Friday, July 23, 2010

The Football Man: People and Passions in Soccer by Arthur Hopcraft (Penguin 1971)

In the final at Wembley on 30 July 1966, England and West Germany met in circumstances of barely tolerable emotional tension. I have earlier described the closing minutes of this match. But I want to refer to something in its atmosphere which disconcerted me because of its inappropriateness to the game as a whole: the measure of chauvinism which was divorced entirely from what took place in terms of football, on the field.

I watched this game not from the Press box but from a seat in the stands, and I was struck well before the game began by the unusual nature of some of the crowd around me. They were not football followers. They kept asking each other about the identity of the English players. Wasn't one of the Manchester boys supposed to be pretty good? That very tall chap had a brother in the side, hadn't he? They were in their rugby club blazers, and with their Home Counties accents and obsolete prejudices, to see the successors of the Battle of Britain pilots whack the Hun again. Some of them wept a bit at the end, and they sang Land of Hope and Glory with a solemn fervour I have known elsewhere only at Conservative party rallies. I suspect that if they had found themselves sitting among a crowd of real, live football fans from Liverpool they might have been amazed by the degree of treacherous support available to Jerry. Some football fans prefer even German footballers to plump-living countrymen exercising the privilege of money to bag a place at an event thousands more would have given their right arms to see - and understand. I much prefer Abide With Me at Wembley. Its connection with chapel and pub identifies it with the England which nurtures its football.

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