Cleat Geeks

Football Past and Present: The Cloth Cap, The Scarf, The Flag, The Rattle and the Modern Fan

If you have ever watched old footage from the bygone days of Association Football as it was called, Football as it is commonly called today, or Soccer as it is called in the USA, you might wonder if those days have now gone forever.MUBlack&White

Black and white newsreel footage from the days before television often show thousands upon thousands of supporters cheering on their favourite teams, with their cap, scarf, fag and rattle in hand supporting Manchester United or Derby, Bolton or Preston, Liverpool or Everton, Manchester City or Tottenham or perhaps even a team which has now disappeared from the sport itself.

These were the people who adorned the paintings of Lawrence Stephen Lowry, whose dark mill scenes portrayed matchstick men and women in clogs, boots and shawls, marching in unison to the local mill. The 1923 FA Cup Final later known as ‘The White Horse FA Cup Final’ for obvious reasons, is a good example from the particular era.

Marrying up those bygone days when football was truly the working man or woman’s sport with today’s packaged Sky, BT Sport, ESPN or Fox extravaganza and all that goes with it, merchandise, players wages, TV packages and season tickets, is not all that easy. If, as the sociologists argue, football way back then was the true working class game, surely the same could not be argued today.

It might be argued that in the pre-Internet, YouTube, Twitter, smartphone world there was very little else to offer in the world of entertainment for the average man or woman. In the main that might be true, but only if your compass is set firmly in the world of today.

busby10Historically, it is said of Sir Matt Busby who managed Manchester United for 25 years between 1945 and 1971 that when he talked to his United team or his new United recruits he would make the point of saying that the 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon was what the supporters lived and breathed for, that Old Trafford was their cathedral.
That might sound a bit over dramatic but Sir Matt was not blind to the fact that the majority of supporters had very difficult demanding jobs and this was their escape from the drudgery of weekly or even daily life.

Sir Matt Busby (1909-1994) with others of his generation were very aware of what the game meant to the soul of the community and by extension the soul of the individual. Bill Shankly’s often quoted, “some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that” sums the era up rather nicely,

bill-shankly-quotes-immortalpixels-blogspot-comAs an old ‘Stretford Ender’ and lifelong Manchester United supporter I believe certain fundamentals remain the same no matter what football/soccer era is under the football microscope. That it is possible to cut through the seeming bleakness of the past and the ‘all singing all dancing’ packaged world of today and see similarities which are not governed by the signs of the times.

What then can said about, what for some, might be the dystopian football world of the past and the utopian football package of the modern game? What are the common football denominators which link the modern supporter to their bygone brothers and sisters?

First, most commonly, the football club you support is mostly ingrained in you at birth, in Latin (‘in vitro’). The family you are born into or the country you call home usually but not always have their natural effects. There are occasions which break this rule, ‘I support Manchester United because my dad supported Manchester City’ does happen and must be recognised, but overall is not overtly predominant.

utd_kids_wifeSecondly, no matter which club you finally end up supporting you take on a shared, almost symbiotic identity. This symbiosis produces loyalty of a kind rarely matched not only in other sports but also in life itself. The Old Trafford banner frequently seen that reads ‘United, Kids, Wife’ may for some have a touch of humour in it but for others a touch of truth.
Another appropriate word where both footballs past and present are linked together is passion and passion with a capital P. The passion a supporter has for his team, his players, his club can send them to the next town or the next continent. It is all consuming, all engrossing and like life itself totally unpredictable. The outcome for any game might be predicted but can never be defined.

Manchester United supporters might compare the depression they felt when their team lost to the underdogs from Southampton 1-0 in the FA Cup Final of 1976. Then remember the absolute elation they felt only one year later when United beat Liverpool 2-1 in the FA Cup Final of 1977. With the match at 1-1 a mishit shot from Lou Macari went flying past the diving goalkeeper Ray Clemence and into the Liverpool net off the chest of Jimmy Greenhoff to give United a 2-1 victory.

tommy-the-doc-docherty-in-001Twelve months before the passionate words of the then United manager Tommy Docherty on the day of the Southampton defeat proclaimed “United would be back in the Final next year” echoed in the ears of all United fans that day, making the win against Liverpool even more special.

The highs and lows, season in, season out, the new players, the promising players, the struggling players, the former manager, the new manager, are all part and parcel of the club you support. Once a club gets into your blood, however that happens, there is not a lot you can do about it.

The modern invention of the friendship scarf or the friendship shirt is commercial robbery of the worst kind. Modern words like customers and project should be excised from the football lexicon as soon as possible but are probably here to stay.

Today’s modern era is a far cry from the ghosts of football’s past that we see flickering in old newsreel footage on youtube or the like. That is development and growth and in the main mostly a good thing for all concerned. I say mostly because there is also a side to the modern game which is utterly commercialised.

As fans and supporters we watch football/soccer because we love it like our fathers and mothers before us. So the next time you see those old black and white images of supporters with their cloth caps, scarfs, fags and rattles remember the things that bind us all as fans are as true today as they ever were regardless of the many years that separate us.

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