Chapter Seventeen – Comes The Revolution (cont.)
As products of an expanding educational system and of a brisk, lively, materialistic society, players no longer conceded that club managers, directors and legislators, many of them born in the last century, had an exclusive copyright on intelligence and wisdom in the game. And there was one further psychological factor which the old men too often failed to recognise or acknowledge. That was the players’ deep pride in their craft and in the reputation of the English game. They were humiliated at too many failures against foreign teams, both at national and club level. They were not convinced that Spaniards and Italians and South Americans had some special magic which made them better footballers. They knew that given the right conditions in England, the right encouragement, they could be just as good as the highly paid stars of Real Madrid and Barcelona and Benfica. But they were infuriated by legislators who told them to work harder at the game and train more intensely yet at the same time decried sensible coaching and made it difficult for English teams to enter foreign competitions, compromised the work of the national team, and even meddled in arrangements for friendly matches or tours against foreign teams. The players were irked by having to sign what amounted to public contracts. Anyone could learn what my contract was, for example, with Fulham simply by buying the appropriate football handbook which had the contract reprinted in it. I did not want the world to know what my business was with Fulham and happily, thanks to the stand the players took, thanks to the ‘revolution’, that now applies.
The philosophy of the maximum wage, stemming from the dark ages of football, was that if all the players in a team earned the same amount, there would be no possibility of the under-privileged, the under-paid, the less talented, man starving the star player of the ball. Football was a team game with everyone treated equal. If it was otherwise, team spirit would be shattered. Yet no one seems to have seen the obvious. During the visits to England of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus among other outstanding teams, no one noted any absence of team spirit with them. These foreign players knew perfectly well that they were not all equal. Some were very much more talented than others. But they were all interdependent. And there was another point of the greatest importance which was seldom recognised.
When a talented player is playing beside a moderate player, he may need only a sixty per cent effort to match the hundred per cent effort of the moderate player. This is a fact which I have proved from my own experience to my own satisfaction. With both of these players earning the same reward, where is the moral honesty there. As long as the talented and naturally ambitious player had a limit placed on the rewards he could get for his skills, so there was the great danger that he would not fulfil his talents to their absolute limits. This has been a severe brake on the development of our standards of play in the past.
These then were some of the legal and contractual and psychological factors behind the coming of the ‘revolution’. There were others, stronger, more dramatic, more exposed to the public gaze, on and emerging from the field of play. In the autumn of 1959, Dennis Viollet (pictured), the then Manchester United captain wrote in a newspaper that he did not believe that the Wolves’ style of play would make them good ambassadors for England in the European Cup that winter. Wolves had two very fierce battles with Red Star Belgrade before losing to Barcelona in the quarter finals. Such an uproar followed this honest opinion that you might have imagined that Viollet had attacked the Royal Family. He was rebuked by the League, and the Wolves’ players were misguided enough to threaten a complaint to the Professional Footballers’ Association. Viollet was indicted in fact for telling the truth. The same Viollet, let it be said, was gracious enough to write that he did not rejoice in Wolves' heavy defeats – four goals in Barcelona, five in Wolverhampton – and that the English club had been harshly treated in the fantastic Press hue and cry which followed the matches. He added the telling point that English footballers could never hope to be artists until they were treated like artists. The truth of the matter was that Viollet was attacked at the time simply for having an opinion. Footballers were not supposed to have opinions.
One criticism of the Real Madrids and Barcelonas was that they may well have been outstanding teams, but that all the other teams in the Spanish League competition were very poor. All the more reason why a country like England, immeasurably richer in cash and youth footballers than Spain, should be producing each season half a dozen teams to match Real Madrid and Barcelona! Yet the Viollet ‘scandal’, the Wolves matches against Barcelona, England’s defeat by Sweden at Wembley, and two defeats of Manchester United against Real Madrid (6-1 at Manchester, 6-5 at Madrid) in friendly matches, brought about the beginnings of a thaw in the Ice Age of our football. In this winter of 1959-1960, a strange change in the climate of the game was observed.
It's All In The Game was published by Arthur Baker Limited.
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