It’s the fourth round of the FA Cup this weekend. Not that it matters to Queen’s Park Rangers whose aversion to cup competitions means they bail out at the first possible opportunity. At least this season they rolled over for a decent Everton side; a shade more palatable than being beaten at home to a team representing Vauxhall Motors as they did not so long ago. But whoever the opposition the club rarely gives a toss about any cup competition.
It’s a real pity fighting relegation, chasing promotion or even scrabbling over league positions is now the be-all and end-all to clubs. Winning a cup doesn’t carry the prestige it once did but I’d love it, love it, to see my team do it. Just once would be enough. When I kicked a tennis ball in the garden against the side of the garage as a kid I dreamt of scoring the winning cup final goal. All normal kids did. I couldn’t think of anything better in life; to such a degree I even imagined dying the next morning and the club erecting a statue outside the ground in my honour. Bit of an extreme fantasy for a child and one which became a greater dilemma once I became more interested in music and agonised over whether I’d prefer a number one single instead. In the increasingly unlucky event I achieve either of these (previously considered) monumental achievements it's doubtful many will even notice.
Back in 1967 (before I was born) when QPR won the League Cup – to date their only major honour - cups were still a big deal. As a third division side Rangers beat first division West Bromwich Albion 3-2 after being two-down at half time in front of 98,000 people at Wembley Stadium. How’s that for a fairy tale?
I’d wager the two young fans on the cover of the 9th September 1967 issue of Football League Review were there. It’s an evocative snapshot - by Peter Robinson - from a bygone era. The fan on the left appears to have stuck a number 8 on the back of their mum’s stripy dress, pinched the waist in with a length of rope, and decorated a hat pinched from the local butcher. The fan on the right sports a variation on a traditional bobble hat, painted one of their dad’s old work shirts, and has scrawled the names of the team on back in felt-tip: Springett, Hazell, Larazus, Keen, Morgan, Marsh etc. Back then one knew the team, it was always the same. There weren't massive squads or players with a number 42 on their shirt who saw 20 minutes of playing time. Even as late as 1981 when Aston Villa won the first division they only used 14 players all season. Players didn’t get injured despite being allowed to kick seven shades of shit out of each other. The metatarsal, thankfully, had yet to be invented.
Football League Review started life in 1965 as Soccer Review, changed its name the following year until 1972, and spent its last three years as League Football. Flicking through the 20 pages in this issue (50p from Walthamstow Wood Street Indoor Market last weekend) it’s interesting to see how things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same. I can’t remember the last bout of violence I witnessed in a ground but in 1967: “The Football League and its clubs are concerned to root out hooligans, to see they receive punishment that fits their crime. But they are also aware that the vast majority of spectators are immaculately behaved and are equally concerned to clear out the louts”, reads Harry Brown’s typically pompous editorial.
One of the causes of trouble identified in a separate column was “the factions who flaunt flags and banners simply to annoy or enrage rival supporters. They incite passion, and passion starts brawls, I have seen many a flare-up on the terraces ignited in this way. So have you”. Of course nowadays, as anyone who has had the misfortune to step inside Stamford Bridge knows, clubs – well, Chelsea – create huge plastic banners with slogans like “JT CAPTAIN, LEADER, LEGEND”, in support of their odious lump, guaranteed - with just those few words - to boil the blood of opposing supporters. So, it does work, passions can be incited by a banner, even inside a soulless corporate shitbox.
The gamesmanship of footballers was also under scrutiny in 1967 with complaints of “childish and petulant behaviour of many players”. Arguing with referees’ decisions, flashes of ill-temper, gesturing, kicking the ball away and time wasting are all highlighted as detracting from the spectators' enjoyment. “What would happen if a club decided to cut out all this malarkey, and play the game in a proper gentlemanly spirit?” asked Mr. Frank Hales from Oxford. I dunno Frank but just you wait until 2014.
Increased footballers’ wages were already an issue of concern and how “pound notes on the eyeballs blunt enthusiasm for leather footballs”. Manchester United's manager, Mr. Matt Busby, did not agree, claiming star salaries were the making of the modern footballer. “He is a smart, sophisticated man about town… soccer is really a profession with a future now”.
Amongst the consternation and brow-beating, light relief was provided with a little something for the ladies who each week got to vote for their most attractive footballer. This particular week, Georgie Best had to concede top spot to Sunderland’s Jim Baxter. Glaswegian “Slim Jim” wouldn’t have been my idea of a dreamboat but he did have a cool modish haircut and was something of a character, famous for drinking himself unconscious on Friday night and then turning in a great performance come three o’clock on Saturday. Hardly the epitome of smart sophistication but impressive nonetheless and guess who now has a statue in their home town? Yes, Jim Baxter.
Right then, who's for a game of three-and-in? Bring some jumpers for goalposts. Bagsy Charlie Austin.
|Slim Jim Baxter, Sunderland & Scotland|