Archive | FA Cup

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Presenting the Trophy: 1929, 1954 and 1958

Posted on 11 August 2010 by JamesHamilton

Huddersfield Town's 1922 FA Cup Open Top Bus

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.

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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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The FA Cup, the BBC, and the Romance of the Underdog

Posted on 18 March 2006 by JamesHamilton

I saw my first FA Cup Final in 1976. I was seven years old, and only caught it by accident, tuning in while looking for something else. The match was already long into its second half, and I’d missed all of the game’s goals. Being British, I found myself cheering on the losing team, and, because it was the first football of any kind I’d seen, that losing team became MY team, and so they’ve stayed to this day. So my team came to me by accident too, and had I seen my first final only a year earlier, my team would have been Fulham.

The FA Cup Final became a family affair after that. We’d get together – my aunt, my parents and my sister – and watch the game over crisps and ice cream soda (I imagine my stepfather drank beer, but I don’t remember). 1977 was pure celebration, as the last year’s losers came back to claim the trophy at last: in 1978, we were all cheering for Ipswich, and 1979 was all tantrum and heartbreak. In later years, we got behind QPR, Manchester City, and, rewarded at last, Coventry City.

So I’m no stranger to shouting for the underdog. But just lately, I’ve been wondering why.

Since the BBC started showing highlights from all FA Cup games in those late-night marathon editions of Match of the Day, we’ve all got to know a lot more about the smaller clubs in our national game. Some, like Yeading, are very small indeed. Others, like Blackpool, have merely fallen on hard times. They all have their own stories and their own dramas, and these can come as a welcome relief from our over-familiarity with repetitive Premiership story-lines. But I can’t be the only one who is beginning to feel that the way these stories are put across is beginning to drag in a big way.

The Beeb has a fixed idea of what the FA Cup – especially in the early rounds – means. It means the little dog against the big dog. It’s true – of course it’s true – but in the last two years this plot line has been heavily overcooked. It is dragged out in every single instance of a game between two teams from different levels of the football ladder. When the Premiership teams enter the competition in the Third Round, that can be up to twenty games in which we are, in the Beeb’s script, on the edge of our seats waiting for a shock. I can’t keep it up, and find myself longing for the Premiership side to hand out a beating.

What’s more, in just about every single case, the underdog is presented in the same way. It is always a club “at the centre of its community”. That “community” will have “cup fever” and because there aren’t enough tickets to go round, will be seeking out funny/dangerous places in trees, on top of neighbouring buildings, hanging from lamp posts etc. in order to witness the game. The players themselves will be the true salt of the earth – much will be made of the “ordinariness” of their day jobs (and if they are full-time players, the gap will be filled with stories of how they were foolishly rejected by this or that top club and now have the chance to prove to said club how wrong they were). They will be builders, postmen, lumberjacks… white (usually) working class men, usually despised by the BBC as racist redneck provincials driving dangerously in white vans, who for ninety minutes will be presented as the true face of the good old English nation. The manager will either be young and upcoming, given a golden opportunity for a shot at the big time (which never comes) or he’ll have been at the club since 1945 and will be a “local character”, a typical English eccentric of the kind the BBC usually mocks and can hardly bear not to here. Any kind of link to the sort of football history that the Beeb presumes that the viewer will know about will be grossly over-emphasised. This last reached its disgusting apogee this season in the match between Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion and Manchester United, during which Brian Clough’s ghost was kept on constant, mawkish duty.

And then there’s that Beeb obsession with the question of haves and have-nots. It starts with some tortured statistics about how the entire team cost less than one week of the opposing goalkeeper’s wages. It ends with the merest hint at something sinister about the way the wealthier club made its money… about the way the top players made it there… against all of which the poorer team in all its yeoman honesty and traditional values is supposedly to be contrasted.

It’s all getting a bit wearing. For a start, none of it bears much relation to reality. The gap in quality between non-league, non-Premiership teams and the elite has closed, the games are usually close and whilst shocks are still relatively rare they lack the thunderbolt quality of Wrexham-Arsenal or Yeovil-Sunderland of yore. It’s been many, many years since any club – let alone any small club – has been the focus of their town (and let’s just drop that word “community”, with all its false implications).

And it’s so repetitious and formulaic. I’m really not sure that Ferguson, Wenger et al lose any sleep whatsoever over an interesting Third Round draw – and I’m certain they don’t see games as “potential banana-skins.”

If the BBC could take the time, and clear their heads of their fairytale approach to the FA Cup, there are fresh and genuine stories to every game. Take Yeading. It’s a very young club – only forty years old, and it’s in a “new” part of the south east of England, with no previous history of football (Hayes in Middlesex). The story of Yeading is part of an as-yet untold story about post-War working class Britain. What about the aforesaid Burton Albion? The Beeb assures us that this is an age when the haves take everything from the have-nots, yet Burton is a club to demonstrate that competent management can build a successful, viable club away from traditional football hotbeds – they have a new ground, the Pirelli stadium, that couldn’t be less like the Beeb’s romantic idea of what a non-league club should possess (a potato field next to a pub, essentially). Nigel Clough isn’t their first competent manager – they have also benefitted from Peter Taylor, who has managed England, and Neil Warnock, who looks likely to return Sheffield United to the top ranks this year.

Of course, the Beeb has no intention of changing its script. But it would be nice…

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