About Me

My photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #15 - Arthur Rowe

“Keep it simple, keep it quick, keep it accurate” is a phrase most associated with double winning Tottenham Hotspur manager Bill Nicholson, but it was originally uttered by Arthur Rowe the man who had created the environment for Nicholson’s triumph, ten years previously at White Hart Lane. In doing so he not only laid a template for Spurs forever ephemeral footballing aesthetic but also planted the seed for England’s world cup triumph.
A Tottenham man by birth, Rowe grew up with the club spending time with their nursery clubs Cheshunt and Northfleet United in the 1920s. The Spurs coach at the time was Peter McWilliam, a Scot who brought with him the passing tradition of making the ball do the work, for which his native country had been renowned since Victorian times. 
In Rowe he had a willing student, although McWilliam’s departure meant by the time Rowe’s cultured centre half act was on show in the first team in the 1930s he was suffocated by the dominant English philosophy of kick and rush which he translated in these terms:  “I never scored a goal for the first team. They didn't like the centre-half to go too far over the halfway line in those days.”
England recognition followed in 1933 but a cartilage injury restricted his progress and he retired in 1939. Fate then intervened to create a serendipitous invitation to advise the Hungarian FA on developing their national game. The outward looking Rowe accepted and went onto consult with the likes of Gustav Sebes and Ferenc Puskas in a meeting of minds which promised much only to be cut short by World War two. However in being able to discuss and develop his progressive tactics, Rowe was given the confidence to implement his radical philosophy when peace returned.  
This began at Chelmsford City whom he led to the Southern League title in 1946, the Clarets almost following this up with election to the Football League. His success was noted by his alma mater and he was appointed manager at second division Spurs in 1949. What followed was in the words of his Spurs captain Ronnie Burgess, nothing short of a “revolution”.
Rowe saw his ideas as the embodiment of the notion that football was a simple game. Peppering his team talks with aphorisms such as “a good player runs to the ball, a bad player runs after it”, Rowe emphasised the importance of the short pass accompanied by swift movement off the ball as the key to success. The style, to Rowe’s distaste, became known as push and run, featuring a high frequency of wall passes, a term Rowe did approve of given how as a child he had honed his technique by kicking a ball against an actual wall.
By its nature this required players to free themselves of the strictures of their notional position, either to fall back from the forward line to collect the ball, or attack from defence to pursue it.
For what would now be an overlapping full back, Rowe signed Alf Ramsey, with the seeds of the latter’s World Cup winning wingless wonders being planted as Spurs raced to the Division Two title in 1950, leading throughout the season to win by a margin of nine points as the leading scorers and best defence.
Twelve months later, Spurs were champions of all England, winning plaudits for their breath taking football which reached its apogee in a seven goal demolition of Newcastle United. They almost defended their title, finishing runners up in 1952 but from this point on, faded quickly, a demise which led to Rowe suffering greatly from anxiety and depression, resigning his post in 1955 in the wake of an FA Cup defeat to York.
His success in developing instantly, with the addition of Ramsey, an existing Spurs squad into an irresistible force for three seasons created sky high expectations which he couldn’t maintain. However having imbued his philosophy in his players Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily he had created the management team that would take the club to new heights in the early sixties, winning not only the double and back to back FA Cups, but also England’s first European title. In 1954 he had also signed Nicholson’s captain Danny Blanchflower.
The fifties also saw the flowering of the managerial talent Vic Buckingham (MWMMF 17) at West Bromwich Albion. He had been a team mate of Rowe’s at Tottenham in the 1930s and considered him his mentor.
Rowe returned to football as assistant manager at fourth division Crystal Palace in the late fifties, becoming manager in 1960 and taking the Eagles to promotion in 1961. He again resigned due to the pressure of the job in 1962 but soon reverted back to his assistant role, helping the club to another promotion in 1964 as Palace continued a decade long climb to a first ever season in the top flight.
Granted a Selhurst Park testimonial, an honour not received at White Hart Lane, Rowe drifted around the game into the seventies with spells at Orient, Brentford, West Brom and Millwall. He had become something of a forgotten man, remembered only by those privileged to see his team play in a pre-television era. This proved to be a fleeting glimpse of what English football might have become, as with the exception of the tantalising triumphs of Nicholson’s Spurs and Ramsey’s England, clubs reverted to type.
Rowe summed up this devotion to character rather than intellect saying:  “All you need to remember is that 50 per cent of the people in the game are bluffers. So a decent manager's halfway there when he starts out.”

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #14 - Gusztáv Sebes

Having started on a mitteleuropa trail that began with Meisl and continued with Hogan, Erbstein and Guttman, it is inevitable that the last Hungarian to feature in this series is Gusztáv Sebes, the man who coached the magnificent Magyars of the 1950s and changed football forever.
The son of a cobbler, Sebes was born in Budapest, and spent time in Paris working as a fitter for Renault, playing for the works team Olympique Billancourt. However he spent the bulk of his playing career with MTK Hungaria winning three League titles.
Following retirement he was put in charge of the national team as the Deputy Minister for sport. Influenced by the great Austrian and Italian national teams of the 1930s he aimed to draw the majority of his players from one or two clubs. This was made easier following the nationalisation of sports clubs under the post war Soviet regime. The ministry of defence took over Kispest, renaming it Honved. Already containing Ferenc Puskas and Jozsef Bozsik, the team was augmented using conscription, with Sandor Kocsis, Zoltan Czibor, Laszlo Budai, Gyula Lorant and Gyular Grosics. As the army team Honved could become the training camp for the bedrock of the Hungarian national team.
Back at his old club MTK, coach Marton Bukovi pioneered the use of the 4-2-4 or M-M formation, using a deep lying centre forward. With this team providing the rest of Sebes eleven, he then layered on his philosophy of what he called socialist football, and what is now known as total football.
Essentially this required every player to have equal responsibility in attack and defence, and thus able to play in any position on the pitch. In practical terms this meant developments such as overlapping full backs and a false nine. The stage was now set for Hungary to rock the world of football.

Their rise to prominence began at the 1952 Olympics staged in Helsinki. Hungary cruised to the final scoring twenty goals and conceding just two, beating defending champions Sweden in the semi-final. The gold medal was won with a 2-0 win over Yugoslavia, and the watching head of the FA Stanley Rous was moved to invite Hungary to play England.

The fixture was to be played in November 1953. In the meantime Hungary won the Central European International Cup. Sebes planned meticulously for the England game, using the heavier ball favoured by the English, and a training pitch which matched the dimensions of Wembley. He also played training matches against teams using the English style.

With rising star Nandor Hidegkuti scoring a hat-trick, Hungary stunned England with a 6-3 win, the first time England had lost to a non British team on home soil. Also to the fore was the brilliant Puskas, scoring one of his two goals with an amazing drag back to leave captain Billy Wright flat on his back before firing the ball into the back of the net. The fact that the match was important not just for the result but also its introduction of a radical exciting way of playing the game was symbolised by the commentary “here’s the number five and he’s not playing centre half”. A few months later Hungary emphasised their superiority by winning the return match 7-1 in Budapest.

By the time of the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, Sebes’ team had been unbeaten for four years. They sailed through the group stage and beat 1950 runners up Brazil 4-2 in a quarter-final which became known as the Battle of Berne due to a post match brawl in the tunnel. 

In the semi-final they overcame defending holders Uruguay 4-2 leading to a final tie against West Germany who they had already beaten in 8-3 in the group stage. Puskas had broken his ankle in this win and was absent from the following two matches but returned for the final.

Playing in heavy rain Hungary were two nil up in eight minutes but the Germans had levelled the score only ten minutes later. Hungary threw everything at the Germans hitting the woodwork twice and having two shots cleared off the line but went behind with six minutes to go. Puskas thought he had equalised in the dying minutes only for his goal to be disallowed for offside. In a match mired with controversy there were post match allegations that the Germans had taken performance enhancing drugs.
Back in Hungary the first defeat of the Golden team since 1950 triggered demonstrations which goalkeeper Grosics believed sowed the seeds of the 1956 uprising. Grosics ended up under house arrest whilst Sebes himself came under severe criticism. He carried on in his post for two more years before being sacked. The Soviet invasion of 1956 led to the defection of the team’s stars and by the time of the next World Cup only four players remained.
The spirit of the mighty Magyars lived on in the performances of the players in club football, most notably Puskas at Real Madrid, and Sebes’ place in history is assured as the man who drew together the threads spun over thirty years to produce one of the most exciting teams the world has ever seen. Its fluid and flexible philosophy endured most notably through Holland in the 70s and Brazil in the 80s before finally finding the ability to synthesise the aesthetic of style and a winning ruthlessness in the modern day Spanish team.