By Andrew Lawn
Every other week a large brown envelope arrives through my front door, which appears to have been trampled over by a large, lost and disorientated spider who has recently been rescued from an ink pot.
Educated at Hewett, that’s just how my Dad writes.
Within the brown envelope is without fail his second-hand copy of the latest Private Eye and numerous clippings from a variety of newspapers that he thinks I will find interesting.
(Invariably I do, but for God’s sake don’t tell him or I’ll be inundated).
This week, contained within the usual paper clipped bundle, was Volume 1, Number 27 of the 'Soccer Review', a sort of national fanzine from 1966 (but pre-World Cup) that he’d found recently in a charity shop.
It is fascinating.
The lead article concerns the editor’s distrust of a proposed FIFA ruling to allow 2 substitutes per game.
With classic English conservatism, pompous disregard for Johnny Foreigner and dismissive suspicion of intellectualism, or as they term it “tactical whims” and “second or third thoughts”, they demanded that;
“If FIFA does approve the use of 13 players then the League will almost certainly oppose the measure on the domestic scene” because “the majority of the Press and the FA feel that such a widening of the rule would be completely unwise”, adding in later pages “there is no point in Britain having a decisive control of football law if she (awwww) does not use the opportunity to preserve the British character of the game”.
You may at this point be asking why such fierce opposition to allowing 2 substitutes?
Whereas today we think of it as a squad game, back then it considered to be 1 team of 11 men (there’s not 1 female mentioned in the entire publication unless you count ‘Britain’ as female). It was felt that allowing 2 substitutes essentially meant allowing a manager to select 3 different teams per game;
“Rearranging 13 players permits the use of 3 teams – the one that kicked off, one after the first sub and another after the second. What nonsense is this if it is arranged to suit the tactical whim and the second or third thoughts of someone off the field”. Quite. We don’t want people thinking now do we?
Apart from wailing against a second sub, Soccer Review also includes two pieces that are as relevant today, especially at Carrow Road.
The first is headlined ‘Why do we hit at our stars?’ and could easily be copy pasted changing the name of the player and clubs every week. Be it the Murphy brothers after a game in which they don’t score or the disgraceful, borderline racist, treatment of The Sun towards Raheem Sterling during and after Euro 2016.
In 1966 the article was concerned about the treatment fans meted out to England’s soon to be World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks the previous week;
“It seems that in this country it is almost a crime to reach international class as a footballer, Remember Johnny Haynes? Look at the way he was pilloried on grounds all over the country – especially north of Luton – because he was both a character and captain of England.
Bobby Moore gets it now. So does Denis Law, Jackie Charlton, Dave Mackay and so many others.
How the fans love to rub it in when an international makes a mistake. How the Press boys lap it up when they write their copy.”
The piece then goes on (in the course of 300 odd words) to describe the mistake Banks made in letting a shot squirm under him during an FA Cup 5th Round Replay between Leicester and Man City, before concluding;
“Anybody who has ever kept goal commiserated with Banks. They knew that this sort of situation can be an almost impossible one for a keeper of even the highest stature.
Most of the fans didn’t. Nor did the Press.
The next day’s headlines; ‘England keeper’s boob’ were typical of the way we treat our stars”.
What is stark is the mention of the abuse suffered at the time by players now revered.
The other piece which remains as relevant today asks; ‘What makes success?’ and looks at whether it is better to be a successful Second Division team than a mediocre top-flight one.
While the article focuses on average gate size as its measure, the questions posed are the same ones that as Norwich fans we discussed following last season’s relegation. It concerns the school of thought that as a fan it is more enjoyable to support a side who’ll be competitive, rather than merely to survive first and then settle for mid-table mediocrity.
“Status and class are things for which every club should strive. On the other hand you surely must take into account any club’s ability to justify those things once they have been obtained. Promotion is obviously a great incentive from every point of view, but where is the incentive for a moderate First Division side for whom there is no promotion? Promotion is an integral part of our football system. Nevertheless justification of it is as important as the promotion itself. For supporters the world over revel in success; they seldom take kindly to failure.”
That last line is the key one for me and a discussion we are still having as Norwich fans.
An accusation often levelled at the club is that we see ourselves as “Little Norwich”, with no ambition to be bigger than a top-flight yo-yo club.
Could we be a mid-table Premier League side and if so, would we want to be?
It’s a dilemma that plays a part in all the transfer window angst and creates the divide between those who want to risk it all on big money signings to show we are a big club and those who believe it’s better to be a top end Championship side, than a mid-table League 2 side who risked it all on one glorious gamble.
50 years on it seems as fans, the more things change, the more they stay the same, however many substitutes FIFA allow.