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Five things we miss about old school football

Thursday 18th February 2021
We didn't always know the story behind every player and team
We didn't always know the story behind every player and team

We’ve all seen those stickers and banners bemoaning the state of modern football. Old-timers might nod along, remembering their day when football was somehow better. But was the beautiful game somehow superior before the advent of round-the-clock TV coverage and star strikers receiving an annual salary equal to the GDP of a small nation?

Whether football was actually better back in the day is a matter of opinion. But there were certain things from the old game that had their own special charm that can’t quite be replicated. We take a look at some of the best aspects of the game from years gone by.

Today's Football Tips

Unknown quantities

The internet is a wonderful thing. It brings people from across the world together, gives millions of people new opportunities and even allows It’s Round and It’s White to bring you regular doses of football fun. But sometimes the easy access we have to the world’s collective knowledge can take the magic out of things.

When your team plays an unknown outfit in a cup game or signs a new player from some country you’ve never heard of, the internet will inevitably, give the backstory on the newcomers. Whether it's a statistical rundown on a mysterious new signing or an in-depth history on European visitors from a country you've never heard of, the internet is likely to fill you in. 

Back in the day, teams would pitch up in Europe as complete unknown quantities. Think of the North Korean team who arrived in the North East for the 1966 World Cup and shocked the world with their performances against Italy and Chile. Watching teams and players practically unknown certainly brought a new layer of interest to the game. Imagine what fans would have made of FC Sheriff or Bebé if they'd pitched up without explanation!

What's a little snow to a professional?
What's a little snow to a professional?

CC0 Harry Pot / Anefo

Games in the snow

There’s two words every football fan dreads reading: “pitch inspection.” Waiting all week for an exciting game, only to have it called off at the last minute due to bad weather is incredibly frustrating. Especially when doubts seep in about how bad the weather really is and whether that pesky rival club didn’t bother putting the frost covers on because they didn’t want to play the match without their injured star men.

Decades ago, it would have taken a tornado or a category five hurricane to get a league match called off. Players seemed willing to trudge out in any conditions and the sight of an orange ball whizzing through a blizzard is somehow inspiring. Snow may not be good for the players, but it certainly adds another aesthetic element for spectators.

Truthfully, it’s probably for the best that players aren’t forced to play on fields more like a muddy swamp or frozen tundra than a football pitch. But a little more tolerance for poor weather conditions might not be the worst thing in the world.

Football tickets weren't always so expensive
Football tickets weren't always so expensive

Affordable tickets

Back in the day, pretty much everyone could go to a match at their local stadium from time to time. Even if the local ground was Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. Now, you might have to re-mortgage your house for a couple of tickets. While some clubs are making strides to ensure tickets are cheaper, there's still a long way to go.

A standard ticket for 1972’s league cup final at Wembley would have cost 60p (the equivalent of £7.97 in the modern era). A seat for a league match between Arsenal and Middlesbrough in 1974 was £1.60 (or, about £20 today)

It’s a crying shame that football has become unaffordable for so many. Even in non league, prices can be outrageous, with many clubs at National League level charging £20 or more for home matches.

With football clubs pulling in a huge amount of revenue from sponsorship and TV deals, clubs can take the hit on offering cheaper tickets. We can only hope clubs see the light and make games more accessible to the average punter.

Not a corporate logo in sight!
Not a corporate logo in sight!

Simple kits

What footballers wear when they’re playing the beautiful game shouldn’t really matter. After all, fans are more interested in on-field events rather than what their heroes are wearing. Or at least that should be the case. In fact, clubs keep fans interested with new kits from Loch Ness FC’s monster inspired shirts to Pescara's child-designed dolphin kit.

I’m of an age that gets nostalgic looking at Portsmouth’s TY sponsored shirt or Everton’s kit daubed with Chinese text from their Kejian sponsors. But the simple, unadorned kits of yesteryear have a magic all of their own, harking back to the days before commercialisation ran riot. With no sponsors, manufacturer logos, or even club badges, those old jerseys shine through the years like banners of a simpler time. There’s an increasing number of fan groups producing replica classic shirts, meaning we can enjoy a retro feel to our kits without going back in time.

I'd be remiss if I did not mention the very good attempt/marketing campaign which began in 2019 for clubs to be "unsponsored", ran ironically by gambling company Paddy Power - who in a marketing blitz became the proud "unsponsors" of Newport County, Southend, Motherwell, and Macclesfield Town (after first unleashing their heavily promoted spoof top for Huddersfield Town) they released a set of kits with no sponsors at all, a joy to watch!

Even MLS clubs are bringing back standing areas!
Even MLS clubs are bringing back standing areas!

Terracing

Much like other elements of football, stadiums have become better in some ways, worse in others. Sure, they’re cleaner, neater places. But so many have lost their character with a huge number of top-level stadiums looking nearly identical to one another.

It’s hard to look at old stadiums without feeling a hint of nostalgia. The vast, sweeping terraces and old-timey stands may not have been the most comfortable or accessible, but they certainly had character. Besides, they allow spectators to move freely around the ground and buy cheaper tickets too.

Of course, terracing was phased out at the top level due to very real safety concerns. But standing at the elite tier of football seems to be on the way back with the introduction of safe standing areas. Properly managed terracing has appeared everywhere from the Bundesliga to Major League Soccer and it seems it’s only a matter of time before this feature makes its comeback.

Jonny Keen

Glasgow based writer keen (geddit?) on the cultural elements of football. More interested in the fortunes of Cefn Druids or HJK Helsinki than the latest goings on at Manchester City or Real Madrid.

Once played 10 minutes of a game in the 17th tier of English football. He thinks the best food in football is to be found at Forest Green Rovers and Rayo Vallecano are the only club in Madrid. 

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