In my almost 30 years on this planet, I have witnessed truly inspirational changes in the way we live our lives. Technological advances mean that you can now read this article at work, at home, or whilst on the move without buying a magazine or newspaper (something else that is dying).
One thing that is a little bit behind these ‘real world’ advances is professional football. But I have lived through the rapid change we have seen in professional football in this country.
Football clubs are now run as businesses and are swiftly changing. Gone are the days of pre-match steak and chips, fry ups before training and the drinking culture footballers were once renowned for. Football lacked discipline, it lacked the approach of clubs in Europe and the mentality of football in this country basked in old skool values and traditions.
Since the mid to late 1990’s, football has undergone a transformation as an industry, but relics of these old times still exist. But like the Tyrannosaurus Rex before them, the last few dinosaurs of football are slowly dying out. These football dinosaurs were bred when football really was football, before diving foreign players, white boots, pink kits and snoods. The real backbone of football in this country is slowly fading away.
I am talking about people who were alive when England won the 1966 World Cup and the team itself. The remaining members of the ’66 teams average age is now 72. But they reamin the most successful England team in recent football history. I am not planning on having kids for a few years yet, so by the time I do, and that child is old enough to understand about football, the majority of these legends may have passed away. Players who played with or against the greats, like Pele, still exist now – but for how long. Will there come a day when ‘Sir Geoff Hurst’ will be ‘Sir Geoff who’?
Ex-players who made the foray in to management are now the only ambassadors of the era that shaped this country’s football heritage in today’s modern game. From an era before sports science and protein shakes, these guys have brought some of the old skool with them, whilst having to embrace how football has evolved.
Harry Redknapp is a classic example of this, brought up in an old London, where Steak and Chips was a standard pre-match meal. He is now at the helm of a highly successful Premier League side, with players that are primed to be more like machines than they are human beings.
But Harry Redknapp is 64, and others like Alex Ferguson at 69, Barry Fry at 65, and Kenny Dalglish at 60 are some of the few remaining relics that carry the memories and experience of a golden era. Their style and techniques are still relevant today however; Fergie’s continued success is obvious and this season King Kenny has gone back and revitalised Liverpool after the club somewhat lost its way and identity in the wake of previous management. A lot has been made of Kenny’s back to basics mentality and back to the ‘pass and move’ rationale that is in Liverpool’s heritage. And one reason why Spurs fans love Redknapp is because he has assembled a team that plays the ‘Spurs way’, historical/traditional free-flowing, attacking football.
But how long can these traditions continue in football? How will the youth of today know who Gordan Banks, Pele, or even Cantona or Gazza are? Old skool football is dying.
The classic “passed down from generation to generation” model can work, but we all know that every time something is passed down, it gets diluted or something gets missed out. Characters like Redknapp are able to translate the old in to the new; will managers of the future be able to do this? Will parents today take the time to educate kids about the history of football in this country? Will they care?
Everyone enjoys Redknapp and his views on football, and he is so popular that he is the people’s choice for the next England manager. Think about the late, great, Brian Clough, a man who was a law unto himself. A personality and management style like no other, never seen around the training ground, who would just turn up, say his bit, scare the players and leave – what modern day employer (football club) would put up with this type of behaviour? None, and the generations coming through may never know who the true greats of football were.
Football has evolved. It is now a game based on science, nutrition, conditioning and money. It seems the history and heritage of football are getting lost in the modern game. When the over 60’s have retired the game will have lost a dying breed that existed at a time when football really was football in its rawest form. Unfortunately, every era must come to an end. I just hope that a piece of the past lives on.