Archive | August, 2007

Was Edwardian Football Any Good?

Posted on 30 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

Having discovered that my digital camera takes video, I witter on in another of those ego-tripping “films”:

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Redressing The Balance: Manchester City

Posted on 29 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

Before the War, Manchester City were the team in the north-west. Here’s an interesting profile of the side, including training scenes shot – to my mind – in the style of Robert Capa:


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Sir Bobby Charlton’s Best Manchester United XI

Posted on 29 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

Anyone who’s been reading here for any length of time will know that I support Manchester United; that I do so because I tuned into the 1976 FA Cup Final by accident and began shouting for the losing side; that “support” lost a great deal of its former meaning on the day of the Heysel Disaster. I still find soccer exciting and often outright beautiful, but anything sectarian still brings the bodies of Italian children back to my mind, as I know it does to many of my generation.

Fortunately for me, at least in the face of the kind of fan who thinks you have to be local to support a side, I was born in Widnes, a northern chemical town short of its own football club (rugby‘s there, of course) and only a short train ride from the Geras manor. Where I live now – for a few more days – Sutton, in Surrey – is packed with the Famous Chelsea, for all that there’s a perfectly good upper echelon non-league club here that still stands for good values that the town itself forgot a long while ago.

There it is, and it’s why when I came across Bobby Charlton’s best XI in the Times – a brief light moment in an otherwise desperately dark excerpt from his forthcoming memoirs – I thought I’d try my own.


Charlton’s choice of goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, is hard to argue with; United have boasted international goalkeepers in the past, but never a Shilton, Clemence, Seaman or Jennings. It’s forgotten now that Schmeichel felt himself to be in decline in 97-99 – and forgotten that his bad games could be appalling ones. But let’s be sensible. The best the club has ever had, and in the top four of the last twenty years of English football.



Again, it’s hard to see beyond Gary Neville. Manchester United’s defences have never been the equal of the classic Liverpool back fours, and every year for as long as I can remember there have been calls for reinforcement in defensive areas. For two years, Cicinho was on the verge of coming in to supersede Neville, or so it was said – but he hasn’t let it happen.


Bobby says Pallister/Stiles, which I would replace, nervously, with Bruce and the late Roger Byrne. Both pairs of men share the same qualities of strength, timing, and forceful leadership. Bruce has the advantage of late goals against Sheffield Wednesday, whilst Byrne captained England’s pioneering club in the European Cup.

All of Byrne, sadly:


Denis Irwin, says Bobby – and who else could it be? Stewart Houston? Gabby Heinze? Irwin is far and away the best performer in the position since… I don’t think there’s a since.

Manchester United’s first great side

Bobby Charlton’s side is based on post-1955 players, which means no one from the 1948-51 team, and no one from the forgotten 1908-12 side. I’ve spent a lot of the last few months poring over Edwardian football footage, and only one of the Edwardian United side stands any chance of getting so much as close to the best-ever XI. That’s Billy Meredith, of course, but Meredith is a right-winger: so is Beckham… As for ’48-51, the Babes were so clearly superior as a team to their predecessors that the question doesn’t really arise.

Central Midfield

Bobby lines up Bryan Robson alongside Roy Keane. There’s a bit of the Lampard-Gerrards there for me, in all honesty, and I’d want Paul Scholes in place of the Irishman for disciplinary reasons. Part of me wants to say Veron, in honour of the year’s abuse he took from English fans and press whilst winning UEFA’s “Most Effective Player” in that year’s Champions League.


Why is Cantona on Charlton’s right wing? I’ll have Beckham there, please – a man who delivered the goods right to the end of the ’99 Champions League Final, only for two late substitutes and David May to steal all the glory.

As for the other wing, the names flow: Colman, Giggs, Best, Charlton himself. It’s often been said that Charlton was most effective as a winger, rather than the more predictable midfield hub he later became. I agree.


This leaves me with five names for two positions. Giggs, because he has to be considered right up until the end, although he’s no striker. Duncan Edwards, because he’s the best all-round player the club has ever had. Denis Law, of course, and the late Tommy Taylor, and the late George Best.

This is how inexplicable out-of-position situations come about, isn’t it? Edwards and Best.. Charlton went Law and Best up front, pushing Edwards back into midfield where I wanted Sir Bobby himself.

Sir Bobby doesn’t name a manager, and I can’t have Jack Charlton for obvious reasons. Who’ll I plump for – Sexton, O’Farrell? Busby and Ferguson are too obvious; Wilf McGuinness would probably rather remember his playing days. No, my manager is the builder of Old Trafford, the creator of the first great United team, a man of whom there is no hint that he ever kicked a ball himself… Ernest Magnall. It’s Ernest Magnall’s red and white army, I suppose. Here’s one of the original Magnall babes, on the left of the picture looking cold:


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Any Century But This One, And Any Country But His Own

Posted on 26 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

That’s my motto, anyway:


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The Future of England

Posted on 25 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

Following on from England’s not-at-all-bad performance on Wednesday night, Arsene Wenger has reason to predict greater things coming Wembley-way as a result of the very youth training that’s come in for such criticism lately (here as much as anywhere else):

The best time to be England manager will be in the middle of the next decade,” he said. “But I will have a beard and a walking stick by then. (..) All the work has been done in the clubs’ academies now. Children under 12 are playing four or five times a week. After 12, they work five times a week up to 16. We have 16-year-old players now at Arsenal who are ready to compete. That is the first time I have seen that since I have been in England in terms of quality. If you look at English national teams under 17, they are starting to make results. The academy system is a success. It takes 10 years. When I arrived in England, there was no correct youth team development. You take the blood of any Englishman and it is no different from the blood of a Frenchman or Brazilian. They are not less gifted. It is education.

That’s then, but what about now? George Szirtes remembers his boy racer days, and wonders if England couldn’t learn a thing or two from “the rogue, the devil-may-care, the brilliantly transgressive” heroes of our streets.

Brian Clough would have agreed with George. Alan Durban remembers the dying days of Derby’s first Championship-winning season, and reflects on the different approaches shown by Clough and Revie:

Don Revie kept them in their hotel on the Saturday night after they’d won the FA Cup. He should’ve let them have a drink, let their hair down, relax. They were good pros, those guys, and with the Wolves game on the Monday night, they wouldn’t have abused their privilege. Revie tried to keep them psychologically screwed up for two major games for too long. Clough and Taylor would never have done that, they’d have had us around the table, swapping stories over a few beers or letting us see our wives or girlfriends. They were always spot on at distracting us and then switching the light on when they thought we were ready. That was the great thing with those two – there was never any real tension coming back to us. They’d leap on someone occasionally just to remind us who was in charge, but there were very few rucks. They got us all together, as team mates and friends. Cloughie saw us as his extended family.

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Goodison Park

Posted on 25 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

Everton fans voted yesterday to move away from their ancestral home at Goodison Park to a new ground in Kirkby.

Goodison was one of the very first big, recognisably modern football grounds in the world. It was on a large scale from the beginning. Here it is on 27th September 1902 (click to enlarge):


I’m all in favour of Britain having the best, most modern grounds in the world – being old enough to remember when we were being put to shame by the likes of the Bernebeu – but this constant loss of famous stadia is starting to bring to mind Larkin’s “..and that will be England gone.”

There is nothing eternal about football’s current gold rush or indeed crowd popularity. Once again, I’m old enough to remember times when the annual attendances went down year-on-year and football seemed in terminal decline. Will we wake up at the end of the boom in a few years’ time and find ourselves in a football world full of Eustons – and no Paddingtons or St Pancrases?

Perhaps, perhaps not. Goodison itself was built during one of England’s least nostalgia-prone periods (the 1890s enthusiasm for clearing away the old eventually inspired the creation of the National Trust: the damage to London alone in that one decade can still shock). Then, as now, it was all about money and keeping up with the Joneses. Yet what resulted lasted for more than a century.

Old Trafford was built about ten years after Goodison, and was initially designed to hold 100,000 spectators before costs accelerated and reduced the capacity to 70,000. It holds rather more than that now, in far greater comfort. The new Arsenal stadium is larger than its predecessor by a factor of two, and anyone who has been there or seen it from a Kings Cross train must admit that they’ve replaced a gem with a beauty. But the new Liverpool stadium design looks like a bubble-pack.

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England 1 Germany 2

Posted on 23 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

My tube train had been half empty right up until Embankment. Then on came the England fans. It took a couple of minutes for the platform to clear itself into our carriage. The carriage became packed, then quickly moved past that into being rammed. The doors closed – first attempt, surprisingly – and the train moved off.

No red or white shirts: no chanting: no bullying of the weak. Not silent, just quiet; the odd, briefly composed comment about the size of the crowd, the good things about the new Wembley, how long it would take to make Victoria.

I’d been apprehensive for a moment. Too many such trips in the company of the Famous Chelsea or the less famous A.F.C. Wimbledon; I’d learned how to cringe in the presence of the greatest fans in the world. These guys weren’t like that. They reminded me of George Orwell’s 1940s Englishmen:

The gentleness of the English civilization is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil. It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers. In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to shove people off the pavement. (The Lion and the Unicorn)

It was just as well. I wasn’t on a journey that I wanted to make in the slightest. On that train, it was my temper that lay on a hair-trigger. I was the one looking for a fight. So it was just as well.

Just as well, too, that… that was a bit more like it, wasn’t it? Watching the highlights again this grey, god-awful morning confirmed my suspicion of the night before that on another day England would have won that one big.

Perhaps an all-too refurbished barstool in the all-too refurbished Spread Eagle in Camden is not quite the same as being there, but it looked to me that only Robinson for England had a bad game, and who is this Lampard fellow? I’ve not really heard much about him, but his was the best England goal since Joe Cole’s against Sweden, beautifully taken when it would have been easier to get the ball trapped under his feet.

Lampard had had to run the midfield all evening, and it would have helped his nerves to have the more established faces, especially that of Micah Richards, around him. If he can keep his place – and he deserves to after last night – one can only drool at the prospect of both Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the centre of the park.

So I’m being tongue in cheek, but were Frank really just breaking through, you’d be thinking that too.

Impressive performances from Owen – hugely unlucky not to score – Shaun Wright-Phillips (it feels fine to type his name in that context), Richards, Joe Cole and Kieran Dyer (also unfortunate), amongst others, mean that this was a hugely promising defeat.

Injuries and suspensions to key players – Rooney, Crouch, et al – mean that England haven’t turned the corner yet. But after last night, we now know that there is a corner to turn.

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The Silly Season

Posted on 22 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

Not this season, silly. I mean 1954:


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6:3, avagy játszd újra Tutti

Posted on 21 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

Imagine the following:

a soccer game, when Hungary played with England and won 6:3. There is a man who fall asleep and goes back to the 50’s, when the game took place. He knows that Hungary will win, but nobody believe him. He follows the game at different places: at a pub, at the barber, at a store and so on. You must know that Hungary was occupied by the Russians under the 50’s, and everybody was afraid. When this man appears, people begin to wonder who he can be. The police will take him. Some people starts to follow him. He gets to some intellectual’s home and tells them that the game will be won, a revolution will take place in 1956. The intellectuals start to follow him as well.

That’s from the review of this film here. (The English remake is set in the early 1980s, when a posse of elderly former internationals respond to Thatcher by falling asleep with the direct intention of going back and preventing the ancient defeat from happening at all. But all they can achieve is to wake up in front of the telly, time after time: the film ends, or should do were someone actually to make it, with Brooking’s goals at the Nepstadion in June 1981).

Hungarian films are hard to come by, even in London, but I’d love to see this, and effective advice on finding a copy for purchase or rental would be very welcome indeed.

On reflection, there’s echoes in that plot of another famous football moment: the Likely Lads’ attempts to avoid knowing the score between England and Bulgaria in a 1973 episode. (Incidentally, England didn’t play Bulgaria that year: does anyone know the fake score? I’d like it for my records…)

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More Than Mind Games Meet-Up

Posted on 07 August 2007 by JamesHamilton

When it happens – some time late in September, probably – it will have to be at the Salisbury, St Martin’s Lane.

Here’s why


Since 1892? We can’t let that go on, now, can we?

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