Monday, March 12, 2012

England by mid-70s was plunging into economic and social crisis. Football was not immunized, but it was hard to think of the most entertaining leagues in the world in terms of decline and trouble. On the surface, the aura remained intact – highly competitive, unpredictable, and entertaining tournaments. But the public was getting increasingly violent on and off the stadiums; the clubs were deeply in debt and the danger of bankruptcy was looming. The national team was struggling. Seemingly, the new young stars emerging were not as great as their predecessors, yet, they were getting more and more money and transfer fees were soaring. Looked like a feast during a plague. Perhaps the 1975-76 season, in retrospect, marked the moment of change in the English game – with national team players in the 2nd Division; with the decline of some not so long ago mighty clubs, particularly the London ones; and also small opening to the outside world. This year the first foreign kits appeared - fashionable Adidas was used by few clubs, triggering outlandish clash of styles in the next few years, when English makers decided to challenge foreign trends with their own versions and the notoriously ugly brown kit of Coventry City was born. It was also the beginning of long Liverpool monopoly – England never had one dominant ‘superclub’ before, but eventually became as almost every ‘Continental’ country. Hardly a positive change, but it also reflected the frontal clash of traditional English ways of running football and the current concepts: Liverpool improved their team constantly, buying useful players, and thus maintained strong squad until 1990 – others were either stubbornly traditional or incompetent… Of course, it was nice to see big stars playing for insignificant teams, but in the same time it was weird to see the better clubs uninterested in the brightest young star.
Trevor Francis is the best example – he debuted with a bang and was probably the most promising young English player. Everybody was raving about him, predicting huge stardom. Yet, almost to the end of the decade he played for lowly Birmingham City. If Liverpool and Leeds United did not need him, having their own stars, what about the rest? The likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspurs? Perhaps many of the young promising players of the early 1970s were stunted in their development because of playing for small or declining clubs. Some really were – Alan Hudson, for example – but even those who really became stars were somewhat limited and not as great as other players either from the Continent or from bygone years. English managers were somewhat slow to detect young talent, even slower to envision his role in their team, and perhaps slowest in implementing new tactics. The long term results were amply displayed in the 2010 World Cup…
But the aura remained, blinding everybody: English football was fun. Fast, attacking game. What other country would have 2nd Division clubs winning over 1st Division clubs? None! Was it so? Competitive – yes; but were ‘big’ clubs really big, if struggling against the small fry? Fearing a Cup match against 3rd Division nobodies? And more… English football was no longer high scoring game – the totals dwindled: there was team averaging 2 goals per game in 1975-76 season and it was not for the first time either. Numbers appeared high when compared to the rest of Europe, but it was only until one remembered that English clubs played 42-match season – much more than any other championship. Besides, the number of ties was constantly increasing as well. It was no longer high scoring ‘win or lose’ game… no matter how competitive. But it was all hidden behind the growing success of Liverpool – at the end of the day, it is never one-sided picture: Liverpool was becoming a giant; other clubs were having their best years as well… so what if some clubs were declining and no longer shined?