Stick with us on this one......
Good news. We’ve been allowed access to a dimly lit dungeon on the south side of the Thames.
Depending on what floats your boat, that might just be enough for you, but we’re pleased to report that said dungeon contains a veritable feast of football history in document form.
To cut what is becoming a long story short, we’ve been granted access to the full archive of World Soccer magazine. That’s fifty one years of world footie goodness. Fifty one. Count them.
Our first little vacation in the World Soccer time machine takes us back to July 1969. One year ahead of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, England still consider themselves very much top dogs. So, if you can excuse a mild air of pomposity, they should. England are, after all, the current World Champions.
With a number of Alf Ramsey’s 1966 squad no longer in the frame for World Cup duty, several seats on the plane to Mexcio are available to the right players.
In order to identify which of a talented group of young English players could be considered suitable to help their nation defend its crown, Alf wanted to see how they dealt with tournament conditions outside of their native isle.
A tour of Holland for England’s under 23 players and matches against the emerging Dutch youngsters, as well as Belgium and Portugal was arranged and Ramsey sent Ron Stuart, one of his trusted lieutenants, along to oversee the trip. For World Soccer magazine, David Millar was despatched to the lowlands. In July 1969, and with a World Cup less than a year away, neither were particularly impressed by what they saw. Read on, and we’ll talk at the other side of this article, which was originally published in the July ‘69 edition of World Soccer:
This year's Under-23 tour proved to be a somewhat fruitless exercise for not only were the results less than might have been expected, from a squad of players worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, but the way in which the team played was often less than wholly professional. There was a lack of application from some of the players which could not be excused on the grounds that they were tired at the end of a hard, demanding season. Quite simply some of them did not put their back into it with the result that the report of the manager, Ron Stuart, to Sir Alf Ramsey cannot be of great value for the year ahead and preparation for the World Cup. Yet this, of course, is to some extent the purpose of playing Under-23 internationals-they provide information about players which is of value even where negative.
One learns what they cannot do as well as what they can. The record on the tour- defeat by Holland 2-1, victory over Belgium 1-0 and a draw with Portugal-was by no means a disgrace, yet those on the tour know that the defeat might well have been a draw, the victory a much larger one and the draw a victory. All this supposes an all-round increase in the contribution from each player, which was certainly possible for most. Nor was there any question of the players going on the spree in the evenings.
Stuart kept them on the end of a fairly short rope. It simply seemed that some of them did not sense the opportunity that was knocking at the door, for without doubt there are places to be filled in the senior squad at present not secure.
To be fair to the players, both Holland and Portugal were fairly stiff opposition. In the past few seasons Holland have become one of the top six soccer nations in Europe-even if Ajax did go down heavily to Milan in the European Cup Final- and it is evident from their Under-23 side that they have good young material coming up. There must be a fair chance that they will eliminate Bulgaria and Poland in their World Cup qualifying group to reach the finals for only the first time since the war.
In the game against Holland Shilton was by no means at his best, and could possibly be faulted with both the goals. He suffers from a slight over-confidence, not necessarily the same as big-headedness, which leads him to underestimate situations and to make errors which his skill could enable him to avoid. Springett played in the second· match against Belgium and had almost nothing to do. It was no reflection on his performance that Shilton was recalled for the final game, a decision which became even more obvious in retrospect when he was called up the following day to replace Banks in the senior squad in Mexico because Banks's father had died. Against Portugal, Shilton was his usual self again, and but for some agile saves the game might have gone against England.
The performance of the full backs was never more than competent. Smith was probably the pick, though against Holland he raised hoots of disapproval with some tackling which was vigorous to say the least. Again and again one finds British players in trouble abroad because of the limit to which they carry their challenge for the ball. The fact that they are in a minority does not seem to deter them. Doyle also raised disapproving eyes in every game. Some of his tackles were absurdly late. The other two full-backs, Pardoe and Hughes, were solid without being impressive. Pardoe was now and then beaten for pace, and Hughes revealed a limitation in his control which must surely always go against him on firm pitches.
In midfield Doyle, his physical excesses apart, was always intelligent in his use of the ball. He has a perceptive mind, sees the openings, and only a slight lack of speed off the mark prevents him from being potentially a full international. The side played a 4-2-4 formation throughout the tour and the other midfield position was shared between Coates and Nish. Besides Shilton, Coates was the only player to prove himself ready to step into the senior side, always versatile and elusive and possessing that flair for the sudden unexpected change of direction which makes for the truly valuable international.
Against Belgium, Coates switched to the wing with Nish taking over in midfield. In the first half the speed of Coates and Sissons on the other flank threatened to tear the opposition apart but just before half time Coates was cut down by Colasse, the Belgian left-half, with a tackle which gashed his knee so badly he had to return home the following day.
Colasse, one of four Belgian players over 23, was worse than any English player in the wild, reckless tone of his tackling and only intervention by Ron Stuart on the touchline in the second half- when Colasse sent Evans sprawling for the second time- prevented severe, and foolish, retaliation.
Nish was useful but pedestrian. I think it will be a season or two before we really see the best of him, when he has had the time to gain in maturity. It should be said, however, that the midfield men were never really given the necessary assistance by the wingers, who should have been falling back to make a 4-4-2 when the going was at its toughest. In this Sissons was not as guilty as Radford, who though he headed the equalising goal against Portugal had a generally unhappy tour. Sissons is exasperatingly gifted winger capable of beating any full-back if he puts his mind to it, but so often he fails to finish. Of the four central strikers Greenhoff was possibly the most promising until he was hurt against Belgium, going with the goalkeeper for a cross by Evans which gave Royle the only goal. Greenhoff, like Evans, was always busy, always putting pressure on the defence. Evans has prodigious energy, but lacks finesse which may just possibly come with experience. He, too, ha to curb a tendency to provoke the opposition with wildly hopeless tackles. Kidd had a tour in which little went right for him and he seemed at times disinclined to make it go right. But he is very young yet and will learn with experience. Royle's height was the usual advantage, but he does not make the most of it. Like Sissons, he needs a spark under him. He made the goal for Kidd (1-1) against Holland, and cleverly created for himself the best chance against Portugal. But his full potential remains unexplored.
Some of the names mentioned might not mean much to you, but David Nish, Brian Kidd, Jimmy Greenhoff, Glyn Pardoe, Mike Doyle, Ralph Coates, John Sissons and Joe Royle all had very successful careers, but few full international caps between them. Greenhoff, despite a good goalscoring record at Leeds, Stoke and Manchester United, never made it to the senior squad and only two of the players Millar lists went on to become full international thoroughbreds and regular starters for England: the late Emlyn Hughes, and goalkeeper Peter Shilton.
‘Shilts’ of course went on to notch 125 caps for England and reading the above article it’s interesting to speculate on what sort of report Ron Stuart would have filed for England coach Alf Ramsey.
For Ramsey, the Under 23’s were a proving ground, and some impressive performances at that level from Alan Ball in 1965 did his case for inclusion in the 1966 World Cup squad no harm. Ramsey wasn’t a man to suffer fools gladly, and may not have been too impressed to hear that 20 year old Shilton had something of an ego. The goalkeeper had, after all, suffered relegation with Leicester City only weeks before the tour.
Did Shilton’s ego cost him 12 months later? Unlikely, but he really did excel in the 1969-70 season for Leicester in the second division. England still had the best goalkeeper in the world in Gordon Banks and very able deputies in Ron Springett and Peter Bonetti. Following a bout of food poisoning to Banks, Bonetti was – wrongly – made something of a scapegoat for England’s 3-2 defeat to West Germany in the 1970 World Cup, a game which ended their defence of the trophy.
Could Shilton have saved efforts from Beckenbauer, Seeler and Müller that Bonetti couldn’t? We’ll never know...... but that ego........
Your comments are, as always, very welcome.
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