Archive | December, 2010

Merry Christmas from MTMG

Posted on 24 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

Wishing you all warm fires, an unlimited supply of good wine and food, and whatever it is for you that would make all this splendid and memorable. Thank you for your superb company in 2010.

Here comes 2011. Brace, brace, brace!

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Colour Film of Highbury in 1956

Posted on 19 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

Following on from our look at Billy Graham’s 1955 address to the BWA at Highbury, Phil Wilson (Doveson2008 of Flickr) sends word of colour FILM of Highbury in the form of a British Pathe newsreel from 1956.

FOOTBALL BALL MANUFACTURE (aka FOOTBALL STORY)

Also featured are Webber Bros of South Norwood, described here as football manufacturers since 1891. (This might be a good opportunity to plug Alive and Kicking, the African social enterprise that manufactures sports balls to provide balls for children, create jobs for adults and promote health education through sport. Since 2004 A&K has produced and distributed 300,000 balls, provided 150 sustainable jobs, and targetted 40,000 children with their HIV / AIDS campaign)

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The 14 Year Rule: Football Management and Career Length

Posted on 18 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

Sir Bobby Robson (Ipswich Town 1969-1982)

This weekend, Sir Alex Ferguson will surpass Sir Matt Busby’s record as the longest serving manager in Manchester United history. He’ll go on to serve his full quarter century next year, and eventually retire (or die in office) as the greatest manager of modern times.

However, Sir Alex did not have the opportunity to manage at the top level during British football management’s real golden age. He didn’t take over at Aberdeen until 1978, by which time the good years, for what they were worth, were all but over.

Consider this. Between 1967 and 1974, the following managers and management teams were active in the English and Scottish leagues, at the clubs which they are most famous for: Jock Stein at Celtic, Bill Shankly at Liverpool, Bill Nicholson at Spurs, Don Revie at Leeds, Clough and Taylor at Derby, Ron Greenwood at West Ham, and Bobby Robson at Ipswich.

What those men have in common are trophies, memorable football, the passionate love of the fans and – all being dead now – the status of latterday saints and guardian angels, safeguarding the souls of their clubs. They have something else in common too. Look at this:

Jock Stein Celtic 1965-1978: Tenure 13 years

Bill Shankly Liverpool 1959-1974: Tenure 15 years

Herbert Chapman Huddersfield/Arsenal 1921-1934 : Tenure 13 years

Harry Catterick Everton 1961-1973: Tenure 12 years

Bill Nicholson Spurs 1958-1974: Tenure 16 years

Don Revie Leeds 1961-1974: Tenure 13 years

Clough and Taylor Derby/Notts Forest 1967-1982: Tenure 15 years

Mercer/Allison/Book Manchester City 1965-1980: Tenure 15 years

Joe Harvey Newcastle United 1962-1975: Tenure 13 years

Ron Greenwood West Ham 1961-1974: Tenure 13 years

Sir Bobby Robson Ipswich 1969-1982: Tenure 13 years

There are obvious caveats – Clough’s post-Taylor years saw success and overperformance from Forest, and Robson’s management career had almost three decades yet to run when he left Ipswich for the worst job in the world. I’m not sure what I’ve said about Manchester City makes complete sense. Bertie Mee – a war hero who spent a decade at Arsenal – should receive honorable mention. So should Sir Alf Ramsey, England manager for 11 years and a manager for 25 years until leaving Panathinaikos in 1980.

But other than that, isn’t it striking how similar in length are the careers of British football management’s golden age greats? Although there are variations, 14 years seems to be a benchmark figure. Why?

Natural Wastage: the job of football manager is famously ageing, and it might just be that 14 years is as long as most people can take. Chapman died at the end of his, and Jock Stein – victim of a serious car crash – was felt to be not the man he had been.

Footballing Followers: 14 years is also a good benchmark length for a playing career. The great managers acquire followers: John McGovern went with Clough wherever the manager led him. Revie left Leeds believing that his team were becoming old and that the Elland Road club could not afford the players to rebuild. Do the followers retire after 14 years? Is the effort to replace the familiar faces all too much?

Vanishing playing talent: it’s striking how many of these men chose 1974 in which to bow out. By that year, the wartime children, the greatest cohort of footballers in British history, were beginning to fade away.  Derby’s first championship year was the most competitive in history, and, not coincidentally, the year in which most of that cohort were at their peak. Never again would so many clubs be realistic contenders. Did managers see a less talented future coming, as Sir Trevor Brooking does now?

The 1973 Oil Crisis: a better point of comparison for 2008-2011 than 1929, and an event that sideswiped so much of British life that we are still only beginning to realize just how extensive the damage was. What influence could it have had on British football management? Certainly, in financial terms, clubs would never be so secure again.

Pop Culture in Football: The big cultural change amongst players – think of it as the transformation from Jack Charlton into George Best – happened in the early seventies, famously bewildering Alf Ramsey. That, and the abolition of the maximum wage and retain-and-transfer, undoubtedly made team-building more difficult. Has a similar change come to pass more recently, with Bosman and the vast financial power now wielded by players? Do these cultural changes also occur every 14 years or so, making generation-straddling careers that much more difficult?

Clubs used to give managers enough time: It’s true that managerial tenure used to be longer than it is now, but football clubs have always been run by trigger-happy idiots. So I don’t buy this one.

Really, though, none of these explanations feel remotely satisfactory, which tells me that one of two things must be true. Either I’ve too small a sample of managers here for such generalizations to be made – or there are indeed factors that work towards creating a 14 year career length for great managers, but I’m missing them completely. What do you think?

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UPDATED: An Early Colour Photograph of Highbury

Posted on 17 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

Baptist World Alliance delegates gather at Highbury to hear Billy Graham 22nd July 1955 Copyright Doveson2008

UPDATE:

Doveson2008 kindly returned to the original slide, rescanned it and provided a great deal of additional information besides. Armed with that, Matthew and I have been able to pin down the exact time, date and occasion on which this photograph was taken.

It’s c. 6.30pm on Friday, 22nd July 1955. The Baptist World Alliance have been holding their golden jubilee conference at the Albert Hall since the previous Saturday, and what you see here is Billy Graham’s rally for delegates at Highbury. It was due to get underway at 7.30pm.

The original slide has “BWA Rally” written on the frame, and the frame turns out itself to be of a type that was only introduced in late 1955, so my original guesstimate of 1952 was some way off.

Original Post Below:

With kind permission of doveson2008 at Flickr, I’m able to bring you what must be one of the first true colour images taken of Arsenal’s stadium at Highbury.

Colour photography, still or moving, came late to English football.  Earlier innovations in photography, like the faster films of the 1890s that allowed “action” shots, or like early film photography itself, had found an outlet in football, which had itself been a fashionable craze at the time. Colour did not. When colour film reached early adopters in the mid-1930s, it did so in the south and it did so abroad. Colour photographers demanded colourful spectacle for their expensive footage to spend itself on. Neither football nor its home in the industrial north were high on the list, which is why the earliest colour footage of Leeds, for instance, shows the winners of a gardening competion in the suburbs.

Much of the early colour football photography was done by Americans, to whom the UK was all new and interesting. The first colour football film, which we think was made at Turf Moor in about 1943, was shot by a GI. This image of Highbury comes from a collection of images taken by American tourists.

It’s difficult to say much about what took our American tourist to Highbury. It’s clearly not an out-and-out football occasion. Spectators sit on terraces when you would expect them to stand. There are no goals, no corner flags, no visible lines, and the pitch itself is in pristine close-season condition. Belgian and Finnish flags flutter: there are others too hard to identify. Everyone is smartly dressed, and a good third of them appear to be women. Something orange is taking place in the paddock at the front of the East Stand.

Whatever the occasion was, they chose a perfect vantage point. Immediately to the left is the North Bank. Note how clean and fresh it looks – the new steel on the terracing rails and fencing. There’s no roof: incendiary bombs took care of that during the War, and it wouldn’t be replaced until 1956. The stand itself needed extensive rebuilding. What we have here is, in essence, a new “Edwardian-style” terrace, the last of its kind to be built at a club like Arsenal. It’s our only colour record of what such a structure would look like just out of the box.

Dominating the picture, on the far side of the pitch, is one of the most famous buildings in the game,  Herbert Chapman’s memorial, the art deco East Stand. Note the row of lamps on the edge of the roof: those are Arsenal’s first “official” floodlights, fitted in 1951 and  brand new here. Chapman had wanted floodlighting twenty years before (it was first used for football in Sheffield and Darwen in 1878) in order to help football compete with the nascent speedway for evening audiences. The Football League, its innovatory instincts knocked out of it forever by World War One, refused.

Arsenal’s first match played under the lights was against Hapoel Tel Aviv on September 19th 1951. They won 6-1: you can see the programme cover here. The season that followed would bring glorious failure. Injuries, and a fixture pile-up, saw the title lost to Manchester United in a last match decider. The FA Cup Final was lost too, more to further injuries than to Newcastle United. Arsenal finished the game with seven fit players, men who deserved more than runners-up medals for keeping the score down to 1-0.

The following year, Arsenal would win the league title – on goal average from Finney’s Preston North End – and that was, truly, the last trophy of the Chapman era. Chapman’s trainer, assistant and successor, pioneer football commentator Tom Whittaker, died three years later, and his team would win nothing for another 17 years.

What a dignified, stately place Highbury was in 1952. Good enough for people you might think; an appropriate symbol of the spectators’ worth. As fans over 40 will remember, the calming, understated green colour schemewe see here lasted until the late 1980s. Green and cream wouldn’t suit Ashburton Grove, and whilst Ashburton Grove is a raging beauty of a stadium, turning heads on trains going north out of Kings Cross, Chapman’s Highbury was unselfish with its magnificence in a way Ashburton Grove is not. Highbury, you feel, needed people. It only came to life when the fans and spectators it was built for were present and in voice. Ashburton Grove is a magnificent but inhuman sculpture, better empty, which fans clutter up in spite of themselves like litter and weeds.

In fact, the best part of Ashburton Grove isn’t to be seen from the train. From the street, the approach to the Emirates echoes the architecture of the East Stand, something that’s been skilfully done and which isn’t in the least bit mawkish or clicheed. It makes you realize just how much the East Stand is worth to North London.

How easily the East Stand might have been football’s Euston Arch, carelessly smashed and removed leaving only regrets and frustrations, futility. But that’s not Arsene Wenger’s way, or David Dein’s, and they’ve embellished their own monument by ensuring the future of Herbert Chapman’s. Chapman’s, and the nine Arsenal players who died in World War II. Chapman’s, and also Buchan’s, Bastin’s, Hapgood’s, Compton’s, Male’s and the others. Chapman’s, and how many men, women and children from North London and beyond, over 90 years.

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Apollo 11 and a Football Pitch

Posted on 12 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

Apollo 11 Astronaut Routes Superimposed on Football Pitch

You might remember this map – showing the walking routes of the Apollo 11 astronauts superimposed onto a standard-sized football pitch. On MTMG previously

The original map is actually taken from one of NASA’s own excellent sites – here – but still everyone treated it as something of a joke.

Not so. Astonishingly, this turns out to have been deliberate. You might want to reimagine the pitch with gridiron markings – or not, as NASA was laced through with Germans, Brits and other footballing nations (a thriving USA footballing culture was felled by the 1929 Crash, and wouldn’t get back onto its feet until a few years after Tranquility Base).

Not only deliberate – but it yields one of those occasional stories of blogging serendipity, perhaps the best one ever. Robert Krulwich had written about Apollo 11, wondering why the astronauts hadn’t ventured further than about 90 yards from the lander.  He used the map above in his post, and another which superimposed the astronauts’ routes onto a baseball pitch (which is worth a look: the fit is eerily close).

Neil Armstrong wrote to him the next day, at length, to explain. Well, beat that!

Dear Mr. Krulwich

I was delighted to read your December 7 column on the the Apollo 11 lunar surface traverses, The NASA maps do accurately portray the locations of the pathways used to complete the myriad of tasks we were assigned. And, although I have not checked, I believe the comparison with the size of athletic fields is reasonably accurate.

You asked: “Who knew?”

The answer to that question is: Just about anyone who had any interest in learning the answer. The plan for the lunar surface work was widely distributed and we even did a full dress rehearsal for the press at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

Read the rest. My interpretation of it is this: the astronauts, many of them fine high school athletes in their day, would have possessed an instinctive feel for the confines of football and baseball pitches. Distance was very hard to calculate by sight on the moon – dangerously so on later missions which went further – and so, one way or another, NASA took deliberate, conscious advantage of that inbuilt “feel” for the 50 yard, 100 yard lengths that players take from football, rugby, American football or baseball.

This is the first age in human history to have, in football and in space travel, two things more exciting than war. It’s a good thing, and delightful – in that very English sense – to see them come together like this.

Of course, the first sport to be played in space was not football – although Apollo 11 counts as the first pitch inspection to take place away from Earth. Golfer Alan Shepherd, playing with partner Edgar Mitchell, was superbly first on Apollo 14, and look at this way: at least they were quorate, even if the greens, had they reached them, would have been less than satisfactory.

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More PreWar Colour Film from Britain – But Twenties, or Thirties?

Posted on 11 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

An English summer sky after 1914 - but before Hitler

Here’s another surviving piece of pre-War colour film, one of precious few to come down to us that feature the old country. From the look of it, I’d say it was a well-preserved example of the Dufaycolor process (some remaining Dufaycolor has darkened very badly indeed). But Dufaycolor didn’t come onto the general market until 1932. What few clues this film contains as to its likely date point, tantalizingly, to the 1920s.

It’s not, I don’t think, a Friese-Greene out-take: there aren’t any of those that I’ve heard of. What it could be is an example of an experimental use of the Dufaycolor process, which existed in principle from Edwardian days. The cameraman’s obsession with brightly coloured objects, so typical of pioneering colour work (early monochrome film obsessed, in turn, with movement, and so football/trains/crowds, but here we have flowerbeds and pretty girls etc).

Cast your expert eye, anyway, and let me know what you think in the comments.

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World Cup 2018: Remembering My Russian

Posted on 03 December 2010 by JamesHamilton

When I heard the news that the Russian Federation would host the 2018 World Cup despite a near-perfect bid from England, I remembered my Russian.

My Russian was one of the very few great men I consider myself to have met. You won’t have heard of him, and I won’t give you his name.

Our paths crossed when I was working in a public library in an impoverished area of north London. A huge, bearded man with a voice deeper than a Volga boatman’s sat down in front of me at my enquiry desk, and we got to talking. He had been a university professor in the Soviet Union, but had abandoned his home and career so that his teenaged son could have the chance to grow up in the West. His son was now tearing through his comprehensive school whilst the father kept their council flat clean and did what scraps of work he could find.

Like so many new immigrants, he did not consider what he saw around him as economic poverty. His ramshackle pad was worlds better than what his old status in the USSR had afforded him, and the Golborne Road market stalls kept him in what he considered to be the style of kings and presidents.

What did shock him were the drugs. Now, it’s not as though my colleagues and I were unexposed to this: it was around about this time that the mother-daughter prostitute team would come screaming into our building provoked by their failure to score, and we had our share of poor souls with ravaged arms amongst our regular clientele. But for my Russian, all this was new.

So it started to happen that, one by one, local street junkies would find themselves being swept up by a great Russian bear, emerging some weeks later clean, happily bewildered, full of soup and stew, the colour back in their cheeks, their clothes washed and their appetite for life mysteriously restored.

I don’t know how he did it: something about not having been told he shouldn’t, I imagine. Perhaps he felt the strength of his own new freedom in London, and wanted to share it with those who had lost theirs to a different kind of unelected power. Or just force of personality. At any rate,  he sat in front of me one day months into our acquaintance and said,

James – in my country we have beautiful laws. In your country – not so beautiful. But in your country, people obey the laws. And that is the difference.

Aye, aye, that is indeed the difference, which is why even mild displays of corruption in the UK lead usually to extended or indeed permanent banishment from public life.

So it really couldn’t have been other for me, that when FIFA handed 2018 to Russia, a decision as demanding of Kremlinology as any from Kosygin or Brezhnev,  I remembered my Russian.

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