Brazil, Chelsea and England 1970 – Why the perception of “iconic line-up” still misleads us

THE BBC recently published a story that highlighted how rarely some clubs’ iconic line-ups actually played together. It showed that football carries many myths in its rich heritage, but also confirmed that our perception of the component parts of great teams rarely takes into consideration injuries, suspensions, loss of form or just being “out of favour”.

On the other hand, 50 years ago, football was less of a squad game, therefore it was arguably far easier to name a “regular” side. It helped that collectors cards, and there were a lot of them, fuelled the misconception that most clubs had relatively static teams. It was easy to name the best elevens of most top division outfits – or at least how we saw them.

The Leeds United team of the 1970s supposedly had an XI that never altered. However, what we consider to be Leeds’ regular side of the Don Revie era – Gary Sprake, Paul Reaney, Terry Cooper, Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer, Allan Clarke, Mick Jones, Johnny Giles and Eddie Gray – only lined-up once. It is hard to believe, but apparently true. This is all the more surprising given Leeds had a relatively small squad compared to some clubs, but they also had a player who could fill-in across many positions, Paul Madeley.

Similarly, Chelsea’s “classic” team from 1969-70, which was denied its big day in the FA Cup final due to the injury of Alan Hudson, also had a limited lifespan – just nine games. That team comprised: Peter Bonetti, David Webb, Eddie McCreadie, John Hollins, John Dempsey, Ron Harris, Charlie Cooke, Alan Hudson, Peter Osgood, Ian Hutchinson and Peter Houseman.

Chelsea had a few decent players in reserve such as John Boyle, Tommy Baldwin, Alan Birchenall, Bobby Tambling, Marvin Hinton and Stewart Houston, so it is likely that manager Dave Sexton stumbled across this side after trying several permutations and overcoming a lengthy injury list.

This combination had its first game on December 6, 1969 at Old Trafford, a 2-0 win for the  Blues. Two goals from Ian Hutchinson against opposition that included George Best and Bobby Charlton underlined Chelsea’s quality and moved some reporters to declare that Dave Sexton’s side could make a bid for the league title – “What price these Southern Softies now?” asked Harry Miller of the Daily Mirror.

The team won eight of its nine games, their only defeat coming at Wolves on December 13. The last time they lined-up was the FA Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane on March 14 1970 when Chelsea secured their place at Wembley with a 5-1 win against Watford.

After that success, the team started to encounter problems: Alan Hudson missed the last league games and the two FA Cup final meetings with Leeds; Ian Hutchinson had a series of injuries that eventually brought his career to an end in 1976; Eddie McCreadie had a troublesome stomach injury; Peter Bonetti was ill with pneumonia; and Peter Osgood endured a lengthy suspension in 1971. New players like Keith Weller, Chris Garland and Steve Kember were added to the squad over the two years.

In 1970, Brazil won the World Cup with a team that became household names across the globe: Felix, Carlos Alberto, Brito, Piazza, Everaldo, Clodoaldo, Gerson, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Pele and Tostao. This team appeared as one body just four times, three occasions during the World Cup and once more on September 30, 1970. This is not totally surprising as World Cup teams normally disperse once a tournament is over, the competition is invariably the end of a build-up process rather than the start of something.

England, at Mexico 1970, looked to have a team to compare with their 1966 World Cup winners. Sir Alf Ramsey named his squad and gave the 1 to 11 shirts to: Gordon Banks, Keith Newton, Terry Cooper, Alan Muller, Brian Labone, Bobby Moore, Francis Lee, Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. Ramsey had fielded this team for the first time on May 10 1969 when England beat Scotland 4-1 in one of their best post-1966 performances.

On June 1 1969 this group of players faced Mexico in the Azteca Stadium and drew 0-0 in a pre-World Cup tour game. By the summer of 1970, it was widely regarded that this team was Ramsey’s best selection but he could only play this side twice in the actual World Cup, the last game being the ill-fated Quarter Final against West Germany. The team played together six times and lost just once and kept four clean sheets. The German side that beat England in Leon, incidentally, was never fielded again. Not one of the England team would see a World Cup beyond 1970 – it wasn’t until 1982 that they qualified for the finals again. It’s unlikely anyone would describe some of the teams that wore the white shirt in the intervening years as “iconic”.

@GameofthePeople

Photo: PA

Soccer City: Mexico City waits for the coast to be clear

MEXICO is soccer mad and Mexicans are among the most passionate of fans. The country’s clubs dominate CONCACAF football. When Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, thousands of Mexicans travelled to support their team, many selling-up at home to fund their trip, some using the competition as an excuse to relocate. Sometimes, things get out of hand, precisely why at present, Mexican fans are absent from some stadiums owing to homophobic chanting at games, a problem that has plagued Liga MX for some years.

Yet Mexico is a football country in every sense of the word – they have, after all, hosted two World Cups, in 1970 and 1986 and research has suggested that around 75% of the country’s urban population are interested in the game. 

The Mexico-held World Cups were both memorable occasions, two of the best World Cups of all time, even though the big worry when they were named as hosts was the altitude of the country. 

Liga MX, Mexico’s premier football league, is among the best supported in the world: between 2013 and 2018, the league’s average attendance (25,582) was the fourth highest in the world and it remains the biggest draw outside of Europe three years on.

Mexico City is 2,250 metres above sea level and is known as D.F. among the locals, Distrito Federal. With a population of 9.2 million, it is the most populous city in North America and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. 

Unsurprisingly, the city has won more Mexican championships than any other metropolis. Between the four main clubs, Mexico City has 32 titles to its name, compared to Guadalajara’s 13 and Toluca’s 10.

The most loved and hated club in Mexico is Club América from the capital. América, who were formed in 1916, have been champions 13 times and have also won the CONCACAF Champions League on seven occasions. They have one foot in the final this year after beating Philadelphia Union 2-0 in the first leg of the semi-final. If they succeed, they will play fellow Liga MX sides Cruz Azul or Monterrey in the final, making it the ninth all-Mexican final in the Champions League era. In the past 12 years, Mexican teams have won every competition. 

América’s rivals in the capital are Cruz Azul (formed 1927) and UNAM (formed 1954), otherwise known as Club Universidad Nacional or the Pumas. There’s also Atlante, who are currently playing in Mexico’s second tier, Liga de Expansión MX. Clashes between América and Cruz Azul are known as Clásico Joven, while América v UNAM is the Clásico Capitalino.

Despite these intense local encounters, characterised by incessant noise, drums and much flag-waving, Club América versus Guadalajara is seen as the biggest game in Mexican football. The three teams from Mexico City plus Guadalajara are known as the Cuatro Grandes (the big four) of Mexican football, the most influential and newsworthy institutions in the game.

In Mexico City, the three main clubs have very different crowds, América are supposedly the club of the wealthy, Cruz Azul are very much a working class team and UNAM have long been known for having intellectual and middle class fans.

América and Cruz Azul both play at the iconic Azteca stadium (Estadio Azteca), which was opened in 1966 and used in the 1968 Olympic games, as well as the World Cup in 1970 and 1986. When it was constructed, it was a remarkable arena but the capacity has been dramatically reduced since the days when over 100,000 people attended matches at the Azteca. The stadium can claim to have been the venue for the infamous Diego Maradona goal in 1986 and the fabled 1970 World Cup final.

Cruz Azul, who were formed in Hidalgo as Cementos Cruz Azul, before moving to Mexico City, have won the title nine times. They have also been CONCACAF champions six times, the most recent being in 2014. The club pulled off a unique treble in 1968-69 when they won the CONCACAF Champions League, Mexican Primera División and Copa Mexico. They repeated the trick in 1997.

Cruz Azul were champions of the Torneo Guardianes in 2021, a competition named after the doctors and health professionals who helped Mexico through the pandemic. They beat Santos Laguna in the final 2-1 on aggregate with Uruguayan forward Jonathan Rodríguez scoring the vital goal at the Estadio Azteca. This ended a barren run for the club that had earned them the reputation of being “chokers” at vital moments. Like América, they have played the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semi-final, losing 1-0 to Monterrey. The second leg is on September 17 2021.

UNAM, who play at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario, are struggling in LigaMX this season and have won just one of their first six games. The club hasn’t won a major honour since 2011 when they lifted the Clausura by beating Morelia in the final. It is getting increasingly difficult for UNAM to be competitive as, financially, they currently operate differently from other Mexican clubs. They do not have income from big sponsorship so the club has to survive on much lower levels of funding granted by the university.

Mexican football, generally, has financial issues owing to the pandemic with the estimated cost of the crisis running to around US$ 200 million. Some clubs have lost backers and sponsors due to the financial climate. The league suspended promotion and relegation because of a need to stabilise after the pandemic, but is this merely a step towards the sort of closed league structure that US sport advocates? There is growing interest in a combined North American league involving Mexico, Canada and the United States and it is likely, given the 2026 World Cup will be held across these countries, that stronger partnerships will develop between the leagues.

Liga MX is the best paid Latin American league with an average salary of between US$ 350,000 and US$ 400,000. There is a big reliance on TV income and around 55% of the league’s revenues are derived from broadcasting. Certainly TV audiences for Mexican games dwarf Major League Soccer’s viewing figures. There’s little doubt that Mexico City is one of the world’s great football hubs but given the number of people who live in poverty, the covid-19 pandemic has hit some areas of the city very hard and it will surely take time for normal service to be resumed. Mexico has seen the fourth highest number of deaths worldwide (256,000) and a total of around 3.3 million cases have been recorded. Sorting out football is the least of their worries at the moment.

@GameofthePeople