After the 1978 tournament in Argentina, FIFA announced the next one would be bigger and better. They expanded the format from 16 to 24 teams. Spain were the hosts and they spent over £60m to stage it. A worldwide TV audience sat down to watch the draw and were left open-mouthed at the farce which ensued. The draw in Argentina had been decidedly amateur with poor quality television coverage, all the countries referred to in Spanish and you could be forgiven for believing you had walked in on a local council meeting in Buenos Aires. But this time FIFA were determined their new tournament was going to be the biz. It was anything but.
Ever keen to add some razzmatazz to the proceedings a young Sepp Blatter had presided over an elaborate format as an alternative to simply drawing names out of a hat. Large cages contained little replica footballs, in which each one had the name of a qualifier. Little boys stood beside these waiting for one ball to drop from the cage and they would walk over to the top table where an official would tantalisingly open the ball and reveal the name. Well, from the very first minute hardly any of this worked at all. Firstly, balls wouldn’t drop from the cages at the right moment, then the officials couldn’t unscrew the ball to reveal what was inside and at one stage a cage jammed snapping a ball in half before a poor little chap could get his hands on it. The audience was left with the uneasy spectacle of actually seeing the country’s name contained within that ball. But it was when Scotland was drawn out that things turned a shade of brown.
Scotland was drawn out to go into the same group as Argentina. But with few people able to understand the babble which was going on at the top table, eventually another little Spanish boy took the ball back to the cage and appeared to put it back in. Then Blatter, in his best Basil Fawlty, tried to explain they had already made a mistake when drawing Belgium into Italy’s group and that Scotland had merely compounded the error. Eventually, they moved Belgium, who ironically had complained about England’s seeding, back to Argentina’s group and poor old Scotland now had to go into Brazil’s group.
More farcical behaviour was to follow as FIFA had tried to arrange that neither Peru or Chile would appear in the same group as either Brazil or Argentina and they decided to concentrate on the groups containing those two to begin with. Therefore the miniature footballs containing those countries were supposed to be left out of the initial draw. Unfortunately, nobody had informed the guy whose job it was to fill the cages with footballs. Further embarrassment was to befall the suits of FIFA when it emerged the little Spanish boys were actually from a Madrid orphanage but they endeared themselves to the worldwide audience when one of the FIFA members shouted “get it sorted, boy!”, a rebuke clearly picked up by the microphones.