Tim Parks: Swedes, Danes, Bulgarians, referees - they're all in on it

Related Topics

The Italians, like the English, may be out of the competition that counts, but can they be beaten when it comes to constructing conspiracy theories? Since almost anything is more pleasant than a constant mental replay of England's penalty shoot-out, let's try.

The Italians, like the English, may be out of the competition that counts, but can they be beaten when it comes to constructing conspiracy theories? Since almost anything is more pleasant than a constant mental replay of England's penalty shoot-out, let's try.

Let's take the mind back to that intriguing evening when Sweden and Denmark arrive at the vital 2-2 draw that all the bookmakers had foreseen and, just a minute later, Italy at last bury the pathetic Bulgaria with a goal 30 seconds from the end of a surprisingly long injury time. The scenario, I assure you, could be far more complicated than a mere Scandinavian stitch-up...

But first a word on the conspiracy mentality. The Brits ingenuously imagine that this is just an unpleasant form of whingeing and buck-passing. You complain that Meier was a home-side referee or that the penalty spot was a bit dodgy, when in your heart of hearts you know that England lost because about half-way through the second half they stopped playing.

Brits are also childishly obsessed by the notion that something is either true or it is not true; the game was fixed or it wasn't. It is hard for such a dogmatic mind to relish conspiracy theories, as the Italians do. They like to feel slightly dazed by the multiplicity of solutions and the general dishonesty of everybody. It was clearly a great relief in Italy when news of that 2-2 draw came through and they could feel that the famously honest Danes and Swedes were, in fact, as corrupt as everyone else.

It's going to take an effort to beat the Italians in this department, but let's try. Let's float the idea that the Italy-Bulgaria game was even more cleverly fixed than the Scandinavian charade.

Back to the evening of 22 June. Two matches are being played simultaneously. Italy, apparently, are bound to beat Bulgaria. Only a 2-2 draw will allow both Scandinavian teams to go through, even with an Italian victory.

So how would you approach this situation if you were Italy? Convinced as the Italians are that the Scandinavians will be planning the stitch-up, what they must somehow do is convince the big blond boys that there's no need, that Italy really are so awful that they can't beat Bulgaria. That way Denmark and Sweden can concentrate on trying to beat each other and win the group.

The important thing, then, is for Italy to be losing at half-time. And so they are. We're not long into the game when Del Piero finds himself with an open goal; inexplicably he kicks wide. Likewise Cassano. Then in the 40th minute, sure enough Materazzi, alone in the box with Berbatov (the ball is somewhere else altogether), gives him a hug and allows him to fall over. Penalty. One-nil. What one has to understand here is the heroism of the Italian players: they are willing to appear truly awful in the hope that this will influence the Scandinavian game. The Danes go into the break one-nil up. Maybe they won't feel they have to let the Swedes catch up.

Yet almost immediately Italy equalise. This would seem to run contrary to our conspiracy theory, but for two considerations. First, Italy really are pretty bad and they don't want to arrive near the end with more than one goal to get. Second, this is one of the most bizarre goals you will ever see. Check it. Cassano is allowed to shoot from the edge of the box. He strikes the underside of the bar. The ball bounces down hard and soars up. The goalkeeper is standing beneath it, by his post, facing the corner flag. No one is challenging him. Does he catch it? No. Does he punch it out for a corner? No. He lifts a hand and taps the ball over his head behind him into the six-yard box where Perrotta is waiting to score.

Not even Calamity James has ever done anything quite like this. Perhaps we should ask Bruce Grobbelaar to explain. Wisely, the Italian commentators make no comment. At this point any serious conspiracy theorist would have to add this reflection: the Bulgarians are in on it! They are to be allowed to look plucky and determined in return for a last-minute defeat.

And, in fact, towards the end they do contrive not to put away a couple of good chances on the break (something Italian TV will soon be holding against the Danes, as if it were proof of conspiracy). As the game draws to a close, the Italians cross more and more often, and the Bulgarians seem less and less interested in jumping. As the 90th approaches, five minutes are added. Five! Why? Who's been injured? The ref is in on it too! He didn't give a penalty to Cassano at the 75th because it was too early.

So, Italy-Bulgaria will now end after the Scandinavian game, even though it started before. And the Danes are still winning 2-1. Time to score, don't you think? Oddo is allowed to get away on the right. He passes it to Cassano unmarked around the level of the penalty spot. He smashes the ball in while the goalkeeper stands and watches. Done it! Fooled them! But no. Only seconds before, the Swedes had equalised. They saw through it all. The Italians have offered one of their most lacklustre performances for nothing!

Do I believe this? Not really. But that's not the important thing about conspiracy theories. What matters is having thought it, feeling aggrieved, convincing yourself that the world is an ugly place, that you have been taken for a ride. Nothing is more galvanising than rancour.

And even if I know it's not true, a trace remains in the mind. This is a possible version of events, you think. A little mud clings. That is the scandal of all scandal-mongering. Anything to get over the unhappiness of losing. When we win, though, it's sport.

Tim Parks is author of 'An Italian Education' and 'A Season with Verona'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Not only is Liz Kendall a shy Tory, but her words are also likely to appeal to racists

Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)