Never the same again
An End of Innocence is premised on the statement by Jimmy Greaves that the 1959/60 season was the last in the English game when teams generally set out to attack and win games by outscoring their opponents. The philosophy was to entertain, and with that came the acceptance that conceding goals was inevitable and all part of the drama that kept the turnstiles clicking.
Long-standing readers of these pages will be very familiar with Tim’s work, since he has been our diarist and a prodigious contributor for many years, and as a former editor of this magazine retains his membership of the 1987 backbench committee. An End of Innocence is his sixth football book, and into this he has poured all the insight and understanding gained from his research down the years. Since publishing his work on Burnley’s last title-winners, Never Had It So Good in 2009, Tim continued his research of this period, interviewing more of the remaining survivors of that great side, and the influence of Underdog!, his major work on the phenomenon of ‘giant-killing’ also informs this volume. So An End of Innocence is in some ways a distillation, but is also a deeper exploration of some key themes that emerged in English football in the 1960s and which have shaped the game ever since, the unlikely pairing of tactics and money predominant.
Tim starts with some of the most famous games of the early-to-mid 1950s and the impact they had on some of the more cerebral footballers and coaches of the day. The thread that emerges is a fascinating contest between the progressive and the reactionary, of lessons being stubbornly unheeded by those holed up in the ivory towers of the game, whilst at the grass roots a few individuals fought the fight for the English to evolve a more technical approach to the game.
As early as 1948, some English footballers had seen the future. Touring Brazil with Southampton, full-back Ted Ballard mused on the ubiquitous and vastly superior ball skills of their hosts, a sentiment echoed by Tom Finney after England’s elimination at the group stages of the 1950 World Cup after 1–0 defeats at the hands of the USA and Spain. To emphasise the gap in class, Spain were then crushed 6–1 by hosts Brazil. But even Brazil had their masters. They lost in the final to Uruguay, whose most successful club side, Peñarol, would become World Club champions after defeating the Real Madrid of Puskas and Di Stefano home and away.
In the face of such clear evidence that foreigners had taken a rudimentary English winter game and created a complex, skilled, poetic version of it, the game’s authorities chose isolationism. Some argued that the English game, played in cold, wet conditions, couldn’t be meaningfully compared to that which had evolved in hotter, dryer climates. But all such protests were decisively buried on a chilly, grey November afternoon in 1953 when Hungary visited Wembley and demolished an England side hitherto undefeated by continental opposition at home. Tim dissects this game forensically, before, during and after, and he uncovers levels of complacency that fully justifies his conclusion that prevailing “club amateur” attitudes were at the heart of England’s humiliation.
Elsewhere, the approach was less to do with isolationism than it was about protectionism. The advent of European club competition in 1955 was met with disdain by Football League secretary Alan Hardaker. He thought that European club competition would be a “distraction” and succeeded in preventing the 1954/55 champions, Chelsea, from taking their hard-won place in the inaugural European Cup competition of 1955/56. Hardaker tried to do the same the following year to Manchester United, only for Matt Busby to call his bluff. Busby knew that that his dynamic young team could only benefit from playing against the best European sides. Burnley’s Jimmy Robson is also quoted instructively about the educative value of playing continental teams, as Burnley did regularly during summer tours.
The real tragedy was that these European countries had learned to play the way they did thanks to some English visionaries, most notably Burnley’s Jimmy Hogan and Barnsley’s George Raynor. Both had been ignored at home but had carved out highly impressive careers abroad. Hogan argued that English football had actually regressed from the inter-war years, when wingers had played a more prominent role. But as the 1950s progressed, new voices began to emerge, and Tim’s fine analysis uncovers the various ways in which a select group of managers, coaches and even players sought to refine the playing style at their respective clubs.
One of the most notable aspects of this was where the innovation came from. As I write, Brentford have just secured promotion to the top-flight thanks to a long-term project focused on scouting and coaching, all underpinned by ‘analytics’. It’s a rare achievement for a club of Brentford’s size in today’s game, dominated as it is by the financially-doped and the offshore-located. But it is clear from Tim’s research that in the 1950s and 1960s, this kind of forward-thinking could pop up virtually anywhere and make its mark. An End of Innocence includes sections on clubs like Port Vale and York City, who both won through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup as third-tier sides, and Leyton Orient, who won promotion to the top tier in 1962. In some cases, the manager could take the credit for tactical experimentation, such as Vic Buckingham, who won the FA Cup with West Brom and went on to win the Dutch title with Ajax. More radically, some clubs allowed players to suggest tactical shifts. The best example was at West Ham, where familiar managerial names like John Bond, Malcolm Allison and Dave Sexton first tried out their tactical ideas as players. It comes as no surprise, either, to read that Manchester City’s Don Revie was even then compiling dossiers and game plans for his manager, urging him to adopt the deep-lying centre-forward role that had been showcased to such brilliant effect by Hungary’s Nandor Hidegkuti. Revie got his way, and for a time City flourished, winning the FA Cup in 1956 after losing the Final the year before.
That some people within the English game were waking up to these new realities is reflected in the fact that from the mid-50s onwards foreign coaches were invited to speak at the FA School of Coaching at Lilleshall. Key to this development was England’s manager and FA Director of Coaching, Walter Winterbottom. In combining these two roles, Winterbottom had to bridge the considerable philosophical gap between the insular gerontocracy of the FA and the players and coaches who wanted to learn from the continentals. It is clear from Tim’s account that for Winterbottom it was a slow grind towards his aims. As late as 1959, England teams were chosen by a selection committee, and foreign tours – potentially valuable learning exercises – were often compromised by amateurish FA organisation. But in Lilleshall, Winterbottom found a way to connect the ideas of the best European coaches to the most receptive and thoughtful minds of the English game, among them Burnley’s Jimmy Adamson. In the summer of 1960, Hungary’s coach Gusztav Sebes was the FA’s guest at Lilleshall. Predictably, Sebes stressed skill, creativity and patience ahead of the English virtues of strength, pace and attack.
But even if tactical awareness was improving, the wider context of the game often worked against their implementation, sometimes unavoidably so: the technology to keep pitches in good condition through the winter simply didn’t exist then. But Tim makes it clear that other things could and should have improved. He makes a number of references to the ‘English ball’, a specific type whose uncoated leather would absorb moisture and become so heavy that long-range shooting and heading became impossible for all but the strongest and most fearless of players. Jimmy Mac openly admitted that he avoided heading a saturated ball for fear of injuring himself. This was not the case elsewhere, where lighter and better-proofed balls were standard. Foreign teams due to visit Wembley would train with English balls as part of their preparation. Hungary’s Jeno Buzanszky recalled that: “When we first kicked an English ball, it felt as if it was made of wood.” The culture of training also varied. While Burnley led the way with Gawthorpe and skills-based training that percolated down from the senior pros to the apprentices, at clubs like pre-Revie Leeds, organised training was almost non-existent.
This, then, is the broad and comprehensive context to Tim’s analysis of the 1959/60 season, the campaign that, according to Jimmy Greaves, marked the end of open, attacking League football in England. As a striker whose game was based on finding space between defenders there was no-one more qualified than Greaves to make that claim, but a quick perusal of the weekly results confirms that 1959/60 was indeed a wildly unpredictable goal-fest from beginning to end. Opening day results included Chelsea 4 Preston 4, and Newcastle 1 Tottenham 5, and this set the tone for what followed. Moreover, the shellackings were widely distributed. Newcastle conceded another 4 to Spurs at White Hart Lane, but then put 7 past Manchester United at St. James’ Park. On the same day, Arsenal and Wolves drew 4–4 at Highbury, while over in the East End, Burnley put 5 past West Ham. Indeed, Burnley put a few teams to the sword in spectacular fashion. The 8–0 dismemberment of Nottingham Forest is best remembered, but the Clarets also thrashed Everton (5–2), Bolton (4–0) and also put 4 past Manchester City and Wolves at the Turf, and another 4 past Arsenal at Highbury. But then again, the Clarets suffered no less than three 1–4 reversals at the Turf, and imploded at title-rivals Wolves (6–1) as late as 30 March, a result that would have scuppered the morale of lesser sides.
In the statistical analysis that follows, Tim demonstrates how goal-scoring became progressively harder in the 1960s. In the 1959/60 season, a total of 1618 goals were scored in the First Division. By 1968/69, it was down to 1213. A number of explanations are given an airing, but there appears to be a consensus that the 1962 World Cup in Chile was a factor. In this bad-tempered tournament, vicious tackling and defensive tactics saw goals at a premium, but also proved the effectiveness of a well-drilled back line. Czechoslovakia reached the semi-finals on the back of three clean sheets and just three goals scored, although Brazil eventually unpicked their defence in the Final. England’s main attacking strategy was found out with embarrassing ease, as first Hungary and then Bulgaria stifled playmaker Johnny Haynes with tight man-to-man marking.
Some First Division managers took note, employing in the following 1962/63 season what became known as the ‘blanket defence’. This caused much consternation in the press, but the teams that tried it out had mixed fortunes, confirming the old adage that the best tactics were those that made the most of the strengths you had in the squad. Manchester City came up with a defensive 2-5-3 system, but shipped 102 goals and were relegated. Leicester City, meanwhile, preferred to defend leads by pulling men behind the ball, a system that remains very much alive today. When Leicester snuffed out Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final by these methods, Bill Shankly grumbled darkly about “…a 10-1 system as sound as a castle dungeon.”
Journalist Ivan Sharpe acknowledged that while the Chile World Cup may have had made defensive play temporarily ‘fashionable’ among some tacticians in the English game, he also detected a shift in the game towards a ‘win at all costs’ mentality, and suggested that this, too, was behind the move of some teams to go defensive. Why had this become more important? There seem to be a combination of factors at play, both social and economic. Weekend leisure options had broadened, and modest levels of post-war prosperity had expanded the ownership of goods like televisions and cars. Televised European competition had exposed English football fans to some of the best teams the continent had to offer while raising the profile of the participating English clubs. More affordable air travel had raised the prospect of a lucrative European League for the most prominent teams. In short, as football expanded its competitive horizons, clubs knew that they could no longer count as they had before of the unquestioning loyalty of the local populace. As Preston discovered in their run to the 1964 FA Cup Final, the locals would turn out for the big Cup ties against famous opposition, but not the bread-and-butter of the Second Division. The far-sighted Bob Lord railed against the role of television in this emerging new world, and reasoned that one answer to lure supporters away from the gogglebox was to improve the match-day experience for them, building two new all-seater stands in the late 60s and early 70s, a development that may have saved Burnley from an out-of-town move later in the century.
But by this time, the reforms that really entrenched the domination of the city clubs was a decade into its stratifying role: free wages and free movement of players. Lord thought that as long as Burnley continued to develop their own players to be sold on for profit, the club could survive at the top table. Although Burnley did indeed hang on to their First Division status longer than any of their Lancastrian town rivals, the forces unleashed by the end of both the maximum wage and the ‘retain and transfer’ contractual system proved irresistible.
Tim looks at the impact of these reforms in some detail, and from the story he tells it is obvious that the FA and the chairmen were guilty of letting their instinctive conservatism blind them to the reasonableness of the players’ case. Had they been more au fait with that most articulate conservative of them all, Edmund Burke, they would have realised, well before 1960, that it was time to ‘reform in order to conserve’. Had they moved on the contract system and presented the players with a more realistic wage that befitted their rising status as internationally-recognised, professional sportsmen, it may have been possible to keep a cap on wage inflation. The Football League tried to broker a compromise, suggesting that weekly wages could rise to a maximum of £30, but even this struck the chairmen as excessive and they rejected the deal. This brought matters to a head. Led astutely by Jimmy Hill, the PFA easily won the PR battle, and this solid public support for the players brought the politicians in line as well. Hill balloted his members for strike action, and the answer was an almost unanimous ‘yes’. Faced with this formidable coalition for reform, the maximum wage crumbled. At a stroke, players were free to negotiate, and with a number of top Football League performers being courted by Italian clubs, chairmen were forced to pay the market rate.
As Tim points out in his account, this wage inflation was not good news for the many clubs struggling to balance the books in the face of dwindling attendances. He notes that in the lower two divisions, clubs received £370,000 in donations from their supporters, while their receipts from transfers amounted to precisely a tenth of that amount. Within 18 months, Accrington Stanley had gone bankrupt and resigned from the Football League, with Bob Lord declaring with his customary tact that they “wouldn’t be the last” thanks to that “comedian from London,” a reference to the Fulham chairman who had set the post-maximum wage tone by conspicuously offering his club’s star player, Johnny Haynes, £100 a week.
One argument used by Jimmy Hill was that higher wages would raise standards, a claim given added salience given the drubbings suffered by some English sides in Europe. The long-ball game that brought Wolves two League titles at the end of the 50s got them nowhere in the European Cup save for a 9–2 aggregate walloping at the hands of Barcelona. Even the more versatile Manchester United came up short against the best sides, losing consecutive semi-finals to Real Madrid and AC Milan, although the latter defeat came just weeks after the Munich air crash.
The first signs that the English were starting to properly get to grips with the greater tactical demands now required in international competition came from Bill Nicholson’s Spurs, who gave Benfica a tough contest in their 1962 European Cup semi-final, before winning the Cup Winners’ Cup the following year with an emphatic 5–1 defeat of Atletico Madrid. Alf Ramsey’s Ipswich Town had the misfortune to be paired with eventual winners AC Milan in the First Round of the 1963 European Cup, but Ramsey is the central figure in the next part of An End to Innocence for a happier reason – his role in the most successful England side to date, and one achieved with a good degree of tactical innovation.
But rather than focusing solely on the 1966 tournament, Tim rewinds the tape to 1964, to a sobering 5–1 defeat to Brazil where England’s 4-2-4 set-up had been unable to cope with the surging runs of Pelé. Ramsey began to contemplate the possibility that he would need to devise and test run a ‘plan B’ if he didn’t have the players to make his more conventional system work at the highest level. How Ramsey works all this out and how he deploys it is quite fascinating and now, thanks to Tim, I understand properly why the 1966 side were dubbed the ‘wingless wonders’. It’s also a good case in point that An End to Innocence isn’t all doom and decline. Ramsey first test-piloted his new system in December 1965 in a low-key friendly against European Champions, Spain, in Madrid. The results were startling. After England’s dominant 2–0 victory, Spain’s manager, José Villalonga, told the press: “England were phenomenal, far superior in the experiment and their players.” Who could have imagined any England side thus described by a figure like Villalonga, the coach who had guided Real Madrid to their first two European titles?
So An End of Innocence isn’t a sad lament about the demise of the evocative ‘jumpers for goal-posts’ view of football as a wholesome, enjoyable pursuit that engaged entire communities. It is much more an account of the English game facing up to the changing realities of a world without the comfort of Empire: where the national team could no longer dominate in isolation, and where assumptions about the superiority of the English game were ruthlessly exposed as European club competition developed in both scope and stature. But it also shows how some English clubs did indeed meet this challenge, despite the economic pressures they faced with rising wages and declining attendances.
The domestic lens of the book looks at how the game changed in the 60s and 70s via essays on a wide range of clubs who through a combination of coaching, scouting and canny recruitment managed to resist these downward trends, even if only briefly. As you have probably come to expect from Tim’s writing, he also has a keen eye for the social changes that both affect and are affected by football – he considers, somewhat sceptically, the thesis of sociologist Ian Taylor that the hooliganism that attached itself to the game was a response to the rising class status of the players themselves, who had quickly retreated from the social orbit of the supporters once their earnings allowed them to.
I have included in this review only a selection of the material that Tim covers – there are essays on a number of key individuals in the English game during this period, including (as you would expect) plenty on Burnley, with Alan Brown and Jimmy Adamson in particular the focus of attention. Interviews with players from the 1970s at the Turf reveal both the originality and attention to detail that Adamson and Joe Brown brought to the coaching at Gawthorpe, and why the club so richly deserved the respect they received from others in the game. There are also two 8-page sections of photographs, many with a Burnley interest.
To conclude, Tim has poured all of his years of reading, interviewing and considered thought into this volume, and as such An End of Innocence is a veritable education in top level English football in the post-war years between 1950 and 1970. Tim’s canon is now seriously impressive, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that there are few football writers in the country who could produce such a wide-ranging, authoritative volume like this. The detail is insightful and informing rather than overbearing, and the narrative is broken down into short chapters, so this is a book you can snack on as well as devour. A perfect literary accompaniment to England’s inevitable demise to a tactically-superior side in the European Championships.
Published by Pitch Publishing: www.pitchpublishing.co.uk
Tim is donating his royalties to the British Lung Foundation: www.blf.org.ukShare this page :