In a military museum in England there is a dried-out rind of cowhide that once upon a time, when the world was young, was a soccer ball. In the battle of Montauban Ridge in 1916, B company of the East Surrey Regiment was ordered to cross 400 yards of no man's land under heavy fire, and Captain W. P. Nevill issued each platoon a soccer ball to kick toward the German lines. At 7:27 a.m. Nevill went over the top, put his boot into one of the balls and led the attack, kick by kick, casualty by casualty, until the objective was taken. The next day his body was found just outside the German wire, and not far away, spiked into the barbs by a heavy-footed Surrey soldier, was a soccer ball.
The willingness of the Tommies to chase a sphere of leather into the valley of the shadow excites no incredulity in Great Britain, where the bouncing ball has been followed with rapt attention for hundreds of years. As this year's 79th professional football season opens in England, there are times when the whole country seems to have been converted into one vast soccer field or, as it is more properly called, football pitch. To be sure, there are some stuffy Englishmen who say that the game has been corrupted, that it will never be the same again, that the foreigners are taking over and, anyway, the British referees are becoming so schoolmasterish that if the battle of Montauban Ridge were to be fought again, one of them would surely stall the entire attack by shouting, "Offside!"
The cynics notwithstanding, there is no game in the world that so reflects the personality of a nation as soccer reflects England. Once it was the game of the industrial masses (gentlemen played Rugby), but in later years the game has crossed all class lines and even attracted a new intelligentsia, titillated by its subtle patterns and flow of play and mysterious intangibles. Dr. Alfred Jules Ayer, professor of logic at Oxford, editor of Logical Positivism and author of other philosophical works, once confided: "In the morning, at my lectures, I sometimes see the fleeting figures of footballers racing through my mind." On Sundays young London travels out of town to the Hackney Marshes, where 111 football pitches lie side by side, each of them the scene of a small war, clean but hard, in fidelity to the English sporting ethos. Harold Wilson, the Labor Party leader, carries in his wallet a dog-eared picture of the great Huddersfield Town team of 1922, the Green Bay Packers of their era. There are some 30,000 amateur teams in Britain, 420 professional teams and millions of small boys kicking soccer balls, tennis balls, English-style "spaldeens" and balls made of rolled-up cloth. The soccer season lasts nine months, through the long bleak English winter, and 92 professional "big-league" teams, grouped into four divisions, play to an average of 16,000 fans per game, a turnout that leaves baseball far behind. And though the game has spread around the world like Schweppes and Scotch and XKEs, its broadest base remains in England. The best 11 players in the world may currently be in Brazil; the best 11,000 are in England.
A few years ago a cartoon in the London Daily Mirror expressed in one quick pop what the sport means to the masses of Britain. Andy Capp, a vastly overdrawn caricature of a working-class husband, is reminiscing to his wife. "I'll tell yer straight, Flo," he says. "Football isn't what it used to be...them were the days. Mordue slingin' 'em across, an' Charlie Buchan noddin' 'em in, an'—"
October 11, 1964
"For Pete's sake, Andy," his wife interrupts. "Let's stop talkin' about religion."
The Church of England has not enjoyed its biggest success in reaching the working classes, and soccer has filled the spiritual void. "I've always thought of it as a religious game," says Danny Blanchflower, the recently retired star who was the Mickey Mantle of the Tottenham Hotspurs. "The father took his son to the match, and the son took his son, and the team was the cathedral, the shrine. Why, there were men who asked that their ashes be spread over the pitches where they used to stand and watch their side. It was their open-air church—the club was their god and the players their angels. They promised something divine and exciting. Oh, it was vastly more important than religion, especially in the '30s. The people felt that soccer was more true than religion. You went to the church and you saw that monkey wearing the big coat. On the football ground, your gods came out in clean white shirts, they didn't come out in all this gold and nonsense and talking Latin terms you didn't understand."
Blanchflower was not the only player to hear the religious overtones of the game. Albert Camus wrote, "All that I know most certainly about morality and the obligations of man, I owe to football." J. P. W. Mallalieu, Member of Parliament from the industrial town of Huddersfield, once wrote about the pregame ceremonies at the Cup Final at Wembley: "At last, as we always do, we sang Abide with Me. And at that hymn the whole crowd rose, men who would not know to take their hats off in a church stood bareheaded and reverent in a sports arena."
In the smoky, miasmic midsection of England, where the industrial revolution was born and where it trapped a hardy race of men indoors, soccer early became the only escape from a Dickensian life of frustration and misery. The heart of English football is still in that belt of industry and coal, in places like the Yorkshire woolen mills and the Lancashire cotton mills, in gray-black cities like Leeds, Preston, Blackburn, Halifax, Sheffield, Burnley, Manchester, Blackpool, Huddersfield—dark cities with sodium lights cutting through the fog and smoke, cities where one is never much farther than a corner kick from a soccer pitch.
A man went to the match on Saturday afternoon and then spent three days dissecting the play with his pubmates. The next three days were devoted to lengthy discussions on the probabilities of the upcoming match. When the big day arrived, as it did once each week for nine months, he worked in the morning, then hustled off to the game. "Life wasn't very romantic then," says a lay sociologist. "It was very hard, and there was nothing else but soccer to talk about. There was something very real about the game. A man grows up as a young Indian brave, and he wants to go out and conquer the world. But by the time he's 30 he's got married and he's lost the romance of it all—he's working in a mill or a mine and realizes he's not going to conquer the world after all—so what else has he got to believe in but football? All he can do is try to recapture the life of his 20s, and he does that on Saturday afternoon when he is one of the boys again and his life is being lived all over again on the pitch. He can tell a bloody manager how to manage the team and the directors how to direct. He's a young man again, a young man in authority. And the greatest thing about it is the uncertainty. If his team wins, he did a good job, see? He's the guy—he knew his team was going to win. If it doesn't win, there's nothing wrong with the club, nothing wrong with his judgment, nothing wrong with himself. It's that bloody center forward. 'If I could only get rid of him,' he says, 'we'd win again.'
"So there he is, searching for ultimate justice on the pitch. He figures everything else has deserted him. 'Look at the government,' he says. 'Bloody useless. What chance have I got? The press? Useless, no truth in it.' He knows that, mate. He grows up with a Bible and he has the Ten Commandments and he believes in justice, but he doesn't see any of it except out there on Saturday afternoon. There's a referee and there's two teams, and the best one wins, mate. You put the ball in the back of the net and you get a goal. It's quite clear—you can see it with your own two eyes: justice and democracy as they ought to be. That is the way they look at football in those industrial towns. Where a man has a harder deal, soccer matters to him."
As Danny Blanchflower says, "The soccer fan doesn't only identify with one player or one team—he identifies with the whole game. He is the game." Alan Sillitoe, in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, describes Lennox, a typical football fan. "Right from the kick-off Lennox had somehow known that Notts was going to lose, not through any prophetic knowledge of each homeplayer's performance, but because he himself, a spectator, hadn't been feeling in top form. One-track pessimism had made him godly enough to inform his mechanic friend Fred Ire-monger who stood by his side: 'I knew they'd bleddy-well lose, all the time.' " For men like Lennox, soccer offers a new heaven and a new earth every Saturday afternoon. Says Alan Hardaker, secretary of England's Football League: "Where I was brought up, a man who didn't talk about football was considered peculiar. He soon found himself drinking at the pub in the company of himself."
There is simply no parallel in American sport to the hysterical dedication of the British soccer fans. They jam into the ground in near-zero weather two hours before game time, and stand happily for the rest of the afternoon. There are no creature comforts as in America, where half the spectators at any given event would not be there at all if it were not for the hot dogs and beer and soft seats and countless other peripheral attractions. The English fan is there for the game, and the fact that he cannot sit, cannot move six inches to either side, cannot adjourn to the bathroom and must raise his hands above his head even to find room to applaud, does not even enter into his thinking. The English fan revels in squeezing himself into a standing pack from which there can be no escape until the game is over. People faint and are passed down to the pitch over the heads of the others. Announcements are made over the P.A. system: "Will the father of Vincent Thorneycroft of 30 Bullington Mews please come to the office to collect his son after the match?" No matter that little lost Vincent might be screaming bloody murder for his father. Nobody moves—nobody can move—till the referee blows the final whistle and all stream out. Is there room for one more? There is always room for one more. I heard a typical announcement at Craven Cottage, where the Fulham Football Club plays in southwest London: "Will the people on the terraces please make room to enable the others to pack into the ground?" Imagine an American P.A. announcer asking the people to pack in!
When you make your move to join the standing pack, you are likely to be welcomed the way I was at one match. "Move roit in here, mite," said a little man in a peaked cap. "Someone'll be faintin' in a minute and we'll mike a plice for yer." To the unenlightened American, the whole game takes on the aura of a two-hour seventh-inning stretch, except that there is no place to stretch. Soccer crowds become part of one large organism, symbiotic, made up of disparate elements whose individuals are totally involved in the life of the thing itself, like a Portuguese man-of-war. They sing and shout and sway from side to side, and what one does, all do. The British fan thrives on this huddled adversity. The battle of Waterloo may have been won on the playing fields of Eton, but the battle of Britain was won on the terraces of Craven Cottage, behind the goals at Liverpool and in all the standing areas of all the soccer grounds of England. After years of standing on the terraces, World War II must have seemed almost an anticlimax.
And when the match is over, move smartly along with the crowd if you value your life. Little has changed since Arnold Bennett observed in 1912: "The impression of the multitude streaming from that gap in the wooden wall was like nothing more than the impression of a burst main which only the emptying of the reservoir will assuage. Anybody who wanted to commit suicide might have stood in front of that gap and had his wish. He would not have been noticed. The interminable and implacable infantry charge would have passed unheedingly over him."
At the first Cup Final match a quarter of a million fans crowded into Wembley Stadium, built to hold 100,000. Iron gates were ripped from their hinges, and 1,000 people were injured. At the playoff games late in the season, splints and bandages are a standard part of the ritual. In one eliminating match last season 100 persons were injured, 20 of them with broken limbs; two died. There was a national uproar when Leicester City Chairman Sidney Needham offered two seats to a Cup Final to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. When the prisoners in Dartmoor, a maximum-security prison, were informed that they would not be permitted to watch the second half of a Cup Final on television, they started a fire that caused $100,000 worth of damage. Fans have been known to lock themselves in the washrooms at Wembley after the last dog race the night before the Cup Final. Others have tried to tunnel in, and there is always at least one desperate fan who arrives at the match with, say, a 1933 ticket for a 1963 match. Sometimes, in the rush and crush at the gates, he makes it. And once inside, the arguments and catcalling reach hectic proportions. A fan shouts to no one in particular: "That man is the most overrited player in England!" Another takes up the case for the defense: "Give over, mite, he shoulda' had four goals already but for rutten luck!" "Leave off, mite!" shouts the first man. "You don't know wha' you're talkin' abou'!"
A forward misses a shot, and the claque begins again. "Wha' koind of shut was thot? We've got forwards loik the bleedin' bloind school, we do!" A minute later the same forward breaks into the clear, and the fan shouts, "C'mon now, my son, prove me wrong! Prove me wrong!" The forward misses another shot, and the man collapses into misery. Sadly, he offers a last riposte: "Yer proved me roit, 'ats watcher did."
It is not easy to climb down from such peaks of involvement when the game is over, and often the English fan takes out his frustration and high spirits on the British Railways as he rides home from the game. On a single Saturday recently the train from Manchester to Nottingham Forest was stopped six times by prankish pulls on the emergency cord. Light bulbs were smashed and seats ripped open on the Leeds-Leicester run, causing police to board the train with dogs, and six fans were thrown off the train from West Bromwich to Stoke. For years the British Railways have been putting their oldest cars on the postgame runs, a fact which is well known to the supporters' clubs and which is taken by them as a challenge.
The high spirits of the typical English fan are epitomized in Liverpool, that historic port where the people drink life to the lees, export insects and carouse and joke with an abandon that flies in the face of the grim chimney-pot realities of the smoky city. Liverpool has two football teams, Liverpool and Everton, with grounds within a five-minute walk of each other, and two totally separate sets of fans who are miscible in no proportions. The story is told of the daughter of an Everton supporter who asked her father's permission to marry a Liverpool supporter. Nix, said the father. "It has been my experience," he intoned, "that no good ever comes from these mixed marriages." When the Evertonian son of an Evertonian father wants to express his rebellion, he does not come home drunk or whip out a pack of cigarettes at dinner. He merely wears the red and white colors of the Liverpool team. "Out!" the father shouts, and the family is reft asunder.
Liverpool is a city that wears its sleeves short and its hair long like the Beatles, and it is a city that speaks its mind. At one end of the Liverpool ground is a standing-room-only terrace that holds battalions of fans in elbow-to-elbow suspension. The area is aptly named the "Kop," after the site of a famous battle in the Boer War. During a game the Kop erupts into songs, some of them improvised on the spot to Beatle-type rhythms. The acidic cheers emanating from the Kop have been peeling paint off the old wooden fence around the pitch for almost a century. Most of the cheers start with the Liverpudlian phrase "Ee-eye addeo," a variant of "Heighho! the derry oh." The general tone of the ee-eye-addeo yells may best be seen in the one that greeted an opposing goaltender who had the poor judgment to run out on the field dressed in green cap, green sweater, green shorts and green socks. After short, huddled rehearsals, the 20,000 constituents of the Kop called out: "Ee-eye addeo, the goalie is a queer!" But it is all but impossible to become offended by the Kop. The vulgarities and rowdy choruses are intended in good fun, and if they seem sometimes to cross the line of propriety, it must be remembered that Liverpool is a hard-drinking, seafaring town that has never been recommended for a WCTU convention.
In the early part of the 20th century the Liverpool-Everton games were pitched battles, until the situation became positively inflammable and the city fathers began to fear for the lives of the citizenry. Ernest Edwards, then sports editor of the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo, had long talks with players of both teams and finally succeeded in convincing them that the object of the game was not to maim one another, but to score goals. He suggested that the old system of having each team run out on the pitch as a unit be junked, that they run out in opposing pairs instead, in a show of camaraderie. Edwards' technique worked, and present-day games are, except for an occasional can opener or bottle thrown at the goalkeepers, reasonably peaceable affairs, made all the more quiescent by the fact that spectators are reluctant to wear either the red of Liverpool or the blue of Everton for fear they will wind up floating in the Mersey.
With all this inner seething and violent partisanship, there remains in the Liverpool fan, and indeed in all the fans on all the grounds of England, something oddly inconsistent with extremism and totally unlike the feelings of fans in the United States. The American spectator, in one secret part of his heart, lives for the high stick in hockey, the blind-side tackle in football, the high-and-tight fastball stuck in a batter's ear.
The British are the other way around. This is no phony morality that is trumpeted in the history books and belied in the grandstands. The Englishman wants hard play, but more than that he wants clean play. He applauds wildly for a good move, whether made by home team or enemy. He boos all shows of poor sportsmanship, however mild, and a dirty player, regardless of his skills, is likely to be sold off at the earliest opportunity. Formal soccer began in the private schools of England, and there is still a schoolmasterish quality to the game. The referee is Mr. Chips, and a nod of his finger under the nose of a naughty player is usually more than sufficient to humiliate the offender into proper behavior. If a footballer is guilty of a more heinous act, such as casting aspersions on the hallowed ancestors of the referee, he is likely to "have his name taken." The ref halts play, whips out his black notebook and writes down the player's name, while 50,000 spectators boo and the offender writhes in the discomfort of a boy about to go off to detention hall. In terms of absolute punishment, name-taking is nothing; one's name must be taken four times before one is subject to Football Association censure (i.e., before one is called before the headmaster), and even then the punitive action is likely to amount to a dressing down. But the name-taking ceremony is reckoned to be a severe punishment unto itself. "When the referee takes your name," says Blanchflower, "it's a shameful thing in the public eye. Socially, it's bad for you."
When a game does result in rough play, the English press is likely to use up half its story space the next day commenting on the shame of it all and wondering whatever is to become of football. And what are typical offenses leading to such outcries of alarm? I examined the files of the Football Association in London and reeled with horror at some of the crimes: "Ungentlemanly conduct...showing dissent from the referee's decision...making ungentlemanly remarks...." Clearly, this is no game for Eddie Shack or Eddie Stanky.
It is the contention of soccer students that the actual play of a game is something no one can analyze with accuracy, simply because it is played almost entirely by instinct and feel. Blanchflower, like most other British sports experts, holds that it is impossible for any organism except a fly to see all that is going on around it at any given time. However, this contention does not keep thousands of Britons, including Blanchflower, from analyzing the game to a fare-thee-well and even a bit beyond.
To the fledgling observer the most important difference between soccer and a sport like American football is that the soccer player is the captain of his own soul; he cannot be replaced after the game starts, and he cannot be coached from the sidelines. Blanchflower has watched both American football and British football, and he puts the difference bluntly: "You have a New Frontier culture and you go out and start cutting down trees and building a new empire, and you become big fellows, don't you? Big dumb fellows. So you play a big dumb game like American football where the coaches do all the thinking and the quarterback does all the calling and they've got the monkeys running around for them. You see, you're a more aggressive country, you like the physical, you like the pounding and killing them and tromping them into the earth. Your games tend to be coach vs. coach, whereas ours are team against team and player against player."
Whatever overstatement there may be in this argument, it is certainly true that soccer football makes strong demands on the gray matter of the participant. It is a game of lines and arcs and trapezoids and dodecahedrons, and every player, no matter how far he may be from the focus of action, must always be trying to beat his man for the Lebensraum that leads to goals. "We try to stimulate movement off the ball," says Bill Nicholson, manager of the Tottenham Hotspurs of north London. "This game is played in the main without the ball, 'off the ball.' There are approximately two players on the ball at any given time, and 20 who are not. These 20 should be moving about with intelligence. It's all a matter of trying to find spaces by proper movement." The soccer player finds himself applying parlor-game doublethink to opposing players hundreds of times in a single match, while thousands of eyes study the battle of wits, and their owners prepare to unloose a massive guffaw on the loser. Blanchflower recalls one such experience: "There was a guy played at Barnsley, a right half he was, and he was a big ox and I didn't know his ways. He'd only just arrived. And here he came running along with the ball and I was thinking which way was he going to run, to the left or to the right? Well, he ran straight over me and scored. That was the one possibility I hadn't considered. He just hadn't the intelligence to avoid me and I had too much intelligence to realize he wasn't going to try."
Something similar happened to the inside forward in Henri de Montherlant's Poradis √† l'Ombre des Épées, but with a happier result. The inside forward in the play tells one of his young students: "You know we're always told, 'When you take a throw-in, pretend to throw the ball to one of your teammates, so that the other side concentrates on him, then quickly throw it to another man who is uncovered.' It's a trick as old as the hills. Well, then, I picked up the ball, I stared into Beyssac's eyes and then...then threw it to Beyssac! What chaos among the Red Lions! By instinct, seeing me pick out Beyssac, they'd covered every one except him, and there was my Beyssac racing away...."
It is such mano a mano confrontations, going on simultaneously all over the pitch, that make soccer the inscrutable game that it is and create a reportorial atmosphere in which 15 English sportswriters can see one game and write 15 different versions of it, some of them harking back to Richard Coeur de Lion and some of them analyzing the game in terms of the current situation in Kuwait. Like the spectators, they get from the game whatever they are seeking. But to the uninitiated, soccer resolves itself more into personal skirmishes for the ball. Two players confront the ball, their legs slashing away, nipping it to one side and the other, frisking around and on top of it like balancing artists, faking and jinking, twisting and curving in ballet dances of muscle and sinew. A ball is kicked toward a player at top speed; he lets it plop into his stomach and fall dead, or gently heads it down to his feet, or stomps on it, bringing it to a full stop. ("Well taken!" shouts the crowd. "Well taken!") A forward comes infiltrating down the field, beats everybody but the fullback, who suddenly slides through the forward's legs, taking the ball out the other side with him, while the fans, whatever their partisanship, applaud their approval. A team is awarded a free kick; one player places the ball, backs off and runs full tilt at it, then hops nimbly over the ball and a trailing player comes up and boots it: soccer's version of hockey's drop pass. ("A useless bit of deceit," a fan mutters.)
Until one learns what to look for, and some never do, one is likely to come away from the game with a kaleidoscopic collection of impressions, totally unassimilable, a gallery of friezes: the goalie hanging in midair at a 45° angle, the ball in his outstretched fingers; a tangle of players carved in marble in front of the net; sprawled soldiers in shorts lying on the ground in states of disarray; the referee's cheeks puffed out while he signals a stop in play and the teams merrily ignore him; a man contorted in pain, immobile, a trickle of blood at his hairline.
Later one begins to detect differences in style: subtleties, nuance. One discovers that there are teams that prefer to drive the ball deep down the field with a single kick and hope to win the ultimate scramble for it; teams that have super-duper wingers like Stanley Matthews, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, who can carry the ball single-footedly down the sideline before looping a pass to the forwards bunched in front of the goal; teams that specialize in position play, with a fullback bringing the ball up 20 yards, then passing off to a halfback and retaining his position, and so on down the field; teams that pass and pass and pass, cuties in spikes, until one begins to wonder if anyone knows how to shoot.
The basic British style always has been power and speed and attack; defensive play was considered a necessary evil, and no one paid much attention to it. The idea was to drive the ball down the field and bang it into the net. "Let the ball do the work," managers like Billy Wright of London's Arsenal team tell their players. "A good fast ball will beat four men, but if the individual tries to beat four men, he'll fail nine times out of 10." The British tradition is to roll up the score, lads, and give the fans what they want: action and goals. Says the Tottenham Hotspur manager, Bill Nicholson: "If we get a one-nil lead we try to make it a two-nil lead as soon as we get the ball again. We figure that's what we're there for."
Enter the big, bad foreigners, with wholly new ideas. The record is depressingly clear: in seven World Cup competitions the finalists have been Uruguay, Italy, West Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Sweden. England has never been able to reach the finals in a game as English as sherry trifle. There are many reasons, most of them involving the British attitude that the game is theirs and they'll jolly well play it in their own way. For the first time in the history of the World Cup, the finals will be played in England in 1966, and most likely a foreign team will win again. "We're simply not interested in playing defensive football as it's played in the other countries," says Alan Hardaker. "Because defensive football is dull football. The average attendance at a game in France is only about 7,000; in Italy it's about 9,000. So you can see they're killing their own bloody football with defensive playing, and if our managers copy them they'll kill our football, too. I have always said that if we win the World Cup we'll destroy English football. That's because we'd have to play defensive football to win, and nobody in England would put up with that."
The archetype of what the crusty Hardaker was talking about is football Italian style, where a single goal is held to be so perfect and rare a phenomenon that as many as nine of a team's 11 players are likely to jam into the defensive area to protect the lead. The result is dwindling attendance and a sport which must continually be propped up by infusions of money from the rich Italian industrialists who own many of the teams. An Italian match in which three or four goals are scored is considered a wild, disorganized, anarchistic event and is likely to send the Italian sportswriters into Olivetti depressions over the dismal future of the game in Italy, just as dirty play troubles the British writers.
The fact remains, however, that defensive soccer, as it is played in almost every country except Britain, is winning soccer. "My God," says Hardaker, "it stands to reason that if you pack nine men in front of your own goal and they're all in the right place, it's bloody impossible to score, isn't it? But people come to me after a game like that and they say, 'Gorblimey, what a boring game for the spectator!' "
The top 10 teams in the world, by consensus of even the British press, are from other countries. One expert, Eric Batty, lists them in order, based on last season's games, as Internazionale of Italy, Santos of Brazil, Independiente of Argentina, Bologna of Italy, Real Madrid of Spain, Benfica of Portugal, Milan of Italy, Palmeiras of Brazil, Nacional of Uruguay and Anderlecht of Belgium. All of these teams tend to play a more defensive game than England's, though not all are as classically defensive as the Italians. The Brazilian internationalists, two-time World Cup winners, bring their samba culture into the game, with relaxed, uninhibited play marked by dashing runs by their brilliant forwards Garrincha and Pelé.
The Hungarians play a systematized game based on the short pass: a flowing, artistic gypsy game. The Czechs and Yugoslavs tend to play a similar Iron Curtain style of football. The Germans are practitioners of the give-and-go, with one player pushing off a short pass to a teammate and racing down the pitch for a return. The trouble with the Teutonic type of game, says Arsenal Manager Billy Wright, former captain of the English international team, is that "it can be anticipated, because the Germans are a disciplined nation, and they do what they're told." Other countries bring their own national characteristics into the game, but always against a backdrop of stern defense.
Whatever the opposing international styles, Britain cannot seem to cope with them. The British international teams persist in the slashing assault and the porous defense, thus guaranteeing failure. To make matters worse, Britain is not a nation but a collection of nations, and when international sides are chosen Britain fields four teams: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The great English professional clubs like Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal are decimated when international competition begins. The highest-priced player in Britain is Denis Law of Manchester United, a towheaded firebrand of 24 who has been bought and sold for three-quarters of a million dollars in his short career. When international competition begins, Law leaves England and plays for Scotland, just as Blanchflower used to leave England and play for Northern Ireland. This is the opposite of other countries, where players from all over tend to implode into a single international team, and where hundreds of thousands of lire and pesetas and escudos are spent to buy star players from abroad. The object is to form a winning side for the greater glory of the motherland. In Britain the glory lies in beating another Briton. The international team is almost an afterthought.
But in this young season of 1964-65 the pressure of the foreign brand of football is finally beginning to blow across England, and here and there a team is shifting over to the close-to-the-vest techniques of the continent. Hardaker echoes the sentiments of the Football League's traditionalists on the subject of this insidious development: "Lately I have counted as many as six passes on the football field and not a single opposing player has been beaten. When the last man's got the ball they've still got the same players to get past. The way I was brought up, you never parted with the ball until you drew somebody towards you, which left somebody else open, or until you saw that you could beat somebody with a pass. But nowadays some of our halfbacks are beginning to act like trade unionists. They'll run 15 yards with the ball and then they'll say, 'That's my lot, I'll give it to the next bloke.' Why, they're trying to take a very simple game for very simple people and make it into a bloody science. Football is a game that must be played off the cuff. We'll never beat the Continentals until we start playing our own game better; we'll not beat them by copying their style. You'll never get an Englishman to play like a Frenchman."
As Hardaker speaks—a miniature Arthur Godfrey with a Yorkshire accent—his arms flailing about to make his points and his stubby fingers thumping the table, one hears martial music playing in the back of one's mind, and one tries to figure out the tune. "The English game is the most exciting," Hardaker says, and the martial tune grows louder. And suddenly one has it. The music is Rule Britannia, There'll Always Be An England! and God Save the Queen, all going off in the brain simultaneously in a crash of strident forces, an all-out assault on the senses, like English football at its best.
As the battle over the Continental soccer technique vs. the British technique comes more and more into the open, certain professional managers in England have started muttering that it is far more blessed to win than to lose, even if a team has to play defensively to do it. Every such avowal is greeted by loud boos from the British press, which holds, along with the entrenched authorities of the sport, that the object of soccer is the entertainment of the millions of fans who make it go. "There is no other justification for professional football," Donald Saunders wrote in the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post a few weeks ago. "Most soccer crowds patiently seek parking places, queue for overcrowded buses and trains, sit in cramped stands and stand out in all weathers because they hope to be entertained."
But even that clear and logical argument may soon be out of date, for touches of glamour and comfort and concessions to the human being's physical limitations are infiltrating the game in England. The style is being set in Coventry, which has a new $280,000 grandstand and a $300-a-year "vice-presidents' club" with deluxe facilities for its members. Coventry's stadium has disc-jockey entertainment before the game, bars and club rooms, champagne and Scotch, attractive waitresses and gourmet food. To some, the team hovers on the brink of becoming the Los Angeles Dodgers East, of taking the rough-and-tumble masculinity out of a spectating experience that once was the last haven for the sweaty working man. But such dandified new stadiums are only paralleling social change throughout England. "It isn't the same here anymore," says one oldtime fan with mingled relief and annoyance. "A man can't go out and do what he wants. He has to take the wife and the kiddies along, like the United States of America, and the wife and the kiddies don't want to stand in the Kop and listen to vulgarity; they want Pepsi-Cola between the halves and the bleedin' Beatles' music on the loudspeakers and comfortable places to rest their behinds. It's a bloody shame, and yet in a way it isn't. The workingman used to have such a sorry lot that the culture allowed him to do whatever he wanted in the little free time he had. His life was so miserable, down 80 hours a week in a mine or a dirty factory, and if he wanted to go off to the football ground on Saturday afternoon, that was his inalienable right as a tormented soul. If he wanted to say to his son, 'Come along with you, boy,' that was fine, but if he chose to go off with his pals, as most of them did, there was nobody dared give him any lip about it. But now there's pressure from the old lady. She doesn't want association football unless it's rife with comforts. She wants the telly, the wireless, bowling alleys, dance halls, pictures, theaters. Everybody's got more money, and they're all driving around in Mini Minors, and the old lady'd rather go to the seaside than the football ground."
The forces of flux in association football and the Hadrian's Walls of tradition, the touches of old and the flashes of new, were assembled for an outsider recently in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the Northumberland city to which one does not carry coals, a carbon-splattered city on the banks of a river that for sheer septic content makes the East River look like a bubbling mountain stream. On this particular weekend the Home Secretary, Mr. Henry Brooke, appeared on the scene to tell the Tories of Newcastle that Labor would lose the election, that Newcastle was a city of character and history and that the people who lived along the Tyne had hearts of gold, proving once again that electioneering politicians speak an international language. The Vickers plant, three miles of dreary sheds along the inky Tyne, was working a light shift Saturday morning, and the ancient Sandgate market, where Newcastle residents take their old clothes for resale, was open for business at dawn.
But the only news of any import to the miners and factory hands of the ancient city was the match to be played that afternoon on the Gallowgate ground between Newcastle United, once the class of the league, and Coventry City, the blue-shirted avant-garde. Coventry City had won five of its first six games, and Newcastle United (or simply the "United," as the club is called locally) had had to turn to defensive-style football to eke out three wins in its first five matches. The consensus among the experts in Newcastle pubs like the Bay Horse, the Queen's Head, the Greyhound and the Lord Hill was that the United was overmatched against the league-leading Sky Blues from Coventry. Mr. William Cunningham analyzed the prospects in his Northumbrian brogue: "We'll be verry loocky, verry verry loocky, if we get a point today. Our lods all grew old about the same time, and now the club's rebuildin', but it's a sloo process, it tis. We've depended on a verry good center forward, but he canna get his form down at tall. Barrie Thomas is his name, and Mr. Barrie Thomas just canna get crackin'. He's havin' one of those spells, he is, where everything he tries is wrong. He's always hittin' the ooprights, you know, or gettin' brought down just outside the penalty area. He canna get started. But once he gets his form, oh, we'll teek some stuppin'!"
The Newcastle resident, or Novacastrian, or Geordie, makes a harsh attack on his words; he speaks with a pronounced glottal stop and a trace of the Scottish burr, and tends to clip off his final t's. Mr. William Cunningham, a little man of middle age with an impudently turned-up nose and a tiny gold cross in his lapel, was no exception. "I think," he said, becoming himself the personification of the game, "I'll sett-ul for a draw. I'll get it wi' a bi' of loock. It's too mooch to osk for a win, and I'll be sot-isfied wi' a draw, indeed I will, sir."
In the pubs, endless reminiscences rattled about the walls as the Geordies stoked up for the long afternoon with pints of bitter and halves of Newcastle brown ale and nips of barley wine and Whitbread's Final Selection. Englishmen are not noisy in their pubs, but I could hear fragments: "He was an artist, a right winger, no, a left winger he was. Played for Derby County, and he was a wizard, a fly, this master, he was as good as Stanley Matthews.... Yes, I remember that rough one. Willie McGonigle, I think his name was. Knew as much abou' kickin' a football as I know abou' layin' bloody eggs...I have always believed, sir, thot if you deliberately trip a man to stop him from scorin' a goal, or impede him in any way, sir, out you go!" A barman told about days gone by in Newcastle, when the United was the best side in England: "If the United lost a motch, we'd put the oold barrel of beer back on tap because it didn't matt-er, the people'd complain whatever you gave 'em. If you put in a new barrel after the cloob lost, they'd still say, 'Where did you get this stoof? It tastes bloody awful.' "
Two hours before the game, a group of Coventry City supporters arrive by train; they parade past the Royal Station Hotel in their sky-blue boaters, sky-blue vests and sky-blue trousers, whirling sky-blue clackers over their heads and shouting friendly gibes at the Geordies. By now the crowd is building, and one begins to get the feeling that all of Newcastle is converging on the Gallowgate ground. Here they come like a herd of happy elk, down Newgate Street, turning off at St. Andrews, milling past an old cemetery with crazily angled headstones, thin and flat like long tea wafers, past the Northumberland Arms and Richard Charlton, Ltd., which deals in Bass ale, and up the hill to the ground, a starkly simple stadium with stands that are more like big sheds and unsophisticated light towers at each of the four corners. Outside the ground, men with placards shout the glory of the British press: Sunday Express...Read John Dunn on soccer every week! The People...Drugs! Bribes! Soccer's worst scandal! We name top stars! Sunday Sun...Greatest soccer coverage ever!
People hang out of windows across the street, sharing their freeholds with the neighbors, and tall trees just outside the walls are festooned with Geordies: boys and men poised like squirrels and swaying gently in the breeze. Still, there are 37,000 willing to pay their way in, with all but a few thousand of them standing in the old style, hip to hip, loin to loin, locked into position for the remainder of the afternoon. Feeling like the soft American, I find a seat next to an elderly Geordie with a checked cap and an excess of avoirdupois, much of which will be spending the afternoon resting against my side. There is a yell from the crowd ("The Gallowgate Roar," the Geordies proudly call it), and the teams are on the field, loosening up and balancing on their toes, walking lightly: the soccer player's strut. There is the Coventry team in its sky-blue, and there is the glory of Newcastle: the United, wearing black-and-white striped shirts like American basketball referees. "Sssshhhh!" says the heavy man next to me. It is the first of several hundred "sssshhhh's" he is to emit during the game, and I quickly realize that this is merely his manner of expressing his feelings of shock and excitation when his emotions run away with him. Others inhale sharply at such times; my neighbor exhales. "Sssshhhh," he says to his companion. "Did ye see thot poss? Sssshhhh, they'll no' score, possing like thot!"
The pattern of the game is set at the seven-minute mark, when one of the Coventry City fullbacks goes down with a pulled hamstring muscle. No substitutions are permitted in soccer, and a few minutes later he is back on the pitch limping heavily, his leg bound up. The Newcastle players realize that he is going to be a passenger for the rest of the game, and they abandon their customary conservative game to make wild forays against the Coventry goaltender. "Sett-ul down," says Sssshhhh, giving me a reflexive elbow in the side. "You'll no' score if you doon't sett-ul down!" Already it is plain that this is going to be a rough game; the referee is issuing warnings all over the place, and the crowd accuses him of partisanship. "Be fair, ref!" says Sssshhhh. "Be fair!" A few minutes later a spectator slumps to the concrete behind us, and the people around him shout to attract the attention of the black-and-white St. John Ambulance Brigade, patroling on the pitch. The man is carried out on a stretcher, his feet sticking out, his head covered with a blanket. "Dead," a woman behind us whispers.
"He cert-ainly is!" says Sssshhhh, his eyes fixed on the game. "He hosn't called one right since the kickoff!"
Half time comes and, for all its assaultive razzle-dazzle, the home team has failed to score. Now the two least-envied men in Newcastle begin a slow walk around the pitch, carrying on a blackboard the results of a "half-time pool" based on scores of games throughout England. They are the least-envied men in Newcastle because the crowd pelts them with dirt as they stroll by with the bad news, heads ducked down behind their blackboard. They make the whole miserable circuit twice, while the crowd boos and shows its displeasure. "The second time around," a neighbor explains, "is for the people who missed the first time."
"Missed the results?" I ask.
"No, missed hittin' 'em with dirt."
The second half begins, and even an American can tell that the Uniteds have had a heart-to-heart in the 10-minute interval and have come to the realization that they will not beat the under-strength Coventrys by undisciplined attacking. Newcastle returns to its normal, cool style; a fullback dribbles the ball 15 or 20 yards, then slips a short pass to a halfback, who carries a few yards and passes to another halfback, who rips a curving, spinning drive around a defender and spang on the foot of a forward. The attack fails and begins again, fails once more and begins once more, and suddenly the Uniteds' left winger slams a sharply angled shot past the Coventry goaltender and the locals are ahead in a hail of screaming and shouting and clapping of hands above the head, not to mention a prolonged "sssshhhh" and a series of sharp jabs to my ribs.
Nine minutes later the ball rolls loose in front of the Coventry net and a black-and-white-shirted Newcastle player slams it in. This time the crowd makes even more noise, because now the game is salted safely away and, furthermore, the forward who has scored is Barrie Thomas, the same Barrie Thomas who "just canna get crackin'," the man they depended upon. Ah, there could be wondrous days ahead for the Uniteds, and one must doubly grieve for the poor man who died before the first goal was scored. Most likely he was one of those whose hopes and ambitions were displaced to the happenings on the Gallowgate ground, those whose childhoods were spent kicking around the little rubber balls given free with Robertson's marmalade, those whose lives were ordered like a biological clock into two parts of the week: six dreary days, and Saturday. Whoever the dead man was, he seemed to represent something clean and honest and decent as they carried him gently from the ground. He was the game, and the game is England.