by David Bevan
David Bevan recently picked up a book about the England national team entitled ‘Young England’. The following quotes are taken from it, but can you guess when it was written?
“The England manager has probably the toughest job in the world.”
“When things go wrong with the England team, the manager shoulders the blame and there are those who accuse him of knowing nothing about football.”
“They blamed each and everyone but themselves. Little did the average spectator think that his incessant cries of ‘Get rid of it!’ Saturday after Saturday had helped to push England into the football cellars.”
“The Football Association, of course, bore the brunt of the storm. This gigantic organisation was to blame for all the ills of English football.”
“It is easy to say that the FA should develop the young talent which undoubtedly abounds in England, but it is not quite so easy to suggest ways and means of doing so.”
“Our tactics and maybe our training must be changed, but let no-one try to change the FA’s development plan.”
“They chopped, they changed. But the newcomers had no experience of international football – a hard world needing lots of experience – and so they had to be flung in at the deep end. This was hardly the way to find a world-beating team.”
The World Cup
“Depressing flaws had appeared in the England side on the eve of the World Cup.”
“England reached the World Cup finals in a not-too-happy state. At one time the foreigners had regarded England as one of the favourites but now people were beginning to wonder.”
“After the World Cup, England was face to face with the reality that its standard of football just wasn’t good enough.”
“While we tried to hide our lack of class, the countries which played the real football went on to success.”
“While England bowed not-so-gracefully out of the World Cup, the controversy raged.”
“Undoubtedly bad selection had something to do with our early exit from the World Cup. But apart from mistakes in selection, mistakes in tactics made our downfall certain.”
“Many foreigners said that we were such poor footballers that we always produced an excuse for our defeats except the true one – that we were beaten by a better team. If you check on the number of times England have been beaten, according to some reporters, by ‘offside goals’, ‘disallowed penalties’ and ‘bad refereeing’, you will realise what the foreigners mean.”
“Even with the talent available, England could have reached the quarter-finals with more imaginative team selection.”
“You can pick any eleven lads off the local park and they could play their hearts out for England. What we need is eleven players who will play real football – fast, hard, clever and direct football.”
“It was too much to expect our players to fulfil a hard season of domestic commitments and then go out to face the world.”
The Way Forward
“If we accept the present-day attitude, we will be condemning English football to a lifetime in the international wilderness.”
“There must be a bloodless revolution in our football.”
“We can, if we like, remain pompous. We can, if we like, continue to make phoney excuses for our failures.”
“England can no longer afford to stick to the old regime.”
These quotes are taken from the book ‘Young England’, written in 1959 by Kenneth Wolstenholme. Some of the language used in the book has been modernised for the purpose of this article.
It stood out in the bookshop. It was only a small book and there were brighter colours, cleverer titles, cheaper prices. But this one was screaming at me. As a snapshot, it is fascinating.
Wolstenholme conveys that it was a period of reflection for English football. When is it not? Perhaps this was slightly different though. Written just months after the Munich air disaster, there are several references to the tragically lost talents of Manchester United – in particular Duncan Edwards, who is awarded the most glowing reviews of any player in the book.
Wolstenholme also discusses the merits of a promising youngster called James Greaves and the selectors’ decision to omit Bobby “Dazzler” Charlton from their England lineup. The tone is, as the quotes above suggest, defensive of the FA and damning of the written press.
The real interest in the book for the contemporary reader, however, is obviously that the quotes could just as much apply today as they did in 1959. It is heartwarming to know that Wolstenholme would go on, just seven years after the publication of these thoughts, to give such a wonderful commentary on the one thing it is clear from the book that he desires so strongly – England’s greatest success of all.