Saturday, September 19, 2009

But let’s stay with the importers. The market shrunk after the Iron Curtain was erected, but not only because of that. By 1972 there were still strictly amateur countries in Europe – Scandinavians are the prime example. They did not import players at all. Various small countries also had no professional football and even if they had some rudimentary professionalism, importing players was not for their pockets. Other countries were eccentric: Greece officially did not allow foreign players, yet imported foreigners (the curious Greek case will be discussed a little later). Turkey officially permitted imports, but under conditions making importation impossible – a foreigner had to be active national player of world fame. The idea was to avoid buying useless nobodies by the kilo, but it backfired – Turkish clubs were not rich enough to afford world class stars on one hand, and the Turkish championship was mediocre (at best) to attract the likes of Cruiff and Beckenbauer even if there were tons of money. No foreigners played in Turkey until 1980. No foreigners played in England either until 1978,when Tottenham Hotspur bought the argentine World Champions Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa. Hence, it is still widely believed that England did not permit foreign players until 1978. Untrue. England never banned foreigners, but there were hardly any because of weird combination of British arrogance and immigration-labour laws. The British firmly believed that no ‘continental’ (itself arrogantly ignorant term, for it commonly refers to the rest of Europe, but includes South American players as well) player can adapt to the superior British football. British football was the best, hence British players were the best, hence no one can match a British player and to import would be simply waste of money. But getting a working permit for a foreigner was severely restrictive too – often a person was required to prove uninterrupted British residence for 5 years. Sporting careers are short – it is simply meaningless waste of time, if not complete ruination, for a player to idle 5 years in English just to try to fit into English team, an already doomed affair, considering the prejudice. Interestingly enough, there were various foreigners playing in England before the World War II, and some after the war ended – the most famous is the German goalkeeper of Manchester City form the 195s, Bert Trautmann. However, he arrived in England by ‘strange transfer’ – as a prisoner of war. Trautmann practically never played in Germany, having been called for military service, and built his successful career in England, starting with lowly amateur club and gradually impressing Manchester City, its fans, and eventually – the whole England. But after him almost no ‘continental’ arrived and certainly none made any impression. Foreign players in England were largely individuals from former colonies to whom labour law requirements did not apply – apart from UK’s Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, players from Eire (Republic of Ireland) went to English clubs, plus occasional players of distant states belonging to the Common Wealth – the odd Canadian, or Trinidad and Tobago player, some Africans. The numbers were small and practically no one established a name – the closest to stardom was briefly achieved by Clyde Best, playing for West Ham United with Bobby Moore. At the end, Scots and Irish supplied whatever ‘foreign’ blood English football needed.
Bert Trautmann (between teammates Paul and Revie) played 508 league matches for Manchester City from 1949 to 1964.
Clyde Best, born in Bermuda and national player of the same not so famous football nation, was one of the first black players to make impression in British football and one of the rare foreigners in England during 1960s and the early 1970s. He played 218 games, scoring 47 goals for West Ham United between 1968 and 1976. But, typically, he came from Common Wealth country and former British colony.