Mud, ice and rain – half a century ago, we loved them

THE 2021-22 season marks the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest Football League title races of all time, 1971-72. What made it so notable? Four teams – Derby County, Leeds United, Liverpool and Manchester City were all in contention with just a couple of games to go. That season was arguably the end of a football mini golden age that started with England winning the World Cup in 1966. Certainly, characters like Manchester City’s Malcolm Allison felt the five-year period between 1967 and 1972 was very special.

For all those that like to tick-off lists of football grounds visited, around a third of the stadiums used in 1971-72 have since passed into history. Of the 22 first division grounds, 10 have been demolished and replaced with new stadiums. There are some very famous grounds among them:  the Baseball Ground, Highbury, Maine Road, Upton Park, Highfield Road, Filbert Street, The Victoria Ground, Leeds Road, the Dell and White Hart Lane. There are some classics among that lot.

Some of those that have disappeared since 1972 had real character, such as Highbury’s wonderful art deco stands and rusty old Roker Park. While the locations may have changed, 14 of the 22 top flight clubs of 1972 are still playing at that level, seven are in the Championship and one (dear old, Ipswich Town), is languishing in League One. The past 50 years has seen most suffer ups and downs, but the giants of the game have largely retained their status.

But just how different was football in 1971-72? You only need to go as far as the old green carpet to see the fundamentals have been transformed. Look at those pitches today, like bowling greens or a tea-sipping garden party at Buck House. Whatever happened to mud, that great leveller? And the waterlogged pitch, with spray flying into the air when the ball rolled along the sodden turf? Like most things in life today, the rough edges have been trimmed off like unwanted fat on the Sunday roast. Mum used to create cup shocks, derail title runs and make heroes out of centre-halves who were covered in the stuff as they gallantly defended their goals.

Have we now created a sport that has to be played on a Subbuteo pitch where nothing out of the ordinary can impede the perfect journey of the ball? You could argue that a game that has so much money hanging on it, not to mention emotional baggage, should take place on an immaculate surface, and you’d probably be right. Today, there can be no excuse for a top level club with a suspect pitch.

But back in 1971-72, some clubs had very dodgy pitches – Derby County and West Ham among them – and Arsenal were a trailblazer in having under-soil heating. For most, though, if a pitch was frozen, the answer was hay, sand and rubber studs. And then there was Keith Weller and his ballet tights! 

In those far-off times, fans, believe it or not, actually used to revel in a game played on poor conditions. Very rarely did a game get called off once it got underway, but sometimes the ball refused to roll and players skidded around like Bambi on ice. While the fans might complain at the “lottery” aspect of a bad pitch, they also didn’t want games to be postponed.

We have, in all probability, seen the end of the frozen pitch and mud is rarely tolerated, unless you watch non-league football. Even then, games are often called-off quite randomly and you sometimes suspect that if a manager doesn’t have his full squad available, he will push for a postponement when the weather turns difficult.

Fifty years ago, we didn’t mind a a challenge and some of the best games took place in driving rain and cloying mud. Sometimes it was the only way to stop George Best or Rodney Marsh, to name but two players from the era.

This isn’t a “better in my day” rant, because the spectator experience is probably more agreeable today than it was in 1972. Comfort was not a priority and facilities, at best, were fairly primitive, but far cheaper. It’s easy to get nostalgic about the game of your youth, but even as a baby boomer, I think visiting a football ground today is a more civilised and agreeable pastime. Regardless, I believe the 1971-72 campaign, with Brian Clough’s Derby County winning the title at that muddy ground and creaky George Eastham netting a winning goal at Wembley for Stoke City, was something of a landmark year.

This article first appeared in Football Weekends, reproduced by kind permission.

Major clubs need to create the right climate

RIGHT NOW, climate change is a very topical issue, and rightly so. If the scientists are correct, we may all face some serious issues in the relatively near future, issues that cannot be ignored or dismissed as scaremongering.

Football has to ask itself what role it can play in combating climate change. We are told that there are three things that we most certainly do as a start: ensure we do not waste food; eat less meat like beef and lamb; and travel less by air. Although these three conditions may seem rather trivial, consider the impact on the football industry and the periphery of the game.

But first of all, we should ask how much energy it takes to put a game of football on. For a start, floodlit games must cost an awful lot to stage, cost-wise and in its energy usage. I recall reading a couple of years ago that the home of Arsenal, the Emirates has a battery storage system that can provide enough energy for an entire 90-minute match. Presumably, they are not the only club with this type of facility.

Increasingly, new stadiums are being built with ecology in mind. In Morro da Mineiro, Brazil, a football pitch has been constructed that uses human energy to power its lighting. It cost just US$ 100,000 to create and uses underground kinetic tiles that convert player movement into energy to power the lights. Given this is Brazil, the land of joga bonito, apparently the lights work even better when players apply some typically skilful Brazilian movement!

Clubs should be asking themselves if their summer tours to the other side of the world are really necessary

One of the most high profile club commitments to ecology can be found at Forest Green Rovers, whose New Lawn Stadium not only has the world’s first organic pitch, but also sources its power from 100 solar panels. All rain water is recycled and the catering at the club is 100% Vegan. The club has also announced a plan for a new, completely sustainable stadium, which is still to be approved.

Lower down the pyramid, Dartford FC’s new ground has caught the imagination of a lot of people. From the outside, Princes Park looks very attractive, with sleek lines and tasteful facades. It doesn’t look like the average bolt-together ground comprising modern corrugation and slabs of concrete. Some thought has clearly gone into it. Furthermore, it is low level, which we are told is aimed at reducing noise and light pollution. And, most strikingly, although I didn’t notice it myself when I visited Dartford, the entire ground has a sedum roof blanket, which, for the uninitiated, is a grass roof. In fact, almost every aspect of the stadium has been built in the name of ecology.

Where there is a large football crowd, there is the potential for pollution, but in some countries, the discarded burger box or drinking cup is a thing of the past. In Japan, after a game, the fans recycle their litter and ensure they don’t leave anything behind. Before a game, “stadium sanitation” rules are displayed on the electronic scoreboard, ranging from rubbish disposal instructions and pleas to respect other spectators’ privacy. It’s typical of the Japanese and their self-discipline – this is no gimmick, it is a reflection of a way of life.

One thing we should perhaps ask ourselves is whether clubs really need to fly around the world for summer tours and ambassadorial friendlies. We know why they embark on these tours, in order to spread the love among the global franchise and in order to monetise their audience. But if flying is such a toxic pollutant, then surely we should start to ask (as they did in WW2), “is your journey necessary?”.

And if cattle farming and the production of beef is something that needs to be reined in, we could, eventually, see the demise of the dreaded burger. Football, indeed all sporting events, will need to find something else for the staple diet of football fans. The owner of Forest Green Rovers could provide some advice there!

There’s little doubt that we will need to alter the way we live in the future. The world’s resources are becoming scarcer, raw materials are getting consumed at an alarming rate and the weather seems to be becoming more extreme. Sometimes it is difficult to persuade politicians, corporations and governments that we must do something, but a 16 year-old from Sweden made people sit up and take notice. Football, as most popular sport and one of the planet’s most effective people attractors, could really help point the way for the rest of the world. The game as a force for good.

Photo: PA

 

 

 

Major football clubs need to create the right climate

RIGHT NOW, climate change is a very topical issue, and rightly so. If the scientists are correct, we may all face some serious issues in the relatively near future, issues that cannot be ignored or dismissed as scaremongering.

Football has to ask itself what role it can play in combating climate change. We are told that there are three things that we most certainly do as a start: ensure we do not waste food; eat less meat like beef and lamb; and travel less by air. Although these three conditions may seem rather trivial, consider the impact on the football industry and the periphery of the game.

But first of all, we should ask how much energy it takes to put a game of football on. For a start, floodlit games must cost an awful lot to stage, cost-wise and in its energy usage. I recall reading a couple of years ago that the home of Arsenal, the Emirates has a battery storage system that can provide enough energy for an entire 90-minute match. Presumably, they are not the only club with this type of facility.

Increasingly, new stadiums are being built with ecology in mind. In Morro da Mineiro, Brazil, a football pitch has been constructed that uses human energy to power its lighting. It cost just US$ 100,000 to create and uses underground kinetic tiles that convert player movement into energy to power the lights. Given this is Brazil, the land of joga bonito, apparently the lights work even better when players apply some typically skilful Brazilian movement!

One of the most high profile club commitments to ecology can be found at Forest Green Rovers, whose New Lawn Stadium not only has the world’s first organic pitch, but also sources its power from 100 solar panels. All rain water is recycled and the catering at the club is 100% Vegan. The club has also announced a plan for a new, completely sustainable stadium, which is still to be approved.

Lower down the pyramid, Dartford FC’s new ground has caught the imagination of a lot of people. From the outside, Princes Park looks very attractive, with sleek lines and tasteful facades. It doesn’t look like the average bolt-together ground comprising modern corrugation and slabs of concrete. Some thought has clearly gone into it. Furthermore, it is low level, which we are told is aimed at reducing noise and light pollution. And, most strikingly, although I didn’t notice it myself when I visited Dartford, the entire ground has a sedum roof blanket, which, for the uninitiated, is a grass roof. In fact, almost every aspect of the stadium has been built in the name of ecology.

Where there is a large football crowd, there is the potential for pollution, but in some countries, the discarded burger box or drinking cup is a thing of the past. In Japan, after a game, the fans recycle their litter and ensure they don’t leave anything behind. Before a game, “stadium sanitation” rules are displayed on the electronic scoreboard, ranging from rubbish disposal instructions and pleas to respect other spectators’ privacy. It’s typical of the Japanese and their self-discipline – this is no gimmick, it is a reflection of a way of life.

One thing we should perhaps ask ourselves is whether clubs really need to fly around the world for summer tours and ambassadorial friendlies. We know why they embark on these tours, in order to spread the love among the global franchise and in order to monetise their audience. But if flying is such a toxic pollutant, then surely we should start to ask (as they did in WW2), “is your journey necessary?”.

And if cattle farming and the production of beef is something that needs to be reined in, we could, eventually, see the demise of the dreaded burger. Football, indeed all sporting events, will need to find something else for the staple diet of football fans. The owner of Forest Green Rovers could provide some advice there!

There’s little doubt that we will need to alter the way we live in the future. The world’s resources are becoming scarcer, raw materials are getting consumed at an alarming rate and the weather seems to be becoming more extreme. Sometimes it is difficult to persuade politicians, corporations and governments that we must do something, but a 16 year-old from Sweden made people sit up and take notice. Football, as most popular sport and one of the planet’s most effective people attractors, could really help point the way for the rest of the world. The game as a force for good.

Photo: PA