Archive | September, 2007

Review: Brian Glanville, “England Managers: The Toughest Job in Football”

Posted on 30 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

There have been quite a few histories of the England team in recent years – before this one, we had James Corbett’s England Expects, and every tournament that the side qualifies for generates more of the same. Most of them are frustrating cut-and-paste jobs, that leave you knowing what the results were and what kind of performance was generated, without their possessing any particular depth. It’s a merciless, cynical genre, and a populist one, making sure never to venture too far away from common opinion in that usual childish, cowardly, late-macho manner common to modern British football.

Brian Glanville has been around as a journalist long enough to ensure that if his book is cut-and-paste, they are at least his own cuttings. And if his book is a long exercise in cynicism and low expectations, they are at least his own, genuinely held opinions. In among them are the real reason for the book – Glanville’s own, illuminating snapshots of memoir. These are frequently marvellous – why is there anything else in the book? A history of England seen entirely through Glanville’s eyes would, on this evidence, be a sporting classic, and this is therefore a missed opportunity. Take this, about England’s pioneering referee and football administrator, Sir Stanley Rous:

..Rous’s support for Winterbottom as England manager was not wholly consistent. In May 1955, when I was living and working in Rome, Jesse Carver, the Liverpudlian who was then managing Roma, one of his many Italian sides, told me that he had an appointment with Rous at the Hotel Quirinale in Via Nazionale and that I might care to come along; it could do me some good.

Rous awaited us, silver haired, formidably tall. ‘Did you have a good journey, Sir Stanley?’ I dutifully asked him.

‘Yes, yes, yes,’ he said, impatiently. ‘Who are you?’

Little interested when I told him, he then proceeded, in my obscure presence, to offer Winterbottom’s managerial job to Carver. ‘It’s about time we brought Walter back into the office,’ he said.

Glanville has fifty years of such tales to tell. I can only wish there were more. Like this:

Ramsey..had no doubts about (Roger Hunt). Before the first leg of the Intercontinental Cup final of 1967 at Hampden Park, between Celtic and Racing Club of Buenos Aires, I found myself having tea, amiably, with Ramsey, in the North British Hotel. We went outside, hoping to catch a taxi to take us to the game. No such luck. Eventually, a somewhat battered blue jalopy full of young Scottish fans drove past and drew up beside us.

‘Och, it’s Sir Alf, get in, get in,’ which we did. The badinage soon began. ‘That England team that won the World Cup! So many poor players!’
‘Well,’ said Sir Alf, as by then he was. ‘For example, who?’
‘That Roger Hunt; he’s a poor player.’
‘Roger Hunt,’ said Ramsey, ‘scores twenty-five goals a season, every season. Yes, Roger Hunt’s a poor player!’

It wasn’t always a battered car seat for Glanville. Often, it was a ringside one:

The following morning I emerged from sleeping on a colleague’s chalet floor to be greeted by an alarming sight: Gordon Banks, pale and plainly distressed, staggering across the hotel’s lawn on the arm of the England doctor, Neil Phillips. Food poisoning had affected him and, disastrously for England, put him out of the game. How had it happened, and only to him? Many years later, when I spoke to him about it, Banks insisted that he had eaten and drunk the evening before exactly the same as any other player.

Though it may be merely a wild surmise, it could be worth recording that when the Daily Telegraph reporter Bob Oxby subsequently broke his journey home in Washington to visit his cousin, the well-known Senator Stewart Symington, the senator laughingly told him, ‘That was the CIA! You don’t think we were going to let England beat Brazil, do you? – Brazil at that time being in a state of political turmoil. The mystery may never be solved, but, beyond all doubt, Banks’s illness was fatal for England.

Yet anecdotes of that kind nestle inconspicuously in yards of Monday-morning match reportage. The reportage has reference value, of course, and it is backed up with an excellent appendix – the best of its kind I’ve seen – containing full details of every post-War England match. So if you don’t own an England history, and want all of the figures at your disposal, this is the one to go for.

Glanville concentrates on short-term causes – he is a veteran journalist, not a historian, and tactics, selection, luck and the “impossibility” of the job are his principal explanatory tools. His characterization of the successive managers is as brief and constrictive as that might suggest: Ramsey good, Ericksson bad; Winterbottom couldn’t talk to players (but Glanville does correct one common error in pointing out that Walter had indeed had full-time top-level playing experience for Manchester United); Robson frightened and unadventurous; Greenwood good but too old; Hoddle an occasionally effective enigma. Taylor and McClaren are roped together. Glanville does possess two interesting opinions – he doesn’t rate Clough as a potential England boss, and he feels that Venables came to the job too late:

While at Chelsea, as a teenager, he (Venables) astonished his future co-writer, Gordon Williams, deputed to teach the club’s youngsters English language classes. Asked to write a short story, Terry alone complied, and came back with a tale reminiscent of the famous American writer, Damon Runyon. When Williams evoked the comparison, Venables replied that he had never heard of Runyon.

And as for Clough:

The patriot cry for Brian Clough and Peter Taylor goes up every time England lose a match, but what guarantee is there that the methods which have worked so well at club level would be effective in the international field? Peter Taylor’s book on Clough made it perfectly clear what many of us had known all along, that they are an authoritarian couple, ruling essentially by fear. Between the wars, in the days of the illustrious and commanding Arsenal manager, Herbert Chapman, the fear was of unemployment. Today, though we have unemployment again, the fear is of losing the huge rewards which clubs like Forest can provide. No such hold could be established over international players. Treat them peremptorily, and they would certainly rebel.

(A misapprehended view of Taylor’s book and quite unlike the way either Chapman or Clough actually operated when they were successful – but there it is).

Glanville has written a useful book and one with a few glorious stories – too few – thrown in. But although he tells you what happened, he doesn’t tell you why. Why, for instance, did England turn from being the stupendously innovative footballing nation of 1860-1905 to the incurious career-catchers-up that they’ve been ever since? Why is our international team so unrepresentative of an intelligent, inventive, original and eccentric country? Why, after all but sixty years of (mostly) falling short has there never been any sustained effort to regain a lead over the world? Or even any idea of one?

There are real answers to all of these questions in the history, culture, psychology and personality of the game. But they’re not in Glanville’s book. Or, as yet, in any other.

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Driving With Cameraphones

Posted on 27 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

Although it’s probably just a little bit illegal, a lot of us enjoy taking cameraphone shots whilst driving. Not me, of course. But the question arises, which cars are easiest for the cameraman? Which cars are kind to the budding Snowden, and which cruel? In this video, Blognor Regis’s Mark Holland drives and snaps from a series of vehicles well away from the Queen’s highway. Some are clearly better than others:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiIYEmpWaaQ]

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Billy Meredith in Motion

Posted on 27 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

I’ve known for some time that there’s film out there of football’s “first superstar” Billy Meredith, but only now have I found it, and here it is:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPg8A_eaP7M]

Hokum, obviously, but the tracking by the camera is interesting and one wonders at the skill with which Meredith’s opponents muff their tackles..

Like Herbert Chapman, Meredith was originally set on life as a mining engineer – and it’s noticeable that both men began playing professional football in response to uncertainty in the mining industry in the 1890s. Unlike Chapman, Meredith was unsatisfied with the pay and conditions of footballers at the time, and, following his two-year ban on charges (which he denied) of match-fixing and accepting illegal payments, the Welshman took a leading role in the formation of the Players’ Union. He had need to: in 1909, a fire destroyed his Manchester sports shop and left him bankrupt.

Like Chapman – and like many players of his day – Meredith was an educated, highly intelligent man. Ahead of his time, too: the ODNB states

in an era when jogging and physical jerks were considered sufficient preparation for a game, he wrote many articles placing great emphasis on developing ball control. Until his fiftieth year he continued to polish his skills, insisting that no professional player could ever cease learning his trade.

The above film, Ball of Fortune, dates from 1926, two years after his final professional game. In the same year, Meredith made a number of coaching films, and made personal appearances in cinemas showing his films in order to answer audience questions.

This, also from the ODNB, illustrates something of the social status of the Edwardian game and its essentially showbiz nature:

He was good friends with many music-hall stars of the pre-Second World War period, including George Robey (who designed Manchester United’s cup final shirts in 1909) and Harry Weldon (who played Stiffy the Goalkeeper in a Fred Karno sketch that also featured Charlie Chaplin). The catch-phrase ‘Meredith, we’re in!’ from another pre-First World War Karno sketch was said to have been inspired by Meredith.

Now all I have to do is find his 1947 Radio Wales interview. Meredith would live another eleven years, dying shortly after the Munich air disaster so devastated his old club. (One of his old clubs – his time at United was sandwiched in between long and relatively unsuccessful spells with Manchester City).

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Clough and Revie in Conversation

Posted on 24 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

Things are returning to normal at More Than Mind Games Mansions, albeit little by little. In the meantime, don’t miss this lengthy interview between Austin Mitchell, Brian Clough and Don Revie which took place after Clough’s sacking by Leeds after 44 days in office.

There’s very, very little Revie on the net – make the most of this.

Internet Explorer recommended, unfortunately:

Clough and Revie

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Intermission

Posted on 10 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

Thanks to Liberty and Learning for this.

There will now be a short intermission. At least, I hope it’s short. The following will suffice to explain.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GG-wjkB7gXM]

Back in a couple of weeks.

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The Appliance of Science

Posted on 08 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

I think it was a city solicitor with much experience of top English football clubs who recently expressed his frustration at the idiocy of how most of them are run with the phrase “Stupid people I can handle; crooks I can handle; what I can’t stand are stupid people who think they are crooks.”

It was ever thus. Here’s a good dose of stupidity, from Shanks of course:

Shankly, like Ramsey, hovered over his players looking for hints of incapacity. Injury was not so much a problem as an insult to his ambitions, a fact which persuaded him to demand from the Anfield board a new wonder healing machine produced in Germany.

Shankly watched fascinated as the “awesome” piece of medical equipment was unveiled in the treatment room under the supervision of Bob Paisley, who was then known as “Mr Elastoplast” rather than one of the most brilliant managers in the history of the game.

Ian St John, the great striker, recalls every detail as though it happened yesterday. “When Bob took off the wrappings we had to step back. It had a black face and a battery of dials and wires poking out from half a dozen places. Bob was reading a manual of instructions and making all the connections and when he finished he said: ‘Right boys, any of you got a bit of a knock?’ Melia said: ‘Well, Bob, I think I’ve pulled my knee a bit.’

“Bob told him to strip down and then picked up two leads with large pads attached to the ends, wetted the pads and placed them on Melia’s knee. He then picked up another attachment, which looked a bit like a microphone, and said: ‘Right, Jimmy, if you feel anything untoward just give me a shout and I’ll turn it off right away.’ For a little while Bob was twiddling with a knob to no effect and Shanks was becoming very impatient.

“‘Jesus Christ, Bob, I thought you were reading the instructions,’ said Shankly. ‘The instructions are in German, boss,’ he was told. By now Bob had turned all the knobs to maximum force and Melia, reasonably enough, was getting a bit tense. ‘Is it full on now?’ he asked. It was then that Bob noticed he hadn’t turned on the power. When he did Melia’s leg shot up in the air and then jerked back uncontrollably. Those of us who weren’t bent double with laughter, screamed for the machine to be turned off.”

That, also, for the good old days of good old common sense. Faith in witchdoctors is eternal.

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England 3 Israel 0

Posted on 08 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

For the second match in succession, this was a little more like it. England played as a team, kept their shape throughout the game, and overcame their individual weaknesses to close Israel out and edge towards Euro 2008 qualification.

Let’s get some reservations out of the way: England’s passing lacked any real confidence. Waddle’s observation from earlier in the year that England will only pass to a man in three metres of space still applies. There was plenty of loose long-ball stuff around. Stronger opposition would have presented far more of a challenge.

But Israel’s challenge was prevented from showing itself because of the way England, and in particular Gerrard and Barry, played. England made their opponents’ performance poor. That hasn’t happened in quite some time.

I’ve had the sense for a while that the worst is over, for England, and this match strengthened it.

First of all, Steve McClaren has dustbinned the PR approach and the fake grin. Despite the way his team performed, he spent the game looking like a man on the rack. This is believable, and realism is encouraging; you can relate to it, and you know what it’s thinking.

Secondly, England did something different yesterday. Did you spot it? They competed for possession when they lost it, instead of retreating. They chased and tackled. And they kept it up. This was one game where they didn’t end up overstretched, or pinned into their own area for the last fifteen minutes. This has been a matter of enormous personal frustration for this England-watcher, ever since the June ’79 friendly draw with Sweden.

Then there is the team itself. I’m pleased to see little press influence in its make-up. Ramsey-style, injuries have imposed a line-up and a shape, and, all of a sudden, you can hear it click into place. Heskey’s not Rooney – he’s not even Crouch – but all he has to do is make it easy for Owen, and he did rather more than that. Welcome back, Emile; make yourself comfortable. Barry isn’t Scholes, Gerrard, or even Lampard; he’s not Barton thank heaven. But he looked right, a kind of midfield version of Roger Hunt.

The proper players are back, and it shows. Owen’s goal was his best for England (I’ve never rated the ’98 one – I first saw it six months after the event and was hugely disappointed. Not so this time). SWP has his mojo back, and I wonder, looking at him, if he’ll ever lose it so badly again. David Bentley is finally in the squad, and should stay there. Micah Richards has proved himself beyond all doubt, now, and should really be first choice from here on.

Above all, it feels real. Not the greatest side in the world, or even a golden generation, but they play as a group and work hard.

Sol Campbell for John Terry, if Campbell is fit, and there’s the team to face Russia.

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The World Cup Final 1966

Posted on 08 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

In case you missed it, here is the match on Youtube video. If you don’t want to know the score, look away now etc.:

Part One

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rarbAJ__BzE]

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Part Eight

Part Nine

Part Ten

Part Eleven

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Duke Ellington and His Orchestra

Posted on 06 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

Bear with me until I come up with a link between this and sport history/psychology:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ez-ljQA2Kn8]

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Shirts and Stickers

Posted on 05 September 2007 by JamesHamilton

As best as I can remember I’m in the back yard – standing on some grass? in bright sunshine. I’m about two foot tall, and in front of me is a photograph of what later turns out to be Pat Jennings. Pat is wearing a green jumper and the sort of smile that makes little boys feel very safe and secure.

I found that picture – in an old “Shoot!” – later on, when I had learned to read, and discovered that Pat was Player of the Year, so that bitty early memory, so specific and meaningless, comes from summer 1973.

In 1974 came my little Georgie Best shirt. The Georgie Best shirt was not, as you might have assumed, a football shirt. No; the Georgie Best shirt was a trendy number with long collars, dark with a natty pattern on it. I wonder if it was new? because we didn’t really get new clothes in my house, then, nor for a long time afterwards. And surely Bestie no longer had the boutique? Childhood mysteries: George Best, Nixon, Vietnam. Bad endings without new beginnings.

Because of the shirt, and my new stepfather’s attempts to pass on knowledge to a bewildered 5 year old, I heard of George Best long before I heard of Manchester United. Before I’d really, absolutely and decisively heard of football, in fact. The thought drifts by that it’s a lesson in fame. A rather empty thought, on the whole.

Manchester United came along next. Bored one summer Saturday (where was my stepfather on this occasion? He was a supporter, biroing “MUFC Champs” in plastic ’65 and ’67 diaries. Or have I misremembered this?) I span the tuning knob on our small black and white TV to find the FA Cup Final on, and United losing it. I thought they were the underdogs, and began to cheer them on.

At around that time, I became sufficiently intelligent to pick up what was a kind of family anecdote from twenty years before. The subsequent twenty years had been all that was required to take a sizeable Bedford family that was notably lacking in children and virtually wipe it out. My early memories are full of dying old ladies. And Pat Jennings.

The anecdote was about a trip to London, to see Bedford Town, then of the Southern League, take on Arsenal at Highbury in the FA Cup. The family album has blurred shots of fantastic railway points systems outside St Pancras taken from their hot, upholstered train compartment. Wikipedia:

But possibly their greatest achievement was to draw 2-2 with Arsenal at Highbury watched by a crowd of over 55,000 in season 1955-56. The Eagles nearly caused a major shock in the replay leading 1-0 until 4 minutes from time before going down 1-2 after extra time, having had 2 goals disallowed for offside.

Family outrage: the anecdote turned 2 disallowed goals into 5.

In my teens, I’d bike down beside Bedford’s wrecked, industrial river and gaze in late June light at the glowering back of Town’s grandstand. It didn’t look like a place to have fun, not by then. Perhaps it had been, back in the Meccano age of which it was a beached survivor. They brew Red Stripe on the site now.

I never went to see Bedford play, or anyone else for that matter until the mid ’80s. But having a father-figure into football meant afternoons in the park amongst slaughtered elm trees with a plastic Persian Blue size five. Then our dog arrived on the scene, and bit through it, and through its successor, and its successor, and we gave up and got a leather ball.

Come 1978. I’d watched my team win the FA Cup against Liverpool with all a boy’s expectancy and sense of entitlement. I didn’t know the players’ names, and I can’t have been looking out for George Best as I was still unaware that he’d played for us. But the Argentina World Cup brought Panini stickers into the playground, and a kindly mate gave me a few of his to get me started. Not to collect, mind. Only Giovanni was collecting them, and we were as excited by his progress through the album as we were about the World Cup itself. (He didn’t make it – who did, before Ebay? but he was single-figures short by the end).

No, this was all about competition. The cards were for a desperately-fought game of skill and chance played out playtime after playtime on the pavement outside the third year classrooms. In turns, you and your opponent would flick a card onto the floor. You tried to cover your opponent’s cards with yours – any card yours ended up on top of you could keep.

Fights could start over this, and did, but we also learned to trade. Little by little, my Manchester United card collection grew.

I didn’t care about any other clubs at all. Or about internationals. Or famous players. I could have had Cruyff. I could have had Rossi. Or the van der Kerkhofs or Zico. But I wanted both Greenhoffs, I wanted Coppell, I wanted Houston, Hill. Most of all, I wanted Stuart Pearson. When I was eight, I was the typical football fan – adored my club, hated the rest. I was a complete nuisance when we won, and couldn’t deal with losing, putting it down to cheats and black magic. How familiar and friendly that is, looking back.

If things had gone on that way, no doubt in time there’d have been records – 45rpm first, then albums: Sabbath, Leppard, KISS, or maybe Bob Marley who was a hero in Bedford – “Black Tom”, where I still lived, throbbed with reggae even then. Girls (I’d had a couple of puppy-love “girlfriends” in primary school) and perhaps a motorbike at 17.

I was still on course as the World Cup got underway. We put up a chart on the classroom wall, and wrote down who we thought would play in the Final. These penniless punters’ bets went into a sack, and vanished until it was all over. I was so proud of my own prediction – Italy v Peru – that I insisted on sharing it with the class – “One famous team will make it, along with a smaller team” or something like that. Rubbish, of course: the only reason I even knew Peru existed was Paddington Bear, and that they were to be Scotland’s first opponents came as distressing news.

One of my classmates actually got it right. I still have no idea how. At least he’d heard of Argentina. I only knew that that was where it was all happening. I didn’t know they had a team as well.

The World Cup was past my bedtime. I had to wait until morning school to catch up, and even then the news was utterly garbled by 8-year-old chatter. Something about Ally MacLeod’s name got him through the infant ether intact. But the rest became the kind of memory you check against official sources, years later, weighing what you remember but cannot believe against what really happened:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OI4iw1iGlg]

I don’t know if Scotland were already out when I picked up my first sporting injury in Bedford Park. I was keeping – dwarf conifers for goalposts, in those days – against my stepfather, who sent in a magnificent straight drive towards the right stick. He’d had to sidestep Duncan Edwards’ ghost to make the chance: I was unsighted by the absence of one of his doltish Sextonite successors, but still made the dive, twisting in mid-air to push the ball wide with the fingers of my right hand.

A greenstick fracture of the wrist isn’t something you need to worry about at your age. And it’s just as well that you’re past it: it hurts like you wouldn’t believe. And I admit it: I was carried home screaming uncontrollably, not in the manner of the tantrums to which I was then and still am prone, but because of the animal pain that just wouldn’t go away. And, behind it all, at the back of my mind, the knowledge that it had been a quite superb save. It would be a comfort to me as the months in plaster crept by – at least I’d kept it out.

I’d return to action prematurely after the plaster was removed, and nearly repeated the fracture in identical circumstances. But I wouldn’t have cared by then. Something far worse had happened, the thing we boys all feared most of all. I’d got glasses.

You resign yourself to it pretty quickly, even when they are National Health specs. I remember seeing a tree for the first time, in the full Shakespearian glory of summer leaf, standing wide and proud in the sunshine for all the world as though it wasn’t really the seventies. Because suddenly I could see it, in sharp detail. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. My eyes are deteriorating now, and I’ll never have another moment like that again.

But it means what it means. You are now and forever on the speccy side of the wire. Your complaints, as the cruelty begins with such automated promptness and efficiency, are muted. Because you know the rules: you are no longer good at sport – this coming only weeks after I’d made the school football team at centreback. You can forget about girls. You can’t fight. You have years ahead of you – you don’t know how many – of leaving blood in the water wherever you go.

You are also going to be prone to excess self-pity. But still. Goodbye to records, girls, bikes. During the summer, my stepfather took me around the railway carriage works at Wolverton, where his dad had been a fitter all his life. By autumn, I was with him and Ian Allen on platform ends at Derby, Reading, Crewe. Change comes fast when you are a child.

I’d had “the look” by then, too.

“The look” is familiar to most of you who are reading this. You’re at your little state primary school in the provinces. You’re sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by your peers. Your teacher is on a chair, smiling around at everyone. They’ve a thin book clutched all colourful to their chest, hiding its secrets, and they ask “Now then, has anyone heard of a man from long ago called Vasco da Gama?” And you can’t help yourself: your hand shoots up before anyone else can get in in front of you – you don’t know then that they won’t, that they never will and won’t care – and you’re piping on about the first circumnavigation of the globe..

The teacher gives you “the look.” You don’t recognise it at first. Because until now, doing well, getting things right, has been approved of, by and large. Of course, a lot of what you’ve been doing – colouring, shaping clay, BAGA gymnastics – you’ve been safely average at. You don’t know that those things have had their day now, and that it’s all about to change.

In some obscure way you are aware that you don’t like “the look” and it doesn’t like you. But you’re going to become familiar with it, and you’re going to do it the hard way, because it will take you a long time to realize what it means.

Eventually, “the look” tells you what it’s been trying to tell you. That first you were speccy, and thus on that side of the fence, the four-eyed brig prisoner of the little-boy navy and its immemorial customs. And then you go and make it worse for yourself by being clever in England. Now the fence, which you so ignored for so long as someone else’s unfortunate problem, is electrified, doubled and barbed, and patrolled with guns by those who you’d thought were friends and allies.

It will take you the best part of fifteen years to dig Tom, Dick and Harry out beyond the wire, with many a tunnel collapse and claustrophobic spasm along the way. And you’ll leave a fair few mates behind you, the people shared the blockhouse and the hard years with you and made the whole thing bearable.

Scotland made it back to the World Cup in 1982. There’s another dream you have to forget once you’re inside the wire. You know which one I mean:

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