Old Football : The Things We Miss – Striking Duos, Wingers & Player-Managers

Ronnie Moran (left), manager Kenny Dalgl by wekkuzipp, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  Image by  wekkuzipp 


We all laughed when it happened: striker Kenny Dalglish, taking over from Joe Fagan and being entrusted with continuing the Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley-inspired Liverpool dynasty. Dalglish not only won the League with the Reds at the first time of asking – scoring the winning goal in the title-clinching game – but also led them to their only double when they won the FA Cup a week later. Elsewhere, we salute John Giles who combined player-manager duties with the Republic of Ireland with a similar role at West Bromwich Albion during the 1970s with relative club success. Player-managers peaked during the 1980s and 90s. Graeme Souness led Rangers from midfield during a five-year period of huge success at Ibrox while Chelsea employed three consecutive player-managers over a seven-year period (Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli) during the 1990s, winning domestic and European trophies along the way. These days? None in the Football League. The last Premier League player-manager was Stuart McCall, in a caretaker role, for Bradford back in 2000. These days all the managers seem so, so old…..


Want to know why Jermaine Defoe is sat on the Tottenham Hotspur bench? Blame David Pleat. Back in 1986/87, while most of us drooled over Gary Lineker’s England partnership with Peter Beardsley, then Spurs boss Pleat was chuckling away like the baddie from Scooby Doo. ‘Old Man Pleat’ of White Hart Lane opted for one central striker Clive Allen, with a natural winger Chris Waddle and one creative midfielder bombing on in the form of Glenn Hoddle, while deeper-sat Ossie Ardiles, Paul Allen and Steve Hodge took it in turns to support. Allen scored 40-odd goals and Spurs went close to winning everything before them. It was wonderful football. And so the 4-5-1 was brought into English football’s prominence. Pleat lost his job a year or so later but the damage was done. It was imminent doom for ‘strike duos’. Dalglish-Rush, Cottee-McAvennie, Shaw-Withe, Dixon-Speedie, Quinn-Phillips, Shearer-Sheringham…you get the picture. Michael Owen had the right idea – he quit when he saw it coming. Poor Defoe is still here, wandering around aimlessly, wishing someone, somewhere, would play a boring 4-4-2 and convince Mark Hateley or Mick Harford to come out of retirement.


I was going to blame David Pleat for this one too. But he did at least get the best out of Chris Waddle. So I’ll look elsewhere. There was a time that a No.11 was a No.11. He would play on the wing, belt past the full-back, leave him on his backside, dribble past one or two others, and then cross in a belter for the No.9 to head home. Not any more. These days they swap wings. Nobody goes to the byline any more. So that bloke with the wand of a left-foot is stuck out on the right. The right-footer is knocking around on the left side. The pitch is getting narrower and narrower – it’s the football equivalent of hogging the middle lane and every sod seems to be at it. Stanley Matthews, Davie Cooper, Andrei Kanchelskis, Laurie Cunningham, Jesper Olsen, John Barnes, Alan Hudson, Chris Waddle, Willie Johnston, Jimmy Baxter, John Robertson – God bless you all. RIP the byline chalk dust.


Malcolm Allison, Brian Clough, Robin Friday, Peter Storey, George Best, Eric Cantona, Diego Maradona, Bill Shankley – all ‘characters’ in the most raw form of the word. But we’re going to mention Len Shackleton, a man whose autobiography ‘The Clown Prince of Soccer’ contained a chapter entitled’ The Average Director’s Knowledge of Football’. It was a blank page. It was also Shackleton who, during a game for Sunderland against Wolves, rested one foot on the ball, calmly removed an imaginary comb from inside his shorts and pretended to style his hair while a perplexed Billy Wright wondered what to do next. Shackleton duly peeled away from the England defender to complete the ultimate humiliation. So the next time you see the word ‘character’ used to describe the likes of Ian Holloway or Joey Barton, think on…


Arsenal’s ye olde Highbury Stadium – Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported


The mud of the Baseball Ground, the layered terrace of the ‘Chocolate Box’ at the Dell and the incredible architecture of Highbury. All of these were lost in the name of progess. While the likes of the Stadium of Light, the Liberty Stadium, the Riverside and St Mary’s might look nice and shiny, we miss the primitive joy of a Saltergate, Maine Road or Ayresome Park. Respect to the likes of Aston Villa, Liverpool, Spurs, West Brom, Everton, Newcastle and Manchester United for at least regenerating their stadia, without losing the character which made them so impressive in the first place. On the plus side, at least visiting fans are spared the old Den.


Jimmy Hill is a genius. No, really. Forget the union flag bow-tie and eccentricity we came to associate him with during the 1990s. Here was the man who introduced the first all-seater stadium, at Highfield Road, long before the Taylor Report. He also rebranded Coventry City under his ‘Sky Blue revolution’. Before that he introduced the concept of football pundits for the 1970 World Cup and, as a qualified referee, once ran the line of an Arsenal v Liverpool game when the linesman pulled up with an injury. Every single footballer should raise a glass to The Chin – perhaps his most notable afternoon’s work was his successful campaign to get rid of the maximum wage. And, let us not forget, he was also responsible for the three-points for a League win system, first used in 1981, in an attempt to weadle out those sides playing out a safe draw. A bad egg? Chinny Reckon, we say.


Ignorance. It’s not the same any more is it? A World Cup comes around and we know every star player. This wasn’t always the case. Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, Igor Belanov, Zbigniew Boniek, Marco Van Basten, Preben Elkjaer, Mario Kempes, Paul Breitner, Ruud Gullit, Rinat Dasseyev – to name a few – were virtually unknown before taking to the stage in a World Cup or European Championships. And that isn’t all. In summer 1985 the authorities couldn’t be bothered to agree a TV deal, which meant a complete black-out of League football. So by the time we got to January we all wondered who the hell this Frank McAvennie was scoring all these goals for West Ham and how the hell Manchester United had managed to squander control of Division One having won their opening 10 games (Bryan Robson and Gordon Strachan got injured, in case you’re wondering). Google, Twitter and You Tube ensure this won’t happen again.

Next week, the things about old football that were just plain rubbish….

© The Libero for Away Colours 2013

Follow @AwayColours on Twitter


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