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.
Commenter Will contrasts aspects of the 1929 FA Cup Final crowd (see here) with modern football audience behaviour:
They are all there early. If you imagine the FA Cup final now there would be people drifting in right up to the kick off. But the stands are full at least 10 minutes before kick off. And what an orderly crowd – it looks much more like a theatre audience than a modern football crowd would.
When they go up to get the cup you can hear individuals shouting out. Now (if you could hear it over the ‘razzmatazz’ provided by the PA system…etc you would hear a dull roar from the crowd or chanting. In this video the crowd don’t feel the need to make a noise for the sake of it – they will gladly stand and watch the team collecting the cup, unless they have something specific they want to say. It gives the trophy presentation the feel of a school sports day.
In 1929, the crowd are more specifically spectators, and less participants, than they are today, at least at Wembley.
Wembley was strange turf – an away ground for everyone present, of course, and it would be interesting to have e.g. a “talking picture” from Stamford Bridge, Burnden Park or Maine Road to contrast the 1929 Final with.
The next clip is from the closing stages of the 1954 “Miracle of Berne” World Cup Final, in which a reborn West Germany beat the Magical Magyars with a combination of tech, weather and skullduggery plus the skills and courage of an underestimated side (Morlock, Rahn & Gmb). From about six minutes in, you can watch the German reaction to the Final whistle, and then the presentation.
The presentation – like that of 1929 – is treated as a short hiatus in the celebrations. For the players, it’s a moment for dignity and self-respect. And from Puskas, sportsmanship:
In today’s cup tournaments, the trophy presentation has become the moment of climax. Like so much in this homophobic sport, it’s highly sexual. The trophy is handed over – it enjoys an intimate moment with the captain – and then the captain turns to the crowd, and, bang! (And streamers fall, fireworks go up, a narcissistic single by Queen jerks into action: whatever else it all is, it isn’t in anyone’s idea of good taste).
In 1929 and 1954, the presentation had relatively little to do with the crowd as such. Even the chairing of the skipper – or, in West Germany’s case, the manager – looks like a comparatively private affair, something that took place amongst an inner circle, team and the team’s backroom support.
FA Cup Finals have always been a case unto themselves. Yes, they decide an important competition, but it’s also the national Football Association’s big annual day out, a chance to thank the many volunteers who keep the real game going. Of the 100,000 tickets sold at the old Wembley, only a proportion would be destined for the fans of the finalists. In addition, until the 1950s, when the price of football admission and rail travel both diminished in relation to the growth in the standard of living, a journey to London would have been beyond many who attended home games. Saturday morning working would rule out others. To celebrate “with the crowd” at Wembley in 1929 might not have meant “celebrating with your core supporters” as much as it does today.
So when would the supporters’ moment come? When would they be acknowledged, in public, by the team they followed?
If this 1934 film marking Manchester City’s FA Cup win is any clue, then the pre-War fans’ “moment” wasn’t at Wembley: it was at the railway station, and in the streets, with the Cup held up to them from an open-top bus (ignore the voice over on this: usual ill-informed, patronising rubbish)
The bus would be bound for the steps of the Town Hall or City Chambers, where the trophy would be raised to a cheering crowd in a manner similar to but less sexualised that that now seen at Wembley.
Inevitably, bus parades aren’t the events they once were. Chelsea’s parades, for instance, go down the Kings Road, and once ended at my former workplace Chelsea Old Town Hall. Chelsea Old Town Hall hasn’t been a Town Hall for 45 years, and has never been in the same borough as Stamford Bridge. In 1970, the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea stood at the Town Hall window, pouring champagne into the Cup. In 2010, with an attendance similar to a minor political demonstration of the sort London sees almost every day during the summer – rather fewer than they’d taken to Wembley itself - Chelsea’s bus took them to Parson’s Green. (Chelsea’s support these days are a diaspora – coming from Sutton, Epsom, Dorking, Redhill and further afield as much as from West London – so a Wembley focus for celebration makes more sense in any case, as it would for most clubs who win the Cup these days).
This last British Pathe clip shows Nat Lofthouse of Bolton Wanderers in 1958. Changes are underway in the Wembley Ritual: he gives the Cup a chaste peck, and, a minute or two later, holds it up – somewhat – chest high – for photographers. You’ll also see his speech and his holding up the Cup on the steps of Bolton Town Hall – a traditional element still in full force 52 years ago. No easing past this crowd – it’s quite clearly something those present will remember for the rest of their lives.
There’s no doubt in my mind that football between the Wars was at its peak in terms of crowd behaviour and etiquette. The Edwardian game was a more violent and corrupt affair altogether. As for the 1950s, trains began to be vandalised by travelling supporters, and fan segregation surfaced as an issue outside Glasgow.
It’s not the world fan nostalgia harks back to. That world, one full of loyal players with hygienic lives, Gazza skills and workman’s boots, who go everywhere by bus and never lose an international match, is a media-fuelled fantasy. And what rough fuel the media provide.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
The National Football Museum is putting together its Eleven Key Moments in Football History for their new location and is interested to hear yours. Here are mine:
1864-8: Quintin Hogg, assisted by right-hand man Lord Kinnaird (who’d go on to be President of the Football Association and create the tradition of a royal presence at FA Cup Finals) take boys from their Ragged School near the Strand out into the country to play football (and cricket) on day trips. It’s a very early instance of the use of football as an educational, life-shaping game for everyone. Churches, factories and mines up and down the UK will adopt the idea, and many of our most famous clubs will emerge as a consequence. Hogg goes on to pioneer football as part of the curriculum in secondary education at his Regent Street Polytechnic.
1883: Northern working class football overtakes the amateur game with Blackburn Olympic’s FA Cup win over Old Etonians (for whom an ageing Lord Kinnaird stars). In truth, northern teams had probably been better for a couple of years by then. But the sheer expense of travel, coupled with disadvantages in height and weight owing to diet, served to conceal the change.
1885: Professionalism gets the go-ahead from the FA, with especial support from Lord Kinnaird and Major Marindin. Within a decade, this will have the effect of all but closing off the international game (and the top of the domestic game)to amateur players of all backgrounds. A series of financial scandals between 1890 and 1914 will confirm the fears of professionalism’s opponents, but football avoids the splits endured by rugby and the bizarre master-and-servant compromises of cricket.
1892: Goodison Park becomes the world’s first really substantial football stadium. Nothing like the Old Lady had been built since the days of the Roman Empire. It triggers a stadium-building “arms race” which culminates in Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. No club – with the sole and partial exception of Leeds United – that failed to get its stadium up and running before 1914 will ever win a Football League Championship, and the biggest pre-1914 clubs still dominate the club game.
1901: the introduction of the Maximum Wage stabilizes the Football League financially. But players, some of whom have already become amongst the most famous entertainers in the land, will no longer be able to parlay their talent and work into a middle class standard of living. In 1927, Dixie Dean (Everton, 60 goals) meets Babe Ruth (New York Yankees, 60 home runs) and puts a brave face on the millions amassed by his US rival.
1919: with the creation of Division 3 (North) one season after the Southern League is rolled up into Division 3 (South), the Football League assumes its current size. It was then, and is now, the biggest and most stable professional football league in the world. But the impoverished, poorly-supported clubs of Division 3 (North) never match the title-and-cup-winning achievements of the Division 3 (South) entrants and remain the Football League’s Cinderella clubs to this day.
1925: Herbert Chapman and Charlie Buchan respond to the change in the offside rule by inventing the WM formation. It’s the start of modern English football management as we know it. And WM is the last real British football innovation. After this, the British game will cherrypick European and South American ideas but remain an intensely conservative thing of itself.
1928: Uruguay retain the Olympic football title. The South Americans are the first national team from outside the UK with a good prime facie case for being the world’s best. The 1924 and 1928 Olympic football competitions are bigger than any of the pre-War World Cups – and Uruguay would win the first of those in 1930 anyway.
1956: Manchester United become the first English side to enter the European Cup, following Scotland’s Hibs who’d entered the year before. The European Cup will grow to become one of the most important tournaments in the world, outstripping the World Cup itself for money and weight of talent – if not, as yet, for glamour. It’ll be another eleven seasons before first Celtic, and then Busby’s final United side, lift the trophy, reflecting just how much the footballing initiative has gone beyond Britain. British clubs will achieve much success in Europe over time, without ever producing evidence that British football has truly caught up with the modern game.
1989: the publication of the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough Disaster begins a process that will transform the country’s obselete stadia into the greatest concentration of safe, attractive modern grounds in the world. With a bit of assistance along the way from Sky Television and Paul Gascoigne, the Taylor Report will change the game’s image in England forever.
1995: the Bosman ruling finishes the job that George Eastham and Jimmy Hill started. The unfair and archaic class-ridden restraints of trade that prevented footballers from gaining market value from their talent are gone. Although there is now near-consensus that things have swung too far in players’ favour, with pay demands destabilizing famous old football clubs, there is none about how to restore the balance.
Needless to say, I could have written 100 – but eleven is the key. Put yours in the comments, and also send them to @footballmuseum on Twitter.
Whatever you might say about the professionalism controversies in England in the 1880s, it was the case then, and has been ever since, that practically all the actual football is played by amateurs.
Snopes-type legends about amateur football abound. About street football, which is alleged to have honed ballplaying skills so well – you can see an October 1930 clip of a street game here and decide for yourself. (British Movietone: registration possibly required). In other countries, it’s beach football, or a relationship between football and forms of dance, forms of self-defence, or football and dances which are self-defence in disguise.
At any rate, the Snopes-style myth connects poverty with skill on the ball.
South American countries were the first to truly value that kind of skill, and were the first to use football as a specific means of national self-expression. Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina went from football beginners to the best in the World in about 20 years – i.e. their very first footballing generation came up trumps (I’m assuming here that the 1924-1930 Uruguayans were a match for England and Scotland, which they almost certainly were).
By modern standards, these were poor countries whose kids did not allow poverty to keep them from taking up the craze. But I wonder. Not all of their best players came from the humblest backgrounds. And the pre-War period was South America’s golden age of growth and reform and relative prosperity.
Things are getting better in parts of Africa, but for much of the continent, “golden age of growth and reform and relative prosperity” aren’t the ones you’d choose to describe, say, 1970-1995. I’d like to know more than I do about the comparative levels of coaching and football education in early-century South America as compared to post-colonial Africa.
The top row of the gallery contains the kind of footballs that would have been familiar both to participants in friendlies in the 1960s and British schoolboys ninety years later.
Row 2 contains what my generation might consider the Ur-ball, the Adidas Telstar, father of a million hollow plastic replicas. A couple of months of being kicked up against a brick wall would take off that clean black-and-white and leave the basic leather exposed, but the panel pattern would still show through.
The most recent footballs – the aerodynamic, waterproof serious pieces of sporting kit – are the ones that look most transient, temporary and liable to break. You could say the same for today’s boots. Odd that the footballs and the football boots look least like their ancient forebears just at the time when shirts, shorts and socks have gone back – on the surface at least – to a bagginess Billy Wright might have recognised and his Hungarian opponents rejected.
The dry weight of this 1893 ball might actually be less than the dry weight of the new 2010 World Cup ball
The argument over the ball at the 2010 World Cup has brought to the fore, once again, the fact that even otherwise well-informed fans don’t always know the laws of the game.
It is a myth that the modern ball is lighter than the balls used in the past.
Since 1937, the dry weight of the ball has been specified by Law 2: 14-16oz. Prior to that, the rules governing the ball’s dry weight specified something lighter - 13-15oz.
This goes for the new ball used in 2010 just as much as it did for the 1966 ball. Whenever you read a comment along the lines of “I’d like to see modern players heading the leather pudding the ’66 boys had to put up with” you can assume that they don’t know what they’re talking about.
What has changed are (1) the material from which the ball is made, and thus the ability of the ball to avoid weight gain during the game through water absorption, and (2) the aerodynamics of the ball i.e. the smoothness of the surface.
The new ball isn’t lighter in of itself - which is what people seem to be assuming: but the new ball won’t get so wet in play. So in the broad sunshine of the ’66 World Cup Final, the famous orange balls were the same weight as the ones we see today. And so it has been on every dry day, on every dry pitch, since the balls were first standardized in the early 1870s.
Lecture inspired by a comment on Alex Massie’s TNT piece here – because I wasn’t able to comment there. As usual with the sort of places Alex posts at, onerous signing-up procedures loom..
Steve Bloomer: 19 goals in 23 England Appearances 1895-1907
The first edition of James Corbett’s “England Expects: A History of the England Football Team” has sat somewhere near my desk since about a fortnight after its initial publication. There hadn’t really been a proper full England history before. Of course, there’d been books about England managers - but that’s not quite the same thing, and in any event, by the time Ramsey was appointed, the first proper England manager as we know them, English international football was already 90 years old. So Corbett’s huge red hardback, which combined concise match reporting from the very start, concentrated on players and audience as much as managers, and in sharp, clean prose avoided all of the usual laddish clichees, was extremely welcome.
The second edition is a reillustrated, tightened-up paperback, and it gives a reader confidence when a photograph of Edwardian striking star Steve Bloomer is captioned author’s own collection. For James Corbett, the first half century of international football – 1870-1920 – isn’t the usual source of sneering fun, and his account has none of the usual sense that writers give of waiting for the real business to begin. So this is the best short account of the amateur-versus-professional controversy. The wealthy pioneers like Lord Kinnaird are proper sportsmen, not moustache-twiddling sexual obsessives. Snobbery is not the only reason keeping the Football Association out of FIFA. Professional league football is not the usual unmitigated triumph for the working man. Corbett lets the game grow in its own time and context, and that time and context are assuredly not ours.
Even non-fiction accounts, when done properly, fall into one or another of the seven plots, and there’s an enjoyable debate to be had about which one the England football team follows and at what speed. The usual unconscious pick of football writers is decline, fall, recovery, triumph! fall again, recovery, Gazzamania, and (insert blur of journalism to bring us “up to date”). Corbett avoids this. The inter-war period, badly filmed and so little-known to most fans, is closely covered without distracting references to past and future, making good use of what are actually fairly extensive primary autobiographical sources. The great England side of the war years and after – Lawton, Mannion, Matthews, Finney, Carter and co. – are recorded and celebrated for their own sake, not for that of Hungary and 1953.
Not that 1953 came out of the blue: Corbett incorporates it into a longer account of relative decline after the wartime side broke up, and remarks that the 6-3 defeat itself caused less upset amongst the game’s players and administrators than you might think. 1950-55 was one of a number of the fallow periods that England’s team have passed through – the 1920s, either side of Dixie Dean, was another, and so was 1975-80, and 1991-5. How would the Hungarians of ’53 gotten on against the Byrne-Edwards-Taylor England of 1957, or the Charlton-Greaves England of 1962? England’s recovery after the 1954 World Cup, in both club and international terms, was real enough, and Corbett’s chapter about those sunnier last years of the Winterbottom regime is headed by a fine meditative photo of Stanley Matthews besuited, new holder of the ballon d’or, gazing into the future from the sand dunes at Blackpool.
That future would be one in which England built three separate teams, in the space of twelve years, which were capable of frightening anyone, even the 1970 Brazilians. Three good sides – without revolutions in training, without changes to the league system (save the scrapping of the regional divisions in favour of a national Division Four), and without reform at the FA. Some things had changed: the ’57-58 pre-Munich side were the best nourished in history, thanks to rationing, and, thanks to education reforms and Walter Winterbottom, many of the ’66 and ’70 sides had received proper coaching in good conditions at school at the right age. But the biggest change of all was the ending of committee selection, partially under Winterbottom and finally under Ramsey. Corbett’s long, detailed examination of Ramsey’s construction of the ’66 side against strong and vocal opposition is the deserved highlight of the book. If you want to know what the verrou system is, you’ll have to buy a copy.
What follows ’66 is a kind of flatlining: the endless, exhausting efforts to do it again, to retrieve some footballing self-esteem, all while the game goes on about its own, quite separate business elsewhere. There are ways to make sense of this. It comes back to plot again: and Corbett, confronted by the triumph/disaster dichotomy that night/days its way out of the mouths of fans and journalists, opts instead for theme:
the insatiable burden of expectation facing our footballers and the way they have often been overwhelmed by it..shattered dreams and unyielding expectation (stretching from) origins among the mid-Victorians through to a modern era defined by money, massive egos and chronic underachievement(..) the monstrous expectation.. rears its head again and again and in so many different ways. There is, alas, no happy ending.
But there is happiness along the way. Hudson’s match in 1975 against West Germany; Keegan and Brooking’s attacking 2-0 Wembley win over Italy two years later; the vindication of Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer’s romp in the sunshine against Holland. Before that game, Terry Venables summed it up: “We are inclined to be a nation (which thinks) we are the worst team in the world or the best. Neither is true.”
The final chapters cover England’s progress during what will have been the period of James Corbett’s own writing career. Unlike many journalists, he’s resisted the temptation to place himself at the centre of events, appearing only when doing so adds an essential psychological point (Corbett’s meeting with Steve McClaren six months before the future Eredivisie winner’s England sacking for example). Nor, while writing about the unbearable expectations placed on England, does he overpromote the issue: what keeps us interested, in the end, isn’t expectation, he says, but something lighter and better: hope.
England Expects is fully footnoted and contains a comprehensive bibliography and is published by De Coubertin at £12.99.
I’ve just been groping through piles of statistics and have come across a thoroughly melancholy fact, namely that there are no survivors of England’s pre-War internationals.
The earliest international match for which we have a living English representative is Northern Ireland v England on 28th September 1946: Sir Tom Finney (b. 5th April 1922) scored on his war-delayed debut.
But there’s relief in that Sir Tom isn’t actually the oldest surviving international: that honour belongs to Phil Taylor of Liverpool, born on 18th September 1917. Taylor actually made his league debut on 28th March 1936, so we are still in the company of pre-War footballers, if only just.
Bert Williams, goalkeeper against the USA in 1950, is also still in the land of the living. “The Cat” may be the oldest surviving player with a nickname: he was born on 31st January 1920.
All this means that there are at least three former league players who predate the grouping of the railways.
Here’s Sir Tom Finney, combining with Sir Stanley Matthews to score against Uruguay in the 1954 World Cup: