-bonded 3D panels, has been attracting as much attention for its flamboyant behaviour in South Africa as the English Wags in Germany in 2006.

Balls used to be more modest, none more so than the one chosen from among 102 candidates for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

One of them nestles in a glass cabinet in the boardroom of the Rasunda stadium in Stockholm, yellowish-brown, hand-stitched and not a thermal bond in sight.

Nor can you tell who made it. When FIFA invited suppliers to send in a sample ball for consideration, it specified that no manufacturers' logos should be visible.

"Each ball was just given a number," explains Bengt Agren, the last surviving member of the committee that organised the 1958 finals.

"The one that was chosen - it was number 55 - was made by a company in the south of Sweden. But they weren't allowed to announce that they had been chosen to supply the balls for the World Cup until after the final had been played."

The official match ball for Sweden 1958
The 1958 ball was not as round as the "spherically moulded" Jabulani

The anonymity of the ball stands as a symbol of a more innocent event staged in a more innocent age, before the arrival of the garish global commercialism that characterises 2010.

It was also a quieter event; no vuvuzelas in 1958, and at some games not many spectators. Fewer than 3,000 took the opportunity to watch the play-off match between Wales and Hungary that decided Group Three in Stockholm.

"Because it was a play-off, it was announced only on Monday morning that the game would be played the next day," says Bengt. "So there were no tickets sold before the match."

So 2010 isn't the first time FIFA has had to explain away empty seats.

In fact, crowd figures suggest that the people of Stockholm weren't especially enthusiastic about World Cup football at all, even though that's where the host nation was based.

"England and the Soviet Union were the top teams," says Bengt "so people wanted to watch them most."

You could see the matches two days later in Uruguay or Brazil

Bengt Agren

Television was in its infancy in Sweden. It had arrived only in 1956 and the country had one channel, which broadcast for four hours every evening except on Wednesdays. In all, 11 of the games were televised live and not only to Sweden.

"We had no satellites and just one link to western Europe," Bengt remembers. "So we could send a game live to, say, France. But if we did that, all the countries between Sweden and France had to take the live broadcast, otherwise their television screens would have been blank."

Where today we are watching three matches a day with staggered kick-offs, in 1958 all the group games, apart from Sweden's, were played simultaneously, seven at a time.

Those that weren't televised were filmed by a German company, whose editors worked long into the night to cut them into three-hour compilations with commentaries in various languages. 12 aeroplanes were on standby to fly them out all over the world.

"You could see the matches two days later in, for example, Uruguay or Brazil," says Bengt.

Simultaneous kick-offs created problems for the press, because Sweden didn't have enough telephone lines to keep journalists at one venue updated on what was happening at others.

So the organisers approached the Swedish air force, which had its own telephone network for use in times of national emergency. As Sweden hadn't been to war since 1814, it had never been used in anger.

"They were very happy to test their system with a real situation and they did a very good job," Bengt smiles.

There are no reports of unwelcome guests in dressing rooms in Sweden in 1958. Nor did stadiums need a two-metre moat like the one designed to protect the players from the fans at Soccer City in Johannesburg.

"There was no thought at all about security for the players," laughs Bengt Agren.

"If you look at some of the old films you can see spectators sitting on the running track, and going up to the goalie and patting him on the back when he makes a good save."

Nacka Skoglund has a statue in his memory
Nacka Skoglund was a star for Sweden in 1958

As in South Africa today, Sweden knew that the best way to keep the locals interested was to make sure they, as hosts, stayed in the competition for as long as possible.

The Swedes had shot themselves in the foot in the previous World Cup by preventing any of their professionals from taking part, football in 1950s Sweden being a strictly amateur sport.

Pragmatism prevailed over principle in 1958 and the likes of Nils Liedholm, Nacka Skoglund and Kurt Hamrin were prised from their Italian employers for the duration. The imported professionals helped Sweden all the way to the final at Rasunda.

It was there that they encountered a slender 17-year-old, who, in the game's most memorable moment, takes the ball on his chest, lifts it over the approaching defender and, as it falls, stabs it on the volley past the sprawling goalkeeper.

The teenager was Pele and that goal, recorded in grainy black and white, remains the defining image of the 1958 World Cup. He scored another towards the end of Brazil's 5-2 victory that damp June afternoon.

Pictures show the Swedish king on the pitch after the game, his arm over the shoulder of one of the jubilant Brazilians. Soccer City on July the 11th is unlikely to witness similar informality.



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