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Tuesday, 18th December 2007

football, Stanley Matthews, Dixie Dean and other greats on grass

Sport for some people is a religion. Taken to the logical conclusion the players are deities. This fact was brought home to me a good few years ago when someone told me that he used to watch 11 saints on a Saturday kicking a ball about. He was serious, Liverpool football team was the closest thing he had to a religion. It was not even an attempt at humour on his part. Python had of course beaten him to the humour aspects of this statement.

Things got worse, he named his son Kenny, after Kenny Dalglish. Happily Kenny resigned from managing Liverpool football club a few days later. My colleague came to work in a black tie for this event. He was that serious, or at least he took it that seriously, which is a slightly different thing.

I want to see goals scored when I watch football

I have not seen this person in years. Actually it is not true, I have, he just has not seen me and for that let me count some lucky stars. I often wonder if he has had some conversion on the road to Highbury and now supports Manchester United, the current on form team. There is nothing wrong in experimenting with alternative religions (as opposed to cults which can be less than savoury.)

Football today is an industry with about as much to do with the common man as ICI has. The transfer market has gone insane, in July 1996 Alan Shearer was transferred from Blackburn Rovers, a side which had bought success, to Newcastle United, a side buying success, for £15 million ($26 million). For that sort of money I would want him to be able to walk on water and turn lead into gold. Instead he rushes about a football field and occasionally scores a goal. When this happens the crowd go wild as do his team mates. I think I would go wild if he failed to score for goodness sake.

Let me wind back the clock to the roots of football. Star players were paid in Woodbines and a suck of an orange at half time was a luxury. Getting home was a matter of walking down the street and training was not drinking on the day of the match. Now that is a game which the common man should be able to stay in touch with.

Okay so I simplify (but not a great deal). Those were the days of huge crowds when people could stand on the touchline and cheer on their heroes.

(149,547 watched Scotland Vs England, 17 April 1937. Although probably exceeded with an estimated 160,000 watching the FA cup final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham at Wembley Stadium 28, April 1923.)
36-0 is some score but it should have been more. The ref. disallowed seven goals as off-side and a lot of time was wasted retrieving the ball because of the lack of nets in the goals.

In the modern game, pundits squeal with delight as a match gets bogged down in midfield with the goal-keepers wrapped up against the cold at either end. Does the common man go to see this. Not this common man, I don't watch motor racing to see cars fly around the track. I go to see them fly off the track. I watch banger racing as a more direct route to mayhem. I want to see goals scored when I watch football, so I watch rugby instead. In those olden-golden days there were some high scoring matches. 5th Sept 1885, Arbroath beat Bon Accord 36-0. South of the border Preston North End beat Hyde 26-0, 15th Oct 1887. These are respectable rugby scores.

Talking of goal scoring it took, William Ralph Dean 39 league games to score 60 goals for Everton (First Division) in the 1927/8 season. That records stands today (English league). Joyfully for me Dixie Dean, as he was known, lived square in the age of the cigarette card.

John Sinclair photographic series

John Sinclair, English & Scottish Football Stars in their 1935 real photograph issue of 50 cards makes mention of this goal tally and also that he scored 25 goals in 38 matches in the 1934-5 season for Everton. Dixie is seen 'heading' the ball on the card. Players, Footballers 1928-9 mention the fact that he can score with both feet and head (although you would wonder how looking at the Sinclair card). You would have to if you wanted to score that many in a season. It also states that he started his playing career for Tranmere Rovers but Everton spotting a talent bought him for £3,000 ($5100). The card also mentions he was involved in a serious motor accident which threatened to finish his career. Gallaher, Sporting Personalities [1936] 48 in series fills in a little more detail. He was 15 when he played for Tranmere Rovers and Everton had to fight of stiff competition to secure his services. It also fills in the detail that in the 1927/8 season he scored 82 goals in all the matches he played.

Players, Footballers 1928-9 makes one of those comparisons that sport just loves, comparing a player of one generation against the player of another. You know the type of thing, articles about the good old days is just one form of this hopeless obsession.<g>. Anyway Dean is considered as being the best centre-forwards since G.O Smith.

G.O Smith belongs to a completely alien world of amateur football. He played for Corinthians who commanded enough respect they were not required to qualify for the Cup Final (instead entering at the third round like professional sides) as late as 1933. In 1894 an England international side was made up entirely of Corinthian players and beat Wales 5-1. G.O Smith played for England 21 times (in an era where 3 internationals a year was a heavy workload) and is one of the elite that have scored enough goals for England to reckon them in double figures. J & F Bell, Footballer [1902] has the likeness of Smith upon a card. It also has CB Fry another Corinthian and contemporary of Smith. Corinthians FC gets its old school tie represented on, Churchmans, Well-Known Ties [1924] Large series of 12. as well as the series of 50 cards issued in the same year as does Oxford University blue.

What is worthy of note is they are represented as footballers. Despite great success on the football field they were both accomplished cricketers and this is where they are likely to be found. Fry for example appears as a cricketer in Cohen, Weenen & Co, Cricketers, Footballers and Jockeys [1900] a series of 20, which also includes G.O Smith.

Every once in a while a great all-rounder is created and in the days of amateur sport these people could happily flit from one sport to another, helped no end by the staggered seasons cricket and football enjoyed. Without any financial ties to any particular sport there was no reason not to. Fry set a world record for the high jump whilst at Oxford University and won Blues at Athletics, Football and Cricket. He was injured before the rugby match otherwise he would have won a fourth. He also played football for England on two separate occasions.

Remember I said they would walk home from a game? Stanley Matthews, one of the sports greats could do just that. In an age where half a footballing side cannot speak the language of the crowd, Stanley Matthews, like so many of the time, played for the town he was born in. Churchmans, Association Footballers [1938] captures this man in an England shirt. The card notes he was chosen to play in six out of seven internationals in the 1937/8 season.

Barratt & Co, Famous Footballers

Matthews did not spend his entire footballing career at Stoke however. Barratt, Famous Footballers [1956] series A.4 (this is a trade card from a packet of sweet cigarettes) It states he transferred to Blackburn in May 1947 and that he twice played for England during the 1955-6 season despite being in his early 40's. For some reason the card does not mention the 1953 FA cup final, The Matthews Final. In this game, the pinnacle of his footballing achievement he earnt, £4 18s ($10.)

The Association Football series mentions the great mans swerve and side step. You have to go back a few more years to find the master of swerve. Alex James who played for Scotland eight times whose body swerve has been described as unmatchable. Carreras, Footballers [1934] puts him as card 1 of 75. A.James really was one of the superstars of the day, a great talent.

Billy Meredith deserves his place on this page. Born in 1875 he made over 1000 appearances scoring more than 300 goals in the process. A record of endurance second only to Stanley Matthews. His playing career was Machesterchester City and then Manchester United. He also turned out for his country (Wales) on 48 occasions and put 11 goals into the back of the net. Something of a revolutionary he claimed football was a game for the fit. Imagine feeling the need to make such a statement today. He gets his likeness on Copes Bros, Noted Footballers [1910] along with another 471 souls.

Drawing the line on 'Gods on grass' is an almost impossible thing to do. There are as many reasons to put one player in as to leave them out. I have therefore concentrated on those which there can be no argument. The list could go on forever and I do not want that to happen.

So let me round off the article with a goal-keeper. The only player legally allowed to touch the ball with his hand (although certain Argentina Internationals believe they really do have a God-given right to man-handle a ball into the net. The rest of the world might have forgotten but the Brits don't.) Frank Swift spent his entire professional career at Manchester City (1932-50) and played for England 19 times. Huge hands are a good idea for goalkeepers and this former fisherman/gasworks employee had them in spades. 'Big Swifty' can be seen on Pattreioux, Footballers in Action [1934]. Swifty was to die, as did so many others, in the footballing tragedy of 1958 when seven members of the Manchester United team out in the Munich air crash. Frank Swift was at that time fulfilling his duties as a reporter. We don't forget that either.