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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 March 2017

The Men Who Made Modern Football #17 - Vic Buckingham

The previous instalment in this series looked at the way Helenio Herrera ended the era of free flowing passing football derived from the Austro-Hungarian school of the inter war years, with his catenaccio tactic. Although remaining a dominant influence on the Italian game for a generation or more, it was quickly challenged by the Dutch system of total football, a revolution that was sparked by an Englishman.
Vic Buckingham was a former Tottenham Hotspur team mate of Arthur Rowe (TMWMMF #15) in a playing career cut short by World War Two. Buckingham admired Rowe's appreciation of the art of passing, and with Rowe's encouragement went into management in Post War England. A deep thinker and articulate speaker a spell coaching at Oxford University led to a prestigious appointment to manage Pegasus before re-entering the professional game at Bradford Park Avenue. He then took over at West Bromwich Albion, almost winning the first modern double with the Baggies in 1954 when an FA Cup win was matched with runners up spot in the League.

With a side containing future managers Don Howe and Ronnie Allen, it was one of their team mates Graham Williams who came up with a delicious metaphor to describe West Brom's style of play:
‘He wasn’t interested in defending. He wanted to see tricks and goals and push and run. He said he didn’t want us to go ‘da di da di da’, passing for the sake of passing. He always said he wanted us to play like ice cream and chocolate. That was his phrase. Just flow, like ice cream and chocolate.’
This was push and run in the style of Rowe's Tottenham, but like his mentor his team only shone briefly, overshadowed in a more physical footballing era dominated by local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In 1959 he moved to the Netherlands to manage Ajax, where the professional game was in its infancy. He found a club redolent with the influence of Jack Reynolds (TMWMMF #8), Buckingham explaining: “Their skills were different. Their intellect was different and they played proper football. They didn’t get this from me, it was there waiting to be stirred up. I influenced them but they went on and did things above that which delighted me."
Taking the opportunity to develop ideas discussed years previously with Rowe, who had spent time in Hungary, he sowed the seeds of the system which would make Ajax champions of Europe a decade later and establish Dutch football as a major force in the game. This was nothing short of a philosophy which would envelop the whole club in terms of technical development and positional play. Buckingham won the Eredivise title and the Dutch Cup, in his first two year spell in Amsterdam, when he also spotted a talented 12-year-old in the junior section called Cruyff.
By 1961 Buckingham was back in England with Sheffield Wednesday but with his reputation tarnished by a match fixing scandal which engulfed the Owls he returned briefly to Amsterdam in 1964 in time to give a debut to a teenage Johann Cruyff around whom the great Ajax team would be built.
Following a controversial spell at Fulham he returned to the continent when Barcelona, remembering an Inter Cities Fairs Cup tie at Sheffield Wednesday in the early 60s, harked back to the time of Jack Pentland (TMWMMF #9) by turning to Buckingham to rejuvenate a team that had fallen to the lower reaches of La Liga.
In a wonderful final flourish as manager Buckingham's style was the perfect match for the Catalan club, and within two seasons repeated his feat from the Hawthorns by almost winning the double.
His team were pipped to the title by Valencia, as despite having the same points and a better goal difference, the Spanish championship was decided by the head to head record between the two clubs. However he achieved a modicum of revenge and wrote his name into the club annals of history by going onto win the 1971 Copa del Rey, then known as the Copa del Generalísimo, 4-3 after extra time against Valencia, a triumph played out in front of deadly rivals Real Madrid's biggest fan, the dictator General Franco, who presented the trophy at the Bernabéu.

Back surgery forced Buckingham to step down but before he did so he worked with Barcelona to lift the Spanish FA's ban on foreign players. He was then replaced by Ajax manager Rinus Michels who brought with him his star player Johann Cruyff.
Buckingham's career then wound down at the likes of Sevilla and Olympiakos, his key role in the development of the game being a connector of football's knowledge network. A man who came into contact with others who had more illustrious careers, soaking up their ideas, first adapting and then passing them onto future greats. A man of sophistication with the ability to boil his philosophy down simply thus:
“Long-ball football is too risky. Most of the time what pays off is educated skills. If you’ve got the ball, keep it. The other side can’t score.”

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