10 Things Missing From English Football
Last Friday marked 10 years exactly when an English Premier League club (AstonVilla Vs Coventry 27/02/99) last fielded an all-English first eleven.
Now, I am not suggesting for one second that foreign coaches and players have damaged the English game, as unquestionably they have broadened horizons and invariably improved its standards.
However, there have been some important elements that have been lost in recent years, and this has coincided with the rise of a league that was once unmistakably British.
Superior goal tallies in other leagues (like La Liga) tell their own story, but I am beginning to come around (Yes Jon) to the notion that Bill Shankly has a lot to answer for.
Maybe Bill Shankly has a lot to answer for?
Ok, the Premier League is widely perceived to be the best in world football, and I don’t dispute this. Nevertheless, I am beginning to suspect this is largely an a priori assumption that is based purely on pound signs.
This has certainly contributed greatly to the demise of other prestigious leagues, which many feel, unlike the Premier League, have still managed to retain a sense of nationality and authentic beauty.
As strategies and physical attributes continue to have a strangle hold in England, and the Arsenals and WBAs relentlessly struggle, does our game now resemble something more similar to rugby?
And does adopting a win-at-all-costs mentality threaten to undermine and, more worryingly, dismantle what made this league great to begin with?
As a result of my new found pessimism I have compiled a list of all the things that seem to have disappeared from the English game. Iconic things that not so long ago set us apart. Things which made us proud and endeared many of us to the great game in the first place. Things I dearly miss.
10 – Cup Final Magic
Yes, I realize I am probably a bit late with this maxim as the magic of the cup fizzled out seemingly not long after the disappearance of wooden rattles and the Wembley white horseman.
It was a long time since we saw a White Horse at Wembley
However, Man United’s 0-0 draw and subsequent shoot-out victory on Sunday made me pine for some Cup Final Magic akin to that created by Ricky Villa, Sir Stan, and Charlie George.
I am scratching my head and wondering what has happened to all the heroes?
9 – Professional Fouls
Granted, this sort of thing happens a lot more on the continent and has been successfully eradicated from our game, so understandably my inclusion may bemuse a few of you and be somewhat controversial.
It is the “controversial” element, however, that I solemnly long for.
Before we know it Fifa will suggest something preposterous like installing cameras to clear up tight offside decisions, or sillier still, to see whether or not the ball crossed the goal line!
We dont need a ‘third eye’ to see that it crossed the goal line
Like the aforementioned the professional foul evoked endless debating after the game, creating ambivalent pub banter long into the night; about how the last defender took down a far quicker player bearing down on him and the goal, only to be given a caution.
Its mysterious nature captured the imaginations of both parents and children alike, and it is this unifying bond that justifies its inclusion.
8 – Bicycle Kicks
Apart from an occasional Peter Crouch Spider-Leg-Catherine-Wheel-Thingy modern players rarely treat us to the spectacular.
Peter Crouch wows us with his Catherine Wheel!
I wonder whom children are now emulating in the playground? And who are their mothers blaming for their cuts and bruises, which Mark Hughes, Hugo Sanchez, and Trevor Sinclair once rightfully took the rap for?
When Robbie Keane’s failed attempt at the spectacular against Athletico became the final nail in his Liverpool coffin it confirmed what many already suspected about the priorities of the modern game.
I personally would’ve liked to have seen Keane catch the ball on his knee, flick it up behind him, and over-head bicycle kick it towards goal. Even if it rebounded off the crossbar, hit the keeper on the back of his head, and went out for a corner.
7 – Tracksuit Managers
They say manufacturing, banking, and construction have been hit worst by the current job crisis. But long before those in hard hats took their place in the dole queue, Tracksuit Managers – deemed surplus to requirements – were swapping their overalls for shirts and tie combos and being forced to retrain.
Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish was very successful in his Tracksuit
Dalglish, Souness, Trevor Francis, Peter Reid, and “Wee Gordie” all looked the part back in the day, unzipping their tracksuits and bringing on “Themselves” to save the game for “Their” team.
Not many of them did though (e.g. Gullet, Hoddle, and “Butch” Wilkins), so I suppose that’s the reason they are no longer around.
6 – Goal Hangers (or Goal Scorers)
Ronaldo might’ve bagged a bucket full of goals last season, and Torres certainly has an aura of a “Goal Scorer” about him, but neither are anywhere near in the mould of the goal scoring lynchpins from yesteryear.
Greaves, Lineker, Cottee, Kerry Dixon, and the “ne plus ultra” (fastest man over two yards in the penalty box) that was Mick Quinn were a different breed from those of today.
Legendary Mick Quinn – Fastest man over 2 yards in the penalty box
These men came alive only when the ball was in the opposition’s penalty box, slid in where others dared not, trickling the ball past despairing goalkeepers, and habitually stealing the glory.
Eduardo (Arsenal) certainly has the potential to become a goal-scoring machine similar to those old maestros just mentioned and has a look and swagger reminiscent of a Romario.
I am sure 30-goals-a-season from one player would prove invaluable for any team in top flight. Teams could do a lot worse than allowing room for what is now a rarity. Even if he does spend the rest of the game fixing his hair and eyeing up your missus in the VIP enclosure.
5 – Eccentric Goalkeepers
In my unapologetic nostalgic spectacles the goalkeepers of the past were men of immense character and personality. They embroiled themselves in countless stand-offs with opposing strikers overcoming huge odds stacked against them to claw out otherwise certain goals from the jaws of defeat.
Southall wasn’t the slimest but was surely one of the Greatest
No gloves of a cat-like Banksy; the giant hands of the gentleman Jennings; reflexes of what appeared a slovenly and listless Neville Southall; and of course the wobbly-leg routine of the clown-like, but ultimately brilliant, Bruce Grobbelaar. All are sadly missed in today’s climate.
I even long for the imposing presence of Peter Schmeichel. He who frightened the life not only out of opposing strikers, but his own defenders too.
And whom do we have in their place? The enigmatic jibs of Brad Jones, Chris Kirkland, and the record breaking Edwin van der Sar. I’m literally teeming with excitement.
4 – Hell Raisers
It is possible I have an unhealthy obsession with maverick British footballers of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Not solely because of the antics they got up to on the field but also because of their wild lifestyles off it.
Greaves: not only a great goal scorer but a devil off the field as well
Jimmy Greaves’s alcohol consumption is well documented (believed to be up to 20 pints and a bottle of vodka a day at one stage!), though Greavsie himself will be the first to admit this wasn’t something to brag about. It beggars belief, however, to think how players back then got away with it, and somehow managed to hold it together enough to play football in front of thousands of unsuspecting spectators.
For many, like myself, it only seems to add to the intrigue and curiosity. (For all of you with a similar obsession to mine: Geavesie’s autobiography is a beast of the biography world; old “Saint & Greavsie” DVDs are a joy to behold; and by all accounts his live talk show is an unforgettable evening).
Characters like Eric Cantona are sorely missed from our game
Of course, Kung-fu Cantona entertained us all for a while, causing as much, if not more, controversy, as any other player before or since. His influence and impact is undoubtedly missed and is found wanting from today’s game.
More Hell Raisers are needed, surely?
3 – Dribblers
When I say dribblers I mean those sinuous barracuda types that slalom their way through opponents to score mesmerizing goals, not Nani and Christiano Ronaldo who perform stepovers that the opposition can spot during their pre-match meal.
Chris Waddle: one of the games great English dribblers and entertainers
Giggs has offered some much welcome respite over the years but when you think back to Barnes, Beardsley, and Waddle, watch footage of Sir Stan, Peter Osgood, and Alan Hudson, it pales into significance.
As a result, it is hard not to regret growing up in a different era, instead of constantly having to dust off the old Betamax recorder that is still up in the loft.
Watching Barcelona equipped with Messi et al, certainly doesn’t help matters.
2 – Sweepers
Sweepers were once the caretakers of the beautiful game: mopping up and brushing off; seeing to dangerous attacks before teammates had even realized who they were marking; and initiating fresh counter-assaults all of their own. I’m talking about The Beckenbauers, The Barasis, Koeman and Sammer, and once upon a time, our very own Bobby Moore.
Franz Beckenbauer – The great German Sweeper
I have great respect for Abdoulaye D. Faye (Stoke City) and what he does, and certainly wouldn’t like to meet him down a dark alley. Nevertheless, it is safe to say he hardly captures the spirit and the ethos of the beautiful game.
I think sweepers invariably make the game more refined and interesting, and I plead with managers to bring them back, to start to employ such systems that will accommodate them, and see the revival of the majestic and magnificent sweeper.
1 – Genuine Characters
Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne: “I’m off to get me suit measured!”
I’ve already mentioned many of the game’s iconic characters who encapsulate the drama and the theatre which gives the game such wide appeal.
But I feel we even lack those that larked around (Gazza), showed raw emotion (Gazza), engaged in banter with the crowd (Gazza); those it meant so much to they even shed a tear (Gazza).
There’s only one Jose Mourinho & I miss him
I want to see more Managers (like Brian Clough or Mourinho) and Players (Gazza – Remember him?) who thrive on giving entertainment. Those that revel in the spotlight, and above all, give us the fans our money’s worth.
And before anyone gets the wrong idea I am in no way insinuating another Dean Windass comeback.
Thanks for listening. If you echo my pessimism why not suggest a few things you miss or feel is lacking from the modern English game?