Long-standing and esteemed Friends of the Blog Art of Football have been kind enough to send me another quality example of their fine work, something I can defiantly wear close to my heart, to emphasise my status as a proud Englishman. This is a helpful state of mind at a time when, as not infrequently happens, all is chaos and confusion in the world of Leeds United. England have just booked a place at a major tournament in Euro ’16, with a flawless performance in the qualification group, winning ten out of ten matches. That, in itself is a cause for pride, whichever club team you might happen to support. In these cosmopolitan times, national pride and club pride have little in common with each other; most clubs are predominantly staffed by players from beyond these shores – you really do have to look to the England team if you’re a devotee of St. George and fancy stoking up any latent feelings of nationalist fervour.
Time was, of course, when our top clubs were much more parochially inclined. Any League team with pretensions to success would boast its clutch of current England internationals, and Leeds United was no exception in the days when the national team was a real force to be reckoned with. Harking back to the glory days of 1966 – as my Art of Football product clearly does in the picture above – Leeds fans will be proud to recall that our own Jack Charlton played his part on the day, ensuring that Leeds would go down in history with the likes of West Ham, Liverpool and even Fulham and Blackpool, as clubs that contributed players to England’s finest hour. For Leeds, there was also Norman Hunter in that legendary squad – and it’s good to know that his presence was belatedly acknowledged when he was finally awarded a World Cup winners medal in 2009.
The fact that the World Cup Final in July 1966 remains England’s solitary impact on World Football’s honours board, though, is a more sobering thought. The decisive moment reproduced on the front of Art of Football‘s evocative product could fairly be described as England’s last real mark on Football history. Next summer, when the current crop of national heroes are doing battle in France, it will be 50 years since the late, great Kenneth Wolstenholme so memorably remarked on Wembley pitch invaders thinking it’s all over – adding “It is now!”, as Geoff Hurst‘s late thunderbolt hit the back of the German net. Half a century on, it’s really difficult to imagine such a moment happening again, with almost every major nation having long since overtaken us in terms of international honours.
Still, that’s probably a bit too carpy and whingey, considering that the current wearers of those Three Lions shirts have breezed so effectively to qualification for next year’s finals – and especially when you consider that Scotland have maintained their recent form by failing yet again to make it to the party. And the fact that, if England by some miracle did succeed in France, it will be without the involvement of any Leeds United personnel – well, I’m not going to let that bother me either. I’d be chuffed, delighted, flown with patriotic pride if the lads did it, even given that some of those lads, and at least one past-it striker, ply their trade for that lot over the Pennines whom I shall not dignify by mention of their name. What the hell, after all. When they play and win for England, they’re English – petty matters of club rivalry are for less momentous occasions.
The fact remains for the moment, though – and barring that unlikely miracle I was talking about for our lot in France next year – that England only wins a cup with at least one Leeds lad involved, and another in the background. That, in itself, is a matter of unshakeable pride for long-suffering Leeds United fans. So I’ll wear my iconic design proudly, as a tribute to those lads of so long ago – but most especially with a glow of pride for our Jack and our Norm, who did their country proud – and immortalised themselves in the process.