In the Heat of the Midday Sun by Steven Scragg – Review
By Karl Hornsey
At the tender age of 12, the 1986 football World Cup came along at just the right time to make a huge impression on me. While the 1982 tournament will always be my favourite and one that has developed into something of an obsession of mine, I was a little more aware by 1986 of what was unfolding in front of me. The fact that I remember watching the opening fixture between Italy and Bulgaria while on holiday in Spain also helps, and there are several matches that I can recall watching at the time. However, the longer I read Steven Scragg’s excellent look back at the tournament, the more I realised there was so much I didn’t know.
Scragg’s previous books for Pitch Publishing focused on each of the three original European club tournaments, which also offered up several reminiscences from an age almost forgotten, when the Cup Winners’ Cup existed and allowed unsung clubs to create incredible memories, and the period when the UEFA Cup wasn’t treated as the poor relation to the now all-encompassing Champions League. And his knack for dredging up his own personal memories shines through in this new release, bringing to life a period when football was distinctly uncool, when hooliganism was rife and when the sport had suffered so many appalling tragedies in such a short space of time.
“Depth of research”
When most people of a certain age are asked to look back at the 1986 World Cup, there are some obvious highlights – and lowlights – that the vast majority will remember. Of course, the infamous Hand of God and Diego Maradona’s sublime contribution dominate the memory bank, closely followed by the ‘Danish Dynamite’ team that crashed and burned in such spectacular style, along with the classic France/Brazil quarter-final and Scotland’s rotten luck in once again being drawn in the Group of Death. However, as so often, it’s the lesser-known things that are far more interesting. The stories of the minnows – in this case the likes of Canada, Iraq and South Korea – are fascinating, given that in some cases their five minutes of fame have yet to be repeated, and Scraggs is diligent in giving every team their moment. His depth of research throws up all manner of trivia titbits and interesting stories that have been overshadowed or lost in the mists of time, as he gradually builds towards the latter stages of the tournament.
While it’s hard to argue that Argentina ultimately deserved to win the tournament, Scraggs throws light on the argument of whether they were really just a one-man team, as well as laying out the frustrating facts that, as so often in tournament football, several of the best sides didn’t get their just rewards, with the likes of Brazil, Denmark and the Soviet Union likely to have been much more deserving of places in the semi-finals than Belgium, West Germany and even the excellent French side that had Michel Platini pulling the strings. The respective campaigns of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are given plenty of focus, and it’s hard for objective fans of any of those nations to genuinely feel hard done by at the stages that they exited the tournament, and that, along with many other reasons, make this an outstanding addition to any collection of World Cup books.
‘In the Heat of the Midday Sun: The Indelible Story of the 1986 World Cup’ by Steven Scragg is published by Pitch Publishing, £16.99 hardback