Leslie PageComment


Leslie PageComment

Somewhere along the line there had to be a calming influence, for the draw for the World Cup Finals in London early in January threw the domestic soccer season into something of a panic.

Representatives from the interested bodies arrived in their droves and the press, radio and television coverage was something that we have not experienced before. Of course, the event has never taken place on our own doorstep previously and it now looks as if everything has been done to make the Finals a memorable occasion. The spate of publicity did wonders for the sale of tickets which had been selling at a steady rate before and we were only a few months off knowing how English soccer supporters would take to summer football.

The Third Round of the FA Cup, somewhat later than usual, came along in mid-January to revive interest and with a simmering down of the spirit, the masses concentrated on first things first. To the casual observer the very great interest in the World Cup and in European football as a whole was a strange contrast to what we had been used to 15 and even 20 years ago when what happened outside these shores was of little importance to Mr. Average. To prove the point that our entry into foreign markets had stimulated interest in the game could easily be seen by reference to the appearances of English League clubs in the European Cup, the Cup-Winners' Cup and the Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Manchester United were scheduled to play Benfica, Chelsea to play Milan, Leeds to play Valencia, Liverpool to play Honved and West Ham to play Magdeburg. Spectators on the grounds of the interested home clubs were ready to state categorically that the entry into Europe transformed their football watching and creating a new dimension in sport for them.

It is not hard to imagine that the World Cup Finals can add to this interest in no small measure especially if England are as successful as the betting odds suggest. There must be doubts, quite naturally, for one day England are quite brilliant as in their encounter with Spain and somewhat less spectacular a few weeks later against Poland. It is true that Bobby Charlton was absent on the second occasion, but for all of this the Poles did remarkably well with a side that received little encouragement from English critics before the game.

There is hardly a close season for internationals at the moment, for England were lined up for a mid-winter visit to Wembley where they faced West Germany and the programme that Alf Ramsey has mapped out for them leaves little room for argument. The players will have little free time after the domestic season is over for they set off on a four match tour with only days between their return and the time they report for the final training period for the World Cup. It is now pretty well established that England have a great chance to make a name for themselves even if our entry into the ranks of the main contenders is a little late. We can all argue that better nations than those represented in the finals have already gone by the board simply because the grouping system leaves something to be desired, but we have already been assured that this matter will come under very close scrutiny before Mexico stages the event in 1970.

The main thing at issue is that if soccer is big business, and we can take it on the authority of Matt Busby that it is, European and world games have to date, and will in the future, considerably improve the financial picture. On the club side one can see that a great many more senior League clubs will clamour to enter competitions with their European neighbours and announcements such as the one that Chelsea made only add weight to the argument. The Stamford Bridge club have erected a new stand at the cost of £150,000 and expect to pay for it on completion in March from gate receipts which have been considerably swollen by their Inter Cities Fairs matches.

Between now and the Finals we shall get to know a great deal about the 16 nations who will be performing in the four sections and the knowledge of the majority will be greatly improved. It does us no harm to learn the qualifications of other nations whilst estimating our own chances and, with the draw taking place well in advance, the number of publications giving facts and figures will be tremendous. There will, in any case, be no excuse for spectators to say that they were not properly briefed. England in Group One, playing at Wembley, will play Uruguay, France and Mexico in the hope that they can progress further. The South of England thus gets the greatest opportunity to urge the "home" side forward, but the rest of the country have equally interesting encounters upon which they can sharpen their teeth.

It is not so much the matches themselves, outside of the ones that concern England, that matter, but the attitude that is adopted towards them. Spectators like to take up a partisan point of view and it will be interesting to note the standpoint of the man on the terrace when Brazil play Hungary at Goodison Park. Those who have primed themselves before the game will get the most enjoyment from this and other similar occasions and it now seems that the welter of publicity will reach all who really want to know. The whole affair has beengiven such a good start months in advance that it would be a pity if the impetus were lost in the mixture of warm weather, summer activities and holidays. We must still remember that this is the first time that soccer has come to England in high summer and whether the fact is accepted or not it will be a new experience for most watchers.

News of the affair will quickly reach the widest audience ever recorded for a single series of events as it is estimated that eight hundred million folk will watch or hear the games on television and radio. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that in a few years' time we shall see soccer players from overseas in our own League teams. This is not to suggest that immediately we are likely to see Manchester United sign Pelé, but there are moves afoot to legalise the position and put matters to rights with the P.F.A. If such a move did come about it would make the English domestic scene very colourful indeed, although there are a limited number of clubs who could afford the gigantic transfer fees that would undoubtedly be involved.  It does mean, of course, that managers seeking players could cast their net a good deal wider in the hope of picking up European and even South American talent before the prices became prohibitive. We have never really come to terms with the big star name in a team with the ten other players contributing a supporting role, and the idea may not appeal to everyone. It is, however, a situation which might arise and for those who like to look forward, here again is another dimension which we should be prepared for:

To illustrate, perhaps, that the problem of managerial responsibility and the constant dismissals is a subject of wide interest, BBC Television produced a programme devoted to the subject and aptly named it "The Hot Seat". A number of leading managers contributed and the majority felt that more consideration should be given to the problems which arise. Bob Lord, chairman of Burnley, was very fair when he stated that team chiefs should be given a chance to prove themselves and that while managers took the brunt of the blame for failures on the field some of the faults lay in the boardroom where chairman were changed every two or three years and continuity was lacking.

The views of Stan Cullis, sacked by Wolverhampton last season and now back in the game with Birmingham City, could be easily summed up when he called the profession a "rat race" and if his view was somewhat cynical who could blame him. Perhaps the agony of the game showed most in the faces of Stan Cullis and Joe Mercer, men who have moved on from the playing side to the managerial with hardly a break to think. Both have had periods in which to reflect and I cannot say that I blame them for their attitude which is coloured by their personal experiences. Where the duties of club secretaryship are enjoined with that of team manager the burden is  hard indeed and if we appear to labour these points about English football it is only because the problem is a very real one which could contribute to the undermining of the entire League system. The turnover in managers is far too rapid and they should not be asked to shoulder the entire responsibility when things · go wrong.

Managers realising this are of a mind to form a Football League Managers' Aid Fund, as the Secretary and Managers' Association is the only body to which they can turn at the moment in times of crisis. The suggestion is that the fund should be created by contributions and would be at the disposal of team chiefs when difficulties arose. The number of times that managers have left their clubs in a bad state of health is legion and there certainly should be an organisation to which they can turn in times of need. The subject of managers' appointments and their sackings might be a matter into which both the Football Association and the Football League might well look. The Football League is concerned to press players to take up courses which will fit them for posts outside football when their playing careers are over and it might well be the case that courses in football management would be of very considerable help to those who wish to enter this line of work. It is not much use of saying that no kind of difficult situation exists. To turn one's back is no answer.

Current managers, and those who have drifted out of the game, realise the position only too well and it appears that an organised body could be of considerable help in the years to come. In Division One of the Football League, Liverpool continued to exhibit amazing qualities of exactitude only using twelve players from the start of the season to mid-January. Under Bill Shankly the side displayed first-class ball control, man to man passing and an almost utter disregard for team sheet positioning. This made their soccer exciting and fresh and at all times interesting. Their supporters were positively the loudest and most fanatical in the land and clubs that came away from Anfield with something to show for the visit were few and far between. A revitalised Burnley nicely position themselves without fuss or bother and Harry Potts had to be congratulated on the reformation of his side. Leeds United gave little away and a strong and by now experienced combination battled away strongly and were always in a position to snatch major honours. Manchester United made their now familiar late run as they were expected to do while Tottenham's away record still failed to do them justice. Jimmy Greaves was out of the side for many long weeks and the club also lost the services of big Maurice Norman with a broken leg. In the circumstances their performances did not unduly worry Billy Nicholson. Chelsea were an interesting combination who failed to capitalise on the main chance at home yet had a very creditable away record. This predominantly young team were well marshalled by Tommy Docherty and amongst the most enterprising clubs in England.  

At the other end of the scale, the promoted Northampton signed the Welsh international, Graham Moore, from Manchester United where he had failed to obtain a first team place this season. More important in these days of managerial upsets, the Northampton board gave manager Dave Bowen a new five-year contract which was regarded as a vast vote of confidence for the man who brought them to Division I and thought he could continue in the upper strata without buying new men. Blackburn and Fulham looked to be in real trouble in the relegation zone with Huddersfield, Manchester City, Wolverhampton and Coventry all ready and willing to take their places from Division Two. Two London clubs, Leyton Orient and Charlton. staggered at the foot of things, Orient without a manager after Dave Sexton resigned.

Another London club, Crystal Palace, also lost their manager when Dick Graham was dismissed. Millwall, with their fanatical following, held sway in Division Ill and still felt confident about their chances even when parting with the services of Hugh Curran to Norwich. Hull City, an expensive line-up, chased Millwall very closely and the end promised to be close and exciting. Freddie Cox left Gillingham to manage Bournemouth, where he had previously been in charge. Things were still up and doing on the domestic side even if the World Cup overshadowed all.

This article originally appeared in the February 1966 edition of World Soccer Magazine.  You can subscribe for a ridiculously low sum by clicking here.