Archive | February, 2007

Beckham and McClaren

Posted on 22 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

I’m going to have to spend yet more time away from screens – so one more post and then back in a week or so.

I can’t be the only one finding rich veins of comedy in poor Steve McClaren’s plight over Beckham. After all, had his dropping from the England squad really been entirely down to age and form, Lampard would have gone too.

It was all about signalling a new era. And, it turned out, everyone was ready, so they thought, to move on to the Beckhamless sunlit uplands. The Premiership didn’t want him back (I think those commentators who described a return to the Prem as a chance for Beckham to “restore his reputation” are forgetful creatures as well as rapacious ones). Real dropped him, apparently forever.

This isn’t the first defenestration of its kind, not by any manner of means. A run through the England line-ups of Bobby Robson’s first couple of years shows that if Beckham has been hard to replace, Keegan was far harder. Trevor Francis endured a series of part-time strike partners, none of whom (the ageing Paul Mariner aside) ever established themselves in quite the same way.

But at least Bobby Robson had his captain. Today, it looks as if John Terry might miss the rest of the season. Gerrard is ready to step into the breach, of course, but that is supposed to be something of a rarity.

The real problems for McClaren have been of two kinds.

Injuries, first. I’m not of the “no-excuses” school where these are concerned. Of course injuries are an excuse. McClaren can’t get a goalscorer onto the pitch. With Owen injured, it was time for Ashton to bring his genuine international class to the fore. But Ashton broke his leg.. and we are left with an unenviable choice: either field Crouch and Rooney, who’d usually play in the same position, or risk Defoe or Johnson, with whom form, fitness and talent compete for the title of principal weakness. There are similar, but thankfully lesser tales, to be told of midfield and defence.

I think McClaren has had an idea of what he wants to do with the team. He just hasn’t had the players, and he just hasn’t had the support. But as to the latter, his second real problem, who can he blame but himself? Given the inhuman treatment of his predecessors, his appointment of Max Clifford is easy to understand.

But the blarney about an “English game” is not, nor the delusional nature of the claims about “progress”, nor the “beauty of England” line he used to cover over the cool relations between Joey Barton and England’s undroppable central midfield. I grant that the best thing to tell a press conference is nothing at all, but Ericksson could say nothing with a great deal more panache.

The combination of the injuries and the PR has been to take England from looking like England to looking like a school play about England. As people lose any faith in the idea that things are going to get better, they do what the English football fan always does – fantasize about a glorious past. Or, in this case, one that could at least put a free kick to good use. The change in journalistic tone around Beckham in the last weeks has been remarkable.

My best guess is that it’ll come to nothing – that Beckham’s England career really is over. And I’d suggest that once Owen and Ashton are fit, England will find goals flowing once again and a feel-good factor will return. Whether McClaren is around to benefit along with the rest of us depends on whether that other set of rumours – emanating from Soho Square – are true or not.

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Formative Years: 1985

Posted on 21 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

Thanks for all the kind good wishes. I’m on the mend, and hoping to catch up on my email over the next few days. What follows might be somewhat garbled.

This isn’t a footie blog, and it’s not a fan blog. In fact, quite a lot of what I write here reflects a cynicism and suspicion of “fan culture” and its various forms. Take one example: the idea that football can reflect something of “traditional working class values”, whatever those might have been.

I spent the bulk of the first eight years of my life in an area of Bedford called “Black Tom” in a variety of two-up, two-down terraced houses. (So did Reuben Addis! Speakers on..) My first school (Reuben’s alma mater also) was the one my grandmother attended along with all of her sisters, daughters of a gardener who had run away from his apprenticeship to join the Metropolitan Police in the 1880s. He came back a knuckle-duster wearing veteran of the Ripper case and a violent alcoholic. By the time I came along, most of the houses had inside toilets, although we still used coal fires for heating, and some of my earliest memories feature everything sheeted down for the chimneysweep.

I can’t speak for turn-of-the-century working class culture. I can say that in the late ’60s and early ’70s, we wouldn’t have dreamt of leaving doors unlocked, that our neighbours were violent to each other and to their kids, and the area as a whole was an uncared-for mess. At that time, if you can believe it, people were competing fiercely for flats in the new-built high-rises a hundred yards down the road.

But it was a pleasant, lazy place in the summer sunshine, my friends were local, and there was a local butcher and chippy. They are still there – the butcher now owned and run by the friendly redheaded man who must have been in his twenties and training when I used to look up at him, thinking him as old as the hills.

I’m not left with any impression of superior moral culture or additional solidarity or rootedness in real life. I sometimes wonder whether such things aren’t the invention of middle class people with rose-tinted memories. We’re all in the university of life, every last one of us, and in truth, no one can skip class forever. (Not that kind of class.. pay attention).

By 1985, marriage and work had taken that part of my family out to a suburb justly called Brickhill. It wasn’t a great landscaping success, you understand, but from my point of view it benefitted from being on the other side of Bedford Park, a genuine pearl, from Black Tom, so I could continue my football education (and my cycling education, and running, and, briefly, rugby league – courtesy of the son of a Hull KR player)away from traffic.

I was a keen fan of my team then. Until the summer of ’85 came, and a series of events that put all that into sharp perspective. I haven’t really seen football support, or football fans, in the same way since.

I’m going to show you four videos that might explain why. Some of what follows is genuinely disturbing, so please don’t feel obliged if it’s not a good time for you.

The first video is of the Bradford City fire. Bradford were playing Lincoln City on 11 May 1985, and were celebrating promotion to the then Second Division, now the Championship. 11,000 supporters attended, of whom 56 never made it home. There were 265 other injuries, and among bravery awards given to rescuers, 22 were awarded to spectators. That last is important. Because, as you watch the fire develop, it’s important that you listen to the fans – listen, and try if you can to understand. I’ve never been able to. Two years after the disaster, I was shown the Fire Brigade film of the event, something I sincerely wish hadn’t happened, as it’s much worse even than this.

Eighteen days after that – Heysel. After this, I ignored football for quite some time. It wasn’t just me. My stepfather, a Manchester United supporter since the early 1950s, decided that he’d had enough. When my team won their next trophy, some years later, I found out only via a note shoved under my door by someone with a stronger stomach. Again, this isn’t pleasant to watch.


Bradford was an unintended disaster brought about by neglect and misadventure: my reaction is not to the heroism that took place or to the accident itself – you may be different in this, of course, and you don’t have to share my reaction – but to the behaviour that continued around it for such an extraordinary time. Heysel was an unintended disaster brought about by the meeting of the kind of thing you’ll see in the next two videos, and circumstances. It’s been said before, but it still has force: rugby fans – Union or League – do not fight each other. At one time, neither did football fans: unsegregated terracing was only phased out as trust and safety and friendly rivalry gave way in the face of violence.

This was filmed in the mid -80s from a police van in the Old Kent Road:

And this I’ve shown before: MUFC and WHUFC fans, again in 1985:

This kind of thing hasn’t gone away, of course. And it’s a worldwide problem, as recent events in Italy and elsewhere show. But click through the last two videos, and read some of the accompanying comments.

Here’s a closing thought. After the England-Spain match, a commentator on 606 said that only when the England players felt the same way about things as the England fans – only when they displayed the same passion – would England win again. Since then, George Szirtes has drawn attention to Robert Crampton’s “piece criticising the politely effete middle-class crowds at Twickenham, comparing them unfavourably to working class football supporters almost anywhere.” Both the 606 gent and Crampton are right of course. No passion, and the rugby team haven’t won anything since.. but anyway, I know they’d both find this last piece of video stirring and inspiring. I hope you enjoy it too. Twickenham, of course.

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Post Removed

Posted on 20 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

UPDATE: I’ve pulled this post, as I’m sincerely very tired of whole “chippiness” thing. The link to it is as thoroughly unwelcome as the sentiment that gave rise to it in the first place.

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Quote of the Day

Posted on 16 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

From Brian Micklethwait’s Normblog profile:

My favourite London team is Spurs, because I fixated on them in 1961 like a baby goose. But, unlike ‘real’ football supporters (who often strike me as deranged and whom I enjoy teasing) I do not hate the other clubs, and in particular I do not, like a ‘real’ Spurs supporter, hate Arsenal.

Footballers are like mayflies (Harry Rutherford) and we fixate on them like baby geese (Brian Micklethwaite). 2007 is turning into a year of renewal for football similes.

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Young Players, Foreign Players

Posted on 16 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

Terry Venables adds his tuppence-worth to the debate about foreign players in the Premiership:

“The academy system is something that hasn’t really borne fruit in the way we wished it did,” he said last night. “There are a lot of players coming from around the world, which makes it difficult for local boys.

When I was playing it was just Great Britain that clubs picked from. You had to be the best in Great Britain, which wasn’t easy. But today you’ve got to be the best in the world. If you want to be the best that is what you have got to be. Nevertheless it does have some restrictions that make it very difficult for more young players to progress.”

He’s referring to the football academies for young players at the Premiership clubs. These fill with young men from France, Spain, Africa, Italy, Portugal and Holland, leaving little room for our own young men at the country’s best training centres.

In other words, English players are having to rely increasingly on the facilities available at less wealthy, less well-endowed clubs, and aren’t necessarily getting access to the best training minds available. This has a knock-on effect later in the careers of English players and thus on the England team.

When we looked at this last week, we saw that fewer English boys were persisting with football per se, so the pool of available talent was shrinking before it gets to academy age. That, plus the innate advantages of Englishness in terms of language, relative lack of homesickness and culture clashes etc., made English players more expensive than foreign ones on the open market.

We can probably add to that what you might call the Wenger factors: foreign players are, on the whole, far more open to tactical discussion. On average, they possess better technical skills. They are unlikely to buy into any kind of youthful drinking culture. They are more likely to treat football as a serious career. There are English players aplenty in Arsenal Youth and Reserves; the first team sees only Walcott and Hoyte Senior.

By 2008, UEFA wants clubs in European competitions to have eight home-grown players – four developed at the specific club – in the 25-man squad as a condition of entry. When this idea was first mooted, only five of that season’s (2005-6) Champions League clubs would have struggled with the ruling. Which is good, except that four of the five were Arsenal, Chelsea, Celtic and Rangers (the other club was Ajax).

It’s worth noting that although our top clubs have continental players in their academies, the reverse is not true. There is no foreign legion of British players abroad.

The only solution that I can see to this threat to the future of the England team is grass roots – produce more and better players at 12 years of age. Fortunately, Simon Clifford hasn’t waited for the Football Association to deal with the problem:

Clifford’s problems with the perceived wisdom are numerous – out-dated coaching methods, too much focus on competition too young, not enough time spent on skills and many, many more – but can be condensed into one central tenet: our young players are not playing nearly enough of the right type of football.

Clifford is adamant that the best foreign players are “manufactured” and sees no reason why English youngsters cannot match their athleticism and skills, given the right amount of good coaching.

The BBC review the current situation in this article, from which I take the Clifford comments.

My personal take is that if we can get ages 0-12 right – and this goes for the other sports as well – then the rest will pretty much take care of itself. Make our own raw material better in terms of instinctive skill and attitude, things that can be coached and trained, and let the rest of the world try to keep up.

Start early enough, and there are the side benefits to consider too..

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One Year of More Than Mind Games

Posted on 15 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

You can blame it on the Russians and Oliver James.

Sport’s endemic superstition means that most hypnotherapists get to deal with sportspeople regularly. They turn up thinking you can hypnotize them into saving those extra ten shots on the back nine, and – if it’s me they’ve appointed as witchdoctor and guru – go away instead with what made them care so much about those ten shots resolved. Coincidentally, their new, more forgiving approach to their game will save them about ten shots per round. Funny old world, isn’t it?

That kind of thing is just stock in trade. More Than Mind Games came about because I’d been brought in on an TV production about Jose Mourinho. They’d also been talking to Oliver James, something I discovered when, over coffee and in a spirit of mischief, they asked me who I disliked most in my field. By coincidence.. and I so nearly said Andrew Samuels.. it was an enjoyable project, well suited to that long warm summer after a season in which Chelsea so nearly swept all before them. IMG sent people all over Portugal looking for JM’s friends and enemies (finding, and this might surprise some of my readers if comments are anything to go by, that even the enemies thought themselves his friends) and caught up with the man himself at one point, invading an awards ceremony to conduct a lengthy interview.

Some of the questions were mine – the first time I’d been able to test my ideas about football and psychology on someone both deeply involved and intelligent enough to understand the concepts.

It was deeply rewarding, and something I wanted to do again. Partly because of this site, I’ve been able to do so.

The original intention was to do something to raise sport psychology’s profile and intellectual viability, especially in relation to football. That hasn’t gone terribly well.

Quite honestly, having set out to improve other people’s opinion of sport psychology, my main achievement has been to lower my own opinion of it, dramatically. I’ve had to go out and discover what other people are actually doing in this respect, and, in most instances, I’ve been appalled. The reliance on nostrums, the misidentification of problems, the miracle cures and big promises, the sheer lack of intellectual curiousity, took me by surprise. You expect something of that, but so much?

Anyone who thinks, for example, that our national game’s attitude towards penalty shoot-outs isn’t embarrassing and inadequate and stupid just can’t be taken seriously on the subject.

I’ve come to feel that the whole thing needs to be approached from a completely different direction. Football, in particular, has an idea of its past (and thus of “what worked”) that is as accurate and helpful to its cause as is this to the future of the Labour Party:


Two words to that: adulterated flour.

You can take lessons from history, but you have to know what that history is.

In fact, there’s a lively football history industry in our universities, although little of what they do ever gets out into the wider world. James Walvin is the name most people are likely to know. But even there, I feel, nostalgia and class loyalties – loyalty to class myths in particular – obscure and distort on a regular basis. A good working class subject for good working class people..

Other sports are a great deal less problematic. During the 2006 World Cup, many of the most intelligent bloggers spent time reflecting on the game – and, in most cases, put their normal thinking selves aside. I won’t give links, but it proved one thing to me – comments that would in normal life be regarded as thick or bigoted are OK if they are about the footie. People don’t feel obliged to act the “passionate fan” (and it is an act, when put in writing) when talking about golf, tennis, cycling, cricket (cricket has a literature that literature qua literature might well envy). There’s a willingness to consider concepts beyond that “passion and commitment” thing that footballers think they are so caught up in.

It’s a long time since I even attempted to avoid using the site to reflect my own enthusiams and enjoyment – most of which come from a childhood of long afternoons spend in front of this kind of thing:

..with heroes of the calibre of Gary Player:

..and Muhammed Ali:

and I want to put a lot more of that enjoyment into this often dry and sour site over the next year. More of this:

And more of this:

The best More Than Mind Games moments of the year have all come via reader comments here and at other blogs. It’s been a privilege. Thankyou. Allow me to give you all – at last – what you wanted in June. England in the World Cup Final:

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Drinking Cultures and British Footballers

Posted on 15 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

Is there still a drinking culture in British football? I thought that had begun to fade away, driven out by shame and Arsene Wenger and Tony Adams’ courageous refusal to hide.

Nicky Campbell, writing in the Guardian, thinks not. And thinks he knows why. He’s on the right lines:

I was astonished by something Gordon Strachan came out with earlier this season about drinking and team building. After Celtic beat Copenhagen the wee man said: “People talk about how you make team spirit – is it golf days or going out drinking together? That doesn’t count. When you drink, you just tell lies to each other anyway and talk rubbish. Nights like that, when you are in the dressing room together, that is what builds up team spirit.” This was so against the grain of Scottish football lore it left me speechless.


The refusal to show vulnerability or fragility is an access-all-areas pass to the testosterone-powered world of professional football. A quote leapt out of a recent Mike Newell interview and landed slap in my little black book. The Luton manager said: “I do have a sensitive side when I am with my wife and five children but I don’t want people to see that when I’m working.”

That’s all to easy to mock when it isn’t you. In my job, needless to say, I’m not in the least worried by displays of emotion or the admission of feelings. But many, most, of the men I work with are, and although the emotional block is sometimes comic by dint of its universality, people have a right to start from where they are.

Anyway, drinking.

Drinking – why people drink too much, and how they might be helped to stop if they want to – is the holy grail of therapy. Thus far, none of the existing solutions, from any therapeutic or other background, amounts to more than exhortations to the drinker to stop.

There is no agreement on what drinking actually amounts to – is it a disease, called alcoholism? Is it another form of compulsive behaviour (in my view, the most promising avenue)? Is it a moral affair to do with self discipline and regard for others? Is it as superstition and football see it, a matter of “fighting your demons”?

Part of the trouble in “treating” it, whatever it really is, lies in what you might call the insight paradox. Drinking starts off as a means of managing emotions – to see off a blue mood, or to calm nerves, or to get up a bit of dutch courage. If it’s only on the odd occasion, that’s fine. If it’s every single day, then it’s obvious that the individual’s real emotions and feelings are already and to whatever extent unbearable or intolerable.

If you’re a British male, then the likelihood is that you already regard some of your emotional life as suspect and untrustworthy:

We all need someone to talk to on a deeper level. Recently Kay (Peter Kay of the Sporting Chance Clinic) has worked with one leading player who has been the subject of some vile terrace abuse. Peter asked him if it hurt. “Water off a duck’s back” was the initial reply. In time came the truth: “It fucking hurts, desperately.”

So, feelings we can’t manage without the help of a drink, and the reluctance to admit to those feelings anyway.. not the most promising starting point for an attempt to change things for the better, is it?

It gets worse. There are the physical and mental consequences of drinking to pile on top of that. Daily drinking clouds the mind – obviously – and makes you feel physically unwell. With your judgement clouded, and that sour feeling in the stomach, it’s all too easy to see the solution in another bout of drinking. It’ll work, of course, if only for a brief period.

Throw on top of that the guilt, loss of self-trust, shame and other consequences in terms of employment and relationships, all of which follow on from drinking. And remember that we were already having problems tolerating our feelings before all of this started – but now those feelings are much worse, and getting worse all the time.

Did I mention that the chemical effect of constant drinking induces a kind of artificial depression?

I hope that shows just how hard the problem is to crack. Not from the therapist’s point of view, although it is hard. From the individual’s. In this I part company for once from Anthony Daniels’ take on drug use: I don’t regard drinkers as weak or self-indulgent or just doing it for fun. (I do have opinions about the kind of person who would say that, and observe that it’s often the same kind of person who regards himself or herself as the plain-speaking commonsense voice of the silent hardworking majority, the salt of the earth, etc. but who really just can’t accept that it takes all sorts). The feelings that launch a drinking career are the common property of mankind.

Although Premiership clubs are now very strict about diet and fitness, the attitude towards emotions amongst footballers remains. And will remain. This is not about to change, nor am I going to be the one to say that it should. The world’s been hard enough on the traditional male role in the last forty years.

Suffice it to say that the teak-hardness that I see in top sportspeople in general is going to generate fallout in the form of people who will use drinking to avoid dealing with what they are really feeling. Were that reluctance to feel to change, there’d be negative fallout of a different kind – there’s no emotional nirvana out there, no set of “emotionally healthy attitudes” that one should adopt and so make everything come out right.

It’s as much as we can do to make sure that people have somewhere to go, here in our emotionally-private culture, to get the heavy things off their chest.

In The Glory Game, Hunter Davies took the emotional temperature of the Spurs dressing room of the early ’70s and found it dominated by worry and anxiety. For most players, the real fun of the game was over, left behind in their teens, and playing had become a peculiar, pressurized, unstable kind of job. For all of them, well paid as they were even then, the future was deeply uncertain and loomed rather than beckoned.

For all the millions players can earn now, I doubt that’s changed a great deal. Any millionaire will tell you that the power of money to take away worry is greatly exaggerated. And people habituate quickly to whatever income they have.

For the “right” person – perhaps someone with compulsive tendencies as part of their core personality – that kind of fear and anxiety and uncertainty is the perfect launching pad for a career as a drinker. There’s nothing inevitable about it, but I hope I’ve shown that once it’s underway, the whole thing has a momentum all of its own.

That drink can serve to bury feelings will mean that the drinker themselves won’t be conscious of the escapist side to booze. They won’t necessarily know what the feelings are or were originally that were so hard to cope with alone.

Often, they won’t even come across as the kind of person who might ever have needed to do that:


The title was drinking cultures, and of course, young footballers are now required to pass through late adolescence, the early twenties, the mid twenties, the late twenties, the early thirties, sober. It wasn’t asked of me, and it probably wasn’t asked of you.

All of this in a country that takes a perverse pride in drunkenness. I don’t know about you, but I tire, I really do, of the way journalists trot out the old saws about Hogarth and port-drinking parliamentarians and the observations of foreign travellers in restoration England and what have you as evidence that we have always drunk and always will. It’s junk history. Our drinking patterns have changed often and extremely over the last few centuries. Where are all the gin shops now? Where the Temperance Halls? Both once part of our culture, both long gone. Where now the abstemious middle classes, dry parishes; where, indeed, the traditional pubs? And why, if we’re so much the big drinkers of Europe, does France have a bigger problem with drink-related disease? Is it their cafe culture?

Where we are now is a place where people are drinking more every year, and shifting that drinking away from traditional ales and even lagers towards wine and alcopops. If this is the continuation of a tradition, then why so much more, and why now, and why is it this tradition amongst all the others that is so immutable?

I’m ending on a question, not for the first time. That’s appropriate to drinking, which isn’t a subject that’s yielded many answers over the years. When you consider that the oldest consistent form of therapy in the UK is actually AA (psychoanalysis is much changed from the 1930s – AA is almost exactly the same) and that AA hasn’t been significantly improved on for all that meetings lose far more people than they save –

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When Did The Football World Catch Up With England?

Posted on 14 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

There were those connected with Austrian football in the 1930s who thought they’d overtaken England long before 1953. Not long after Brideshead indeed – as though the poor, misconceived R101 airship took with it a footballing version of the Ashes as well as the cream of our idle aristocracy and our pioneering airmen. But that’s hard to prove. Without English sides in the Mitropa Cup, or at the three pre-War World Cups, we’re left with shaky evidence. And I know it’s a post-War novel: you know what I mean.

Nevertheless it would be satisfying if those Austrians were right. Not because they owed so much to an English coach, Jimmy Hogan, but because if they are wrong, we are left with 1950 or 1953 as likely catch-up dates. Neither of those years really convinces.

England bungled the 1950 World Cup. It didn’t help them or the other European sides that it took place on the other side of the world, at a time when travel was infinitely harder and rarer than it is now. But England chose their hotels and training facilities badly, were unprepared for the climate and then, after all that, suffered one of the game’s truly freak defeats against the USA.

In any event, this was a poor England team. The great post-War side that had swaggered its way around Europe two years before, one which has a strong claim to the title of best ever, had broken up. England were at the beginning of five years’ mediocrity, a period that ended only with Finney’s maturity and the arrival of the Busby Babes. The Englands of 1946-7 and 1955-8 would have shown a different side to our game.

1953 doesn’t work either. The great Hungarian team that won well at Wembley and then superbly the next year in Budapest were as much a freak in their own way as the 1950 Americans. If they taught England a footballing lesson, it was only one that they were teaching the rest of the world at the same time.

“Hungary” hadn’t learned to play like that – they just had a random inheritance of national talent, at an opportune moment, plus Jimmy Hogan to train it. After the shock of World Cup defeat in 1954, followed by diaspora in the wake of the ’56 Uprising, things were never the same again. The Nepstadion, new and grand in 1954, is now closed above its bottom tier for safety reasons. England, “overtaken,” can’t open its brand-new national stadium for safety reasons either, but the difference is moot.

So, were the Austrians right? Did Europe catch up with England between the Wars? Here are all of England’s non-Home Championship fixtures in the twenty years between 1919 and 1939, in reverse order:

24 May 1939, Romania 0 – England 2 at Stadionul ANEF, Bucharest, Friendly.
18 May 1939, Yugoslavia 2 – England 1 at BSK (Beogradski Sport Klub) Stadion, Belgrade, Friendly.
13 May 1939, Italy 2 – England 2 at Stadio San Siro, Milan, Friendly.
09 Nov 1938, England 4 – Norway 0 at St James’ Park, Newcastle, Friendly.
26 Oct 1938, England 3 – FIFA European Select 0 at Highbury, London, Friendly.
26 May 1938, France 2 – England 4 at Colombes, Paris, Friendly.
21 May 1938, Switzerland 2 – England 1 at Hardturm, Zurich, Friendly.
14 May 1938, Germany 3 – England 6 at Olympiastadion, Berlin, Friendly.
01 Dec 1937, England 5 – Czechoslovakia 4 at White Hart Lane, London, Friendly.
20 May 1937, Finland 0 – England 8 at Pallokenttä, Helsinki, Friendly.
17 May 1937, Sweden 0 – England 4 at Råsundastadion, Stockholm, Friendly.
14 May 1937, Norway 0 – England 6 at Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo, Friendly.
02 Dec 1936, England 6 – Hungary 2 at Highbury, London, Friendly.
09 May 1936, Belgium 3 – England 2 at Stade du Heysel, Brussels, Friendly.
06 May 1936, Austria 2 – England 1 at Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna, Friendly.
04 Dec 1935, England 3 – Germany 0 at White Hart Lane, London, Friendly.
18 May 1935, Holland 0 – England 1 at Olympisch Stadion, Amsterdam, Friendly.
14 Nov 1934, England 3 – Italy 2 at Highbury, London, Friendly.
16 May 1934, Czechoslovakia 2 – England 1 at Letná Stadion, Prague, Friendly.
10 May 1934, Hungary 2 – England 1 at Nepstadion, Budapest, Friendly.
06 Dec 1933, England 4 – France 1 at White Hart Lane, London, Friendly.
29 May 1933, Switzerland 0 – England 4 at Sportplatz Neufeld, Berne, Friendly.
13 May 1933, Italy 1 – England 1 at Stadio Nazionale del PNF, Rome, Friendly.
07 Dec 1932, England 4 – Austria 3 at Stamford Bridge, London, Friendly.
09 Dec 1931, England 7 – Spain 1 at Highbury, London, Friendly.
16 May 1931, Belgium 1 – England 4 at Oscar Bossaert Stadion, Brussels, Friendly.
14 May 1931, France 5 – England 2 at Colombes, Paris, Friendly.
14 May 1930, Austria 0 – England 0 at Hohe Warte Stadion, Vienna, Friendly.
10 May 1930, Germany 3 – England 3 at Grunewald Stadion, Berlin, Friendly.
15 May 1929, Spain 4 – England 3 at Estadio Metropolitano, Madrid, Friendly.
11 May 1929, Belgium 1 – England 5 at Parc Duden, Brussels, Friendly.
09 May 1929, France 1 – England 4 at Colombes, Paris, Friendly.
19 May 1928, Belgium 1 – England 3 at Olympic Stadium, Antwerp, Friendly.
17 May 1928, France 1 – England 5 at Colombes, Paris, Friendly.
26 May 1927, France 0 – England 6 at Colombes, Paris, Friendly.
21 May 1927, Luxembourg 2 – England 5 at Jeunesse Stadium, Luxembourg City, Friendly.
11 May 1927, Belgium 1 – England 9 at Oscar Bossaert Stadion, Brussels, Friendly.
24 May 1926, Belgium 3 – England 5 at Olympic Stadium, Antwerp, Friendly.
21 May 1925, France 2 – England 3 at Colombes, Paris, Friendly.
08 Dec 1924, England 4 – Belgium 0 at The Hawthorns, West Bromich, Friendly.
17 May 1924, France 1 – England 3 at Stade Pershing, Paris, Friendly.
01 Nov 1923, Belgium 2 – England 2 at Bosuil Stadion, Antwerp, Friendly.
24 May 1923, Sweden 1 – England 3 at Råsundastadion, Stockholm, Friendly.
21 May 1923, Sweden 2 – England 4 at Råsundastadion, Stockholm, Friendly.
10 May 1923, France 1 – England 4 at Stade Pershing, Paris, Friendly.
19 Mar 1923, England 6 – Belgium 1 at Highbury, London, Friendly.
21 May 1921, Belgium 0 – England 2 at Oscar Bossaert Stadion, Brussels, Friendly.

For the most part, these are matches against Great War allies played in May after the end of the domestic season. As such, England did not take them quite as seriously as they might games against Scotland, for example, and the drinking stories from overseas tours are legion. Nor did the best players always tour. Far from it. And that makes for poor evidence. Although one has to say that the Football Association were hardly trying to provide it.

Some of those tours were gruelling affairs. England’s first defeat against continental opposition – albeit continental opposition coached by an Englishman – came at the end of a journey that had taken them across France, Belgium and Spain in six days, including three matches.

Even without the best players, England teams were hardly consistent affairs at this point in time. A long and tedious haul through the players’ records in the 1920s reveals teams made up of 2,3, and 4-cap men. England careers were short and capricious then, as an England cap was a reward for playing service and not a means to a further end as it is now.

Things pick up, however, in 1927 and 1928, largely thanks to 16-cap Dixie Dean, who, when not putting away 60 in a league season for Everton, found time to score 13 goals in 6 matches against continental opposition.

Dean’s England career ended when he was aged only 25, as a result of his outspokenness. So he was absent when England came up against the Austrian Wunderteam of Meisl and Hogan. After a 0-0 draw in 1930 in one of those post-season tours, a more serious match took place at Stamford Bridge in 1932, which England “won” 4-3.

Here’s how The Times summarized the game:

The honours of the game went largely to the Austrian team. Their play undoubtedly was better than most people had expected. Their speed and their combination were quite as good as those of the best English teams. The English team was even more disappointing than those which had played in the previous international matches this season. They failed in just those matters in which the Austrians excelled – speed and combination. Most of the players are now too old for such matches and cannot keep pace with faster and younger players. They did not play well to one another. Too many were apt to wait for the ball to come to them and would not go out to get it for themselves.

Freemantle’s History of Football has extensive clips of the Wunderteam – who beat Scotland 5-0 in the same year as the Stamford Bridge game, also claiming victims in Germany (5-0 and 6-0), Hungary (8-2) and Switzerland (8-1). And the whole of the second half at Stamford Bridge is available in some particularly rich, warm, clear film on Google TV Beta.

To some extent, the events of 1931-2, including England’s close shave, have the look of another but earlier Hungary. The Continent throws up a freakishly good team that creates mayhem wherever it goes, then everything fades away from it while England march on pretty much where they were. But this Austria kept on until the Anschluss: no 2-3 year wonders they.

What about Italy and Germany?

England drew in Rome in 1933 against the Italian team who would win the following year’s World Cup. Italy’s triumph at the World Cup was controversial, but their team, augmented with Argentines, were genuinely talented. England showed up with an astonishingly inexperienced team even by their recent standards – only 3 of the eleven players had more than one cap prior to the match. Herbert Chapman travelled with the team, and lost the key to the dressing room. A draw is scarcely discreditable in such circumstances. To our players, Rome must have seemed like a foreign country.

In November of the next year, the teams met again in what is still remembered – really remembered, which is unusual for a pre-War international, and we’ll be coming to the other one! – as the Battle of Highbury. describe the game thus:

7 Arsenal players appeared which is still a record at full international level. The game was played in heavy fog and rain and the game wasn’t much better. Luisito Monti had his leg broken tackling Ted Drake directly after kickoff and the remaining 10 Italians took it on themselves to knock lumps out England. Carlo Ceresoli brought down Drake in the area in the 1st minute but he saved Eric Brook’s penalty. 2 minutes later Brook was on the score sheet and after 12 minutes Italy were three down. Soon afterward Edris Hapgood had his nose broken and had to leave the field for fifteen minutes, Brook broke his arm, Raymond Bowden had an ankle injury, John Barker his hand strapped, Drake, a nasty gash on the leg and a few other assorted injuries and brusings to other players. ALL BEFORE HALFTIME!
Hapgood later remarked “It was the dirtiest match I’ve ever played in.”

Clearly, then, there is “catching up with England”, and there is “catching up with England”. Most of the famous English names in that account were on their second or third caps, but, this time, for most of them there’d be many more to come. This was a bad match, but the beginning of another good England team. The Italian World Champions lost to Chapman’s babes, in that sense.

That other remembered match came on the 14th May 1938, and was watched by, among others, Sir Neville Henderson, the UK’s ambassador to Germany. What would he have seen? According to The Times,

..the best British team that ever came to the Continent…immediately made a good impression by raising their arms in the German salute..

Opinions differ and stories vary about just how reluctant that salute was. Stanley Matthews, who played brilliantly that day, recalled seeing one solitary Union Jack hung up by some lonely English fans amongst the sea of swastikas, pointing it out to his team mates. In such an alien and threatening environment, an England team asked to behave in ways they might not have fully understood, could take some comfort from one familiar flag.

The match was one-sided, Germany (the opponents, of course) being flattered not merely by their three goals but by the mere six they conceded. They played in front of 105,000 people, in front of manager, Sepp Herberger, who would survive the Second World War somehow and win West Germany’s first World Cup 16 years later. Only Matthews of that excellent England team would still be around for that.

This is only a brief incursion into a big subject. I’m struck by three things.

  1. From about 1930 on, Europe has always been capable of producing brilliant sides. But it’s not always been the most consistent countries from which those sides come. Austria, Hungary and Holland represent the peaks of European football, but not the steady achievers. In fact, the only two steady achievers, when it comes to that, are Italy and Germany, neither of whom play much part in the “catching of England”. We were Germany’s big hoodoo until 1972, and not for nothing. Italy didn’t beat us until 1973. No one suggests that England kept their superiority into the “Life On Mars” period. One good team does not amount to a continent catching up.
  2. England’s teams go through peaks and troughs too. I wonder if the Magyars would have had such fun against the 46-47 England, or the 55-58 England, or the 1961 England, or the 1970 side? We’ll never know, but it’s harsh to judge a nation’s standing on one of their worst teams.
  3. The Wunderteam and the ’53 Hungarians showed a different kind of football from England, and that is genuinely significant. It’s their priorities – teamwork, speed, ball skills – not England’s – that have marked the best international teams ever since. It’s not so much a matter of catching up as one of their inventing the autobahn whilst we tinker with the Kingston by-pass.
  4. What’s missing from this is, of course, South America. That’s a function of England’s absence from the World Cups of 1930, 1934 and 1938. For a future post, then. For now, this, with appropriate music for a change:


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Pre-War Racing Mayhem

Posted on 12 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

1933 – Tourist Trophy Donnington Park UK
1934 – Indianapolis 500
1934 – Monaco Grand Prix
1934 – German Grand Prix
1934 – French Grand Prix
Includes the first Auto Unions, and some fabulous spills. Modern life feels incredibly dull and lifeless up against this.


It’s worth clicking through the video to Youtube itself – this video is part of a long series.

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Three Wheels On My Wagon

Posted on 12 February 2007 by JamesHamilton

At the Coppa Acerba, seen here in colour in 1937, Bern Rosemeyer lost a wheel on his way into the pits. It doesn’t seem to have worried him, as the interview shows. Followed by coverage of the Donington Grand Prix of the same year:


There’s a specific attitude to fear there that’s worth exploring. Not an absence; an attitude.

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