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Football in the 1950s

John Simkin

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There looks like an interesting programme on BBC 4 tonight at 9.00 that looks at the way football has changed since the 1950s. I recently watched two games from the 1950s on DVD: Bolton v Blackpool (1953) and Newcastle v Manchester City (1955) FA Cup Finals.

There are some striking differences between the game in the 1950s and today:

1. The game was very much cleaner. There was hardly a foul in both games. No players had to be spoken to by the referee. In fact, both games were played in a very good spirit. At the end of both cup finals the losing team congratulated the winning team as if they meant it.

2. The game was played at a much slower speed. Players rarely used their speed to go past players (Stanley Matthews playing in the 1953 Cup Final was an exception to this).

3. Technically they were far inferior to the players today.

4. Teams tended to play the long ball game. A lot of high balls to the centre-forward, who was usually good in the air. However, most attacks came from the wings. All teams in the 1950s played with two wingers who were expected to cross the ball at every opportunity.

5. When the team scored they congratulated the goalscorer with a handshake. However, when Eric Bell put Bolton 3-1 up, Nat Lofthouse, thinking that the cup was won, kissed the goalscorer on the forehead.

6. In both games the trainer did not come on the field. Despite the fact that both games players were forced to leave the field because of serious injuries. In both cases, the men, Bell (Bolton) and Meadows (Manchester City) limped off. Meadows played no further part in the game whereas Bell returned as a passenger. In the 1950s there were no substitutes and both ten-men teams lost. Understandably, the injuries played a major role in the result. The unfairness of this was never mentioned by the commentator.

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