As I’ve been watching football for many years, I’m often asked what was the best decade for excitement and entertainment? I answer back by saying it spanned the years between the 60’s and the 70’s. Yes we had problems with hooliganism but on the pitch the football was at times magical with great players and great games, with grounds packed with loud noise coming from supporters all around the terraces and stands.
Fans always say their generation is the best and the players playing today are far better and more skilful than those who played back in “your day” but I reckon the likes of Jimmy Greaves, Denis Law, George Best, Charlie Cooke, Bobby Charlton and Colin Bell, just to name a few, and keepers like Banks and Jennings are not only equal to any stars playing now but I’d rate as even better.
My late father always was going on about Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, Nat Lofthouse,and Duncan Edwards, saying how great they all were and watching footage of those mentioned he had a good point as they were classy footballers. I never saw them play myself but those who did watch them in action are in no doubt they were good enough to play in any decade including the present time.
But football has changed so much over the years and things you would have got away with years ago like hard tackling and robust challenges you wouldn’t get away with now. In fact players like Tommy Smith, Norman Hunter, Billy Bremner and Ron Harris, wouldn’t be on the pitch long, as their hard approach to the game would see them all taking early baths in most games. In fact football isn’t really physical anymore and the slightest nudge on an opponent can result in a yellow card and in some cases an innocent looking challenge can see a player being given a red card when nothing much has happened.
But take for example George Best he was not only skilful and full of tricks he was tough too and he could take the punishment dished out in nearly every match he played in as he was that good defenders had to kick him to try and stop him. So if he was playing today with a more softer approach allowed, he would turn them inside and out with the freedom to weave his magic without having his legs taken off so he would be even better now than he was back in the Seventies in my opinion.
And then there’s my favourite ever player Jimmy Greaves: without doubt one of England’s greatest ever footballers who scored goals for fun wherever he went. He’d have a field day now as he was such a gifted goalscorer. He’d find space to bury any chance and just like Bestie he’d relish not being roughed up by the henchmen. If he could score as many goals as he did back then just think how many he’d put away if he was playing now ?
Another thing about football back in the era of Greavsie was the atmosphere at grounds where you had the mighty Liverpool Kop, the Chelsea Shed, Manchester United’s Stretford End and other grounds around the country had” ends “that could be intimidating but created a wall of sound that wasn’t for the faint hearted.
They were all standing then, thousands could be packed in like sardines with hardly any room to move but the noise coming from the fans could be deafening which added to the excitement.
Obviously after the terrible Hillsborough disaster safety had to be the number one priority but as tragic as that was I feel to be able to stand at matches is a lot better than sitting and I’d like to see standing return but in a safe way in certain areas of grounds.
Another aspect of those decades was that managers were given more time to build a side where as now the manager is lucky to get eighteen months before his chairman is breathing down his neck and fans wanting him out as he hasn’t won them a trophy yet.
Take for example the great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly: it took him five years to win his first trophy the First Division title in 1964, but he went on to build a dynasty at Anfield, yet he wouldn’t have been given that long now I feel as success at certain clubs is seen as something required quickly and not years down the line. Added to time being given to managers, players also seemed more loyal to their clubs and many stayed with just the one club, so maybe the vast amounts of money being paid to players these days not being around then meant more loyal service and players being content turning out for years in the same colours instead of kissing the badges of different team shirts like many do now?
For longevity to one club take the appearances of Bobby Charlton for Manchester United (606) Ron Harris for Chelsea(655) Ian Callagahan of Liverpool (640) and Steve Perryman at Spurs (655), showing the kind of loyalty to one club which apart from a few you won’t see anymore as the likes of Trevor Brooking are becoming a dying breed.
But another positive to players staying loyal to a signed contract is not only appearances but the opportunity for strikers to create scoring records. Going back to Jimmy Greaves, he banged in 220 goals for Spurs between 1961/70, Bobby Tambling for Chelsea (58/70) 164 goals, Roger Hunt for Liverpool (59/69) 245 goals and Bobby Charlton at Manchester United (56/73) 199 goals.
So you had loyalty, passion and pride, not just by players but by fans too and that’s why after watching football from the sixties to the present day I’ll repeat myself again: football is still great today with fantastic footballers and some quality matches, but if I could wave a magic wand or be granted a football wish I’d ask to be returned to the 60’s/70’s, when to me football was at its best.