Archive | November, 2009

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1908 Olympic Football: The First World Cup

Posted on 30 November 2009 by JamesHamilton

Before the FIFA World Cup of 1930, the Olympic Games football tournament represented the first organized attempt to stage a world championship. Even as early as 1908, that’s precisely what it was, featuring the United Kingdom, France, Holland, Sweden and Denmark. Only the withdrawal of Hungary and Bohemia before the tournament started prevent 1908 from boasting a full house of serious footballing nations of the time.

British football was familiar with continental opposition, and British coaches worked in Europe, but the Olympic experience was a contrast to the usual experience of the British, the only country to play their sport on a genuinely global scale. One way to interpret the four home Associations’ suspicion of the nascent FIFA is to remember that to join what was then a Europe-only organization was to seriously narrow your horizons.

John Cameron treated the whole Olympic exercise with a kind of tired wariness:

The Olympic games are over, and have, I think, come to an end to the great relief of everybody.

I take it we won’t have to watch out for his shade, then, come 2012. They didn’t have to in 1948, or if they did, the reports have been lost..

His report of the tournament is made in that over-wordy, stylised, comma-pocked style of the Edwardian sports journalist. It makes for heavy going. So there’s a kind of satisfaction when his predictions for the future of the European game go horribly awry:

France sent two teams, and one of these met Denmark on Monday; but the result only served to demonstrate that our French friends are never likely to do much at our winter game. (..) What struck one about the French side was that they were too polite, and too fond of smoking the eternal cigarette. They puffed away right up to the start of the match, and in the interval had another smoke, finishing up the day by repeating the practice. How different with our sides! Why, when I had an important match on, I did not smoke for a day or two before or a day after; but our friends do not believe in this. It was impossible from their two displays to believe that the game will ever make much headway in France. (Ed: more on JC and smoking here).

Cameron prefers a more wholesome, manly sort of fellow:

Mr Charles Williams, who trained Denmark, is not only a very able tutor, but he has also had the advantage of very wide and varied experience. Last year he was the goalkeeper for Brentford, but before that he had been at Norwich, Woolwich, Tottenham and Manchester City. He is one of the few players who can take the platform, and also write a very readable article for the Press. He has lectured to referees, is a good wicket-keeper, a total abstainer, and a member of the YMCA.

(When “Charlie” Williams – the first keeper to score from open play with a Shilton-esque long punt at Roker Park – signed for Spurs, it was at the behest of the Spurs manager, one John Cameron).

If the only version of football history you’d had was the good old days of loyal players version, that string of clubs run up by Williams might come as a surprise. It shouldn’t. Professional careers were often short in the period – seven years was a good run, and contracts ran for a year at a time. The other British coach at the Olympics, Holland’s Edgar Chadwick, had that kind of life:

He was born at Blackburn nearly forty years ago, made a great name with the Rovers, and improved on it when he joined Everton, in whose ranks he was when he began his international career. He then came South, and joined the “Saints,” and was a very great favourite at Southampton. After, he went to Liverpool. As an inside-left he was one of the grandest players that ever stepped on the field to do battle for England.

That’s to understate matters. Chadwick played for both Blackburn teams, Everton, Burnley, Saints, Liverpool, Blackpool, Glossop and Darwen. The move to Southampton is the interesting one here, because it coincides with the Football League’s imposition of a maximum wage. Chadwick followed the money.

Even then, Saints were a club with a ceiling on their growth. The board looked towards London, and heard the brass calling. When Chelsea was founded in 1905, it stole the Dell’s chairman, manager and a number of players. Chelsea’s first captain was John Cameron too, but not our one. Chelsea’s was an Alf Ramsey lookalike whose prose style was eerily similar to his namesake’s.

At the turn of the century, the Football League was considered as a Northern, not a national, league – and creation of a “national” league was the subject of some debate. Cameron favoured a split between North (Football League), South (Southern League, including Southampton) and London (for whom he favoured a separate division). The Southern League, able to pay players above Football League rates, became a real competitor for a brief period, which saw Southampton reach an FA Cup Final, and Tottenham, led by one John Cameron, actually win the trophy outright. Sheffield United were the afterthoughts on both occasions.

It didn’t last: the Southern League soon had its own maximum wage, and football sealed itself off from middle class involvement for the rest of the century. Only now, in the form of Frank Lampard, do we see the best kind of public school man bringing proper values back and leading the line for the old country.

Cameron was right about the Dutch, in the end, but not for more than half a century. Dutch football remained in a kind of amateur doldrums right through to the emergence of Cruyff and Ajax. Nevertheless, Cameron saw something in the 1908 Dutch – was it anything like what would come all those years later?

What, however, surprised everybody, was the excellent form shown by the Dutchmen against the United Kingdom, and it came as a distinct surprise. During the first half it looked a very open matter. The visitors had a splendid goalkeeper, and a very good half-back division, and had the Holland side been as good in front of goal as in the mid-field they would probably have won… It must be remembered that for forty minutes the Dutchmen kept out their opponents, and this in itself was an excellent performance. Hague, Rotterdam, Dordrecht, and Delft have all excellent clubs, and there appears to be a very bright future in store for the game.

He liked the Swedes, too, but that would be a different story. Sweden showed well at all of the early Olympic tournaments, and came 4th in the 1938 World Cup in Italy. For a country of their size, they have an excellent international record and a string of genuinely memorable players. Nonetheless, the UK stuffed Sweden in 1908 in what is still a record result – 12-1. But then this happened:

One of the most delightful episodes of the week was the way in which, after their defeat, the Swedes turned round and gave three hearty cheers for the English side, who appeared quite taken by surprise, and responded in a very half-hearted manner. But all through the week the attendances have been so bad that it was almost like looking for the needle in a haystack to find out where the people were.

It’s at that point that Cameron, a Scot, stops referring to the “United Kingdom” and reverts to his native “English”!

The English they were – the 1908 winners were the England Amateur side playing as “Great Britain” (not as Cameron’s “United Kingdom”). Something there for a Scot, or a Welshman, or at the time an Irishman, to resent. “England” – calling themselves England this time – retained the trophy in 1912. They haven’t shut up about it since.

(Cameron fans may like to know that the full text of his book Association Football and How to Play It can be read online by clicking the link. His weekly column for the Penny Illustrated Press can be read via the British Library’s British Newspapers archive – it’s free material. He is also responsible for large chunks of the entertaining, groundbreaking but headache-inducingly badly written Association Football and the Men Who Made It, (1905) which is now really only found in national libraries.)

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Edwardian Refereeing: "avoid Scandal and Injustice"

Posted on 29 November 2009 by JamesHamilton

There has been no better time to watch pre-1960s football than now. Most of the FA Cup Finals are available, in full, on DVD, and one of these (1957) is the only complete game I know of to show the Busby Babes in full flow. The 50s finals accord with every cliche about the good old days: stoppages are brief, foul play unusual, cheating entirely absent, fans mix on the terraces, and no one argues with the referee.

That’s with the exception of Bill Foulkes, who reacts to Peter McParland’s tackle on Roy Wood by spending the rest of the game (83 minutes’ worth) trying to knock the Irishman’s head off.

But by the 1950s, the FA Cup Final had become the FA Cup Final. In 1908, football culture was in the last stages of gestation, and many of what are now seen as traditional attitudes had yet to form. Although 1908 was the 20th season of league football, and some of the early heroes were well into late middle age, much that you would expect to take for granted was still up for grabs.

The attitude towards referees was just one of those things. After World War One, British referees would travel the world, in demand for their moral strength, sense of justice and incorruptibility. Snow formed on their upper slopes in the heat of Brazil and the different sort of heat to be found in Hungary (where Jimmy Hogan once saw a fan shoot the ball with a revolver in order to end a game his team were set to lose).

John Cameron, writing before World War One, couldn’t see the snow for the trees:

A resurrection has taken place in the Southern League and the circles it influences. Last week, the representative of Swindon drew attention to the fact that the reports as to the incompetency of referees during the current season was very unsatisfactory indeed, that the present mode of selection calls for alteration, and that mutual agreement should make the choice in future. This, however, was not then agreed upon, because it is well known that referees tout in a most obsequious and objectionable way for jobs, and the lengths to which some of these sponge on directors and secretaries would astound the general public if the revelation were once made.

The present system, at any rate, partially stops this sort of thing; but I have always been in favour of neutral authority appointing these men in order to avoid scandal and injustice.

For “secretaries”, by the way, you can read “managers”: the usual title was “secretary-manager”. By 1908 Herbert Chapman was one of these Southern League gentlemen so determined to root out incompetence and corruption in the refereeing world.

Although Cameron’s words are harsh, it’s worth remembering how much money, relatively speaking, was sloshing around football in 1908, money that stiff regulation regarding pay and conditions made hard to access in any legal manner. There are no known instances where referees, amateurs into our own time, bent the rules to lay hands on any of it (the players did, locked as they were into contracts worthy of slaves – see the Manchester City scandal of 1905 for the best example) but Cameron hints at something. I wonder what?

 

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Early Football Violence: Glossop v Bolton Wanderers 1908

Posted on 27 November 2009 by JamesHamilton

 

We seem to be entering upon an era of dirty play, and Glossop has the unenviable distinction of being concerned in the latest row. It occurred in the match between the Bolton Wanderers and Glossop, both of whom are striving for promotion to the Second League and are well in the running. No fewer than three players were sent off the field during the game, which was admittedly very vigorous indeed. Cuffe was the first sent off, and then a stand-up fight took place, with the result that Marsh and Hofton were ordered off. The referee was Mr. W. Gilgryst, and he reported the clubs to the Association, and also the players. He says, too, that the spectators were most rowdy and threatening during the greater part of the game. Mr. Gilgryst had to be escorted from the field to the dressing-room by the police and others, and was struck a severe blow from behind, the offender being taken in to custody.

Furthermore, an official of the club was reported for using filthy language and for abusive conduct, while Bolton players complained of rough treatment. I am afraid there is serious trouble.

 

That’s your man John Cameron again. If he’s being ghost-written, he keeps his intercessor busy in this period – in addition to this weekly column, there are his chapters in Association Football and the Men Who Made It and his own book Association Football and How to Play It .

In fact, Glossop and Bolton were striving to get out of Division II: the Third Division (North) didn’t exist until 1919. Glossop were and are the smallest town to have boasted a league club. For them to be playing league football as late as 1908, by which time the club structure as we see it now and the bulk of the modern stadia were already in place, was a considerable achievement.

The Bolton dust-up wasn’t as unusual as Cameron makes out. Crowd violence was a feature of the Edwardian game, and, as now, a phenomena that served to isolate the sport in the life of the nation. And although the Edwardian game was gentler and more subtle by far than that of only thirty years previously, it was still full of the rough stuff as Mitchell and Kenyon’s videos show.

Public behaviour at all levels of society was hideously sobered by the Great War, after which reported crime rates fell out of the sky for 30 years. Most of that fall remains entirely mysterious, in my opinion, although Robert Roberts, chronicler of Salford, put it down in part to the dramatic improvement in slum area lifestyles after 1918.

But Edwardian football violence is hard to put down to poverty, simply because League football just wasn’t for the poor: gate prices were kept artificially high to restrict entry to the “respectable working classes” and those with a certain level of disposable income. What Cameron’s reporting here is just blokes on a Saturday getting out of hand in a thoroughly competitive situation. Passie as the Dutch would call it.

 

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A Thinking Man's Game

Posted on 26 November 2009 by JamesHamilton

In Holland, football is a thinking man’s game. When the Dutch talk about it, the concepts to which they always return are ‘techniek’ and ‘tactiek‘. ‘Passie‘, or passion, was a quality they associated with unsophisticated footballers from other countries. In Korea, Hiddinck learnt that it was actually pretty important. Even when speaking Dutch, he tends to describe this quality with the English word ‘commitment’ , perhaps because there is no obvious Dutch equivalent.

Kuper and Szymanski, Why England Lose (2009) p. 321

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Ten Minutes of Victorian Street Scenes

Posted on 20 November 2009 by JamesHamilton

Here’s an astonishing Pathe lineup of – almost entirely – Victorian English streetscape. Because the bulk of this was shot in 1896-7, the camera was too bulky to manouvre but too new to be recognised for what it was, lending these scenes an intimacy, almost an anonymity, that Mitchell and Kenyon would neither seek nor enjoy four years later.

Pathe lists the contents as follows:

Sunderland Bridge (1896) – Poor pedestrian, horse drawn carts, wagons and bus travel across bridge at Sunderland, Tyne and Wear.
Boar Lane, Leeds (1903) – Pedestrians, horse carts wagons and electric tram cross large open cross roads near Boar Lane, Leeds, Yorkshire.
Outside The Bank of England, London (1897) – Dense horse drawn traffic in front of the Bank, a few pedestrians try to pick their way between the buses and carriages.
Hyde Park Corner, London (1897) – Hyde Park corner looking towards the park gates, pedestrians crowd the pavements, carriages and horse buses pass by.
Newcastle Street, Tyne and Wear (1903) – Motor wagon, motor car, and horse drawn wagon pass along street, pavement is lined with onlookers.
Westminster Bridge, London – View across bridge to House of Parliament and Big Ben. Traffic passes in foreground.
Tower Bridge, London – Views of horse drawn buses and traffic crossing Bridge.
Empire Theatre – Ext of cinema showing Lumiere films. Handsome cabs draw up.
Piccadilly Circus, London – Statue of Eros. People walk in foreground. Buses carry adverts for Cadbury’s and Lipton’s. (Some shots repeated).
Horseguard’s Parade, London – Short bleak shot of cavalry soldiers riding.
Bradford Square, Yorkshire (1903) – Square at Bradford crowded with pedestrians, civilian band crosses square watched by small crowd a steam tram also crosses the square.
London Bridge, London (1896) – View across the bridge with horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians crossing the bridge.
Street Entertainers (Minstrels) – Blacked up entertainers sing and dance to a small crowd in the open street.

 

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1930s Film Rushes from British Pathe

Posted on 20 November 2009 by JamesHamilton

Interesting unused rushes from the Depression era are rare, so I thought I’d post these five minutes of them here despite their lack of sports content.

Pathe don’t know when or where: visual clues suggest to me South Wales c. 1937-9. At any rate, the lack of post-War cues is glaring enough, and those are Great Western signals at the end.

These are harsh scenes. Note the way the camera swoops about from image to image without cutting – the choice of shot is anything but amateur, so this is no rookie on his first outing, but the technique jars all the same.

Turn the sound up high. It’s only mechanical noise, but it’s as of its period as the film itself, and ought to be heard.

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