Saturday, May 30, 2009

The 1979 FA Cup Final: When football was still the People's Game

Video: thekeogh

I’ve written before of the way neoliberals love to trash 1970s Britain. The reason why of course, is that the decade saw the zenith of progressive politics, not just in Britain but around the world too.

The neoliberals don’t only tell lies about the state of the economy in the 1970s, they trash every aspect of 70s life. Including football. Football back then was nowhere near as good as it is today, according to the manic Thatcherites. It was far too working class (not an executive box in sight)- and it really was quite appalling how little clubs like Notts Forest and QPR and Ipswich could compete for honours with the bigger clubs. That would never do would it? Let‘s change the structure of football so only the very richest clubs can win things. And we’ll change the structure of our economy and society too, to benefit the super-rich.

And that's exactly what the neoliberals did.

I just hope those who trash the 1970s watched ITV’s recent showing of the ’Big Match’ programme of the highlights of the FA Cup final of thirty years ago.

May 1979- a highly significant date as it was then that Mrs Thatcher came to power and British society and economy underwent radical changes. We saw the impact of those changes by watching the match.

First, neither team's shirts carried advertising (or even the players names on the back). There were no players from outside Britain and Ireland on the pitch: football had yet to be globalised. There was the great sportmanship- illustrated by the generous tributes the two managers, Terry Neill and Dave Sexton, paid to each other when interviewed side by side after the game. There was the dress of those in the crowd-while a few supporters wore their teams scarves- none were dressed in replica football jerseys- as most supporters are today.

The programme provided a snapshot of Britain at the end of one era, and at the start of another.

That summer, Liverpool became the first team to have advertising on its shirts.
A couple of years later, the rules were changed so that the home team kept all the gate receipts: the spirit of greed, unleashed by Thatcherism, was entering the sport.

British football, society and economy was never the same after May 1979.

And watching the Big Match video reminds us of the less commercialised, less money-obsessed world we have lost.

Oh, and it was also a classic game of football, with three goals in the last four minutes.

So much for those who say that good football only came to Britain with the advent of the big-bucks Premier League.

Watch and enjoy the incredible climax to the 1979 FA final above, and reflect on the world we lost when ‘Money Power’ and ‘Market Forces’ started to dictate every aspect of our lives.

And another thought: for those who believe that the Premier League has raised standards and improved English clubs chances of winning trophies in Europe, I give you this simple fact:

Number of times English clubs won the European Cup between 1977-84: 7
Number of times English clubs won the European Cup/Champions League since the advent of the Premier League in 1992/3 : er, 2. (er,3- as PJD reminds me in the comments, I forgot Liverpool's win in Istanbul in 2005). But it's still a very poor 17-year haul compared to the period 1977-84.


Coventrian said...

Sorry Neil, but the best FA Cup final was in 1987 when Coventry City beat Spurs 3-2 in a game of free flowing end-to-end football with few fouls and no diving - except for Houchen's diving header.

Don't tell me that was a victory for Thatcher and not the people of Coventry, home of The Specials.

Anonymous said...

A Labour government with a slender majority or in a minority, propped up by the Liberals for eighteen months of the five years, is your idea of 'progressive' (a NL word) politics being in an admirable and strong position. Your nostalgia is crummy.

Not that I am particularly bothered, but it would help if you named names as to the defenders of modern football.

vladimir gagic said...

I suppose I am going to sound very American, but I prefer basketball. Watching that clip was like watching a pinball machine. The ball was just bouncing every which way, and whatever talent and skill the players had was lost in the randomness. It's just like ice hockey. Totally random. As for globalization, international players have made the NBA much more interesting. If anyone gets the chance, I highly recommend wathcing the NBA playoffs. They are without a doubt the most talented and skilled athletes the world have ever scene. One day, basketball will replace soccer as the world's most popular sport.

Wendus said...

I've said before that Turbo-Capitalism is about changing the rules so that they benefit the rich. Of course greed is nothing new. At least in the 1970s the rules were made so that ordinary people could get ahead, rather than trying to keep privileges for a few as is the case with Turbo-Capitalism.

robin carmody said...

Coventrian: it took some time for Thatcherism to really influence English football. I hate to admit this, but it may well be that if it *hadn't* influenced it, it might be as marginal now as cricket and horse racing (which 50 years ago had a place in English life roughly equal to that of football) have become. It should never have come to that, of course (the ideal world of English football, like that of England itself, would have been one where the stadia had been modernised but the game had not become financially unequal, but to be honest the chance of that ever happening was lost when Callaghan bottled it in September 1978, or perhaps even when Heath failed to save British socialism from itself, and in doing so prevent Thatcher from ever becoming leader, four and a half years earlier). In some ways, it would have been more honest and appropriate for the direction our society has taken had American football become the top sport in England by now, which could easily have happened had Hull City beaten Liverpool on 18th February 1989 and Poland defeated England on 11th October that year.

You have, I fear, picked up on one of Neil's weak points - he's too much from the "socially conservative" wing of Old Labour to really recognise the Specials - or any of pop's other uprisings of social integration and hope - for what they were.

Anonymous: Dominic Sandbrook wrote a New Statesman piece on 1970s football recently (quoted in the letter he links to) and I suspect Neil may have that in mind. He may also have been thinking of those behind, who seem to have a broadly neoliberal view of Britain (specifically in their constant anti-BBC jibes) to go with their glorification of the Premier League.

robin carmody said...

Another way of putting it (re. Coventrian): English football wasn't really Thatcherised until around the time she left office, or even just after. The same applies to British broadcasting (with Sky at the heart of both processes, of course).

Both were among the areas she left alone until heavy industry etc. had already pretty much ceased to exist in this country, no doubt because in Tory circles in the 1980s football was thought of as a "slum game" (Sunday Times, early 1989) which could be left to rot, and most Tory supporters were never in favour of the deregulation of broadcasting (Thames Estuary floating voters were, but the real heartland Tories were almost all against - their criticism of the BBC in the 1980s was for not being Reithian *enough*, not for being too Reithian). But both have been among the areas where her effects have been the strongest in the long term.

Undergroundman said...

I remember as a child collecting the Panini stickers and when native born working class footballers were still approachable heroes for those who aspired to get into the game.

My father played for Tranmere Rovers in the reserve team at some time in the early 60s and was a friend of Everton players like Brian Labone.

Though I was brought up on football, talk about football and my Dad's enthusiasm, I never became a supporter or 'fanatic' of any club.

Looking back now I understand why my Dad suported Everton. It wasn't a brand. It wasn't a piece of kitsch identification that moneyed people could blether about in a theme bar.

It was something he did I suppose because he was a Liverpuddlian whose adolescence was bound up with all the hopes that had come from being a footballer and the potential he believed at one stage he had.

Which included not just the lads he played with who went on to be footballers for Everton but the girls and the sense of place he had there and which came out in my last conversation with him.

In the 1980s when we lived in Tamworth my Dad could not understand why all these 'Brummies' who supported Liverpool. 'You aren't from Liverpool' ! he used to say.

Over the years he became more disillusioned with it all. He said that the Premier League had got so boring that they might as well just auction the trophy to the highest bidder who could pay for the best players.

As he got older he still followed Everton though with diminishing amounts of interest. He said he preferred Rugby Union and Cricket, and he loved both, but he seemed to think it was pointless following a col;ection of players who were 'just' doing it for the money/

The globalisation of football transfer markets, the Bosman ruling all had brought about a decline and the decay of the hierachies of support that had matched the performance of 'our teams' in Europe.

For if most of the players in Arsenal are not British, why support them instead of Juventus? Just because the brand name Arsenal is English/ Who really gives a shit? /

In the 80s when I went to Spain, people would go on about Everton and my Dad was proud of the FA Cup Winners Cup victory over ( i think ) Rapid Vienna because it represented British football.

Even now I remember that. I didn't know, still less care that Man U had been defeated by Barcelona a few nights ago.

As local and national allegiances wither and diminish , clubs are about as meaningful as brands like Nike of Durex. The teams might be great as entertainment but why pretend to support one? To identify personally with it?

I remember now Everton in the mid 80s, that team, my father's joy at their success and understand it a lot more now that both that time in in history, in sport and so much else, has passed along with my father's life too.

Anonymous said...

Well, my 'team', Newcastle United, were recently relegated. I was horrified to discover that I didn't really care. Why should I care about a collection of worn-out mercenaries employed by a Cockney billionaire, whose only connection to Newcastle is the colour of the shirt?

When John Hall (a former Sunderland supporter) took over the club in the 1990s most fans thought he was a saviour. Despite being runners-up in the Premiership in 96 and 97 Hall had ruined the long-term prospects of the club. In order to buy star players for what was essentially a circus the reserves and youth coaching were savagely cut back and the life-blood of the club was destroyed. Eventually Newcastle were out-competed as a buying club by big metropolitan clubs whose big-city life styles attracted star players and rich owners, and the bottom dropped out of Hall's short-termist strategy. The club fell between two stools, unable to compete with either the big metropolitan clubs or the more sensible provincial clubs who had retained their youth/coaching infrastructure and lowered their sights to achievable targets. Hall eventually walked away with over £90 million, selling to an opportunistic Cockney owner whose ignorance of football blinded him to the club's precarious position. By the time the infrastructure was replaced it was too late.

Bourgeois wide-boys and philistines staging an unsustainable circus with overpaid mercenary has-beens for stupid, impatient fans. Why should I care? Why should anyone care?

- questionnaire

PJD said...

"Number of times English clubs won the European Cup between 1977-84: 7
Number of times English clubs won the European Cup/Champions League since the advent of the Premier League in 1992/3 : er, 2."

True, but the standard of competition in those days was not as strong. There was many reasons for this, perhaps the most important was that Italian ban on foreign players which was only lifted in 1980.

DBC Reed said...

Maybe slightly outside your remit but the Celtic European Cup Final victory against Inter in 1967 fulfils your analytic criteria.All the Celtic players were not only Scottish but born within 30 miles of Celtic Park.
By no means pro-Scottish by instinct I always felt that in those days rare glimpses of Scottish games on telly showed a worryingly high level of skill.
The game was really some kind of victory for British sporting attitudes: Inter scored within 10 mins and it became depressingly obvious that they meant to defend for the remaining 80 .There would n't have been anybody in the UK and Ireland who did not feel that this win at the cost of killing the game attitude was a provocation to non-stop attack which the Celtic side duly provided.

PJD said...

PS English clubs have actually won the European Champions Cup three times since the start of the Premier League, not 2:

1999 Manchester United
2005 Liverpool
2008 Manchester United

robin carmody said...

Worth mentioning also that the Premier League-era Champions' League wins were largely flukes. Without wanting to denigrate Man Utd and Liverpool's achievements, a match of that importance where a team is 1-0 down after 89 minutes but still wins in normal time, or where a team is 3-0 down at half-time but still wins, is an extremely rare occurence (and always was: that's why Roy of the Rovers was always fantasy) - and the 2008 win was in an all-Premier League final. For all the hype, no Premier League club has ever beaten one from another country in the CL final absolutely fair and square, with a true exhibition of football, as Barcelona did on Wednesday night (though there have been such performances outside the final, c.f. Liverpool's win over Real Madrid this season).

EEW: I sympathise with your father on many levels, not least because Howard Kendall's Everton were never able to compete in the European Cup, and were indeed the team to lose out the most from the Heysel ban (though when Oxford, Luton and AFC Wimbledon fans meet in the Conference next season, I'm sure they will think - if it doesn't hurt them too much emotionally - of the European nights that would have been). Clearly the horrors of the three 1980s disasters could never be repeated - the problem came when English football, like English society as a whole, threw the socially equal baby out with the backward and insular bathwater. As I said, I think this was inevitable once Thatcher had polarised everyone and everything to the extent she did.

questionnaire: a great post. Newcastle's rise and fall, more than anything else in British life, sums up the 15-year rise and fall of NuLab: take a localised icon of the Old Labour working class, something which had been dying on its feet in the 1980s, and revitalise it through the methods of global capitalism. Attempt to have it both ways, promote it as still "of" the people, just modernised and rebranded, like a football companion to the Social Market Foundation or something. The delusion - for that is all it ever was, in both cases - lasted a long time, and has only recently, amid the implosion of the very system that supported it, been exposed for the lie it was. It is scarily apt that Newcastle are still "sponsored" by Northern Rock: just as their fans retained the delusion that "their" club was not part of global big business, they felt the same way about what had been "their" building society even after its demutualisation, from which point on it was no more "theirs" than Lloyds or Barclays have ever been the property of the middle classes who have always used them. And the Labour Party's future prospects are every bit as bleak as those of Newcastle United, its partner in market-led reinvention which proved a fool's paradise.

PJD said...

"But it's still a very poor 17-year haul compared to the period 1977-84"

But that is because you have only cherry picked a concentrated "golden era". You could have chosen 1956-1985, from the start of European competitions to the exclusion of English Clubs. In fact English clubs only won one of the first 21 competitions when money in the game was of even less importance than 1977-84.

Not that I am saying that what has happened since 1979 has been good for the game, but you have to put these things into the fairest context.