Rockin’ English football in the 1970s and wonderful losers around the world 03/07/2022

Get It On – How the 70s shook up football by Jon Spurling (Biteback Edition)

Torn from the jaws of victory edited by Adam Bushby and Rob MacDonald (Halcyon Editions)

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When Manchester City’s capricious winger Rodney Marsh having come to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the mid-1970s, he denounced English football as “a gray game, played on gray days by gray people”. Like all generalizations, the quote contains a kernel of truth, but doesn’t hold up to much analysis. Although Marsh’s quote appears in Jon SpurlingIllustrating the clash in England between the old style of post-war disciplinary coaching and the new generation of free-spirited, long-haired mavericks, the majority of the 370 pages show that the characters, clubs and 1970s competitions were many things, and that most of them were anything but grey.

At its best, writes Spurling in its introduction, the English game of the 1970s was “uplifting, unifying, inventive and touchingly innocent”, but it could also be “brutal, intimidating, rogue and ugly”. He is not aiming to rehash “the good old days”, but stresses that top-flight clubs and stadiums at the time were “well anchored in local communities”. This was also the time when agents began to look after the interests of players, replica shirts with new designs were first marketed (by the innovative Leicester-based company Admiral), overseas players began to embellish and brighten the English game, and certain personalities realized that the more controversial their views, the more they would be paid to voice them. Many clubs were eyeing the United States for new business trends, which is how Leeds United allowed a character called Paul Trevillionwho had worked in the United States for a sports agent Marc McCormackto rename the club as Super Leeds.

I’m going to get to the point on “Get It On”. Most of the time, reading a book about football is a chore akin to wading through a bowl of cold, salty porridge. Sometimes, however, you pick up a book that falls in the same place as a slice of lemon sponge cake on a Sunday afternoon. Each bite, or chapter, is better than the last, and you keep yearning for another slice. Perhaps it was because I grew up in England in the 1970s that ‘Get It On’ struck my sweet tooth – happy early memories are the best, after all. Or it could just be that the excellent research, steady pace and messy nature of football during this transformative decade has been molded by the perfect writer into an absorbing and compelling book.

English football in the 70s was indeed marred by negative coaching, foul play, dirty glue fields, deep-rooted racism and chronic fan violence, and these are all reasons why many players like Marsh found the North American Football League so bright and refreshing change. Spurling covers all of these stories. Yet for every accusation that Don Revie‘s Leeds United have only won so many trophies with their cynical approach, there’s a game like Southampton’s 7-0 dismantling to show they could face another team out of the park. When we talk about the seemingly unplayable state of the Derby County baseball field mudbath, we should also know that Coach Brian Clough ordered the gardener to prepare it that way, as he knew only his players were fit and skilled enough to deal with the sticky surface.

An early chapter deals with Hereford United’s non-league match against First Division Newcastle United in a 1972 FA Cup third round replay. Read the chapter, then watch the highlights on YouTube and feel the goosebumps. The same is true of European matches played by provincial clubs like Derby, Ipswich Town and Nottingham Forest, all of which are now marginalized in English football thanks to the financial sinkhole caused by the big Champions League clash.

Liverpool were the dominant club at the time, but they were rarely runaway champions. The variety of teams that have either won the title (Everton, Arsenal, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham Forest) or come close (Queen’s Park Rangers, Ipswich, Wolves, even Manchester City…) reflects how close the The art of coaching in those days was to assemble a roster that would gel, but not break the budget (much like MLS). Unfortunately, we will never know if Pep Guardiola is able to take a provincial club from the end of the second tier to become European champions in two years, as Brian Clough did with Forest (or if Guardiola could deftly juggle draft picks and allocation money to bring FC Cincinnati to the MLS Cup.. .).

Spurling’s interviews benefit from the historical perspective that allows its actors a mostly candid and thoughtful examination of the past. His work on the book spanned two decades, which means several of the players and coaches quoted are deceased, so we are aware of exclusives from beyond the grave. It’s also shocking to realize how many of your childhood heroes have now passed away, which makes videos of them leaping through grass-starved fields all the more poignant. And despite all the tactics manuals that have weighed down the shelves lately, the game itself hasn’t changed as much as we like to think. Passing, moving, dribbling, tackling, shooting. Only now there’s less mud, booze, and cigarettes to slow you down as you squeeze life from the opposition.

It’s the mark of a compelling book when you think you know a subject, but then you increase your knowledge by the time you’ve reached the end. So too is another football history book that came out last year: ‘Snatched From the Jaws of Victory’ is a compilation of essays by mostly established writers who look at legendary teams to have failed to glory, but who have retained a place. in the hearts of their supporters and beyond. My first thought was that I already knew the stories of Holland in 1974 and Brazil in 1982 pretty well. Turns out I was wrong.

I knew that Wales, for example, surprisingly reached the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup, but I didn’t know that they only qualified because four different countries, for various reasons , had refused to confront Israel in Africa and Asia. qualifier section. And that when they narrowly lost 1-0 to Brazil and Pelé in the quarter-finals, they were missing their best player Jean Charles by injury. That’s the fun of this book – exploring the marginal details and decisions, mistakes and quirks of fate that might have, quite simply, allowed for an alternative and more stunning outcome. The one where Scotland won the 1966 World Cup in place of England. The one where a still unified Yugoslavia lifts the 1994 World Cup, or – more likely still – a George Hagi-inspired from Romania. A where Luis Suarez does not cheat and Ghana becomes the first African nation to lift the same trophy in 2010. The one where Arsenal are European champions in 2006 instead of losing finalists against Barcelona.

It’s also a book about the celebration of near greatness and the preference for style, courage, and fallibility over silverware. Middlesbrough may have lost the 2006 UEFA Cup final 4-0 to Sevilla, but their path to that game sparked enough drama and glory to make the final result almost irrelevant, including two astonishing four-way fightbacks goals in the quarter and semi-finals. . “We are built to survive disaster, not to hope for success,” writes John Nicholson from the Teesside region. “That’s why tonight [against Steaua Bucharest in the semi-final second leg] is always such a powerful and emotional thing. For once the stars were aligned and for once everything that normally goes wrong turned out right.”

For most fans, this experience of a rare but precious triumph is one we cherish, and we don’t envy those weighed down with the expectation of serial success. How can Bayern Munich fans hold special memories when they win the German title every year? Those who think only the questions of victory have missed the point, and in different ways these two books testify to the fact that the most fascinating memories in football come from stories of a depth far more revealing than a simple pot money raised from the winner. plinth under a shower of the same old champagne. If you haven’t experienced adversity and failure, you haven’t lived at all.