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The Return of Kenny Dalglish

Posted on 09 February 2011 by JamesHamilton

A few days after her death, my grandmother comes in through my bedroom window after lights out. I am six years old.

She does so again on other nights. The dream always follows the same path. Malevolent twilight and her body framed against it, her back turned to me. The head slowly coming round; and the face wrong, changed, and wicked with appetite, wholly intent upon me; my rollercoastering nausea coming up and my fear: my stomach clenching, then darkness, a chorus of voices howling in the black and I’m falling, down, faster and faster and gritting my teeth, holding my eyes shut until I impact on the bed and waken into a chamber that’s unlit and alive with menace. I’ll hold still on my sheets, tight and noiseless, til sunrise.

Three years later, and I’m in my father’s living room in a town two and a half hours’ drive from home. Windows at each end let in album cover sunshine and there’s snow outside. Alone but vigilant for raised voices starting up away in the house, I’ve turned the stereo’s knob to tuner and found Radio 2. Football: the voice of Peter Jones. Or was it Bryon Butler? Or Alan Parry?

Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool are playing my Manchester United. I’ve been waiting for this game: waiting for it in the way you wait for a school bully, or a bombing raid. The speakers smell of cloth and dust, and their rich bass tone adds a luxury and a cruelty to what is unwinding, inevitably, out on the pitch at Old Trafford. I am armless in this fistfight, powerless, unable to do anything to help.

What’s forgotten now, except by those who were children at the time, is just how frightening Liverpool were. And in particular, just how frightening the one player every 8 year old had heard of was: Kenny Dalglish.

Back then, Dave Sexton’s United was a team of friendly, fatherly figures. Gordon McQueen, Joe Jordan, Martin Buchan, Brian Greenhoff. Ipswich had them too: Mick Mills, Paul Cooper. You could imagine them joining in your playground kickabouts; you could imagine them wanting to; you could imagine them being the sort of grown-up who knew what to say.

My Liverpool fan mates might have worshipped him, but to me, Dalglish wasn’t friendly or a father figure: he was a knife. A cool, sleek blade that cut you. He was a boiling kettle, hovering over ants…

I won some of my United team at school through Panini flick-card competitions. If you had Dalglish’s card, which hardly anyone did, however, you wouldn’t enter it. You kept it separate. You kept it clean and undogeared. It gave you power and standing, in a way and of a kind that everyone understood. For children, iconic power is hard, tangible. Our best playground player knew it, and when he got the ball he’d shout out “Dalglish!” and dribble around you all, endlessly untackleable and unbeatable.

What made it worse was that my Liverpool fan mates seemed to have been Liverpool fans forever. They’d inherited their team through some distant, mysterious group exercise in wisdom and integrity from which I, foolishly and unknowingly, had absented myself.

Ending up with Manchester United felt like an act of carelessness. Because everyone was Liverpool.. Dave Sexton’s team spent that season fighting Coventry City for a mid-table spot.

I’m still United now, and of course, you might say, it ended well. Not so much of a supporter after Heysel, of course. Blind allegiance died that day: now it’s warmth and best wishes, no more, because no more could be justified. Nevertheless, I could wander down to the Baillie in Stockbridge in 2011 to catch Liverpool v United in the Cup and feel somehow shielded by all those titles and trophies. I could relax on a good seat with my wife in that great navy captain’s cabin of a pub, wander over to the bar for a pair of pints and some crisps, and get ready for a game that wouldn’t have a great deal at stake for me.

But just before kickoff, Kenny Dalglish emerged into view, framed against the light from the tunnel.

He was deep in conversation with – Sammy Lee? with his back to us, and as Dalglish slowly came round towards the camera, I saw his face with another thirty years on it, changed, wrong, and wicked with appetite: somewhere inside, I felt an ancient vertigo that I’d thought grown-out-of, beaten and outrun, starting up once again and I remembered what it felt like to fall, what it felt like afterwards to cling on silently, too frightened to move..

It’s one month later. In their last game, Manchester United lost to Wolves. Liverpool are DWWWW.

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Review: Revie – Revered and Reviled; the Authorised Biography by Richard Sutcliffe

Posted on 21 January 2011 by JamesHamilton

Revie and Clough debate Leeds on ITV in 1974

Say this for David Pearce’s novel The Damned Utd – it was the first really unembarrassed cultural treatment that the national game has ever had. Fever Pitch broke the ground. But Fever Pitch was gauche, blushing, unsure of its reception. It was essentially uncontroversial, and that is what has set The Damned Utd apart: the real hurt and confusion the novel caused, the bad memories it revived, the losses it refreshed. It may have helped cement Brian Clough in his full and proper place in the public life of the country, but The Damned Utd exhumed Don Revie and Revie’s Leeds along the way, and didn’t do the same for them at all.

Much of the drive for Richard Sutcliffe’s new biography of Don Revie comes from anger at The Damned Utd, and because the issues that the novel raised about Revie are the narrowly footballing ones, it’s these that Sutcliffe concerns himself with. Why isn’t Revie seen in the same kind of light as Busby, Shankly, or Clough? Do Leeds deserve to be remembered only for cynicism and winning at all costs? What’s the real story about Don Readies: the manager and his money? What really happened to Revie at England?

There is a wider significance to the life and work of Don Revie, which Sutcliffe leaves aside. The way Revie stands for Leeds, for instance, as the Chamberlains do for Birmingham. The sheer depth and breadth of change in the life of a man born in poverty in Middlesbrough, whose son went to Repton and Cambridge, who ended his career wealthy and honoured in the Middle East where his home is now a beloved shrine. The issue of what happened to leaders with backgrounds like Don, who before the 1973 Oil Crisis seemed set fair to rule Britain and take her into a better future.

What does it mean, too, that Don Revie was so young when he retired? He had just turned fifty when he resigned from the England job. More than half of all current Premiership managers are older, including Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce. It hardly seems possible, but Revie was largely photographed in black and white, which, unless you are a Beatle, makes you look older than you are.

All that had to be left aside. Football matches make football biographies different from those of politicians, artists and writers, because games turn careers and there are so many of them. There has to be at least one book that does the heavy digging of tracing an important career through, game by game, club by club, transfer by transfer. What we really lacked was a proper, basic, detailed reference biography of Don Revie, and this is what Sutcliffe has provided.

Revie’s Managerial Achievement

Sutcliffe wants to make the case that Revie’s achievements were equal to those of his rivals and contemporaries. Contemporaries they were, too: Shankly and Nicholson both retired in the year Revie left Leeds, Busby wasn’t long gone, and Clough was about to take himself out for three seasons.

In terms of sheer club achievement, there’s no doubt that Revie is at home with the very best. He was only at Leeds for thirteen years, and when he began, Leeds was a cricket and rugby league city. United were considered beneath not just Yorkshire Cricket Club and Leeds (Rugby League) but Hunslet and Bramley RFCs as well.

This table compares Revie’s achievements at Leeds with those of Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Bill Nicholson over the same period. I’ve included the 1975 European Cup Final because although it post-dates Revie, it was Revie’s team in Paris that night, ably shepherded by Jimmy Armfield.

(Click the chart to enlarge)

No Harry Catterick, Bertie Mee, Brian Clough, Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison here, but the table highlights just how competitive an arena Revie found himself in. Most observers agree that the period 1956-1973 was the absolute apogee of English club football, in achievement and in absolute depth of talent. Leeds’ total of seventeen significant football achievements is some way ahead of what Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham managed in the same time. Yet, before Revie, Leeds had had no top-level honours of any kind. Even Clough’s clubs had won top trophies before his arrival. Revie had had to build his club from scratch.

Dirty Leeds

The manner in which Revie succeeded is this biography’s second issue, and Sutcliffe deals with it carefully. Leeds weren’t a cynical team: they were a maturing team learning their trade. Revie was protective as they grew. The “Cantona” signing was that of Bobby Collins, who really was a hard case, but he put heart and belief into the talent around him. Other teams had similar players – Chelsea have Ron Harris, for instance. European opposition spat, hacked, rabbit-punched behind the referee’s back.

In his last two years at Leeds, Revie took the shackles off his side, and they played memorable football, the kind that would have flattered Anfield or Old Trafford. But by then, the mind of the public had already been made up.

When Revie went to England, he realized that the opposition players he had worried over and warned against in his pre-match dossiers – players he now had at his disposal – were not as good as he’d thought, and that his old team, Leeds, had been much better than he had ever realised. In Sutcliffe’s account, Revie came to regret not letting his team express themselves much earlier in their development. So much more might have been won. His caution had robbed his lads of the medals they’d deserved.

Don Readies

Sutcliffe treats Revie’s financial dealings in a similar way. Revie was either innocent or no worse than his feted rivals. Revie met Alan Ball on Saddleworth Moor in 1966 to bribe him, but Matt Busby left a suitcase of cash at the young Peter Lorimer’s house in the hope of buying his signature. Sutcliffe denies outright that Revie was ever involved in match-fixing: everyone wonders why he never sued. Perhaps he didn’t want the hassle..

Match-fixing aside, Revie’s relationship with money really does have to be seen in context. Then, as now, the real control of football and the real money in football lay with the club owners. Wealthy as players are now, they are still nowhere near the level at which they could think about buying a controlling stake in a Premiership club.

Revie had come from an impoverished, insecure background. In depressed Middlesbrough, Revie’s family were worse off than most. His father found work hard to come by. His mother died. As a consequence, in adult life he took care to balance job security with income maximization. For instance, as a player, he believed in changing clubs reasonably often, and looked out for signing on fees. But as Sutcliffe makes clear, professional care accompanied great personal generosity.

Revie at England

After England had beaten Czechoslovakia at Wembley in Revie’s first competitive start, he told his son something that would prove key not only to his management but that of all of his successors. “We haven’t got the players.” In particular, he meant that there were no English equivalents of Bremner or Giles, his key Leeds lieutenants, but he was right across the board: the post-War supply of talent -  nourished by fair rationing of food, playing on car-free streets, coached on proper pitches at new schools, made sensible by hardship -  was fast drying up.

But Revie had issues of his own in any case. A clever man – his son, as we’ve seen, became a Cambridge graduate given the chance – he had always been a deep football thinker. Not necessarily where you’d think – the “Revie Plan”, Sutcliffe establishes, was Manchester City colleague Johnny Williamson’s idea. But his tactical acumen and attention to detail, his novel training approaches and openness to novelty are well established. With England, however, his brain had too much time on its hands.

Revie overthought everything. In the weeks and months between internationals, his natural paranoia, superstition and caution overwhelmed his marvellous instincts for a player, a position, an on-field situation.

Nor did the techniques he used so effectively at Leeds translate to England. Sutcliffe thinks that players’ opposition to things like dossiers, carpet bowls and bingo have been exaggerated. But that didn’t mean that the Leeds family atmosphere could be rebuilt in Lancaster Gate, it didn’t mean that players could win Revie’s trust in quite the same way and it didn’t mean that the dossiers didn’t sometimes eat away at players’ confidence.

Sutcliffe makes clear that Revie was one of those who were gifted with extraordinary emotional intelligence – a man manager of the highest calibre. In the early 1960s, this had enabled him to pull Leeds together, and keep it together, by dint of the extraordinary work he put in to keep his side happy and the support staff involved. But at Leeds, he’d had everyone around him, all the time: at England, bureaucracy and the sheer lack of player contact proved more than he could compensate for.

It’s clear from Sutcliffe’s account that England were unfortunate not to qualify for the 1976 European Championship. An absurd draw against Portugal doomed England when they were by some margin the best team in a limited group. But qualification for Argentina 1978 was another thing altogether. Revie’s selection for the crucial match against Italy in Rome was so unexpected – so panicked and erratic, with players out of position and established performers excluded – that the Italians took it as a bluff at first. Then they took advantage.

It hadn’t helped that Revie’s attempts to get political with selection misfired. Sutcliffe sets out an intriguing version of events surrounding the 1975 Wembley match against World Champions West Germany. So convinced was Revie that England would be beaten handily, the story goes, that he picked the players he’d been urged by the press to pick, intending them to fail. Mavericks and playboys: Alan Hudson in particular believed that his call-up was to make sure that he’d play himself out of England contention for good.

In the event, the “new” defence of Gillard and Whitworth proved solid, Hudson ran riot, and England humiliated West Germany for ninety glorious minutes. Anyone not aware of what had prompted the selection of this particular team might consider that Revie had found a team to win a World Cup.

Revie’s disintegration was accelerated by FA machinations. Sir Harold Thompson, an enemy to Ramsey and to Brian Clough in turn, was at the heart of Revie’s troubles. It wasn’t just the secret negotiations with Bobby Robson behind Revie’s back or the comic snobbery (“Revie – when I come to know you better, I will call you Don”); it was the terrible punitive hounding of Revie once he’d left for the Middle East.

The worst one can say of Revie with regard to leaving England is that he sold the story to one paper – to Jeff Powell at the Mail, and he came to see it as a mistake in later years. But he had every right to leave, and every right to do the best for himself when he did so. If Sutcliffe’s account is true, then it isn’t Revie’s loyalty and patriotism that should be in question, but that of Thompson and his colleagues.

The story of Revie in the Middle East isn’t often told. It’s a happy one. He and his wife enjoyed their time there, and Revie was successful in kickstarting UAE football: his youngsters would take UAE from the bottom of the Arabic pile to qualification for the 1990 World Cup. He is still warmly remembered, and his house has been kept as it was when he lived there.

The rest is taken up with – taken away by – motor neurone disease.

This is the right biography for Revie, now, and it opens up the field for writers who will consider him, and what he achieved, in the life of the country as a whole. Because where does football stack up? Where do football men like Revie stand in importance to England and to the UK compared with, say, William Golding, Jennie Lee, Charles Mackintosh or Benjamin Britten? That’s for later. Richard Sutcliffe has given us both a rehabilitation for Revie and an essential reference work built around him. It’s the very least that Revie the man deserved.

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Martin O’Neill at West Ham

Posted on 15 January 2011 by JamesHamilton

UPDATE: I think the phrase is “overtaken by events”! I’ll leave this here as a period piece, but as things stand, O’Neill won’t ,after all, be going to West Ham. It’s unlikely that Grant will hang on regardless, but no subsequent appointment will hold half the interest of Martin O’Neill’s.

This is harsh on Avram Grant. As anyone who saw the Carling Cup semi-final first leg against Birmingham City knows, West Ham were beginning to find their feet once more.

But, sympathies aside, this is the most interesting managerial appointment of the season so far, in that, unlike Dalglish’s at Liverpool, it says unequivocal things about football figures who might still be felt to have a future.

O’Neill vs Dalglish

The two men are only a year apart in age. But there are reasons to believe that O’Neill has ten more years ahead of him than his Scottish counterpart. Dalglish has the obvious upper hand when it comes to medals – the huge Liverpool haul, and Blackburn. But of the two, O’Neill has the more crafted career. O’Neill built from the bottom, constructing a perfect managerial CV. He has proved himself at non-league level, in the blood and thunder of the Football League, at the tiller of a side who owed their Premiership status to his skills, and, most impressively of all, at what is in pressure terms one of the world’s biggest clubs: Celtic. Where his predecessor was…

Events at Aston Villa give one to think that O’Neill is still interested in success in his own career. Dalglish is now a one-club man: there will be no further essays in life beyond Anfield. He may well rescue Liverpool, but it will be for Liverpool’s sake and not his own. O’Neill possesses no such natural home, and employs no such nostalgia in his thinking.

In short, O’Neill doesn’t think his story is over. He’s not looking for a reprise or a return. At 58, he is still pursuing his career like a young man.

Control

Time and time again, the great British managers take over desperate, failing clubs and take them to unprecedented places. Stein at Hibs, however briefly. Shankly, at Second Division Liverpool. Busby, at a bombed-out Manchester United who had in any event spent the 20s and 30s watching their rivals at the great new stadium at Maine Road soak up the glory. Revie at Second Division Leeds. Clough at Second Division Derby County, and then again at Second Division Nottingham Forest.

This has been Martin O’Neill’s model, but adapted to modern financial constraints and conditions. Like all these men, he has taken a club unexpectedly to a European Final. Unlike the others, he has yet to win either a title, an FA Cup or a European trophy.

What’s changed is that the kind of club that can realistically consider those kinds of goals is no longer owned and managed in such a way as might give a man like Martin O’Neill  room to breathe.

The biggest clubs are now ownership nightmares. Randy Lerner is as good as the new breed come, and for O’Neill, it was not good enough. Even O’Neill needs time, and for new men at the top five or six clubs, there is no time anymore.

What makes West Ham more than just a re-run of the Leicester City saga, however, is the potential of their players.

Why West Ham? and Why Now?

It must be frustrating beyond measure. Being a West Ham fan, I mean. Cast an eye over the England squad. Rio. Carrick. Defoe. Joe Cole. Frank Lampard. Defoe, Cole and Carrick were part of the West Ham team that were relegated not long ago with 42 points, running out of road on the last day of the season after a thrilling tilt at safety led by Trevor Brooking.

Go back further. The television strike team of 1985 that so nearly went all the way. The 1980 FA Cup team: what was a side of Brooking, Devonshire, Allen, Pearson, Bond and Lampard senior doing in Division Two? Go back further: Hurst, Moore, Peters, Johnny Byrne.

There should have been more than three FA Cups and a Cup-Winner’s Cup, and West Ham could be forgiven for feeling that they exist to bring up great players properly whose dedication and discipline (for the most part) then flourishes elsewhere.

I thought it was all about to happen again. Noble, Sears, Collison, Tomkins, and the rest – especially the first two – were all emerging fast in what looked like another doomed team. Narrow relegation would, again, result in a fire sale. Once again, West Ham fans would find their remembered claret and blue hills turning up in Chelsea and Manchester United colours. Once again, the gratitude for a good career start would come in the form of words and fond memories, not as silverware at Upton Park.

O’Neill’s arrival changes all that immediately. “West Ham now” is all about the high quality of their young players: he’s going there for them. Just for once, West Ham’s youth policy has drawn someone in. Too often, it’s been the other way round.

O’Neill’s record with young players

You don’t have to go back to Emile Heskey – if Heskey is old enough yet to “go back to” at all. At Aston Villa, O’Neill was draw enough to get, and keep, some of the best young talent in the country. Since he left Villa Park, one question does for them all: whatever happened to Ashley Young, James Milner, Gaby Abonlahor, to the brave and honest Curtis Davies? Even after discounting form, injuries and (Milner) ill-advised transfers, there’s real loss of momentum here. Now that their mentor is back at another club, what will Marc Albrighton, Ciaron Clark and Nathan Delfounesco be thinking?

They’d be advised to consider the experiences of Steve Guppy, Muzzy Izzet, Steve Walsh and Neil Lennon, men who prospered by keeping ahold of nurse, or who, in Izzet’s case, would have wanted to if they could. O’Neill, like Clough, has a track record of having players flourish under him – and only under him.

If West Ham can find some money from somewhere, they might well find themselves the favoured destination of the half of the future England squad that they don’t already own…

O’Neill and the “Big Job”

The obvious question is, was he waiting for one of the big four to call? Liverpool could have done. Manchester United, often mentioned as a future home for O’Neill, now looks to be unavailable: barring the unexpected and accidents of trade, Ferguson will die in office. Chelsea see themselves in competition for coaches with Barcelona and Real Madrid: that’s not O’Neill’s world. Arsenal have had their O’Neill already and won’t have a vacancy for another: Wenger, like Ferguson, won’t move on now, seeing it as too late to start again elsewhere.

Control, stability and security matter to Martin O’Neill: it is inconceivable that he would be sacked except by the new billionaire owner of a top four club. There is also the question whether he wants to deal with the astonishing tidal forces that money exerts on Chelsea and Manchester United: these days, you need to be interested in money for your own sake and its own sake to survive mentally in the Champions League places. That’s not O’Neill either.

So his taking on West Ham might show that he no longer considers the so-called “big jobs” to be the desirable ones. Celtic was a real big job – it might be argued that he kept it that way himself by his own force of personality for longer than would otherwise have been the case. Both Rangers and Celtic now await a change in the financial weather and can’t move on until it comes. Furthermore, when O’Neill was at Celtic, it was a big job purely in footballing terms: what would the team achieve under him? would he emulate Stein, even in part? and of course he did, and showed the “pressures” of the job to be only an accurate measure of the talent of its holder. Celtic crushed good men before and after him – even a genuine hero like Tony Mowbray: O’Neill looked, sounded, and performed as if born to the role.

The Olympic Stadium

I don’t know if the issue of the Olympic Stadium figures with Martin O’Neill. There’s a considerable time factor involved: the Olympic Games are, in playing terms, a season and a half away, and conversion works probably stretch that time to four seasons altogether. And then there’s the neighbours to consider: Spurs.

That isn’t to say that the fate of the Olympic Stadium isn’t vital to both clubs. The stadium arms race of the Edwardian era is playing out again in our own time, and only clubs that can open capacity beyond 60,000 can hope to  compete at the very top level. Stratford can be a get out of jail free card for West Ham, and it’s close enough to call home. But Spurs have the money, the clout, Beckham on board and the next England manager.

If it came down to a straight battle between Redknapp and O’Neill, I know who I’d back. But it’s far from that. I really don’t know if this issue is on O’Neill’s mind at all. It would demand that he stay in post longer than he has been prone to, and it would create the mother of all distractions to the playing side of things (Wenger built the invincibles and Ashburton Gate at the same time, which speaks for itself, but he and O’Neill are very different men).

West Ham’s “Happy Time”?

Danny Dyer and everything of that kind aside, West Ham are a sunshine club, carrying a kind of indefinable good news around with them. It’s Malcolm Allison’s coffee shop school, talking tactics with young Moore and Byrne and pushing salt shakers around to prove a point. It’s the beautiful playing strip – not dissimilar to another one in Martin O’Neill’s past. It’s all those sunsoaked Wembley finals. It’s the deep family connections – the Lampards, the Allens. It’s the atmosphere of Upton Park under floodlights. It’s West Ham’s being in London, the greatest, most beautiful city in the world.

That, and the presence of an exciting set of young players: it all adds up to two things.

One, a club quite different from the ones O’Neill has managed before. It’s not Celtic’s sharks and icebergs. It’s not Aston Villa’s fear that the world was racing away without them. It’s not Leicester’s constant struggle for breath. And it’s certainly not Wycombe.

Two, O’Neill will finally be.. Martin O’Neill.

Because everyone has been waiting for him to be Brian Clough. This is unfair: Clough was Clough from the get-go. No one was hanging about in case Old Big ‘Ead might eventually morph into Harry Storer.

For some reason, for O’Neill to turn into Clough, he had to have the big job at the big club, in England. Or, indeed, get the England job, which would have made him just like Clough. (West Ham aren’t a leg up to that post, however: it’s Redknapp’s next, in sickness or in health).

No, now it’s Martin O’Neill’s career that he’s having. An end to comparisons. Not, perhaps, an end to questions about how he might have got on at Manchester United. But there are younger managers than O’Neill who will have that one hung around their neck before Ferguson is through, and one of them, you know in your heart, is Portuguese.

It’ll start, I imagine, with unfinished business: O’Neill will help West Ham finish the unlikely job of winning “his” trophy, the Football League Cup. His part in Villa’s losing final was only last year. Yet such a long time ago.

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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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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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England Before and After the Munich Disaster

Posted on 09 August 2010 by JamesHamilton

Edwards, Byrne, Taylor and friends 1955

In his analysis of eleven turning points in English football history, Rob Marrs has this to say about the Munich Disaster:

Like 1966, I won’t write too much here. That terrible day robbed football (not just English football) of great players like Duncan Edwards. It is a point of conjecture to wonder what England would have done at the World Cup in 1958 or 1962 with Edwards and co in the side.

Edwards is the great mystery here, of course: just how good would he have become? How would Bobby Moore have fitted into an England side with Edwards already in situ? And what about George Best playing with a fully developed Edwards plus Charlton and Law (I’m assuming that Tommy Taylor would have moved on by c.1964)?

England lost the spine of their side at Munich: Roger Byrne, a defender best compared to Rio Ferdinand in style and ability; Edwards; and Tommy Taylor, the best centre forward in England since Dean.

The stats bear Rob’s point out. As the Busby Babes were fed into the England team after the 1954 World Cup, results began to improve – and then, as the Manchester contingent gathered European experience, the pace quickened considerably:

With the World Cup in Sweden on the near horizon, these were exciting results.  The defence had pulled itself together, and up front, England were scoring at an average of more than three goals per game.

The effect of Munich is immediate, accumulative and catastrophic:

Even bare football stats can be memorials to the dead.

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The 1929 FA Cup Final – with sound

Posted on 07 August 2010 by JamesHamilton

Bolton 2 Portsmouth 0 Wembley 1929

In 1929, pioneering firm British Talking Pictures Ltd went to Wembley and made a – talking picture!  of the FA Cup Final. It was what Mitchell and Kenyon would have done, but by 1929 new tech chose other, newer vehicles. Considering its subject, this film is astonishingly early.

You can watch, and listen, to the 11 minutes we have left at British Pathe’s site here. Isn’t it about time they allowed embedding?

British Talking Pictures

British Talking Pictures was a substantial enterprise – the UK arm of the General Talking Pictures Company with two studios in operation on the old Wembley Exhibition site and a third under construction. Its relationship with German company Tobis gave the firm access to the Tri-Ergon system of sound film recording, in which an extra strip is added to 35mm film: it’s likely that this is the system in use here. The firm’s system and studios were cutting edge and a source of considerable interest to the rest of the industry, as the abstracts below demonstrate:

Click to Enlarge

In October, a devastating fire would destroy both of British Talking Pictures’ existing studios, causing an estimated £100,000 damage – in 1929 prices. But the company survived and thrived, and by the mid-1930s was a leading supplier of sound equipment to cinemas across Britain.

£800 (1930 prices) buys you all this!

The Wembley Ritual

The recording itself is one of the very first made of an English sporting crowd. BBC Radio commentary was already up and running by this stage, and supporters can be heard on surviving recordings of these games. But this is the earliest uninterrupted recording that I am aware of, and certainly the earliest recording of the whole Wembley FA Cup ritual.

And the ritual is all there, complete, in what is only Wembley’s seventh final. There is organized singing before the game, a Royal presence (the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII) and a brass band. But there is more to it: the proceedings end with God Save The King after the Cup has been presented. Note that the Bolton captain neither kisses nor raises the Cup when it is given to him: instead, he is chaired (somewhat awkwardly) around the stadium by Bolton officials and teammates.

Much of the FA Cup ritual is revealed, here, to be war remembrance. Pack Up Your Troubles is sung with enthusiasm, as match programmes are waved. For Abide With Me , the band is hushed, and the conductor, all in white, turns and leads the crowd. It’s a slow, graceful, moving rendition. The Bolton team had been together for a decade, and this was their hat-trick of winning Wembley Finals. They’d almost all fought, in 1914-1918, as perhaps most men in the crowd would have done. Captain Jimmy Seddon had suffered trench foot. The Wembley Ritual is one of remembrance. In 1929, it was remembrance – and remembering: the recollections of real memories, of real absent friends.

The Match Programme

The programme was a fine affair, graced by the thoughts of the Jonathan Wilson of his day, Charles Buchan, architect of the WM formation played by both sides:

1929 FA Cup Final Programme

The Daily News had been C.P. Scott’s paper before the Manchester Guardian. As for Buchan, he was no pioneer as a player-turned-journalist: one of Everton’s founding players, Frank Brettell, made more money from writing than from playing. But Buchan went on to found the first sustained intelligent football magazine for boys, one which has become a Christmas favourite and a focal point for 1950s nostalgia. All that was a long way away in 1929.

Playing Style

Herbert Chapman, writing at about this time, claimed that playing standards had fallen. What we see here is a mixed bag. There are some lovely touches, some excellent passes short and long, some great tackles, and even some decent keeping. The careers of both sets of players straddled the 1925 offside law change – the goalscoring records of George Camsell and Dixie Dean are 24 and 18 months old as we watch – and some of the long-ball crudities that the change encouraged can be seen too. More obvious here than in film of later years is the emphasis on the dribble – an attacker taking the ball as far as he could before encountering a tackle, almost rugby style. This is an older echo altogether, of the football of the 1860s and 1870s, and that old man accompanying the Prince of Wales as the players are introduced would have seen it for what it was. Because he was Sir Charles Clegg..

Sir Charles Clegg

Clegg is 78 here, which is old enough to have known Lord Kinnaird for almost all of his life and to have played against him in the first ever official international match at Kennington in 1872. Not that that was any kind of triumph for the Yorkshireman, who’d hardly had a kick all game. In 1926, Clegg related his bad memories of the first international match to the great sports journalist J.A.H. Catton:

Some members of the England eleven were awful snobs, and not much troubled about a “man fra’ Sheffield”.

In 1923, Clegg had succeeded Kinnaird as FA President, and in this capacity the Prince of Wales was given over into his care for the day. What the incorruptible, teetotal old man made of his charge is unrecorded.

Clegg was one of the great romantics at heart. Behind the flinty, no-prisoners facade was the soul of a young man who’d been driven out of his first love, athletics, by the corruption brought on by gambling. He’d fought the arrival of professionalism before tacking to the wind alongside Kinnaird and Marindin, and later fought both the infant Player’s Union and the breakaway Amateur Football Association. Clegg it was who led the 1905 investigation into corruption at Manchester City, from which dates the first great period of their Old Trafford rivals.

Clegg was a tragic figure too, and not just because he lived to see the sport he had played for love become big business that used players for profit before spitting them out like spent cartridges before they were thirty. Not just because the Football Pools would become a feature of everyday life under his watch. That small, determined figure you see next to the Prince of Wales was in mourning. He had had two sons with his wife Mary. He’d been luckier than Kinnaird, who’d lost two sons to the War. But first William Clegg died, in 1927, and then, in the year of this Final, the other son, Colin. His wife would die in 1933 and he’d see out his last four years of life alone.

The Managers

On the other side of London, Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal were about to begin their astonishing dominance of the English game, something which would continue right up to the renewal of war in 1939. Chapman was the dominant managerial figure – the Bradman of his trade – until Busby, but the Bolton and Portsmouth managers were figures in their own right.

Victorious Bolton boss Charles Foweraker was a one club man. He’d started out manning a turnstile at the brand new Burnden Park in 1895, and was there to see John Cameron score in the FA Cup Final replay of 1901. 1901 had been the first Final Pathe had filmed.  The initial tie at Crystal Palace had attracted 114,000 spectators, a record  and a turnout that flirted with catastrophe. Catastrophe came shortly afterwards. But not in South London: it came in Glasgow,at Ibrox, and The Scotsman published the relieved, self-exculpating letters of Crystal Palace’s manager on successive days, a page or two from the accumulating lists of Glasgow’s dead. In 1914, Palace packed 120,000 in. That was enough: and after the Great War, the Final spent a couple of years in the safety of Stamford Bridge whilst Wembley was made ready.

Foweraker had seen this great Bolton side win three Wembley finals in the stadium’s first seven years. For Jack Tinn, Portsmouth manager, and for Portsmouth themselves, it was all just beginning. Pompey had only been in the Football League for seven years, and were at the end of their second year of struggling in the First Division, Tinn’s first years in charge. Earlier in the season, they’d seen Leicester City put ten past them for no reply. But they’d survived, and would continue to do so. After one more losing Final, Tinn would lead a team to the Cup in 1939, and the trophy itself would spend the war under his bed. He retired in 1947, and a Portsmouth team most observers credit him with building would take back-to-back League titles in 1949 and 1950. Tinn would carry Portsmouth from the Great Crash to the Cold War, and leave them in an age of jet planes and nuclear brinksmanship.

The Crowd

But surely, the point of this 1929 sound film is the crowd at Wembley: the 100,000. For a supposedly flat-capped sport, there is an almighty preponderance of trilbies on view on what is obviously a cold day. Was Wembley a trip too far for Bolton men? But ten years later, Mass Observation would visit Burnden Park and find the trilbies there, too:

Burnden Park c.1939

Despite the presence of Portsmouth, there is no chanting to be heard. The Pompey “Chimes” are Victorian – the words were printed in the official club handbook for the 1900-1901 season. Some writers think that the “Chimes” were a thing reserved for late in the game, at least to begin with, and as Bolton’s goals came on eighty and ninety minutes respectively, that might explain the chant’s absence. But what we can hear is a classic crowd “roar”, that undulates with play, and we can hear rattles. Thousands upon thousands of rattles – not vuvuzela-intrusive, but a pervasive rippling sound underlying the roar that one might easily mistake for applause.

It is clear from the crowd’s reaction and behaviour that the players are idols already – superstars, kings whose hems must be touched. As both sets of players make their way up the Wembley steps – up the fresh, sharp concrete of the Wembley steps in the shadow of the clean, white Wembley towers – they are patted, pulled, hands reach for them and their shirts are tugged. There is a need, an intimacy, in all this contact, one which mirrors somehow the almost shocking skipping, hugging celebration of both Bolton goals. (Shocking at least to those who think affectionate celebrations are a modern phenomenon, but they appear in Edwardian footage too.)

The crowd marks a good pass, or a fine tackle, with that astonishing roar – loud and low-pitched. But when the goals come, the note is higher, diluted, thinned-out by surprise and pleasure. And whether it marks good play or a score, the note is never aggressive - these are still George Orwell’s orderly English crowds, not the passionate fans of today with their talk of Scummers or Bindippers or Plastics..

Between Wars

Just knowing that this is 1929 is enough to make one want to send in helicopters, to winch the players and crowd to safety, away from the Crash, Great Depression, Manchuria, Munich and the rest. But this is the point about life: it’s not a lift you can step out from, when the floor you want arrives.. and within ten years England had lost two kings, and the fragile peace besides. But, as we’ve noted, Jack Tinn was still there, at Portsmouth, in 1939, and sound film of Cup Finals, astonishing in 1929, was an absolute commonplace when he and his side came back and made it third time lucky.

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Boxing Day 2009: "City!" Malcolm Allison’s Televised Downfall

Posted on 26 December 2009 by JamesHamilton

In 1981, Manchester City, a club in Salford whose big spending hadn’t brought results, allowed in the television cameras. Not entirely by coincidence, he chose the same period to sack championship-winning City coach Malcolm Allison in favour of John Bond, who’d take them to the FA Cup Final. Twenty years earlier, Bond had been a disciple of Allison’s, part of a group including Bobby Moore and Noel Cantwell who grew up in Big Mal’s exuberant shadow at West Ham.

It’s all here. Compelling, saddening, and embarrassing all at once:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five:

Part Six:

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The Friendly Clubs: Ipswich Town

Posted on 15 December 2008 by JamesHamilton

There was a period in the early 1980s when the great clubs of England’s industrial cities gave way to smaller clubs from quieter places. Southampton, Ipswich, Norwich, Watford and Luton all had their great days between Clough’s first European Cup and the end of the Falklands Conflict. To this south-eastern boy, they were  home teams, teams you could conceivably go to watch. They  hadn’t the big names or the history. But perhaps they were the future. They were the Friendly Clubs.

Bobby Robson at Ipswich Town 1971

Ipswich Town were always a homely sort of colossus, and they’ve left a comparatively cuddly monument in the lone and level sands. But for an eighteen month period at the start of the 1980s, they had a presence that only the Liverpool of Rush and Dalglish could match.

Practically every great post-Ramsey Ipswich player was on view that day against United. Surely that side, clearly the best in England, deserved better than just a European trophy and the semis and the second-places that they actually received.

They were a glamorous team only for their play. Suffolk lacked mines for Bobby Robson to whistle down. His Ipswich had medieval faces and tradesman’s names: Butcher, Cooper, Mariner, Mills. If you look at the team photograph now, it’s easy to imagine Robson following William Dowsing from church to church, Southwold, Walberswick, Blyford, Laxfield, and calling his men to him from the backs of pews and from high on the ancient stone.

Except for Eric Gates, whom Robson discovered in gnome costume, fishing for carp by someone’s pond in backstreet Bungay.

Perhaps not, but magic of some kind there must have been, because it all happened so quickly for Ipswich. They turned pro in 1936, became League Champions twenty seasons later, and within forty had added the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup, and scalps like Real Madrid’s and St Etienne’s. An even greater feat of chronology followed in 1981 when Messrs. Wark, Osman and co. inspired Escape to Victory.

It was the era of the friendly clubs – Ipswich, Norwich City, Luton Town, Watford and  Southampton.  Nevertheless Ipswich’s success defies easy analysis.

Bobby Robson inherited Mick Mills, but apart from Dutchmen Thyssen and Muhren, every other member of that 78-82 glory team was brought to Ipswich young, cheap and obscure. The blue streak was 1971-6, when Robson found John Wark, Russell Osman, Paul Cooper, George Burley, Eric Gates, Terry Butcher, Paul Mariner, Kevin Beattie, Allan Hunter and Roger Osbourne.

Missing from that list, because they came before or after, are Mick Lambert, Clive Woods, Trevor Whymark, Brian Talbot and Alan Brazil. Surely Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town are the most remarkable example of team building to be found in English League history.There is nothing like it before, during or after the Maximum Wage.

Robson thought Trevor Beattie the best of them. Indeed, he thought him the best English-born player he’d ever seen, and that at the end of a management career which had involved Alan Shearer.

But it was the team’s reassuring, moustachiod uncle, Mick Mills, that my mates wanted to be. He was a man out of Macdonald Fraser, the eternal NCO who gave his life for Flashman or wasted his time over McAuslan time and again. Bloodyminded,  sensible and hard as nails, he was the ideal foil for Robson, a balance for the manager’s inspiration and hysteria. Ron Greenwood, who knew Bobby Moore, made Mick Mills captain of England.

The England strip updated Mills and replaced his valve-work with silicon circuitry. When the dugout grieved and panicked, he, alongside his true contemporaries Brooking and Keegan, kept his nerve.

Yet Mills was betrayed, in the end. Robson left for the England job at the end of 1982, but first made sure he’d sold Mills out of the club he’d graced since 1966. Then he ended Mills’s England career along with Keegan’s and Brooking’s. Their replacements failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championship.

Perhaps it was just as well. Most of the great names were gone within two or three years, in a dismemberment greater even than that of Nottingham Forest. Brazil and Mariner went to London, Butcher to Scotland, the skipper to Southampton.

Those of us who’d loved and feared them in 1978-82 waited years for them to recover. Apart from one bright season under Robson protegee George Burley, they never came again. And that’s how you grow old.

But there’s one last turn to the story. Three decades on, most of that team, be they English, Scottish or whatever, have found their roots in Suffolk, and live there to this day.

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Brian Clough: Sunderland and the End of His Playing Career

Posted on 14 June 2007 by JamesHamilton

It would prove to be a saving grace: the threat of a players’ strike in 1961 finally brought an end to the maximum wage in English football after 60 years. (You can read a superb discussion of the issue and its history here). At the same time, Clough became a leading player at a leading club, albeit one not enjoying the best of fortune, and for the first time in his career was earning “top money” as Alan Brown had put it. The abolition of the maximum wage didn’t mean the end of the scandalous retain-and-transfer system – that would have to wait for George Eastham to put his head on the block two years later. But so unusual was it for Clough to be in the right place at the right time that the strike and abolition stand out.

And how typical of Clough’s career that an injury requiring a long recuperation should occur only a year later, preventing him from making the most of his first real financial opportunity. Had he left Len Ashurst’s pass, Sunderland might have had another 15-20 goals that season and been promoted; Clough’s eighth professional season would have been a glorious head-to-head with Jimmy Greaves, perhaps even including a revival of his England career.

Clough’s England career was definitely hampered by playing in Division Two. Sven Goran Eriksson was criticised for favouring players with Champions League experience, but forty years before, much the same bias was exercised with regard to the First Division. The greatest centre forward of his day, Tommy Lawton, accepted a transfer to Notts County of Division Three in an attempt to shore up his financial future. To the dismay of his England colleagues, he was ignored by the selectors soon after, and the national squad went to their first World Cup without him. Clough’s own intelligence and impulsiveness put off the clubs who might otherwise have brought him into contention with Greaves and Kevan earlier, but it was the retain-and-transfer system that did him most damage.

Once Clough was allowed out of bed after his injury – months and months of frustration and boredom, coupled with the despair of watching Sunderland fall just short once again – it would take him another year to recuperate. Hellish recuperation: hours of running up and down the stands at Roker Park, rebuilding the muscles in his thighs and calves that would, more than ever before, have to support his weakened knee.

In retirement, Alan Brown claimed that he had always been aware of the severity of Clough’s injury, and that the long afternoons slogging up the steps had been meant to allow Clough to realize for himself what he was up against. A year is a long time, though, and Clough was not a man to forgo demanding answers as to his likely future. Clough was a huge talent, and Brown would have been as desperate to see Clough back on the pitch as was the player himself.

Just when it was finally going well, just when there was real direction to life, Clough was obliged to spend his 28th year in pain, in soullessly repetitive recuperative exercise, unable to help his side or his own interests. The fear and frustration that lay just below the surface of this character so many thought to be confident, the impulsiveness, the sharp intelligence denied its rightful challenges, all told once more, as they had told at Middlesbrough. Clough quickly lost what friends he had in the dressing room.

Len Ashurst thought that Clough was changed by the experience. Clough had always had a good relationship with the press, but now that began to take centre stage, and some of Clough’s own playing colleagues, Ashurst included, came in for personal attack. Ashurst also thought that Clough changed his accent, deliberately, at this time, beginning to drawl his words.

Simon Barnes put it well: “personalities” become that way because their real personality is inadequate in some way. Clough had always been too smart, too interested, too articulate, for the head-down party-line locker-room atmosphere of English football. His mental compatriots were Scottish – Bremner, Lorimer, Johnstone, Baxter, Law. Imagine that mind in constant pain, worry, fear for the future and – as a provider for his young wife and family, precarious – and a reaction seems inevitable.

Ashurst, though, was merely reading the future into the past. Clough didn’t remodel himself whilst injured; didn’t refit his psyche and behaviour for the years to come. What years to come? Either he recovered from his knee ligament injury, or there were no years to come.

Sunderland won promotion in the early summer of 1964, without Clough’s help. Alan Brown left the club shortly afterwards.

The new manager was George Hardwick, an outstandingly handsome man (friendly with, amongst others, Ava Gardner) who had been captain of the great English post-War national teams. A man of dominant, self-confessedly bullying character, he had had his career ended by a knee injury.

George Hardwick

Clough was just a striker with a long term injury when he arrived, but one fighting for fitness with determination with one hand whilst alienating the rest of the camp with the other. Hardwick gave Clough something to do. Clough was to help train the youth team.

Much has been made of Clough’s approach to the Sunderland youth team, and not enough has been made of George Hardwick’s influence on the way it was run. For Hardwick hadn’t come to Sunderland out of the blue: he had managed both PSV Einhoven in Holland and the Dutch national team itself. It was whilst Hardwick was in the Netherlands that their football began to emerge – in 1967, only six years after Hardwick left, Ajax were to thrash Liverpool 5-1 in Amsterdam before drawing 2-2 at Anfield. George Hardwick is one of the names that are regularly accredited with the invention of what would become Total Football.

The Sunderland youth team’s survivors of the period tell of how they were taken away from endless lapping of the pitch and put into six-a-sides, skills training, change and variety: this cannot, in the circumstances, have been Clough’s doing simply because, at first, he wasn’t even officially Sunderland Youth Coach. Hardwick’s influence has to be taken into account. That Clough found the work congenial is true enough, but there are no signs that he had any intention at all in life other than to continue playing. Assertions that he had thoughts of his own about coaching and management at that stage are probably false. But, asked to do it, it seems that he could.

And he was lucky, because Sunderland had a golden youth squad at the time, who were about to dominate the FA Youth Cup. With Clough’s help, they reached the semi-final in 1964. They’d reach the final in 1965, and win the competition outright in 1966 and 1967.

Hardwick wouldn’t be there to see it. Despite taking Sunderland to their highest post-War league position, he was sacked in the summer of 1965. But not before witnessing Clough’s return to the first team, or his first goal in the First Division, scored against – who else? – Revie’s Leeds.

Clough’s was one of the great recoveries from injury. To return to the first team after eighteen months of pain, tedium and conflict was an outstanding achievement. But Clough was trapped in the 1960s, forty years away from the treatments that would have, in all likelihood, taken his career on into the 1966 World Cup. Sunderland had done their best for him. But even in that game against Leeds, in the moment of vindication, it was impossible to miss two things. One, that Clough had lost all of his pace, and didn’t trust the knee enough to run on it as he had once done. Two, that he was limping.

A less intelligent man would have been amongst his intellectual peers in football. Clough was too young and too sharp, too desperate and ambitious, all at the same time. Too many important people around him were intimidated by him, and chose to regard that as an unforgiveable sin in a man whose allies were conveniently fragile. Hardwick was Clough’s protector by the end, at Sunderland. Shortly after the manager was fired, Clough, too, was sacked.

August 1965 saw the start of England’s World Cup winning season. Neither Martin Peters nor Geoff Hurst, scorers of the four goals in the final the following July, had yet played for England. Greaves, Clough’s closest equivalent in terms of ability in Division One, enjoyed only a fraying relationship with England manager Ramsey. The chance, for a hard-working striker of supreme talent, at his peak, was there to be taken. At Clough’s testimonial, in October 1965, Len Shackleton described Clough as the greatest striker he had ever seen – a man who, had he been playing in the 1920s, would have eclipsed even Dixie Dean. Football saves so much of its empty hyperbole for men it has betrayed and abandoned, but Shackleton was a friend; he meant his words as comfort, but he might well have meant his words.

31,000 people turned up for the testimonial, to Clough’s lastiing gratitude; that, plus his £1500 settlement from Sunderland, almost – but not quite – kept the wolf from the door.

It’s hard now to properly communicate the scale of the disaster that overcame Clough in the spring and summer of 1965. The one thing that had saved him from his unsuccessful education, at a time when that was so often the decisive factor in the direction of the next fifty years, was gone, forever this time. The one thing he had been good at, that had won him the status and recognition of his peers, that excited him, gave him direction, meaning, purpose – gone. With nothing to replace it.

And, for all his careful husbandry and second income from journalism, nothing to pay the bills. Not only was the life he loved absolutely over, but his domestic situation was desperate and worsening, with a drastic decline in his living standards – and his own childrens’ chances in life – only weeks away.

Over the course of the summer, eyewitness accounts say that Brian Clough began to drink to excess, put on weight, withdraw, become depressed.

Up and down the country, other men were in the same situation. Football, that great supposed repository of all the good old virtues, in the good old days of ’66, spat out what it couldn’t use, with little, or, usually, no, thought for what lay ahead for them. It would have done nothing to prepare them for the future – testimonials were all that would be provided, and only after a certain length of service, and only if the club could not really avoid providing one.

A strange, brief, mostly poorly-paid career, then: spent either trapped at a mediocre employer uninclined to use his talents or to release him to use them better elsewhere or at a good employer but unable to work, in a culture that was dead set against his kind of bright, ambitious, impulsive young man – and it ends, or must have ended, in one final walk out into the club car park. You can imagine how that must have gone: Clough beside his car, digging in a pocket for his keys, and, as he turns them in the driver’s door lock, he perhaps catches sight of his reflection in the window for a second. His face there, and, up and down England, hundreds of other faces caught in car windows as they prepare to go home and tell their families that they are on the dole.

What would Clough have seen in that brief moment? “Cloughie”? “Old Big ‘Ead”? I think he’d have refused to look; I think he would have turned away rather than see his reflection just then.

Those that the English find too intelligent to understand they make eccentric. Rejecting intelligence when they meet it in person, calling it arrogant, yet they’ll take credit for it as a national characteristic. I prefer Roger Waters’ description in “The Final Cut” of the environment Clough had to come from, one “Laughing too loud/At the rest of the world/With the boys in the crowd.”

Footie books, orange with nostalgia, will note that the Sixties were swinging, that the nation was a blur of mini skirts and mop tops and fashion and satire and plastic furniture and James Bond. In the north east, that other staple of 1960s life, the balance of payments deficit, would have been the only relevant one: Clough’s youth, for all that he had hated industrial life, had been one of expanding employment and relative opportunity. Clough’s sacking came when all that was over and the long, long decline beginning.

It’s a story of how poor opportunities were for the intelligent working class boy; of how intelligence put people at odds with the closed, paranoid culture they emerged from; of a “national game” that used both supporters and players unforgiveably, covering its tracks with nostalgia and moulding-flashed patriotism; of a game that behaved more like a cult than a proper sport, keeping its best practitioners back for the lowest cultural and financial reasons.

I don’t think Clough would have looked at his reflection; I think he’d have turned away.

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