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History of Football on DVD

John Simkin

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One of the pleasures of being a member of Amazon’s DVD rental service is that you can watch old football matches in their entirety. Recently I watched two matches that provide an interesting example of how the game has changed over the last 50 years.

First of all I watched the 1953 Blackpool v Bolton Cup Final. Although highly rated at the time, the standard of football was very ordinary. The quality of the passing was equivalent to non-league football. It was also played at a very slow pace. Only Stanley Mathews appeared to be fast (he was 38 years old at the time) and used his speed more than his dribbling skills to get past people. Both sides played a lot of long ball football although Ernie Taylor, the man of the match, tried very hard to make Blackpool into a close passing side. I am sure that both sides would have been slaughtered by a modern football team. The most noticeable difference was in fitness.

There were some pluses. There was not one bad tackle in the game. No one had to be spoken to by the referee. Most fouls were caused by bad timed tackles or shoulder charges (used much more in 1953 than today). The other great thing about it was the way they responded to fouls. These fouls created no bad feeling at all. The person who committed the foul never complained to the referee. In fact, in most cases he said sorry to all concerned and went and got the ball and placed it ready for the free-kick to be taken.

Another interesting aspect of the game was the way they responded to being injured. There was no rolling about on the ground trying to get the tackler in trouble with the ref. Instead they just lay there waiting for the trainer to be sent on. During the game their was a bad injury to the Bolton defender, Eric Bell. Instead of waiting for the ref to stop the game he dragged himself off to receive treatment. As there were no substitutes Bell returned and hobbled along the wing for the rest of the game.

Bolton let a 3-1 led slip and Blackpool scored the winning goal in the last few minutes. The sportsmanship of the Bolton was superb. Although they played most of the game with only ten fit men they took the obviously disappointing result very well. They lined up to shake the hand of Mathews who everyone thought was about to retire. In fact he continued to play in the First Division (what we know call the Premiership) until he reached the age of 50.

The one thing that did surprise me was that when Bolton went 3-1 up, Nat Lofthouse, the burly centre-forward who had originally been a coalminer, went up to the scorer and kissed him. Now, I did not know that went on in the 1950s.

The second game I watched was the 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final at Wembley between West Ham and TSV Munich. Although only 12 years after the Blackpool-Bolton match, the game had changed completely. I was actually at the game and although I remember it as being a good match, I was shocked by the actual quality of the football played. The passing of both teams was exquisite. The movement of the players was also excellent and both sides clearly wanted to play attacking football. However, it was the defending that caught the eye. West Ham’s defence hardly made a mistake and despite Munich’s talented forward line, they hardly had a chance. As well as being well organized and keeping their shape, the tackles were perfectly timed. Bobby Moore was of course outstanding but people like Ken Brown, Joe Kirkup were not far behind.

Although the speed and skill of the players had improved dramatically, the players had not lost some of the best things that existed from the game in the 1950s. There were no bad fouls or playacting. Men in the early 1960s still acted like men in the 1950s. Very different from the behaviour of players today. The Munich team, who had matched West Ham until tiring in the last 30 minutes, took the defeat with good grace. However, it was the performance of the West Ham team that caught the eye. It came close to perfection. I recommend ever West Ham supporter to get a copy of the DVD. It will make you proud of being a fan of a team with such a tradition of playing the game in the right way.

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It was a big year, 1953.... England 3 Hungary 6 in November was THE wake-up call for English football (see this report for example). The skills of the Olympic Champions showed England (fans, journalists, the FA) just how far behind the 'cutting edge' the England team was.

It's no surprise that by 1965 there had been much improvement. The West Ham of the Greenwood era was undeniably a good team, going on to form the backbone of the World Cup winning side. Greenwood would have been one of the new young managers who 'grew up' in the years after the defeat. His assistantship at Arsenal (still hard to type that word) in the late 1950s and appointment to West Ham in 1961 would have been very timely. His length of tenure at West Ham is testament to his skill.

I, too, have a favourite match. Mine happens to be the 'Ricky Villa' FA Cup final. I freely 'confess' to owning a copy on DVD which I play occasionally, but especially after the present side do something really silly. It is in some ways similar in that a relatively young/new manager was trying to get his team to play football in the 'correct' way. Admittedly he had to import players to make the mix 'work'...

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