Football has gone soft!

“Bishop Auck H 28” by whitleybayfc is licensed underCC BY-NC 2.0

Football and nostalgia are both intrinsically linked.  As a football fan, you are given unlimited usage of nostalgia and retrospect.  You can don your rose-tinted spectacles, harp on about ‘the good old days’ and how football was better in your day!

Football fans lose themselves in memories of times gone-by when their heroes played. In their mind, the players were tougher, more skilful and gentlemanly in their day. You’d never see someone from their era rolling about on the floor. The pitches of today are like Centre Court at Wimbledon, not like the mudbaths of yesteryear!

“File:The Centre Court, Wimbledon.jpg” byMvkulkarni23 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

It is guaranteed that you will hear a fan harping on about their golden era in a group of football fans. A heated discussion in a pub or debate on the terraces won’t be complete without a heavy dose of nostalgia thrown in for good measure. Bold statements such as “You’d never see so-and-so do that” or “If you think he’s good, you should have seen…” will be uttered. You know it’s going to happen, just as you know you will ask a taxi driver if he’s been busy at some point if ever you hop into the back of a cab!

Nostalgia is quite comforting in a way but it certainly makes people sound old! Images of Uncle Albert, the beloved character from Only Fools and Horses immediately spring to mind. Albert would nearly always start a sentence with “During the War….”, much to the annoyance of the other characters on the show! I am guilty of being a bit like Albert whenever anyone in my vicinity starts to talk about a skilful player. I find myself chipping in with anecdotes of Dennis Bergkamp!

“London: Arsenal Emirates Stadium – Dennis Bergkamp Statue” by kevin.hackert is licensed underCC BY-NC 2.0

Footballers mentalities have also changed over the years. In 1958, Manchester United played a cup match against Sheffield Wednesday just thirteen days after the Munich Air Crash when seven players lost their lives. Goalkeeper Harry Gregg was praised for his heroic actions as he dragged survivors from the wreckage. He still played in the Sheffield Wednesday game and kept a clean sheet too! Gregg was just 25 years old at the time and just carried on with his career.

Manchester City’s goalkeeper Bert Trautmann broke his neck in the 1955 FA Cup Final.  He carried on playing until the end of the game despite the agonising pain.  Video footage of the Final shows him occasionally holding his neck and grimacing at the pain, but still he carried on.
One of Trautmann’s team mates came over to him and slapped him on the back to congratulate him at the final whistle.  Doctors said later that the slap was a few centimetres away from killing him!

Trautmann’s injury came in an era when players played on through the pain. Outfielders were put out on the left wing to keep the team up to the full quota of eleven players on the field. Substitutes weren’t in existence until 1965.
Trautmann came from my granddad’s era where people just carried on. This way of life passed on to my dad’s generation and one player who typified this was Terry Butcher.

“Terry Butcher” by Paolo Camera is licensed underCC BY 2.0

Butcher played for Ipswich, Glasgow Rangers amongst others and was capped 77 times for England.  His tough, no-nonsense defending earnt him worldwide respect and he was feared by many opponents. He is best remembered for playing on after suffering from a nasty head injury in a crucial World Cup qualifier with Sweden.

Early in the game, Butcher jumped up with an opponent to get to the ball.  Both players clashed heads and Butcher ended up worse off.  The England man left the field of play and had stitches into the wound and went back onto the pitch.

Whether it was a brave or stupid decision divides opinion as Butcher’s wound opened soon after.  He played through the pain and his head bandage slowly went redder and redder.  His white England shirt was splashed with his blood and incredibly Butcher played the rest of the game.

Photos of Butcher walking around looking dazed at the final whistle are now synonymous and sum the man and player up perfectly. Brave and committed to the point of putting his wellbeing on the line to ensure victory.

Another tough nut who played for England was Stuart Pearce.  He missed a crucial penalty in the 1990 World Cup Semi-Final against West Germany.  For six years, Pearce carried the burden of the miss until a great opportunity came to redeem himself.

Hosts England had reached the Quarter Finals of the 1996 European Championships and were drawn against Spain.  The match was goalless after 90 minutes and extra time couldn’t separate the sides, so the match had to be decided by a penalty shootout.

Pearce offered to take a penalty and he redeemed himself by scoring with a powerful penalty past Zubizaretta on the Spain goal. The relief was there for all to see as he punched the air with delight, stretching every sinew as he roared with delight. It was a picture of sheer relief.

That’s enough nostalgia for the time being, there’s a Super League to worry about. And no, I’m not wearing my rose-tinted spectacles!

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