Archive | July, 2008

Taking the High Road

Posted on 29 July 2008 by JamesHamilton


I’m off to Scotland in the morning. Not like this – who do you think I am? Chris Dillow? In my little car with its greasy windscreen and Vostock driving position, starting before sunrise.. a prelude to a later, nastier trip in a big white van full of books and booze and the odd stick of furniture that I’ll have to nose through Edinburgh Festival crowds in the heat of August to whatever kind of flat I’ve managed to find for us.

I’ve been with my partner, who is starting work on a collaborative project with the University of Edinburgh in September, for eleven years, in which time I think we’ve chalked up four days apart. This trip is going to last for three.

There are times in life when it’s best just to hit fast-forward (God has disabled the “skip track” button in this mode) and this is one. Forward to the first properly cold day of the year, and a shivering walk down from Arthur’s Seat through the world’s best grey streets to my warm pint of 90/- in the Jolly Judge.

Sorry about your misfortunes. To me the loss of a loved one (in this sense) would be nothing at all to the consequent throes of MOVING – I think I hate moving almost more than anything. Are you really going to have to do all that? Isn’t there some Men’s Lib. that can stop it? I remember that arsefaced trendy John Mortimer (argh! s**t! farkks!) saying a client of his complained mildly of having to sell his house just because he came home and found his wife in bed with a pop-group member. I know the cases aren’t the same but still. My sympathy, chum. Philip Larkin to Kingsley Amis, 11 January 1983

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Beckham Understands Passion

Posted on 25 July 2008 by JamesHamilton

It was a headline in the Independent, and my heart sank: “Beckham sees Capello’s passion as key to England success.”

“Passion and commitment” were once an unwanted theme of this blog. Here’s a recap of two myths of British football that are wrong but effortlessly ever-present:

  1. “Passion outweighs skill and technique.” What we need is/are eleven Stuart Pearces. Well, organization can outweight skill and technique, but veinbusting headless chicken tactics never have. Never. (Stuart Pearce was and is an intelligent and skilful footballer and a student of the game. Eleven Pearces would indeed do us very well, but not solely because he cares about the game: the other elements he brings are far more important).
  2. Fans are too ready to believe that the feelings and emotion they bring to the game are those that are necessary to success in it. Unless, of course, they are urging Rooney to calm down: case closed, M’lud.

So I expected more of the same rubbish from Beckham. After all, we’ve had plenty of it from John Terry this summer. Who can say this about themselves without revealing far more  than they intended?

I’m still very disappointed by it (Terry’s penalty miss in the Champions League Final), but I’m a big man and have a big character and it’s down for me to deal with it.

But no. Beckham has worn the England armband more recently than Terry. This is a good thing:

Beckham said: “He is passionate about football. He has a total dedication to this sport.

“I think he is one of the coaches who spends most time watching football, talking about football, analysing football – and this shows the passion that he feels for his work.

“He always wants the best for his team and for his players. Now that he is England coach I am sure that things are going to go well.

“He is an ambitious coach who only wants to win – and he is someone with a lot of success behind him.”

Yes. Passionate interest, passionate hunger for knowledge, knowhow, technique, an edge. That kind of passion is what we all need in our work and our daily lives. It’s what Beckham’s shown throughout his career. It’s what’s famously lacking amongst young English players and too many English coaches, who are swift to assume that they know the game simply because they’ve been around its English version for a couple of decades.

In one sense, MOTD’s employment of ex-players has been illuminating in this regard: it’s becoming obvious to more and more fans that players can reach the top and enjoy long, successful careers without gaining any real insight into their craft at all.

For some reason, this applies less to Scotland.

Consider for a moment the changed outlook for British managers when Sir Alex Ferguson retires. At the moment, the UK can claim husbandry of one of the great European coaches. During his career, we could also look to Jock Stein, Don Revie, Brian Clough, Bob Paisley, Bobby Robson, Terry Venables (the last Englishman to take a club to the European Cup Final, over twenty years ago) and perhaps others from that 1965-85 period too.

At one point in the late seventies, all of those men were working in British football management at the same time.

One argument goes that the top four clubs are unwilling to give British managers a chance, and that without the budgets and player access those clubs enjoy, it’s hard to make comparisons. This is obviously true. At this rate, David Moyes will turn Everton into a top four club long before a top four opportunity comes his way. There is nothing more he can do at Everton to prove his worth. Mark Hughes, too, looks the part, although after Sven’s experience at City, he has a hard season ahead of him. No one doubts that Martin O’Neill should have been England manager in 2006 any more, and few did then.

But beware the examples of McClaren, Curbishley and Allardyce. Unless something dramatic happens, these three careers, the brightest England managers of their generation, have already peaked without their showing anything other than that their doubters were correct. I feel some sympathy for Sam Allardyce. I feel some respect for Steve McClaren, and wish him luck in Holland. Curbishley’s been a manager at the top level in England for a very long time without suggesting that his teams can ever be comfortable fighting for honours.

No, this is a generation to pass over. But there are positive things ahead. We are constantly exposed, in England, to the best players, many of the best coaches and, of course, to our relative shortcomings. Year by year, the need to train coaches properly climbs further up the agenda, if slowly. According to Wenger, a new generation of British youngsters is coming through who compare to any in Europe.

If the players are there, where are the coaches?

Our best hope is that they are hidden. Alf Ramsey coached all of one season in the First Division before becoming England manager. What price now that Simon Clifford/Sir Clive Woodward team?

Ten years now since this, though:


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Football Desert Island Discs

Posted on 12 July 2008 by JamesHamilton

Note: if anyone cares to do their own version of this in the comments, I’ll turn it into a separate post here.

Just because Desert Island Discs is old doesn’t mean it isn’t tight. Only eight records? And one book? One luxury?

I never felt much like having a luxury, unless that be an unexpected, inexhaustible barrel of Leffe Blonde, and each of my records would turn out to be sets of 78s the size of the multi-volume encyclopedia I am already forbidden by the Plomley Rules. And as for the book – I’d have Philip Larkin’s “Further Requirements”, which includes his Desert Island Discs.

And how dull to be washed up with what amounts to an Ipod and a broken Amazon Kindle. I want to be washed up with books, music and Youtube clips.

Your Football Desert Island “Discs” are EIGHT football clips, TWO football books, TWO football songs, ONE image and ONE moment in football history in which you can intervene.

These are mine in reverse order. Clips first. Cliche alert:

1. Brazil v England 1970

Still, in my view, the best international match ever played, and the best English team performance of all time. It came against the best international side of all time, and they lost. But so well..


2. David Pleat and Luton v Manchester City 1983

At school in Bedford, Luton were our closest First Division side, so a lot of us supported them by extension. None of us cared about Pleat’s shoes then. I trust we would now. But a good man and a good manager and Spurs’ worst mistake of modern times was to sack him.


3. David Beckham v Greece 2001

Do I really have to justify this one? Save to say, given how Beckham has played for England down the years, in contrast to many who are always about to perform, or promising to perform, or expected to perform, he spends rather a lot of time being the fall guy.


4. Newcastle United v Liverpool

Not that one. This one, which is much better:


5. George Best v Benfica 1968

The best player of all time in my opinion, with apologies to Sir Tom Finney. And Manchester United should always play in blue: more tasteful than that godawful red that I had foisted onto my bedcover as a boy.


6. Michael Owen v Germany 2001

I was too scared to watch this game, spending it over the barbecue talking to a German visitor who was in the same kind of mood. When we finally went inside, it just got better and better and better.


7. They Always Score

1999, the last time I watched a match as a pure fan wanting my team to win. It almost bloody killed me. Remember I’d had to sit through England v Argentina only a year earlier.


8. Rahn schiesst..

It’s the commentary: ten years of international shame, of hunger and bitter cold and hard work such as I can’t imagine, all finding release in one glorious moment. It never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. Hungary has never been the same since. In Berlin, I came across George Szirtes’ new book “Metropole” translated into Hungarian by some guy called Karinthy. Not a patch on the original.


Now for the songs.

1. Three Lions (original version)

The 1998 repeat is embarrassingly bad. But this one went straight onto the terraces. Even I like it. And Brooking’s comments in the opening seconds still apply:


2. The Kop

Not my team, but this has gone now, really: the sound so vast that it overwhelms the microphone. The Beatles wrote England’s folk song book alone during this period, and Morris Dancers should be shot etc.


Here’s my image. It would be a video, had anyone had the sense to wield a film camera.

And two books.

1. “Matt Busby’s Manchester United Scrapbook”

This was actually my second book of football history, but the first to really ram home what was lost at Munich. Glorious photographs, great memories and the inevitable reassurances about Dave Sexton bringing back the glory days.

2. Tor! The History of German Football by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger

Pace Simon Kuper and Jonathan Wilson, still the greatest book ever written about the game. German football has had a far more interesting time of it than English. We’ve had the triumphs, but they’ll always have 1954 to look back on.

And, finally, one moment in which I intervene. As a child, I dreamt of playing: running on to that through ball, and so did you. More recently, I find myself dreaming of management! But really, what I want to do is to shoot the tyres out on aircraft so that they can’t try to take off.


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John Cameron: A Correction

Posted on 11 July 2008 by JamesHamilton

In this recent post, I said:

After 1910, in any case, the Southern League and the Football League came to an agreement which regularised retain-and-transfer across both organisations. Had that not happened, it is interesting to speculate that a post-1918 Southern League might not have taken advantage of depression in the north of England and become the game’s dominant force, with players able to earn their market worth and that outside of the working class bondsman’s ghetto that the Football League had become.

Somehow or other I have overlooked the rather important point that the Southern League was annexed by the Football League in 1919 to become Division 3 (after 1920 and the League’s sweeping-up of a ragbag of impoverished northern clubs, Division 3 (South)).

In other words:

  1. The same economic forces that led the Football League to adopt retain-and-transfer and the maximum wage also applied to the Southern League clubs, and I’d overlooked that.
  2. That being the case, and in view of the strength of Southern League clubs in footballing terms, union with the Football League was the obvious step to take. In any case, a national league that was restricted to clubs north of Birmingham plus Woolwich Arsenal was not a national league.
  3. Bringing the story up to date, it seems inevitable that football will, in time, have to apply to itself the same employment rules as other EU industries. How the traditional idea of competing clubs can survive that is an interesting question. You can’t build a side AND have free movement of footballers, unless you can restrict the size of squads, which you can’t.

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Edwardian Football at the BFI

Posted on 09 July 2008 by JamesHamilton

Thanks largely to the fortunate survival of the Mitchell and Kenyon archive, the British Film Institute now possesses many hours of Edwardian football footage. A large proportion of this has now been properly restored and the best of it released on two DVDs: Electric Edwardians and Edwardian Sport .

Snippets of this material come and go on Youtube, caught up in the never-ending copyright battle that makes the site so unpredictable, fun and frustrating. But now the BFI themselves have thrown a decent amount up there themselves. Here’s the best of what’s there so far. (The rest of their Youtube collection is well worth exploring, as is the Mediatheque at their beautiful Southbank headquarters in London).

Sunderland v Leicester Fosse 1907


(There’s an amusing drinking story around Leicester Fosse – look it up!)

Burnley v Manchester United 1902


Preston North End v Aston Villa 1905


Bolton v Burton United 1904/5


Preston North End v Wolverhampton Wanderers 1904


Blackburn Rovers v Aston Villa 1904


Bradford City v Gainsborough Trinity 1903


Notts County v Middlesbrough 1902


Everton v Liverpool 1902


Rotherham Town v Thornhill 1902


Newcastle United v Liverpool 1901


(The outstanding film of this set – the only one truly worth watching just for the game)

Sheffield United v Bury 1901


(The United side who lost to John Cameron’s Spurs in the Cup Final take on the Cupholders who defeated George Clawley’s Southern League Southampton in the 1900 Final)

Salford v Batley 1901

Rugby League – with fascinating changing room shots and much “background” detail.


The Ban on Womens’ Football

This is from 1921, and comments on the FA’s impending ban. Eccentric and disastrous behaviour on the FA’s part, even at the time. Genuine mysogyny I suspect, of the kind Rachel Heyhoe-Flint had to deal with at the other end of the century and Jackie Oatley’s putting up with now.


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Fred Spiksley on Film

Posted on 09 July 2008 by JamesHamilton

I mentioned Fred Spiksley here yesterday – he was one of the group of Edwardian football coaches and ex-players interned by Germany with John Cameron at Ruhleben near Berlin.

This group, plus Jack Reynolds, William Townley and Jimmy Hogan, pioneered the teaching of football, and had to go abroad to do it. Of these, Fred Pentland (Spain), Jimmy Hogan (Hungary and Austria) and Jack Reynolds (Holland) were undeniably excellent coaches who had remarkable careers and left considerable legacies.

Three out of that group is quite a high proportion. It’s worth bearing in mind that these men were self-selecting: not only did they have to regard teaching football as worthwhile, but they had to have the self-confidence and self-assurance to leave home for years on end, and, in most cases, to stay abroad even after the bitter experience of imprisonment during World War I.

That self-selection doesn’t include any factor about ability to coach. British football was looked up to by Europe’s small happy band of early adopters, and one suspects that any “name” from the Football League would have more than satisfied a club who were simply too far away to perform any kind of quality check upon their new gaffer.

It might be that outside of the great three of Pentland, Reynolds and Hogan, the others were pioneers merely by being where they were and doing what they were doing i.e. creating the idea of football as a sport to be learned and developed. Whether they were any good as coaches is impossible to tell – there are no contemporaries to compare them with, and hindsight is worthless given that they were breaking the ground for others.

But this brief film of Fred Spiksley coaching at Fulham in the early 1930s is interesting nonetheless. We are always being told, for instance, that street football taught skills that coaching cannot reach. Not much sign of that here. And then what of Spiksley himself? Is he any good?

Interesting to note that 1930s Fulham was also home to Jimmy Hogan for a while. They fired him, contemptuously, saying that professional footballers “didn’t need to be coached”, whilst Hogan was recuperating in hospital. For all that, to have both Spiksley and Hogan on board for part of the time hints at something important almost dawning on the club. Craven Cottage has always welcomed players of genuine skill and intelligence: was it close to taking the same attitude with its managers? Vic Buckingham, who discovered Johann Cruyff and almost won the double with West Brom in the 1950s, would be there later, and so would Bobby Robson. Fulham dealt both of them unusually unpleasant sackings too..

Here’s the film. Clearly, the film makers have insisted on an easy-to-shoot scenario, and Spiksley is having to shout for the microphone. And are the players camera-shy? The whole thing is very artificial. What do you think?


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John Cameron and the History of English Football

Posted on 08 July 2008 by JamesHamilton

(WARNING: this is quite long)

I’d been casting about for months for an image that might effectively sum up the history of English football. A face, a stadium, perhaps a team lineup or training session. Perhaps a German airport, snowbound. It was a search for a picture that would say the most in the least time about 150 years of the sport. Not easy.

My mind kept closing in on one image in particular, but I rejected it as too clever, too knowing, and too beside itself for its own good. They’ll never guess this – the slogan of everyone who has tried too hard to impress. But the image kept coming back and refining itself.

It’s of a middle-aged man in tweeds, riding alone in a railway compartment. Red-faced, probably; hat in the rack above his head, stick leant beside his knees. He’s not smoking right now, but smells of tobacco, that catch-all deodorant of the Victorian age. It’s a bright day, and he has the window down. Outside, he can see a river widening in a businesslike way as it nears the sea.

Then I see him striding into town, the port town of Ayr. If we were there with him, we’d notice what for him is just background: the long-forgotton but utterly distinctive taste of coal smoke, and the whiff of untreated sewage. In the streets, boys play, some of whom don’t have shoes. He won’t ever know how quaint and strange this scene is to us, because like us he experiences himself living at the very cutting edge of time, at the end of history. The countless thousands of miniscule changes that convert his time into ours have not yet begun.

There are photographs of Victorian Ayr, of course. A large number of them are sepia. That alone banishes them from any sense of our common era – sepia photos are automatically old and subject to that mockery owed by the future to the past. (They are old because sepia worked: it was supposed to add fade-protection to otherwise shortlived images). When they were first taken and processed, they emerged as monochrome images depicting their full colour world. Of that world, only that tiny photographic slice of life was black and white. Now, of course, almost everything that survives of that world is black and white. The insignificant slice has become all that’s left, and it’s as though it always was everything. For people of my generation, born in the late sixties, black and white represents everything that happened before we arrived. Colour is everything that’s happened since. Match of the  Day went colour when I was six months old.

Because of that black and white – colour transformation, and because of other things besides, there’s a distancing. I don’t know my traveller’s name, or even if he existed, although I know why he’s in Ayr. But as I’m going to use him as a peg on which to hang some history of football, it’s worth pausing just to consider that, for him, in footballing or in other terms, he isn’t aware of being a “pioneer” or that the game he is involved in (he’s a football man) is going through its early years. To him, this is modern football. If he reflects upon it at all, as he rolls up at the field where Ayr Parkhouse FC play, then football has already done its developing, turning into the brilliant, boisterous late-century fad that it seems to him.

Not that he’s making any money out of it: this man, whose existence I’ve invented, also has an unpaid job that I’ve invented for him. He’s a scout for the world’s most famous and successful football club. He represents the side that has won the most trophies, introduced the best innovations and tactical developments, provided the most internationals and which, as he makes his way on, is taking a self-sacrificial stand to protect the smaller clubs of the game and to protect the game itself from the looming threat of corruption. Our man is a scout for Queens Park in Glasgow, and he’s come to offer membership to a burly twenty-something forward called John Cameron. I dare say he doesn’t know what he’s starting. Nor does Cameron know just what he’s getting into.

Records disappear, and we don’t know when John Cameron joined Queens Park, the most famous team in the world. But it was probably between 1892 and 1894. The Scottish Football League had been formed in 1890, and, because the League was intended to boost the profits of professional clubs by providing regular fixtures, Queens Park, a staunchly amateur side then as now, refused to join.

This wasn’t, as it’s so often painted, a matter of class snobbery. Football history is too lazy when it comes to the issue of professionalism. You know the conventional story, I’m sure. Public school toffs (boo!) who invented the game, codified it and built its institutions, but who despite this are flannelled fools with irritating laughs, don’t like professionalism because it’s working class. But they have to give in. Hurrah for professionalism and working class sport and we’re the masters now and so on and so forth. Nigel Molesworth would put it better.

I wonder whether a fair number of sports historians, especially in the UK, are that kind of historian because they secretly long to be one of the lads. The classic version of events around professionalism owes a lot to this. It’s less history, more of a “dogwhistle” – meaning, “I’m on the side of the people, I’m one of you.” Let’s put that classic account to one side and piece the thing together with John Cameron’s help.

Cameron was a working class man, but also a product of Scottish education, meaning that he was highly literate, free-thinking and independent of mind. He’d probably been out of school for a decade by the time Queens Park came calling, playing as an amateur for Ayr Parkhouse. This implies that his mode of employment, which we don’t know, was sufficient both to make his living and leave him time for sport. Sport clearly meant a great deal to him – as we’ll see later, he was proficient at more than just football – and a move to Queens Park, who were scrupulous in their background checks at this time, meant that he was confident of finding work in Glasgow too. And that playing for Queens Park was worth the disruption and risk all on its own. There would be no money in it for him.

Cameron epitomises the history of English football because he’s a clever, educated man from the West of Scotland, and because his move to Queens Park puts him at the centre of the change from amateur to professional dominance of the top levels of football.

Working class men could, after all, play serious football as amateurs. This approach to the game – moving around from job to job whilst playing for amateur clubs – is played down by historians, but it’s actually far more typical of the life of serious Victorian and Edwardian players than was full-time or part-time professionalism. The vast majority of players in organised teams in organised leagues at this time, and to this day, were and are amateur. In Scotland, so in England: Herbert Chapman’s playing days were peripatetic in the extreme, and he, like Cameron as we will see, only turned professional late in his career.

Professionalism, we are told, comes about through payments to working class players to compensate for work time lost to football. I wonder, not least because of the unlikely picture of benevolent employers letting their workers absond for the sake of the latest big fad. I’m sure that this is part of the story, but not all.

First of all, consider amateurism. There is little evidence that it has anything to do with aristocratic values. The major sports of the first half of the nineteenth century were corrupt affairs, bent out of shape as we would see it by the demands of gambling, gambling being what kept most of them in being at all. Love of fair play and love of the game were deliberate creations in the public schools and churches, and these ideas spread only as a result of a lot of hard work, persistence, determination and argument. One result was the excellent state of late century cricket, which, given the ructions, controversies and financial catastrophes of the preceding fifty years might not have seemed terribly likely at times. Just getting people to play by the rules when there is no tradition of doing so means creating that tradition from scratch, no easy thing. And then, just as amateur football has swept the nation, and the FA Cup is thriving, and international “home nations” football is thriving, and cities like Sheffield and Glasgow and the industrial towns are burgeoning with new clubs and competitions, all of it helping along a general improvement in law and order and public behaviour… just as it’s all going so well, professionalism rears its head again. Money starts changing hands, clubs poach each other’s players, and it all begins to get a little bit ugly with the promise of much worse to come.

Can you see how there might be other reasons beside snobbery for opposing professionalism? John Cameron’s new club, Queens Park, had players from all walks of life, and provided them all with the chance to play the sport at the very top level. But, having no financial goals other than to pay their own expenses, Queens Park were in a position to stand up for newer, smaller clubs and the benefits those clubs brought to members and players, in a way that Rangers and Celtic were not.

To understand the pressure for professionalism, it’s necessary to remember just how remarkable a fad football was at the end of the nineteenth century. Because of the growth of industrial cities, there existed concentrated populations keen for entertainment. Football offered businessmen a new and substantial opportunity. Ring off a field, get two teams together, and charge admission: build it, and they will come. But you need to persuade people to come to your show, not your rival’s from the other side of town, so you need to find out who people will pay to watch and get them in somehow. Offer them a job in your factory, or just give them cash in hand. If your rivals have the upper hand, raise the money somehow and steal their entire team! This fate befell the first professional FA Cup winners, Blackburn Olympic, whose side was “bought” en masse by Blackburn Rovers. Olympic soon vanished from sight.

The more people you can get in to see your games, the more profit you make, so the period 1890 – 1914 sees what is in effect an arms race of stadium building and team building. You have to become the big club in your town before someone else does. Chelsea appear out of nowhere in 1905 complete with Stamford Bridge: their founders took a huge financial risk that they only just got away with – had they not been able to persuade the Football League to give them instant admission, they’d have folded immediately. After 1920 or so, no new “big clubs” appeared: the period of meteoric growth was over. The fast money left football for cinema, motoring and radio.

So early professional football was about getting the best showmen and the best big top before the other guy did. So, for a while, the best players could command a premium for their services. But not for long.

Queens Park were right, in the end, about the threat posed by the Scottish League to small clubs. The years after 1890 were ones of terrible winnowing, even for those clubs who did join. One third of the founder members did not see the decade out. Cambuslang, Cowlairs and Renton had all ceased to exist by 1898.

They were right in another way, too. By remaining amateur and remaining, for the time being, away from the horror and bloodshed of the Scottish Football League, they kept the top level of Scottish football open to all. In England, amateur players were being squeezed out of the national team and out of the clubs. In the Edwardian era, only Vivien Woodward of the hundreds of thousands of amateur players in England made any great international contribution.

In 1896, John Cameron made his debut for Scotland. Alongside him was another Queens Park alumnus, one R.S. McColl. If that sounds like a newsagent to you, it’s because that’s what McColl later became.

Cameron wouldn’t live so long, nor become so rich. Shortly before his cap, he went professional, burning his bridges with Queens Park, and joined Everton.

John Cameron epitomises the history of English football by being one of the many Scottish mercenaries who came to play in England.

Cameron arrived at Everton at a propitious time. What we now call “The Old Lady” – Goodison Park – was reaching completion as the first football stadium to completely enclose its pitch with stands on all sides. And here, in the biggest and most modern arena in the entire world, he made an instant impact as Everton thrashed an excellent Sheffield United team 5-0.

We are now so familiar with the idea of the big football ground that we forget just what was happening in Liverpool first, then in Manchester and Glasgow. It’s thought that the Colliseum in Rome could hold 50,000 people. Within a few short years, Cameron would play a vital and historic match in front of more than twice that number. In our industrial cities, at the end of the nineteenth century, the largest secular, peaceful gatherings in the history of our species would take place. And, only fifty years after the Chartists provoked panic in London with their Kennington Rally, a Cup Final only a few miles from that spot with an equivalent number of attendees would barely raise the authorities’ collective eyebrow. Football was a fad, but it was also a miracle.

And cities that were, in effect, brand new, landmarkless places, suddenly acquired symbols for themselves in the form of the new stadia. Liverpool was Goodison Park and, later, Anfield – and these places would be known the world over. Manchester was Maine Road and Old Trafford. Queens Park had the last laugh over the professional upstarts: Glasgow was Hampden.

Now that stadium building has recommenced, this is happening again. If you had to think of a building in Reading, is the first that comes to mind the Madejski Stadium? Or Bolton, the Reebok? Middlesborough, the Riverside?

Goodison Park was the very first of all these, the first ever: and Everton “acquired” John Cameron to help fill it. In the ten years of professionalism that had already passed, many Scots had “come south”: Cameron was no pioneer in that respect. Hundreds more would follow over the years, and even a short list reads like a greatest hits of the game: Dalglish, Law, Busby, Docherty, Gallacher, even our very own Alex Massie.

Cameron joined Everton just at the moment when the great days for professional footballers were coming to a close. In the previous year, the Football League introduced its registration scheme, by which a player could only turn out for the club he was registered with, regardless of his own future desires and intentions. Henceforth, his club would “own” his right to play League football, and should he leave them, could prevent him, should they wish, from playing for a rival.

The registration scheme was belated recognition of what Queens Park had seen five years before: professionalism left unchecked would make life impossible for smaller clubs. The early years of the Football League had been dominated by the richest clubs, purely and simply, and this was a danger to the stability and the viability of the League itself. Their solution was to turn players into bondsmen. And bondsmen they would remain, right up until the 1960s.

Loyal local players playing loyally for local teams are much admired these days – the Scholeses and the Nevilles and the Carraghers. It’s thought that they hark back to better days when that kind of thing was much more common, and they are seen as a dying breed. But the loyal players of the past – like Tom Finney at Preston – had no choice in the matter. They could not have moved had they wanted to, without their club’s agreement. At the height of his powers, Finney received an offer from an Italian club which would have rendered him free of financial worries for the rest of his life. Preston refused to countenance it. And that’s one of the better stories. Players could be and were left in limbo, registered at a club but with no contract.

Even as late as the 1950s, most football contracts were for the season. Many players would be cast off for the summer, forced to find jobs until the next year’s fixtures came around. The registration scheme meant that, unlike their colleagues in industry, there was nowhere for them to go. So much for the loyal players; so much for the game “before it was ruined by money.” A fine man like Tom Finney deserved better than the peverse combination of fame and feudalism he was dealt, but that was what the best players faced, and the mediocre ones fared far worse.

The registration scheme, the first turn of the key in the lock if you will, came a year before Cameron’s arrival in England. Worse was about to come. John Cameron, as we’ve seen, was able to work and support himself outside football and yet play at the top level. Players, being considered as showmen and entertainers (the idea of the “sportsman” was in its infancy), training and development were at best ad hoc, and there is no evidence to suggest that professional players were decisively fitter than their amateur counterparts. If it wasn’t the football that brought him to Everton, then, it must have been a combination of a big money offer and his own sense of travel and adventure.

The money was next to come under threat. The arms race to build stadia was squeezing clubs’ finances. Clubs which, only a couple of years earlier, were spending their money on players, had now realized just how large football crowds might get before the soccer bubble burst. Bums on seats became a priority over boots on the ground. It was this realization that cleared the way for the registration system, and now the clubs turned their attention to the imposition of a maximum wage.

It was Cameron’s moment to come into his own.

In theory, at least, the registration system made it possible for clubs to lower the wages of their players without losing their services. But because the registration system only covered Football League clubs, it was still open to the disaffected to move to Scottish League clubs or to clubs in the growing Southern League in England. But in 1897, the Scottish League banned this kind of poaching – and within the Football League itself, the lobbying for a £4 maximum wage was gaining ground rapidly.

Most players received less than that, but the elite, including Cameron, were drawing salaries of up to £10 and saw their livelihoods threatened. Cameron, intelligent, confident and literate, was not about to allow that. In February 1898, John Cameron was able to announce that the new Association Footballer’s Union could call upon 250 members. He was Secretary, and with his Everton and Scotland colleague Jack Bell as President, the driving force. Billy Meredith, of Manchester City, was in, as was Jimmy Ross of Preston North End, Tom Bradshaw of Liverpool, and others.

There had been earlier unions, of course – ASLEF was up and running by this date – but the AFU predated both the NUM and the NUR, to say nothing of the General Federation of Trade Unions. It was an early and audacious foundation, formed under acute time pressure and within a highly peripatetic workforce spending a great deal of its time on the railway and the road.

Although the immediate threat was that to existing pay scales, Cameron knew, as Jimmy Hill and George Eastham would know sixty years later, that the “retain and transfer” registration scheme was at the very heart of their problems. He called for negotiations regarding transfers to involve the club and player concerned – not, as was usually the case, merely the two clubs with the player excluded. Bell, meanwhile, promised that the question of pay would be left alone for the time being and that there was no question of a strike.

Cameron did not know how long he had to save the situation. Once a maximum wage was imposed, he knew, that was that – his career’s potential destroyed in the interests of the Everton board. So, when a better offer came his way, he took it.

So did Bell; so did Bradshaw. Bell was replaced as AFU chairman by a Preston player in the twilight of a great career, Bob Holmes. Holmes himself would demonstrate my point about professionalism by “retiring” as a professional in the wake of the collapse of the Union in 1899, yet playing on as an amateur for Preston for another three years. For Holmes, it was twilight. For Cameron, the adventure was only just beginning. In the summer of 1898, he joined Tottenham Hotspur of the Southern League. His successor as Secretary was a schoolteacher.

it was the big money move. And it was a move away from retain-and-transfer, away from the immediate threat of the maximum wage (which came in finally in 1901, remaining in force long enough to snag the likes of Charlton, Greaves, Clough and Haynes).

John Cameron epitomises the history of English football because he was closely and personally involved in the losing battle against constraints on players’ pay and conditions.

It was a step up the social ladder, too. Late Victorian Tottenham was a far cry from the sea of industrial terracing Cameraon had known in Glasgow and Liverpool. He left behind a game that was in the process of ghettoising itself for the sake of money. First professionalism, then the League, then the retain-and-transfer system, then the maximum wage – all were measures to extract as much money from large crowds in large towns and cities as possible. In the process, they robbed the real attraction of the piece – the players – of their just share of the profits. The working class could come and watch. The working class could sign away their freedom and security and play. But the money that was the reason for it all went into other hands. If this was working class sport, then so was Roman gladiatorial combat.

Cameron, meanwhile, found himself well paid and in London, living a few streets away from where A. E. Housman was putting the finishing touches to A Shropshire Lad. His club was young and ambitious:moreover, it soon knew that in Cameron it had more than a star player on its hands. By February of 1899, he had become player-secretary-manager, one of the very first players to make the step up.

The step into management was not the obvious one it seems today. At this stage in the development of the English game, the players were seen as the experts in the art of playing. As we’ve seen in the case of Cameron, there were highly intelligent players with intellectual capacity to go with technical ability, and this would have meant some degree of on-field adaptability and thinking. Herbert Chapman acknowledged as much about Edwardian football, looking back on it from the 1930s, blaming the 1925 change in the offside law for the loss of subtlety and cleverness in the English game. His own Huddersfield team of the 1920s had its little university of writers and preachers. There have been few such since, and most of those are called Blanchflower and Giles, and how many of those are English?

The secretary-manager’s primary task was not to plan tactics but to act as go-between for the board and players. In some cases, the choice of, negotiation for and acquisition of players was also involved. All his other duties could just as well come under the heading of clerk. The idea of an ex-player moving into management needed some actual ex-players to bring it into being, and, as we’ve seen in the case of Bob Holmes, the Football League was barely old enough to be generating ex-players at all.

John Cameron epitomises the history of English football by being one of the very first Scottish ex-player managers in the League, and one of the first ex-player managers of any nationality.

As you might expect by now, Cameron was one of those managers who took a role in choosing players, and, as he continued to play himself, on-field tactics. Had there been tracksuits available to him – at this stage, British athletes still wore dressing gowns, and only US athletes had the actual tracksuits – he might have been called a tracksuit manager.

As it was, he masterminded the first successful comeback by a non-League side against a League side since 1888, scoring against Sunderland in a victorious FA Cup tie.

Cameron’s signings were good ones: Jack Kirwan, briefly his successor at Everton came; so did George Clawley from Stoke. Tom Morris was to become a long-term Spurs stalwart, but was new on the scene when Cameron led the side out for the first ever game at White Hart Lane.

John Cameron epitomises the history of English football by taking a leading role in the top-level game’s arrival in London.

By 1899, the Football League’s position on pay was beginning to endanger its preeminence in England. There was a steady flow of players from the Football League to the Southern League, and the evidence of the FA Cup showed that the southerners, without the benefit (outside the capital) of large industrial populations, were catching up. In 1900, Southampton  reached the FA Cup Final, where they lost to Bury. They had already featured in a semi-final, partly due to the good form of George Clawley in goal.

Another of the former AFU men, Thomas Bradshaw, had also made the trip south to Tottenham, and played alongside Cameron in the victory against Sunderland. Shortly afterwards, he was to illustrate in his own life just what the AFU had been needed for.

Bradshaw joined “Thames Ironworks” – the future West Ham – in the close season of 1898-9. He was injured in a game early in his season, but although he recovered to play again, it was already apparent that tuberculosis had him in its grip.

Bradshaw had mouths to feed at home, and was possessed of powerful, unselfish courage. He played his last game, visibly short of breath and stamina, on the 9th of December. By the time Christmas Day was over, he was dead.

His own tragedy was his family’s too: he would not have been insured, nor would compensation have been due. Professional footballers were well paid for their time, especially in the Southern League, but not enough to make widowhood and being orphaned anything less than a disaster.

Cases like Bradshaw’s would inspire Billy Meredith and his colleagues to rebuild the fight for union rights in the opening years of the twentieth century. Bradshaw’s colleague, Syd King, would write him a sad eulogy in his 1906 “Book of Football,” a year after King had become the first English sportsman to endorse Oxo.

Tuberculosis was far from uncommon as a cause of death amongst footballers – it took Harry Chapman, Herbert’s then more famous brother, before the Great War.

Two years after Bradshaw’s death at 26, Cameron led Spurs to the FA Cup Final, where they met one of the crack sides of the Football League, Sheffield United, and took on the unique challenge posed by William Henry “Fatty” Foulkes.

Over 110,000 supporters attended the Final, held at Crystal Palace, a venue which – unlike Goodison – was not yet enclosed on all sides.

United were deservedly strong favourites, and began well, taking the lead through Fred Priest on 20 minutes. Spurs levelled through Sandy Brown almost immediately, however. The next day’s newspaper told the rest:

When Brown was put through by Cameron to beat Fouike again with a rising shot for Tottenham five minutes after the interval, the predominantly southern crowd went wild. Hats went into the air, handkerchiefs were waved, and spectators daringly perched in the trees around the ground almost fell out of the branches. But the match was far from settled, for within a minute a strange incident changed the face of the match.

A linesman flagged for a corner-kick after Bennett had charged Totten­ham goalkeeper Clawley near the goal-line and the ball had gone behind. The referee then surprised everyone by awarding a goal to Sheffield, on the grounds that the ball had crossed the goal-line as Clawley had attempted to field Lipsham’s shot from the left seconds before Bennett had moved in to charge him. The general opinion was that referee Kings-cott had made a sad error of judgement. He was too far up the field to be able to decide the point, yet he refused to consult with a linesman much nearer to the incident.

Daylight robbery. The replay, at Bolton’s Burnden Park, is here:


Cameron scored in Spurs’ 3-1 win. Tottenham Hotspur under John Cameron remain the only non-League side to win the Cup since the formation of the Football League.

It would fall to other men to lead Spurs into the Football League itself. By then, a player’s union would finally have clawed itself into existence. After 1910, in any case, the Southern League and the Football League came to an agreement which regularised retain-and-transfer across both organisations. Had that not happened, it is interesting to speculate that a post-1918 Southern League might not have taken advantage of depression in the north of England and become the game’s dominant force, with players able to earn their market worth and that outside of the working class bondsman’s ghetto that the Football League had become.

Cameron remained manager after he hung up his boots, but the loss of his place on the field led to the loss of a great deal of his influence. The players he had brought south with him had one by one retired or left, and by 1907 Tom Morris was the last significant member of the Cameron inner circle remaining.

Not for the first time, Cameron made the adventurous choice. He left England, and followed his former playing opponent William Townley to Wilhelmine Germany.

Townley, another smart man frustrated by the restricted ethos of English football, had gone over some four years earlier, and found the water warm. Although football in Germany was somewhat frowned upon, being seen as a socially inferior sport, its fans and enthusiasts had one thing about them that had great appeal. They didn’t think they knew about football, and they wanted to learn.

Cameron took over at Dresdner SC in 1907, by which time Townley was at Karlsruher. They were the first of a series of significant, thinking football men who’d seek disciples abroad before World War One, men who’d shape the whole future of European and ultimately World football. Jimmy Hogan followed them out two years later, closely followed by Jack Kirwan, Jack Reynolds and Fred Pentland. German, Dutch, Spanish and Hungarian football has reason to remember their names.

Football was spreading, but it would be a mistake to see this as a recognisable development at the time. The first modern Olympiad only took place in 1896, and the whole idea of international competition outside of Ashes or Home Championships style fraternal meetings was unfamiliar. Nor had any modern sport escaped the borders of its founding culture. Most existing sports in 1900, apart from the Victorian British inventions, had their equivalent in the ancient world. The idea of taking e.g. football and “developing” it in new countries and for new culture simply did not exist. Even Cameron and co. were merely meeting a demand in a way that paid them well and which they found satisfying.

That demand reflected a situation and created a trend. The situation: the English being alien to the concept of coaching or of football being something that could be learnt or improved upon. The trend: the best English coaches being, in effect, driven out. It took fifty years to work itself out, until 1953 and the Magyars’ huge victory at Wembley. But the English had rode their luck. Had the Austrian team held a more confident view of itself in the 1930s, defeat might have come to London twenty years earlier. The brilliant postwar England team of 46-48 hid the underlying trend for another couple of years. But by 1953, all of the best men knew what had happened. Mercer, Finney, Matthews, all realized that they’d been overtaken and that change would have to come. We’re still waiting for it.

Somewhere out there, perhaps there’s a corner of some foreign Cameron or a Townley waiting to come to visit us.

Cameron enjoyed seven good years amidst the beauty and culture of Dresden. Then came war, and with it, the strange, marvellous, tragic climax of his life.

It took place here.

This, along with some bales of hay tucked away behind, is all that remains of Ruhleben Race Course, in Spandau, Berlin. In 1914, the German Empire rounded up the “enemy aliens” within its borders. A large number of them ended up in a camp at Ruhleben. See an inmate’s sketch of the camp here.Cameron was here, along with a star-studded cast of British footballing names. Steve Bloomer came; so did Fred Pentland.

Pentland and Bloomer can be seen at the extreme left of this Ruhleben team lineup from 1918.

Also present were Fred Spiksley – who’d been coaching in Sweden before Germany – Samuel Wolstenholme, another former international to take the Kaiser’s football shilling, John Brearley – a Cameron signing at Spurs, and Edwin Dutton, whose father introduced football to Berlin.

(Jimmy Hogan was interned in Austria; Jack Reynolds  saw the war out in Holland and passed the time by getting Ajax of Amsterdam off to a good start. His immediate predecessor was another Cameroon, Jack Kirwan, who returned home to fight, before helping Italian football get started in the postwar period).

So, in the unlikeliest of settings, began the four year symposium of almost everything of the best in British football coaching. There has never been such an event or such a group since. Ruhleben left copious records, including inmate newspapers and magazines. Sadly, what isn’t recorded is the conversation between these people. We know they organised teams, cups and league competitions. But what they must have learned from one another there.Whatever it was, in 1918 it left Ruhleben and spread around the world.

After the war, Pentland went on to coach the Spanish side that beat England in 1929, and broke up the Spanish inheritance of Edwardian tactics and formation for something not dissimilar to the Hungarian formaton of the 1950s.

Spiksley went on to coach in Mexico, before returning to Germany.

Steve Bloomer went on to coach successfully in Spain, after pre-war coaching in Germany and the Netherlands.

The first two years of internment seem to have been bearable. 1914-16 account for most of the accounts of football – and of tennis, at which Cameron is alleged to have excelled. Thereafter, things darken. Food is certain to have run short at times, and it’s possible that the huge German losses of 1917 would have lessened sympathy for the prisoners, and wiped memories of their having helped Germany before. Pictures survive of work gangs: a memoir is entitled “Hell Could Not Be Worse.” Another hints at physical mistreatment of inmates.

Whatever went on, Cameron changed direction after the war. A year at home, coaching in Ayr, was followed by a move into writing and journalism. He had form of this already, writing a “souvenir”of Spurs’ entry to the Football League from his new German perspective in 1908. It was a route taken by quite a few players at the time – and there would be others later, notably Len Shackleton, who did so much to get Brian Clough’s managerial career underway.

By comparison with his performance up until 1914, Cameron’s post-War career is quiet, almost silent. You scan the years, expecting him to pop up again, to do something new or unexpected. It doesn’t happen. John Cameron was 46 by the end of the War, and, at that age, even for a fit man, 2-4 years of imprisonment and privation can mean breakdown. He is the only significant football man not to be in Steve Bloomer’s 1918 picture. The reasons why are probably sad ones.

In his career, John Cameron was at the heart of every issue that has marked British football. Except for one: race. That he narrowly missed: the great Walter Tull joined Tottenham Hotspur two years after Cameron’s departure. Tull travelled with Spurs to play Bristol City in his first season. A correspondent relates:

A section of the spectators made a cowardly attack on him in language lower than Billingsgate.. Let me tell those Bristol hooligans that Tull is so clean in mind and method as to be a model for all white men who play football whether they be amateur or professional. In point of ability, if not actual achievement, Tull was the best forward on the field.

Tull’s war saw him become the first Black officer to lead white troops into battle – indeed, to become the first British-born black officer ever. Sadly, the end of the war did not come soon enough for him.

Cameron lived until 1935, long enough to see the rise to fame, and the death, of the last innovative English manager, Herbert Chapman. All of the footballing change and growth that Cameron had lived through in his career before 1914 stopped thereafter, apart from Chapman, and I wonder what he would have made of the passivity and stasis of the interwar English game, especially once Arsenal’s great manager was gone. Since 1935, certainly, history has simply repeated itself. Here we are again, a few rich clubs dominant, buying their talent from outside England’s borders, denying the need for coaching, bickering over player’s pay.

We’ve done it all over and over again, but Cameron was there first. And that’s why he’s the Scotsman who epitomises the history of English football. Well, I did say he didn’t have to be English….

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FC Union

Posted on 07 July 2008 by JamesHamilton

6.15a.m. Kensal Green station. Then, Euston, St Pancras, Brussels; then the ICE through Belgium and the Ardennes to Cologne; too long in the melting heat around the Dom waiting for our connection, then Bielefeld, Hanover; then hammering down across the German plains at 150mph, spilling out into the quiet of Friedrichshain from Ostbahnhof at 8.30p.m.

30 minutes later and I have left Gunter Grass and Stefan Zweig in a bag in my hotel room; I am sitting in front of a half litre of Erdinger Hefeweizen in the Hirsch (Berlin’s “Moon Under the Water”) and flicking through a copy of Kicker. Over my head’s a poster for F.C. Union. Ossi clubs may be suffering, but I get the impression that Union are working hard to be a proper local team. More on them here, at the excellent

(Plenty of “we’re really hard” type Union fan videos out there on the web, but come on: their crowds rival Rochdale’s).

In the centre of town, every bar screen has Jurgen Klinsmann’s face on it, and him proclaiming (I think) that Bayern Munich is one of the very top clubs in the world – this is followed by debate as to whether they can hang on to Podolski in face of competition from the mighty Cologne. I have five nights in Berlin. I spend three of them in the Hirsch, under my Union poster.

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Epitomes of English Football

Posted on 07 July 2008 by JamesHamilton

Back from Berlin, and as promised I have photographs to do with the man who I consider to epitomise the history of English football. But before I give you my nomination, I want to expand on the suggestions people took the time to make in comments on my original post.

Peter Jackson nominates two players, both of whom starred for Manchester City in their respective eras. First up, Billy Meredith:


Meredith is a fantastic nomination on a number of counts:

  • Although he would have become a professional on joining City in 1894, like others who went “full time” on joining Football League clubs, he had played in non-professional league set-ups prior to that without hindrance from his amateur/semi-professional status. Professionalism was only in part about making the game accessible to the working class, and this aspect of the subject is heavily overplayed for class politics reasons in most, perhaps all, easily accessible football histories.
  • Meredith was one of a large number of players of the day who would, in our own time, more than likely find himself playing his sport as an adjunct to his college or university studies. He wrote widely on the game, and later coached, using modern media to the full.
  • He was also involved in the painful birth of the Professional Footballers’ Association, which was the second attempt amongst League players to organize. The story of footballing trade unionism is an important part of the overall early struggle for union rights, and he was at the centre of it. He was also caught up in the flipside of the struggle for fair pay and proper treatment: corruption, in the form of the infamous City scandal of 1905.
  • Meredith was Welsh, of course, and was one of the very large numbers of non-English players drawn into the English game by money and Edwardian football’s arms race for players and spectators. When Meredith joined City in 1894, City were just one of dozens of clubs in the Manchester environs competing for public attention and the concomitant profits. By the time he returned to City in 1921, City and United were very much “the” Manchester clubs, owning huge stadia and attracting the bulk of local support between them. Their competitors were either gone altogether by this stage, or unable to break out of lower division football. Clubs that hadn’t made the breakthrough to the top division by 1921 would never join the elite group. Some would win cups and titles, but since the Great War, really the two Manchester clubs, the two Liverpool clubs, the principal London clubs and, until the 1960s, the north-eastern rivals, have had things to themselves.

Peter’s other nomination is Colin Bell. Bell belongs to that curious late-Ramsey-post-Ramsey period during which the England team couldn’t quite regain its composure after the shock of meeting Netzer at Wembley in 1972. Peter describes him as “maybe the last Charlton-style universally respected player”. Here are some reasons why:


Peter points out that Bell was a local lad, and (early career aside) a one-club loyalty player. I think there’s a debate to be had as to which is the more typical of the history of English football – the local player loyal to his local club, or the travelling man. I’d argue – and will argue, when I post about my own nomination – for the travelling man, and I’ll call in evidence the way players were really treated by football clubs, what the relationship really was. The players might have had to be loyal, else leave the game or starve, and as for the clubs… But I agree with Peter that the local player as a kind of representative of that area, especially in the eyes of fans, has been a feature of English football since its beginnings.

Bill suggests Dave Mackay. Mackay, by any measure, is an extraordinary man. As he’s a Scot, playing the bulk of his career in England, he would go some way to fit my bill of the epitome, especially as he played for Spurs, of which much, much more in my own nomination post. He’s another of the men who a later era’s school system might have diverted away from professional sport – although, in his case, you have to suspect that he’d have gone right ahead and played whatever other options were open to him. His career straddled the period in which what Billy Meredith helped start was (almost, but awaiting Bosman) finished. And he went on to manage abroad, in addition to excellent seasons at Derby in the post-Clough era. Mackay is not my man, and was in his cradle when my man died. But they’d have understood each other very well. Dave Mackay, then:


(If the embed hasn’t worked for you, click here to watch the Mackay video)

Kris and “John Terry’s Mum” both plump for Gascoigne. (I second the recommendation of the Gascoigne autobiographies, written with Hunter Davies. It’s the second of these that convinces me that Gazza has been consistently misdiagnosed – not (primarily) alcohol or OCD in my view, but instead an extreme but uncomplicated lifelong generalized anxiety disorder. But bear in mind that “distance” diagnoses are highly suspect, and it’s very possible that Gazza’s therapists are in the right).

Gascoigne is that very, very occasional English phenomenon, the Best/Garrincha/Maradona type all-out genius. I rate him at least at Garrincha level, if that makes any sense at all, and admire him immensely both for getting as much out of his career as he did as well as for the great help he’s provided to fellow patients whilst in treatment. I wish it would do more for the man himself… but these are by far the hardest problems in the mental health field, ones with no generally agreed treatment paths or indeed treatments with much track record.

In terms of his footballing abilities, he’s the exception that proves the rule. Great skill does not have to be accompanied with offputting “cunning” and great play can go along with laughter and fun. Despite his injuries, he played until his early thirties, and because, unlike Best, his every move was put to film, he has a fabulous greatest hits reel.

The trouble with Gascoigne’s situation is that a lot of people imagine he can somehow take a decision and walk away from it. Instead, he has to wake every morning straight into the middle of feelings, emotions and automatic reactions that are difficult to handle and pretty much impossible for outsiders to imagine. “Fighting his demons”, they call it, as if they can be cast out if only he were to try hard enough.

Who are the other English Gascoignes? Wilf Mannion? Peter Osgood? Alan Hudson? He had contemporaries of slightly different kinds in Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle, but I’d argue that not since Best has there been a player like him for sheer unpredictable edge-of-your-seat excitement. If he was on the pitch for England, there was always room for optimism.

I don’t know if I’d describe him as epitomising anything about English football other than himself. Here is my favourite Gazza moment, one among how many in a ten year international career:


Ismael Klata nominates Kevin Keegan. What I’d say about Keegan, other than that he was THE football hero of my childhood, is that he epitomises, completely and perfectly, English football between 1972 and 1982. Everything about it: its northerness, teatime in front of World of Sport, warmth and friendliness (let’s forget hooliganism for the time being), patriotism combined with a kind of cosmopolitanism when the working class boy from Doncaster made such a brilliant success of life in Hamburg. He represented us well, didn’t he?

Later, he was Paul Scholes’ favourite England manager, and, in my view, showed great honesty and courage in the manner of his departure from the England job. He was right to resign, and brutally, bravely honest in how he did so. I don’t think I could have displayed that kind of grace in defeat myself.

The story of English football over the course of his career was of club success but international frustration, coupled with a sense that something was rotting in the Football League’s ancient, astonishingly resilient structure. He was at the heart of all of that, and, at Newcastle as player and as manager, the gatekeeper for the wealthier, glossier future, a future he did much to give a human face to. Now, he’s the trusted witness for what is happening to and within the Premiership, still speaking with the openness and honesty and courage that we all still want to be typical of England, of Britain. Here’s that voice, the first time we heard it:


Gary Langham nominates Ian Wright, because of Wright’s recent dismissal of the idea that coaches need specialist training. As he says, only in England, and that is a theme that stretches right back to the Edwardian era. I’ll revisit it at length in my own nomination post.

There are other reasons to nominate Wright, though. His stress on bringing passion and enthusiasm to the game are very English traits, and it’s his misfortune to have been the man who finally began to bring overreliance on them into popular disrepute. He deserved better – no one was ever more committed to the England cause, despite frustration under Taylor and Venables, nor more unlucky with badly timed injuries. His hamstring injury before the 1998 World Cup was, forgive me, gutting.

Ian Wright is the embodiment of the victory of English black players against racism. That kind of victory always seems to need winning again, but he is one of the men who had to do the hard digging, and it’s one reason why I think he’s an excellent nomination. Here he is. Sayonara, Lineker-San:


Karthik nominates Paul Scholes. Interestingly, he does so because Scholes is atypical, saying “how England produced Scholes is a mystery to me..” I think we can all see where he’s coming from on this. A short, quiet, asthmatic local boy who supports Oldham, Scholes was rated by both Marcello Lippi and Edgar Davids as one of the very great world midfielders.

I am and always have been a great fan of Sven Goran Ericksson, as both club and international coach. My sole deep criticism of his England stint was that he preferred Gerrard and Lampard in central midfield to Paul Scholes, who’d be pushed out onto the left. Granted that there was a time, long ago, when England never lost when Steven Gerrard played, and hindsight is terribly convenient, yet still..

His one contribution to English football history is a Manchester United one. In other words, my initial question is in danger of playing down a magnificent career just because it doesn’t fit in with it. Here’s my favourite “Scholes” – Paul enjoying himself under Keegan. Nine years ago!


I mentioned that I’d be taking some photographs in Berlin in relation to my own nomination. And so I did. This is the best of them, and it’s a clue to the name of the man I am going to write about at some length this week. In the meantime, see if you can guess who it is (click to enlarge).

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