Commentator’s ‘Maggie Thatcher’ outburst makes UNESCO list

Norway has selected a football commentator’s ecstatic outpouring of emotion and political one-upmanship as one of the most important cultural documents in the country’s history.

Commentator's 'Maggie Thatcher' outburst makes UNESCO list
Photo: Scanpix

United Nations cultural agency UNESCO and the Norwegian Arts Council jointly presented a list on Wednesday of some 60 archive holdings and historical documents that will represent Norway in UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme, a project designed to safeguard against collective global amnesia.

Alongside such invaluable cultural artefacts as the constitution, original notes to an Edvard Grieg concerto and the manuscript for Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House”, Norway has chosen to submit Bjørge Lillelien’s radio coverage of Norway’s 2-1 win over sizzling hot favourites England in a World Cup qualifier in Oslo in 1981.

Lillelien launched into one of most celebrated pieces of commentary in sporting history after the referee blew the final whistle on a game the Norwegians were widely expected to lose, and lose badly.

Enraptured by the result, Lillelien hailed it as a victory for Norway over everyone from Winston Churchill to Lady Diana, before peppering his Norwegian commentary with some English-language phrases when addressing the UK’s then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“Norway have beaten England 2-1 in football,” he began, before breaking into his famously frenetic rant.

“We’re the best in the world! We’re the best in the world! We’ve beaten England 2-1 in football! It’s absolutely unbelievable! We’ve beaten England! England, birthplace of giants – Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana! We’ve beaten them all!

"Maggie Thatcher, can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher, I have a message for you: We have knocked England out of the World Cup in football. Maggie Thatcher, as they say in your language in the boxing bars round Madison Square Garden in New York: Your boys took a hell of a beating!"

Norwegian radio presenter Bjarne Grevsgard was one of the people tasked with selecting candidates for the Norwegian UNESCO list.

“Lillelien’s description of the match conveyed such enthusiasm and patriotism at a major sporting event and it wasn’t especially difficult to select it when putting together the UNESCO list,” he told public broadcaster NRK.

Despite the unprecedented victory in Oslo, however, England eventually qualified for the 1982 World Cup while the Norwegian team stayed at home. 

Listen to the (slightly edited) version here:

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Could Scandinavian countries lead the way in taking stand against Qatar World Cup?

Vehemently opposed to Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, football federations in the Nordic countries are putting pressure on Doha and FIFA to improve conditions for migrant workers in the emirate.

Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event.
Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Together with rights organisation Amnesty International, the federations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have ratcheted up the pressure in recent months, raising their concerns and presenting recommendations in letters, meetings with officials and pre-game protests.

“We are against holding the World Cup in Qatar, we thought it was a bad decision,” the head of the Danish federation DBU, Jakob Jensen, told AFP.

“It is wrong in many ways. Because of the human rights situation, the environment, building new stadiums in a country with very little stadium capacity,” he said.

Denmark is the only Nordic country to have qualified for the tournament so far. Sweden face a playoff next year to secure a place and Norway, Finland and Iceland have been eliminated.

Leading the charge, the Danish federation regularly publishes the Nordic countries’ letters sent to FIFA and holds talks with Qatari officials, including an October meeting with Qatar head organiser Hassan Al-Thawadi.

The main concern is migrant workers’ rights.

Qatar has faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are involved in the construction of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure.

Campaigners accuse employers of exploitation and forcing labourers to work in dangerous conditions.

Qatari authorities meanwhile insist they have done more than any country in the region to improve worker welfare, and reject international media reports about thousands of workers’ deaths.

The Nordics have also raised other concerns with al-Thawadi, Jensen said.

“Will homosexuals be allowed to attend the World Cup? Will men and women be able to attend the matches together? Will the press have free access to all sorts of issues to do investigations in the country?”

“And all the answers we received were ‘yes’. So of course we’re going to hold him responsible for that,” Jensen said.

The Danish federation said its World Cup participation would focus on the games played on the pitch, and it will not do anything to promote the event for organisers.

It will limit the number of trips it makes to Qatar, the team’s commercial partners will not take part in official activities there, and its two jersey sponsors will allow training kit to carry critical messages.

In Norway, whose qualification bid fell apart when its best player Erling Braut Haaland missed games through injury, the issue culminated in June when its federation held a vote on whether to boycott the World Cup.

READ ALSO: Norway’s economic police call for boycott of Qatar World Cup

Delegates ultimately voted against the idea, but an expert committee recommended 26 measures, including the creation of a resource centre for migrant workers and an alert system to detect human rights violations and inform the international community.

Like other teams, Norway’s squad also protested before each match by wearing jerseys or holding banners like the one unfurled during a recent match against Turkey, reading “Fair play for migrant workers”.

But the Nordic countries have not always acted in line with their own campaign.

Last month at a Copenhagen stadium, a Danish fan was ordered to take down his banner criticising the World Cup in Qatar, as FIFA rules prohibit political statements.

And Sweden’s federation recently scratched plans to hold its winter training camp in the emirate as it has done the past two years.

Sweden’s professional clubs had protested against the hypocrisy of holding the camp there while at the same the federation was leading the protests with Nordic counterparts.

The professional clubs wanted to send a “signal”, the chairman of Swedish Professional Football Leagues, Jens Andersson, told AFP.

Individual players have also spoken out. 

Finland’s captain Tim Sparv last week issued a joint appeal with Amnesty demanding that “FIFA must ensure that human rights are respected”, adding: “We are in debt to those people who have worked for years in poor conditions.”

So far, none of FIFA’s 200 other member federations have joined the Nordic campaign.

“Hopefully all these Nordic neighbours of ours and us taking these steps will have an impact on other countries,” Mats Enquist, secretary general of the Swedish Professional Football League, told AFP.

“We need to ensure that all the aspects of football, not just the richest, are really taken care of when we come to a place.”