It's All Different
By John Egerton
For a birthday treat my son arranged for take me to a Premiership football match in London, which made a welcome change since it is many years since I have watched the game other than on television. But what surprises there were for me.
The first was when I saw the price on the ticket - £60. What with normal expenses like eating out and travelling the whole day out seemed an enormous extravagance though I am told many clubs charge even higher entrance fees. In my day we used to pay 2 bob (10 pence) so this meant that prices had gone up by more than 600 times since then! Admittedly, we always had to stand for only the wealthy and disabled ever used the few seat available. Here everyone had no option but to sit which was all very nice except that at every exciting part of the game the people in front of me leapt to their feet so I couldn’t see half of what went on.
I am told that many supporters’ clubs are pressing for the old type of standing room to be re-introduced since most men prefer to stand but the safety people won’t agree due to regrettable incidents in the past. And in my day, there was no segregation of fans, home and away supporters were all mixed in together.
When half time came, I had an opportunity to sit and think about the many changes that have taken place since I first started watching. First of all, the pitches which nowadays are so well maintained that even in the worst winters, seem to be in almost perfect condition throughout the season. Back in the fifties many grounds became little more than mud-heaps after a day’s rain, but with better drainage and under-soil heating, poor conditions rarely affect games these days.
Probably the most important change was the development of the ball, which in early days was always made of leather, which tended to attract mud and moisture, so getting heavier as the game went on, making control more and more difficult. In the early fifties damp-resistant balls were developed, leading eventually to the lighter models standard today. These lighter balls have influenced the style of boots that the players wear today which have superseded the rather clumsy ones that use to be required to cope with the old heavy ones.
While modern boots often resemble carpet slippers the rest of the kit has changed enormously too. Shorts used to extend below the knee then gradually got more brief until in the 1990’s they had reached the point where they were little more than bathing trunks, though they have been going back to knee length lately while shirts change in style every season in accordance with the whims of the manufacturers who sponsor the leading teams.
Minor changes noticed were that there are no flags next to the half-way line and that teach linesman only has to run half the length of the pitch, the goal posts are round in section and there is D shaped area to keep players ten yard from the ball when penalties are taken.
The rules seem mainly unaltered, though some petty interpretations have been done away with , such as throw-ins no longer have to be taken from the exact spot where the ball went out of play, while goal kicks can be taken from anywhere in the six-yard box. Important alterations have seen the protection of goalkeeper reviewed, so that it is no longer permissible to charge the keeper over the line when he has the ball in his hands. In fact, it seems that the goalie today is rather over- protected. Tackling from behind is now barred, but mostly the rules are more or less the same as I have always known them.
Most noticeable is that substitutes are allowed, as many as three per game, putting an end to the situation where an injury could change or completely ruin a game as a spectacle and spoil a team’s ability to compete.
The biggest change seems to be the result of the huge sums of money the clubs receive from the TV companies resulting in the large squads of players that are signed each year from all over the world. The old days when most clubs had a strong compliment of local lads, who stayed throughout their careers, only augmented by an occasional transferred addition, are long gone.
In fact home grown talent gets very little opportunity these days, which is why the chance of England winning a world cup grows more remote as the years pass by.
The most annoying feature of today’s game is the childish antics the players get up to when a goal is scored, when they kiss and cuddle each other and collapse in a large heap. To my mind this comes under the heading of Ungentlemanly Conduct and as such should be punished by the referee. Great players of the past marked the scoring of a goal by a handshake or a pat on the back from the nearest colleague. Toady’s obnoxious goal celebrations are dispensed with when the scoring team are chasing an equaliser so are obviously a matter of childish showing off.
Of course the actual methods of play have changed enormously. With the accent on close passing as opposed to the old more direct methods, the most successful teams managing to combine the two. Defences have tightened up so much these days that often the intricate passes made by the attacking side, merely means the ball is taken from man to man all over the field, with only a rare shot on goal being produced which, while being extremely skilful, can be a bit boring to the spectator.
In the days when I was a regular supporter, the cream of the season was the FA Cup Final, and even before television came on the scene the whole sporting world concentrated on the big day, whichever teams might be involved. Nowadays it seems to warrant hardly a mention.
My day out was certainly an experience. I was impressed by all the modern trappings such as the large screens behind the goals showing repeats of the best bits of the game and up-to-date news items. All that was a far cry from the public address system at the First Division club I used to visit. That consisted of a blackboard which a chap carried around, giving team changes or urgent messages.