Archive | August, 2006

A Book Meme

Posted on 31 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

No one sends me these things anymore, so I’ve purloined a book one and turned its head towards football to fill the time before the transfer deadline passes:

1. One book that changed your life – It was a late ’50s paperback, published at roughly the same moment that George’s parents were fleeing Hungary. Called something like the “Boy’s Book of Cricket and Football”, it featured articles by Matthews, Di Stefano and others of that ilk. It’s central message – skill is all – has yet to make its way into the English game, but Hungary is now a capitalist democracy.
2. One book that you’ve read more than once – my copy of “Winning!” by Sir Clive Woodward is fairly well worn, but I’d have to put Tony Adams’ “Addicted” in front of it as the best single sports book of the last twenty years and one I’ve re-read eight to ten times.
3. One book that you’d want on a desert islandJack and Bobby by Leo McKinstry. Everything that Crick’s Ferguson biography isn’t.
4. One book that made you laugh – Nobby Stiles, After the Ball. The scene in question is one where Stiles is taking his coaching badges, and the supervising trainer attempts to teach him how to tackle – this is some time after the ’66 World Cup, and Stiles’ colleagues on the course mutiny at his shoddy treatment.
5. One book that made you cry – Bob Wilson, My Autobiography. Et in arcadia, ego, for real this time. His account of his daughter’s cruel, early death is one of the most painful things I’ve ever read about one individual.
6. One book that you wish you had writtenEngland Managers – And the Men Who Should Have Been; James Hamilton 200? Now you know why I’m bothering you with all that stuff about Herbert Chapman.
7. One book you wish had never been written – Michael Crick’s biography of Sir Alex Ferguson, “The Boss“: it will be the primary text on its subject for many years to come, but Crick has no sympathy or understanding for anyone who isn’t a journalist, and his book is lacking any understanding of his subject.
8. One book that you are reading at the momentBob Paisley, Manager of the Millenium by John Keith. Paisley breaks just about every single one of my rules for great coaches, and I really want to know how he managed it, as it were.
9. One book that you’ve been meaning to read – Bryon Butler’s History of the Football Association (1991). I want to know if he takes the Hunter Davies line on the pre-Great War Association (flannelled fools who didn’t understand salt of the earth types) or if he has any sympathy for their efforts to restrain the financial corruption professionalism brought in its wake.
10. Five others that you’d like to do this – David Beckham, Jaap Stam, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and Jim Leighton.

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The Transfer Window Closes

Posted on 31 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

Thank heavens for West Ham. From absolutely nowhere, this has become the most interesting week in the transfer market since Ardiles and Villa joined Spurs.

I don’t really have to say here that the arrival of Teves and Mascherano at Upton Park comes as a surprise. I was as shocked as anyone else. Pleased for Alan Pardew, who is one of the genuinely good coaches in English football, and who deserves to have that kind of young talent in his squad. And looking forward to watching them play. For all that I want Reo-Coker to join Manchester United this evening, a good part of me wants Nigel to stay where he is, as West Ham are beginning to remind me of many an excellent non-mainstream side from the past – 1979’s Palace, the Greenhoff Stoke, but above all Robson’s Ipswich: if Pardew can keep his current team together, they can do great things. He’s done it cheaply, too…

But there are rumours flying around that Roman Abramovich is involved. I’m not sure that I believe them. For one thing, the company that owns the rights to Tevez and Mascherano has also been involved in takeover talks at West Ham. That could signal the end of West Ham’s time as a popular, intelligent, attractive team forever on the margins. Rather than this transfer being some kind of subterranean corruption seeping eastwards along Bazelgette’s sewer, it could be the start of great things for the club that won England the World Cup.

Yet there are sides to those rumours that are not being talked about and that should be talked about. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that someone in Abramovich’s position could have been involved. What would that mean?

In the first place, it would mean that someone was prepared to spend that much money – more than many times enough to set most of us up for a lifetime – on the game. He would want to win that much, and that’s funny. Enough, that if his own team is already sufficiently overloaded to prevent him buying them still more players, he’s willing to buy them for middle-ranking clubs just to keep them out of the hands of his rivals. Enough to pay to see them put out of harm’s way. (I don’t think West Ham is out of harm’s way. Their current squad is now as good as any of the top four save Chelsea).

And, in the second instance, suddenly the game starts to even out. An Abramovich figure (and I do stress that I don’t think he’s involved) distributes the players he can’t have himself to clubs who could do with the talent. The top-heavy finances of the Premiership start to do the unexpected thing – even out the talent differentials between all of the clubs save the top one. It begins to resemble, as though in a broken mirror, that laudable American Football set-up where the best new players each year go to the previous year’s worst franchise, keeping the competition open and interesting.

Otherwise, it’s been a strange, undistinguished-strange, transfer window. What were Newcastle doing, trying to offload James Milner, after his Bellamyesque start to the season? (On-the-pitch Bellamy, of course). Arsenal seem to have won last year’s principal target, Julio Baptista, for the price of the principal target of the season before, Reyes. A good deal for both parties, for all the confusing time travel element.

All kinds of rumours are circulating about Manchester United, all mad and all Decline of Rome. Solskjaer to Sunderland (now scuppered) – and, both real and worse, Rossi to Newcastle on loan, quite the stupidest move of the night. Of course, moves for Senna, Hargreaves, the aforesaid Mascherano and Tevez, Berbatov and a host of others have come to nothing. What price the same happening to Reo-Coker?

For whatever reason, it’s perfectly clear that top players do not see Manchester United as the place to go at the moment. There’s no blood in the water at Old Trafford, but it’s obviously leaking out somewhere. My own suspicion – sorry, George, and it’s not a lack of faith – is that this is Ferguson’s last season. I also see this as Mourinho’s last season – at Stamford Bridge. The two facts are connected. Mourinho has always sought personal growth and new challenges, and I don’t think he’s enjoying Chelsea for all his success there. He’ll have a year in harness with Shevchenko, which he’s wanted for a long time, and then move on.

It’s the only thing tonight that you’ll read here first.

The quietest, most important news of the day is Sir Clive Woodward’s resignation from Southampton. I can’t help connecting this with the fallout from England’s World Cup, and the country’s subsequent, increasingly obvious flight from intelligence where its football is concerned. Adrian Boothroyd has had the sense to bring Clive in on a consulting basis. Will anyone else?

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We’d heard the match reports.. we’d heard from the manager.. now it was their turn….

Posted on 30 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

A little 6-0-6 of our own on the Victoria-Sutton train after Chelsea’s home game.

My wife and I were sitting a few seats away from a group of Chelsea fans, four men in late middle age. Blue shirts, blue scarves. (Why would anyone – even a fan – consider a replica shirt fit clothing for a grown adult? But I digress).

They’d been relatively quiet for fans – the odd burst of tuneless singing, the occasional meaningless male-conversation-aside. Then, as we drew towards Sutton:

“Sutton. (“Su-un”).”

“Slutton. (“Slu-u”) I call it Slutton.” (Then one of those laughs at his own joke, a drawn-out, intrusive affair halfway between a quack and a wheezing, creaking set of bedsprings. It goes on for a while, then stops as deliberately as it was begun).

(No response from his colleagues in speech or returned laughter).

“Slutton. I said I called it Slutton.” (More of his own laughter, louder this time. No one joins in.)

“Slutton. You know, Slut. Slutton.” (Again, laughs at his own joke, curtailed abruptly when, the train drawing in, a little girl, aged between 8 and 10 and sitting opposite the fans, asks her mother)

“Mummy, what’s Slutton?”

(One of the fans, not the “Slutton” man but another, stands up and over the little girl and begins chanting, at shouting volume)

“Oo-are-yer! Oo-are-yer! Oo-are-yer! Oo-are-yer!” (The girl twists her head away from him, as if being squirted with hot liquid. The train stops, and the doors open).
(Her mother, eyes to the ground, hustles her off the train. The fans follow, more slowly, in jostling formation, making slow progress in a crooked line in the vague direction of the exits.)

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England v Andorra

Posted on 30 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

Steve McClaren’s first competitive match against one of the three real remaining “minnows” in European football (the others being the Faroe Islands and Liechenstein) will be revealing in terms of how far he’s prepared to depart from his predecessor. Expectations and necessity are high and serious respectively: McClaren has to bring about a thrashing of the visitors to keep the wolf from the door.

(What a terrible paragraph. You can tell I’m not really interested, can’t you?)

Let’s begin, as usual, with the press. They are making much of McClaren’s “recall” of “strikers” “dismissed” by Erickson in the shapes of Defoe, Bent and Johnson. Another, Ashton, would have been there but for his heartbreaking injury. McClaren has played the Walcott card to the press once more, declaring him unready for international football. Crouch has begun to feel some reflected malice from the concentrated kind being directed at Erickson, who made the front page of the Sun today by dint of his contract with the FA.

I’ve seen both of Walcott’s cameos with Arsenal this new season, and quite honestly I’d have him before Bent, if not necessarily Johnson. Jermaine Defoe is having a hard time finding regular football, has been for some time, and that perhaps reflects in his patchy England record so far. The failure of one of the big four clubs to acquire Johnson in the close season mystifies me: he’s possessed of tremendous pace, skill and confidence in front of goal, and resembles a thicker-set, skinheaded Owen. A year at Everton – with due respect to David Moyes – isn’t quite what he needs at this point. Walcott has had – thirty minutes? in which he’s come up with the assist of the season so far, shown the ability to scare defences and present a threat to goal. Perhaps the under-21s are the right place for him at present, but only just, and his performances warrant something kinder from McClaren.

Who could do more to protect Crouch from the reflected inglory of the man who correctly elevated him to international status. Crouch is now scoring regularly for Liverpool and England both, unlike any of the more fabled names around him, and no longer looks out of place. Except, of course, to the kind of person who still finds his height as funny as they did the first time..

Under Erickson, this kind of game had a habit of being quite tight – the players would do enough to win, but no more, given the amount of football they’d be playing over the course of a season. That intelligent pacing didn’t help England in the end, as injuries to Owen, Rooney and Neville demonstrated. I’m expecting a change here – McClaren has a number of players in his squad who are out to prove themselves. What we are likely to see is a version of an idea I talked about a few months ago – a lesser, more direct and hungrier England team to take on the minnows, and, hopefully, take them apart. It’s a version that has Gerrard and Lampard in it, both out to prove that their inability to play together wasn’t a result of their own poor communications and lack of nous, but somebody else’s fault altogether.

If Crouch plays, 2-0, with Peter scoring both and taking his tally to ten in nine internationals. If he plays with Johnson, AJ to add a brace of his own: 4-0. If he plays with Bent… and I’m suddenly oppressed with a great sense of has it really come to this..

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Great Managers of Different Eras

Posted on 29 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

It was kind of Radio 4 and the “PM” programme to ask me about Roy Keane and Sunderland, and quite typical of life at the moment that I came across their email a couple of hours after the programme had gone out on air. But they got me thinking again, and there are some things to add to my previous post.

Regular readers will know my formula for great managers. The really good ones are good right away – they begin at a minor club and take it by the scruff of the neck, showing improved results immediately. They’ll learn from experience, but managers don’t begin poorly and later learn their way to the top. Great managers don’t join top clubs, at least not in Britain – they’ll choose a bombed-out Manchester United, a wet-behind-the-ears Huddersfield Town, a forgotten Hartlepools, a stranded second-division Liverpool, a Wycombe Wanderers. Successful at one club, should they move to a bigger club, it will take about five years (Chapman, Ferguson) to turn things around. (Five minutes if they are Jock Stein). They’ll have a good eye for lieutenants – they’ll be as good at picking their back room team as they are their team on the pitch.

And so on.

But there’s more. And things seem to have changed. Last year, Jose Mourinho was asked what the secret of footballing success was: he answered with one word – players. You can be the best manager in the world, but you must have good players. He’s bought as many of the current greats as possible, and has taken quite a few players with him from his first real club Uniao de Leiria all the way to Chelsea via Benfica and Porto.

Before the introduction of the maximum wage at the turn of the twentieth century, something close to a free market in players existed, at least from the point of view of the clubs. Taking into account the obstructive retain-and-transfer system, the wealthiest clubs were still able to outbid the others in the competition for top players, and those top players achieved wages that reflected their status. In the first thirteen years of the Football League, three rich clubs won ten of the titles. Without the introduction of the maximum wage, it’s quite likely that footballers would have been relatively highly paid as entertainers and sportsmen by 1926, when Dixie Dean (scorer of 60 goals in a league season for Everton) appalled Babe Ruth (scorer of 60 home runs in Dean’s great year) with tales of his tiny wage packet.

The maximum wage took away any chance that financially powerful clubs would come to dominate the game’s honours. Between 1901 and the launch of the Premiership in 1992, it wasn’t strictly possible for a club to get ALL of the players it might have wanted, to build what became known as a galactico side. The last great Liverpool side was the closest to such a team, but they were still largely a team of local boys, lower league finds augmented with two or three existing stars.

It’s not altogether clear whether a true championship team can be bought, without a local core or a youth policy, but what Chelsea have demonstrated is that the players are becoming more important to success in relation to the manager than they were. Chelsea came second in the Premiership under Ranieri, and reached the Champions League semi-final under him – yet he’s a forgotten man in English management now. Neither Benitez’s mix of local talent and Spanish internationals, nor Wenger’s “Europeanised” youth policy, nor Ferguson’s largely home-made team have got close in the last two years, for all that all three are excellent sides in the context of recent Premiership history.

It may be – this is open to debate, but it may be – a reversion to the Victorian scenario: the players your team can afford to buy and to hold are now more important, and the coach’s ability to coax performances less important, than they were. And with that changes the skill balance of the modern coach. We’re leaving the age of Clough, the manager who could make ordinary players reach their absolute potential, and entering the Peter Taylor (Derby, Forest – not the Leicester, Hull, Engand one) era, the manager who has an eye for a player and how he can be jigsawed into a team. The Cloughs of the world are still around – there’s one managing Watford right now – but it’s the spiritual successors of his deputy Taylor who are tucking the trophies under their arm at the end of the season.

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Van Nistelrooy and Keane

Posted on 25 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

What on earth’s happened to Ruud van Nistelrooy? And can Keane make it as a manager? Can these two be discussed without a charge through the tall grass of cliche? (No, to the last at least).

These are days when a move to Real Madrid can tell a tale of retreat and defeat. Ruud’s there now, doing well, scoring goals and challenging Ronaldo for a starting spot. Keane might have been there with him, had things gone a little differently amid the Christmas chaos at Manchester United. The two men are close, and one suspects that Ruud saw Keane’s ejection in the same light as Beckham’s, as a kind of little suicide.

It’s easy to forget just how little Ruud won at Manchester United. One Premiership title, one FA Cup, one Community Shield. When he joined, United were a side who won the league most years, had had two doubles and a treble (despite the end of the drinking culture of the Atkinson years) and were strengthening further. What followed must have been a very substantial disappointment.

Ruud, like Keane, is not a celebrity footballer. I’d say he’s not a “bling” player, but I refuse to use the word “bling” on this site. His attitude to training is Beckham’s: his attitude to lifestyle Paul Scholes’s. Scoring goals and achieving success is his sole purpose beyond his family, and it’s something he has pursued singlemindedly. He has succeeded completely, insofar as he has done all that could be expected of him in his position on the field, scoring goals regularly whatever else might have been going on behind him. He knows his goals can do a great deal to bring trophies back to his club, and therefore wants matters to be arranged so that he can score as often as possible. His career at Manchester United has been a story of the opposite happening. The great midfield that provided him with so many scoring opportunities in his first two seasons crumbled or was pointlessly dismantled. We know that Beckham’s departure was a particularly sore point with him.

Ruud has already suffered one career-threatening injury, and ever since has been a man in a hurry, eager to collect medals and honors before some other misfortune can overtake him and take his chance away. How he’d have loved being five years older, and arriving at Manchester United in 1995 or 1996. Imagine all of those 1990s Champions League semi finals and quarter finals, with Ruud there instead of Andy Cole… Cole was – is – a fine player, but no Ruud. And Cole played with men at their peak, a peak of determination as well as energy and skill. Ruud, by contrast, saw Manchester United turn from a hungry young club into the footballing equivalent of a steam preservation railway.

Imagine starting out with Beckham, Keane, and Scholes behind you, and ending up with Ronaldo, John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher. Imagine knowing just how good you are, and how, if the team can only play to your strengths, the Arsenals, Chelseas, Barcelonas and Madrids can be beaten. Imagine knowing that that just isn’t happening, and time is running short on you. Perhaps you too would become impatient with your wealthy young colleagues who simply aren’t up to your ambitions.

I suspect Ruud’s departure from the international scene has a different backdrop to it. He’s still the best Dutch striker – having seen off Patrick Kluivert through singlemindedness. Ruud, like Keane, won’t respond to a bad coach. Van Basten might not be a bad coach, but the straightforward facts of the matter are that he has little right to be in his job. After retiring early through injury, Van Basten showed no further interest in coaching or in the game, and one suspects that his surprise appointment as national coach was made in the same spirit as Keegan’s for England. When Van Basten got the Dutch job, Germany had just appointed Jurgen Klinsmann, and the feeling was that this was the former great powers of European football appointing their old heroes in the hope that they could inspire their sides. But Klinsmann was no celebrity appointment: he’d spent his retirement qualifying as a coach, researching the problems of leadership, teambuilding, dealing with stars, tactics.. and he brought with him such a raft of new ideas that it took his young side a long time to acclimatise to his demands. When they did, that talentless team overperformed to an absolutely astonishing degree, and although they fell short of the World Cup itself, they fulfilled every last drop of their own potential. That can’t be said for the Dutch. And I expect Ruud made his feelings clear.

Unless he can win with Madrid, where, of course, he’s reunited with Beckham, then Ruud will end his career having been a constant victim of bad timing. Like George Best, he’ll have spent his peak years in teams unworthy of his talent and unable to use it, and his trophy cabinet will be unfairly sparse. Such an intelligent, determined and unmoneyminded man may then find himself, like that other frustrated centre forward, Alex Ferguson, in a management role. Where his friend Roy Keane looks to have gone before him.

If the rumours are true, and Keane really is going to become Sunderland manager, the obvious question is, will he succeed?

I think the answer has to be “no”. All of the precedents point towards failure.

Successful managers all start at small clubs. I can think of only one exception in the post-War era – Matt Busby, at Manchester United, although United were a bombed-out ruin when he arrived there in 1945. Sunderland are not small enough. Successful managers start at small clubs who are then taken by the scruff of the neck by their hugely ambitious new staff member. Sunderland’s view of themselves as deserving to be in the Premiership because of their history and status is dangerous for a new coach. They need someone mediocre to hold the line for a year or two, before bringing in the firebrand and going for promotion. They need a Trevor Francis figure, but they’ve gone directly for a Steve Bruce. It’s the wrong time.

Successful managers always organise things so that they have their own way, so that they can act essentially as autocrats. That’s why they usually revive unfashionable, ailing clubs. I note that Martin O’Neill turned down Sunderland in favour of a far more desperate club, Aston Villa. Villa will do almost anything he asks – they’ll get out of his way. Sunderland aren’t quite humble enough yet – Niall Quinn has his own ideas, albeit boardroom ones.

It’s the wrong club, at the wrong time, in the wrong situation. Keane needs a Burton Albion, not a club that calls their ground “The Stadium of Light”. But is he the wrong man?

That’s far more interesting, and very hard to predict.

Keane has strong views on management – his autobiography is full of reflections about the various coaches he’s worked with, and about the things that worked, the things that didn’t. He keeps coming back to one factor that he has recognised that is there in the make up of all great managers – strong attention to detail. That Keane is even aware of that puts him in good stead – many managers are essentially lazy in this respect (the core of his surgical rant against Mick McCarthy). And he’s not going to be one of those managers who, like Keegan, try to be friends with their players. Again, he sees the distance betweeen manager and players as essential, and has noticed that in the specific context of management.

There’s been a lot of talk over the last couple of days about Keane’s insatiable will to win, and how that might “inspire” his players were he to become a manager. That’s psychobabble, coming from the very typewriters that are so eager to pin the title onto others, others who’ve done more thinking on the issue than the typewriters could possibly imagine. In the classic, clanging phrase, managers have to know when to put an arm around a player, and when to kick him up the backside. In practice, they have to be able to recognise how individuals different from themselves and with different priorities from each other tick, and must know how to behave effectively in accordance with that. That combination of talents – instinctive psychologist, consummate actor and purveyor of pretend consistency – is rare in any walk of life.

If Keane has it, there’s been relatively little sign of it so far. The people who walk in and out of his autobiography are analysed purely on Keane’s terms and according to his values. That may simply be a matter of context. A playing career doesn’t generally use many of the talents called for in managers, and they may simply be lying dormant. Where they aren’t dormant, because they simply aren’t there, the results can be good for a while. Graham Souness ticks every box in the British journalist’s book of good managers: he’s passionate, unimpressed by reputations, he has an astonishing will to win, he’s active on the touchline, he hates what I’d call “bling” footballers were I to use the word, and he has the medals necessary to gain his players’ respect.

My gut instinct about Keane, my hunch, is that he is more Ferguson than Souness. It’s a hunch laden with misgivings – because I think taking on Sunderland would be the first major misjudgement of a new managerial career. If he does bring it off, I’ll be delighted to have been wrong. But even with Brian Kidd at his side, there’s nothing to suggest that he will. He’ll do well in future, even if he turns out not to be the next Stein. Just not this time.

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Herbert Chapman at Huddersfield Town

Posted on 25 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

Although Herbert Chapman is still the only manager to have won a hat trick of titles at two different clubs, along with FA Cups, he was not a man who stayed anywhere very long. No Busby, Shankly, Stein or Ferguson he; his stint at Town lasted barely six years, and at the time of his death, he’d been at Arsenal for eight. (Arsenal’s last title of their three came after Chapman had passed on). Good managers are good managers straight away: they tend not to improve on the job to any great degree. None of my list of the top managers in football history begins his career with disorientation and disaster. In every case, their arrival at their first significant club is marked by that club’s immediate and sharp improvement. It’s something the clubs never forget. Here are two Huddersfield Town chants. The first is from the Chapman era:

There’s a team that is dear to its followers,
Their colours are bright blue and white,
They’re a team of renown, they’re the pride of the town,
And the game of Football is their delight.
All the while upon the field of play,
Thousands gladly cheer them on their way,
Often you can hear them say,
Who can beat the town today?

Then the bells shall ring so merrily,
Every goal shall be a memory,
So town play up and bring the cup,
Back to Huddersfield.


And this is from today:

Those were the days my friend,
We thought they’d never end,
We won the league three times in a row,
We won the FA Cup,
And now we’re going up,
We are the Town,
Oh yes we are the Town.

(WordPress formatting playing up..)

There’s something very strange about the Huddersfield treble: no one seems to care about it anymore. It’s Chapman-and-Arsenal, if it’s anything, and Huddersfield are seen as the men in long shorts and ’20s film stock fog on whom the genius cut his managerial teeth. No one you know can name one player from the Huddersfield side, but all of you can come up with at least two who collected medals at pre-War Arsenal. (And those two will be Cliff “Boy” Bastin and Alex James).

Courtesy of British Pathe, whose site is excellent (you can preview in full every single one of their newsreels from the ’20s onwards) and incredibly frustrating (they make it as hard as possible for you to do so) we can watch this forgotten Town team train, play (winning the FA Cup against Preston in 1922 1-0 via the penalty spot; losing 4-0 to Bradford City a few months later) and bring the Cup home. The last of these is in some ways the most interesting. Archaeologists sometimes talk of the longue duree, the tendency of rituals and group behaviours to persist over enormous reaches of time, and here we see football’s longue duree in action, Huddersfield doing the equivalent of erecting Stonehenge by riding past the elegant public buildings of their prosperous mill town on an open top motorbus, dangling the Cup from the front. A charabanc follows close behind, quite obviously converted from a Great War army truck, and a brass band provides music.

It’s all a little bit better than nothing. As the team congregate on the steps of the Town Hall, there’s a man among them who looks a little like Chapman – prematurely aged into the thickset, bald, broadly confident man of his Arsenal team pictures. But he’s far from the centre of attention: the FA Cup is Huddersfield’s first trophy, and he’s not yet the Napoleon he was about to become.

We lack any film of Chapman himself that’s of any real use in getting closer to what he was, what he was like and what drove him. There’s a film of Arsenal preparing for an FA Cup Final in which he stars – from Pathe again, only this time with sound (the lost hum of industrial London can be detected in the background, quite different from the city soundscape of today). Chapman steps forward to introduce his team – the team he’s built to be the Newcastle United of the south! The team who gave England seven team members against Italy! and you wait for him to reveal everything in inflection, nuance and posture as he makes his way down the line of stars (and a motley crew they look too, coming from the time before fashion met sport). I have to admit that the first time I watched this clip, I held my breath at this point. Chapman, talking to me from the grave over a gap of seventy-two years.

Chapman steps forward, puts a hand to his throat, apologises for being husky today, hands the introductions over to his coach, and takes himself back out of sight.

It’s football’s equivalent of the “Wow!” signal.

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An Apology or Two

Posted on 22 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

August is allegedly a dead month for hypnotherapists. Not for this one, and I haven’t had five minutes since – I can’t remember when – and tomorrow morning to Cambridge, so no time then.

The new look, if it deserves the title, is in response to readers’ emails: apparently the old theme was cutting sentences short. I’ll find a prettier one in due course.

Match of the Day is back, but without any of Dan Cruickshanck, Ptolemy Dean, Jim White, Henry Winter, Simon Barnes or Derek Acorah on the panel. The loss is ours. Theo Walcott’s wonderful “cameo” as we seem to be calling these things now, gave me one more sense of what might have been… a different kind of unplayable cross from Beckham’s, and not a type I’ve seen in the Premiership before.

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Herbert Chapman and Leeds City

Posted on 20 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

Corinthian attitudes and coaching greatness don’t run together: all of the great managers seem to have an exhaust trail of money, questionable money. For Revie it was undenied allegations of bribery in the early 1960s, then the undercover contract from the Arabian peninsular that took him from the England job. For Venables, it was his own extra-curricular business dealings, then his command of incredible contracts at insecure clubs on the way down, to whom he’d be the angel of death. For Clough, it was bungs, left uninvestigated owing to his ill health, but before that it was a pay-off from Leeds. For George Graham, it was Rune Haage; for Alex Ferguson, it was his own son. British football has a long, long record of failing to reward the talents of the men who made it what it was, diverting the takings by means legal but unlovely into the pockets of the board. Even now, when players are finally being compensated (some would say, wildly over-compensated) managers aren’t seen as quite so deserving, as the ugly reaction to Sven Goran Erickson’s last FA deal showed. Money, or the lack of it, or the quiet mis-use of it, has always been a footballing theme, and it was to shape the career of Herbert Chapman in fundamental ways. He’s in my financial list too; for Herbert Chapman, it was Leeds City.

That’s not a typo; Leeds City were a small football league club of the Edwardian era that struggled to compete for its audience with successful local rugby league clubs. (Chapman, who managed Leeds City, was prone to finding himself in rugby towns. His first managerial post was with Northampton Town, and he’d have his first substantial success at Huddersfield. Arsenal, and London, were a slightly different matter, as capital cities usually are). In the late Victorian and Edwardian period, every football club was new in terms of how we’d understand the term, and ideas of history and tradition hadn’t taken hold. What you did, as a new club competing for to win crowds was to make it into the Football League, by means fair or foul, and what you did to achieve that was build your stadium. You made a high-risk investment in your superstructure. If it came off, then you would do extremely well financially, eventually. If it didn’t, you’d go straight to the wall.

Leeds City were as involved as anyone. In 1900, the most powerful club in the area were Hunslet – you haven’t heard of them because they were unable to keep hold of a venue. The failure of Hunslet, and, a couple of years later, Holbeck Rugby Club, left the field open for a new football club and a ground – Elland Road – on which to base it. There was still much debate as to whether Leeds and the area could sustain enough interest to make a club viable, but in the first season of soccer, local rugby attendances halved. Leeds City floated as a limited company, and built the Scratching Stand at Elland Road, which would survive into the Revie era.

They, like Chelsea at the exact same time, were determined to make it into the League at the earliest possible moment. The Stamford Bridge outfit literally boozed their way in through the door, and began life as a League Club, something unimaginable now. Leeds City had to wait a few months more, and started off in the West Yorkshire League, which they treated with complete contempt, saving all their love for a series of exhibition matches against top Football League sides. They were elected into an expanded Football League Division Two within a year, alongside fellow wannabes Chelsea, Hull City, Stockport County, and a London club, Clapton Orient. Suddenly those names look a little less quaint and traditional, and more signals of aggressive, shouldering intent, the baptismal names of the bully clubs who pushed themselves to the front forever as the game took shape in the early years of the twentieth century.

You built your stadium, took the fans from other local clubs, made it into the League, then breathed a huge sigh of relief before addressing the arrival of the huge bill all this activity had generated. Paying for all of this was going to require strong measures – strong measures that would utterly change the way football developed in Britain. It was to pay the wages of the likes of Archibald Leitch, architect of Villa Park, Ibrox, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, the Cottage at Fulham, and Huddersfield’s Leeds Road ground (of which much, much more anon) that the Football League introduced a maximum wage in 1901.

Until the introduction of the maximum wage, which was very much the act of smaller, newer clubs, professional players received what amounted to the market rate for their services. Sometimes the means of delivery of that market rate were obscure – top clubs were adept at finding lucrative local jobs for their players, or else simply pushed cash at them under the counter. Plus ca change. In its early days, the Football League clubs sucked in the best players in Britain, and the top clubs did so more than the others. In the first thirteen years of the League, only three clubs shared out ten of the titles. The Premiership has relearned that lesson: money buys the best managers, and the best players, and thus the trophies.

It wasn’t just the cap on wages. A player could only achieve a transfer to another club with the permission of his existing side. As the Kingaby case of 1901 was to demonstrate, this wasn’t always forthcoming. (Kingaby was an Aston Villa player seeking a transfer. Villa refused, and he sued them on the grounds of restraint of trade. He mishandled his case, alleging malice on the part of Villa, and lost.) Until 1910, it was possible for a player whose League career was in limbo, with a club refusing to release his registration, to take refuge in the Southern League, or, earlier, in Scotland, but these escape routes were closed one by one. It’s an interesting example of workers’ rights actually eroding as the twentieth century got into its stride. The golden age of football, from the players’ point of view, began with the legalisation of professionalism in 1885 and lasted only sixteen years.

For the likes of a Chapman, who was interested in bringing success to a club in terms of trophies and not just in terms of audience revenue, the structure of the Edwardian and post Great War game posed severe problems. Some kind of corruption, however defined, had been made inevitable. But that same structure sheds light on the kind of person Chapman was in early life. His professional career, as we’ve seen, was astonishingly peripatetic for his time. His arrival as a professional at Northampton Town coincided with the arrival of the minimum wage in 1901. In the next four years, he played for Sheffield United, Notts County, and then Spurs (of the Southern League, which may or may not have been significant). For three Football League clubs to agree to his departure in three or four years shows the manager as player – like Clough, like Ferguson, like O’Neill, a difficult underling, a restless employee, a pain in the neck – who, given the chance to lead, fits the hole they’re in for the first time.

Chapman became what was then often known as secretary-manager of Leeds City in 1912. It was his second such job, and he was coming in on the back of a reasonably successful spell at Northampton Town. Secretary-managers were expected to act as go-betweens, as a diplomatic link between the board of a club and the players. They were usually expected to take care of a substantial amount of the buying and selling of players: Chapman’s predecessor at Leeds City, Frank Scott-Walford, had coped with Leeds’ precarious finances by relying on players from his previous club, Brighton. Tactical nous was not expected – players were meant to be the experts at actually playing, after all – but a secretary-manager was to foster good team relations and team spirit.

Although Chapman picked a good time to turn up at Leeds – the financial instability of the Scott-Walford period had seen the club (still only six years old, remember) almost go out of business, but investment from the board had been forthcoming. Nevertheless, Chapman’s Leeds City went straight into a financial scandal. Chapman had signed three new players – Billy Scott, George Law and Evelyn Lintott. It was agreed by Leeds that they’d be paid the full maximum wage, £208 for the year. The problem was that two months had already elapsed since the end of their previous playing contracts, meaning, in effect, that they were being paid more than the maximum wage for that year. Aston Villa had done the same, and been punished, and Leeds, on realising the situation they were in, reported themselves to the League. That was honesty, and the punishment was mild, but the situation was absurd for an ambitious manager. The rules were being silently broken in every direction; clean hands meant empty hands.

We like to think that we live in an era of ever-accelerating change, but I doubt Chapman would agree. When he was born, photography had been around for about thirty years, and it was still a complex, elite affair. He was a player by the time the automobile was invented – and about to turn professional when Marylebone Station was opened in London. If he travelled by road as a young man, it was on macadamed roads – tarred surfaces arrived shortly before he took over at Northampton Town – and, in cities, hotels pressed to have the roads outside paved with wood or rubber to muffle the sounds of hooves and win a quiet night’s sleep for their guests. When Chelsea joined the League in 1905, basement slaughterhouses still persisted in the vicinity. The whole vast Victorian infrastructure that crumbled from under us in the 1970s was brand spanking new, and so was the telephone, the typewriter, the mass-market newspaper. By the time Chapman arrived at Arsenal, the Kingston bypass was open, and radio commentary of games routine. The miniskirt had come and gone for the first time; “dogfights” no longer actually involved dogs.

More time has elapsed between now and Charlie George’s FA Cup Final winner for Arsenal than divided Arsenal’s election to the Football League and their winning their first title under Chapman. Highbury wasn’t the venerable, elegant old stadium subject to tears and nostalgia: it was as new as the Flying Scotsman (no, newer) and almost as glamorous. Almost as glamorous: by then, the early fears of the FA about professionalism had all proven prescient, and the game had become financially-driven, commercialised, working class, a focus for mob behaviour and as gimcrack as the kind of glittering gin palaces for whose sake square-spectacled architects now lie down in the road.

To put it another way, over the course of Chapman’s career, English poetry went from Tennyson to Ezra Pound, from the warmly populist and musical to the deliberately elitist. Football, despite the FA’s best efforts, took precisely the opposite course. And that’s unusual and interesting. The jazz that had already peaked by the time Chapman arrived at Arsenal went, as Larkin said, from Lascaux to Pollock in fifty years. It did that without ever escaping its lower class origins. Football, trapped in its milieux by the maximum wage, made no equivalent move – in fact skill, subtlety and panache became objects of suspicion. In football, Tennyson to Pound, Lascaux to Pollock, happened overseas, in Uruguay, Brazil, and Italy. Thank goodness English football had Lowry, at least (and it really did: he painted at least one matchday scene).

Leeds City’s real moment of truth came in the aftermath of the Great War. Chapman was still involved in war work at the time, at the Barnbow Munitions Factory, and is likely not to have been directly involved. In Chapman’s absence, the club took to infighting, especially between his stand-in successor and former assistant George Cripps, and the new chairman of the board, Joseph Connor. The financial situation of the club declined, and in 1917 only the intervention of the Football League encouraged the board to continue rather than winding the club up. In the meantime, Leeds were making illegal payments to guest players (normal League life had been suspended in 1915, and the game had been on a war footing ever since).

Chapman’s return in 1918 seemed to have calmed matters down somewhat, but the renewal of the contract of a disaffected player (Cripps had not been popular and hadn’t taken Chapman’s return well) Charles Copeland brought down the roof. Copeland had been demanding the doubling of his pre-War wages, and attempted to blackmail the board by threatening to blow the whistle on the club’s illegal payments. The board called Copeland’s bluff, giving him a free transfer to Coventry (of all places). Unfortunately, Copeland had made sure to come away with documentary evidence of his allegations, and took Leeds City to the authorities. A joint FA-Football League enquiry resulted in the closure of the club. City probably mishandled the enquiry, but nevertheless the decision was still a shockingly harsh one – the charges against them hadn’t, in the end been entirely substantiated, and (as in the Manchester City scandal of 1905) the sense of “but for the grace of God” was palpable at other clubs.

With five others, Chapman was banned from football management. He was out of the game for two years, until Huddersfield Town persuaded the Football League to allow his appointment with them. Chapman appears to have taken his ban on the chin, which would have been out of character for such a force of nature and not what would have been expected. However, he’d already resigned from Leeds by the time of the enquiry, and was working in a management capacity at the Olympia oil and cake mills in Selby of Joseph Watson & Son. Presumably, having a future already mapped out outside football (as a player, he’d always kept a career outside the game going) suspension had less of a sting. And so, it took the closure of the mills, and Huddersfield’s intervention, to prevent the loss to football of the man who would prove the greatest visionary and manager of the first half of the twentieth century. He joined Huddersfield in 1921, and had 12 years left to live.

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2006-7 Season Preview

Posted on 16 August 2006 by JamesHamilton

This preview, like all the other previews you are reading, has nothing to say about the League Cup.

Or the FA Cup for that matter.. oh, alright then. It’s over a century since we last had a winner from outside the Football League or Premiership. Non-league football is undergoing something of a renaissance at present. A knockout tournament between Division Two of the Football League, as I think it’s now called? (counts: yes, Division Two) and the Nationwide Conference top division would provide a host of thought-provoking results. When non-league teams play Premiership opposition, it’s difficult to guess the lesser team’s status simply from the ground or from the play. Only by reading the badge could you have been quite sure that they were Manchester United. So, were a non-league side to make it to Cardiff, it would be no more of a shock than when Spurs needed a replay to defeat Sheffield United in 1901.

I’m simply unable to decide between Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal for the title. What’s certain is that it’s going to be a great deal more fun than last year. Arsenal’s young team, fresh from a Champions League Final, will be augmented by the pace and endeavour of Tomas Rosicky, who will more than make up for the loss of Reyes, if not Ashley Cole. They will be better this season, and will be focussing on league success. Liverpool are going to swashbuckle in a major way, but the Pennant/Gerrard/Bellamy/Alonso show will go on in front of a steely rear midfield and defence. Fowler/Crouch must vie for the most crowd-friendly front two since McAvennie/Cottee.

Chelsea’s hat trick of titles, if they manage it, will be the greatest of the five (Huddersfield, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United) simply because of the strength of the opposition. They’ll have beaten the Invincibles, the European Champions, the European Finalists and even Manchester United. But I don’t think it’s what Ballack and Shevchenko are there for. They’re there to take advantage of the weakest field in recent European Cup history to win the trophy for Chelsea before Mourinho goes off for pastures new (I suspect, pastures north, if Manchester United fail to win back the title this year). Their hopes rest on the underperformance of their ambitious rivals, and the flywheel effect from their previous titles.

Only Sheffield United of the new kids on the block have anything to fear from relegation this season. Reading are the epitome of the new kind of top-flight club, a kind of ‘Boro for the west of London. The contrast between their situation and that of Sunderland or Birmingham last year could not be sharper. They will finish their first season slightly short of mid-table, and can aspire to a low top ten finish in two seasons’ time.

Watford are managed by Adrian Boothroyd. That, for me, is the single most interesting situation in the Premiership this year. He was appointed – in highly inauspicious circumstances – to keep Watford up, that is, to keep them in the Coca Cola Championship. Promotion, in those circumstances, is ridiculous, ludicrous. It’s practically satire. It’s like Alcock and Brown exceeding expectation from the rim of Tranquillity Base. What is it about Watford and brilliant young managers? And why isn’t that true of Sheffield Wednesday, or Aston Villa? What is it about Watford and the Premiership, the way they roll up at it every so often like a pinprick band of yellow-suited Milky Bar kids? That there’s that much goodwill, brio, humour and optimism in Watford as you always find on a visit to Vicarage Road surprises – the town itself looks and sounds worse than the M1 – but there it is. Easy survival, and a team to watch every step of the way.

My relegation candidates are Sheffield United, the only team in history to respond to promotion with a dose of the blues, Manchester City, and Charlton Athletic. United need no explanation. City are a team who seem to require a core meltdown every so often. The club just cokes up like an old petrol lawnmower, and nothing but relegation and horror can shake it loose. It doesn’t seem to matter who’s coach. It’s Stuart Pearce this time, and it really isn’t his fault. Did you hear the engine coughing towards the end of last season? As for Charlton, I don’t think it’s Dowie’s fault either. It’s just very hard to take over in those circumstances. Curbishley was Charlton’s Busby or Chapman. Those commentators who thought Curbs had run out of steam and it was time that Charlton “kicked on” to the “next level” have the wrong idea. Charlton are now a well-supported, prosperous, small club who have just had their miracle years. Far from holding them back, Curbishley was holding them up. Theirs will be a West Ham relegation, unfortunate, with a significant points total that would ordinarily do for safety. And they’ll bounce straight back up. But this won’t be a good year.

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