Wednesday, February 18, 2009

French clubs deviated: they had routinely numbers on the front as well. For a soccer nut, gathering information largely from photos, it was great – seeing the numbers on team picture, one instantly knew who was playing what. This helped with unknown teams; in terms of playing football, there was no significance. There was the odd European club showing front numbers here and there, but only the French had it somewhat uniformly. May be it had been a rule of the French Football Federation, I don’t know. Typically, the numbers were small and unobtrusive. But in 1971 suddenly the numbers were big – as big as the normal numbers on the back. It was strange and funny back then, and still is – European football fan is conservative: he likes traditions and opposes innovations – front giant numbers were silly. Not serious. Not becoming. Ridiculous.
A.S. Nancy-Lorraine 1971-72
Back, left to right: Magiera, Woltrager, Lopez, Lemerre, Formica, Lanini
Front: Wiberg, Druda, Kuszowski, Zenier, Mariot.
Well, now you know that Woltreger was the stopper and Wiberg – the right winger. But look at the size of these numbers! What exactly purpose they serve? Football fans tend to know well their stars, numbers or no numbers. Whoever is not recognized by sight is not worth knowing anyway. But may be I am talking some obscure old stuff: how possibly one can know today who is who without name written on the shirt, personal number, and large-screen introductory close-ups? Squads change too often to be remembered. And new culture in cultivated: one knows Beckam because his name is written on his shirt and countless merchandise. I fear, wthout the written name, the contemporary fan may never be able to discover if Beckam plays or not. Football culture became Americanized – you don’t have to know by heart; you have to be specifically informed. Fans abandoned memory (not big surprise – fans are famous for other things, but not brains.) Big numbers at the late 1960s and early 1970s belonged to the laughable American soccer (and I am not talking of NASL, ‘the graveyard for European footballers’, as Gianni Rivera called it, but the American soccer before NASL): they had big front numbers (borrowed by the American football, no doubt about it) to accommodate the ignorant Americans. Did not help in North America, so why the French introduced the practice in Europe? Since the French were not big enthusiasts of American culture? Anyway, European football experts (fans) laugh and sneer at pathetic and ignorant in football matters Americans. Big numbers were synonymous to exactly that: pathetic ignorance. Something to laugh about. What next? Football on baseball grounds? No wonder French football was weak – copying the Yanks just proved it. On a serious note – if one can find such – it was strange fancy, luckily not lasting long. The horror associations were just too strong:
Here is the prototype: proto-NASL match between Baltimore Bays and Detroit Cougars in 1968. Printed names, big front numbers, and, yes: the baseball pitch. A joke…
Baltimore Bays had 1 (one) US player on their roster that year. Dennis Viollet, from the famed ‘Matt Busby’s babies’ Manchester United, was in the squad – how he felt when running out of the grass and onto the dirt? But never mind, here Baltimore is not attacking, but defending. Lone Detroit striker, Barry Rowan, is prevented from may be hitting the ball by visibly vigorous defense: the Argentine Constantino ‘Gaucho’ Tejada (16), the Israeli David Primo (4, who played at World Cup 1970), and the Spanish goalkeeper Carmelo Cedrun. Meantime, Luis Cesar Menotti was navigating similar field somewhere in the USA, playing for New York Generals – how he managed to lead Argentina to World title after chasing the ball in North America is really a question worth contemplating.
In 1971 the Americans were already getting into their minds to launch NASL and to provide plenty of cash to European and other oldtimers, yet, there was nothing new in that. Many old European stars and young nobodies from Europe, South America, and Africa played for North American clubs before 1970 – Ladislao Kubala managed to play with his son for Toronto, a drastic example of combining ancient stardom with mediocrity. Big frontal numbers? Ridiculous.
Sure, Nancy had the French national Roger Lemerre and the Danish striker Finn Wiberg in 1971, but it was unimaginable a club dressed like that to produce Michel Platini. They had to drop those frontal numbers first, to show some serious attitude… they did, and Platini emerged. Puritanism orders big numbers on the back! ,