Tag Archives: Good old days

Super Leeds and “The Last Real Champions” – by Rob Atkinson


Big Jack Scores Against Sad Saints

If you should happen to be a football fan – as I am, and have been these many years, since days of yore with short shorts, middling ability and long sideburns – then you may well be in the habit of switching on the TV occasionally to watch the glitzy offerings of the munificently funded Premier League. With its incomparable array of prima donnas and fabulously wealthy superstars, prancing athletically around a pristine and manicured football pitch in the very latest state-of-the-art stadium (constructed courtesy of Meccano Inc.) – it’s a far cry from the heyday of The Football League, Divisions One to Four.

Back then, men were men, refs were nervous and physios routinely cured ruptured cruciates or shattered thighs with a damp sponge and hoarse exhortations to “gerron with it” – or so it seemed. Full-backs with legs of the type more usually to be found on billiard tables would careen through the mud at Elland Road or Anfield, some flash, quivering, overpaid at £200 a week winger in their merciless sights, destined to be afflicted with acute gravel-rash. Centre-backs with foreheads like sheer cliffs would head muddy balls clear to the halfway line, get up out of the mire, groggily shake their mighty frames, and then do it all over again – for the full 90 minutes, Brian. The good old days, without a doubt.

There is little that the modern game has in common with those far-off, non-High Definition times when some top-flight games weren’t even covered by a local TV camera for a brief clip on regional news. Now, every kick of ball or opponent is available in super slow-mo for in-depth analysis by a battery of experts, from a dozen different angles. The game today is under the microscope seven days a week, where then it was viewed only from afar, limited to highlights from a select few stadia every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Even now, the smell of hot ironing and roast beef with Yorkshire Pud will take me back to Sabbath afternoons sat contentedly before “Sunday Soccer” as Bremner, Giles & Co dismantled the hapless opposition.


Super Leeds

Leeds United was the team, back then. On their day, the lads would toy with their rivals as a particularly cruel cat might do with a half-dead mouse. Many will recall the spectacle of a mortally-wounded Southampton side – already seven goals to nil down near the end of the game – trying all they knew to get a touch of the ball as their tormentors in white passed it effortlessly between themselves, brazenly flaunting their catalogue of flicks, reverse balls and sublime long passes. The game was long since won and all Leeds’ energies were palpably focused on a very public humiliation of their exasperated victims. Some thought it was in poor taste, a shoddy way to treat fellow professionals. Leeds fans remember it 40 years on as the ultimate statement of an undeniably top team, proclaiming to the nation “Look at us. We are the best.”

This was 1972, when Leeds might well have won pretty much everything, but had to settle in the end for their solitary FA Cup triumph, missing out on the Title right at the death in typically controversial circumstances. Leeds won far less than they should have done; a combination of official intransigence, their own inherent self-doubt on certain big occasions, Don Revie’s crippling caution and superstition – together it must be said with some shockingly bad luck – limited their trophy haul to a mere trickle when it should have been a flood. But those flickering images of arrogant dominance and untouchable skill revealed also an unbreakable brotherhood and grisly determination that spoke of a very special team indeed. The resonance even today of that oft-repeated tag “Super Leeds” says far more about the status of Revie’s side than any mundane tally of trophies possibly could.

In those days, of course, the gulf in ability between Leeds United and Southampton, described by Match of the Day commentator Barry Davies as “an almighty chasm”, was just that. The gap in class was achieved on merit. It wasn’t backed up by any such gulf in the relative earnings of the men in white and the demoralised Saints, or players of any other club. The playing field back then was very much more level than it is now, when the top few clubs – in an apt metaphor for society at large – cream off the bulk of the income, leaving the rest to feed on scraps. The pool of possible Champions was consequently greater – Derby County won it that year of Southampton’s ritual humiliation, as Leeds faltered when required to play their last League game a mere two days after a gruelling Cup Final. Imagine the outcry if one of the major teams had to do that today! And ask yourself if a Derby County or a Nottingham Forest are likely to be Champions again in the near future, blocked off as they are from that status by the oligarchy at the Premier League’s top table.

There aren’t many more hackneyed phrases than “The Good Old Days” – but for those who like their sporting competition to have a wide and varied base, with the possibility of a good proportion of the participants actually having a chance to win in any given season – then the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s take some beating. Leeds United fans like to refer to their team of 1992 as “The Last Real Champions”, and a convincing case can be made for this, looking at the transformation which took place shortly thereafter, the explosion in finances for the chosen few, and the small number of clubs – invariably backed by mega-millions – who have been Champions since. Even the once-mighty Liverpool FC has been affected. Despite Leeds United’s current problems, they have been Champions more recently than the Anfield Reds.

It’s perhaps fitting that Leeds have a claim to the accolade of Last Real Champions. As Super Leeds, they dominated English Football for a decade, without ever winning their due. Now that we can look back to a turning point for the game 23 years ago when the Premier League broke away, and the cash registers started to make more noise than disillusioned fans, we can possibly consider those 1992 Champions, nod to ourselves, and say yes; they were the last of the old guard, the final Champions of the Good Old Days.

As epitaphs go, it’s not a bad one.

Nostalgia – Not What It Used To Be

Show me a person who’s never felt that aching, yearning desire for the ‘Good Old Days’, and I’ll show you a twenty-something, or – tops – a thirtyish glass-half-full type.  It’s part of the human condition, and believe me, you youngster nostalgia-heads, the longing for times past only gets worse and more compelling with age.

The thing is, though – it’s all a sham.  Nostalgia has spawned virtually an entire industry, making zillions out of the ever-increasing urge to regress to what we think of as happier times, flogging us kitsch memorabilia and useless antiques at premium prices.  All this, for a concept as hollow and insubstantial as a bubble.  I’ll try to explain what I’m getting at.

The main thing you need to know about The Good Old Days, is that – they don’t exist.  Or, more accurately, from the only perspective that matters – here and now – the memory of The Good Old Days is like a Siren’s song, calling seductively to you, whilst keeping the singer’s essential character hidden.  And the essential character of The Good Old Days may be summed up as follows:  more hardship, less enlightened attitudes, worse public health and life expectancy and just generally a lack of the things in life today we’d find it hard to live without.  I won’t drone on here about smart phones, the internet, flat-screen TV’s and spiffy microwave-grills.  You get the picture.

The late, lamented legend that was Tony Capstick summed up the flip-side of nostalgia very neatly indeed.  In his hilarious pastiche of a famous bread advert, filmed on a steep and cobbled street to the accompaniment of Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Capstick intoned “We had lots of things in them days, they haven’t got today.  Rickets.  Diptheria.  Hitler….. They dun’t know they’re born today”.  As with all the best comedy, there’s a kernel of truth there.

So why this fierce desire to re-live days gone by, through old photographs, maybe, or a TV series set in whichever decade speaks to us of our particular formative years?  Perhaps it’s a desire to meet up again with lost loved ones, which is readily understandable.  But the nostalgic ache affects the vast majority of people, including those lucky enough never to have experienced bereavement.  Maybe it really is just a longing for simpler times, but I truly don’t think so.

My pet theory – and I’ve thought about this a lot, as you tend to on your journey through middle-age – is that it’s not the mythical Good Old Days we’re all missing.  Rather, it’s the Good Young Us.  Everything that seems better in the eye of memory was originally seen through younger, sharper eyes, at a time when we inhabited a younger, more flexible and healthier body, when we mercifully lacked the cares of having to forge a living and look after dependents, when we could take life as it came to us, unafraid of the future and ready for anything.  This, sadly, is not a set of circumstances fully valued or appreciated at the time – only in retrospect, when physical and mental powers are waning and the gaze we cast on the world is more jaundiced, do we really understand what we had, and what we’ve lost.  Small wonder, then, that there’s a hankering to go back and regain our younger selves.

There’s a tendency, as well, for memory to reach further and further back into the distant past as we age.  This means that a lot of older people spend much more of their time delving through their long-term recall, and find happiness in contemplating the days of their youth, a refuge of sorts from a modern world that seems more and more bewildering to them.  It’s the kinder face of nostalgia – a therapy to help people cope with the iniquities of old age.  But again, I would argue that it’s their own younger selves that Gran and Grandad are contentedly revisiting, and that the period setting of those memories is purely incidental.

We associate our golden days of youth with a definite time frame, that’s all, and it’s that association our brains seize on to hook us into yearning for whatever past time.  For some, it’s World War Two, for others it might be the Fab Fifties, or even the Electronic Eighties.  I hark back to the Sensational Seventies myself, but I’ve no real desire to ride a Raleigh Chopper again, or even to come home and watch “Love Thy Neighbour” on a tiny TV.  But I would give a lot for the flat tummy, the sporting prowess, the soundness of wind and limb and the 20-20 vision I enjoyed, but never fully appreciated back then.

That’s what nostalgia is really all about, and we’d do well to face up to it – there’s more chance, after all, of science eventually mitigating the tyranny of old age, with its attendant infirmities, than there is of it building us a Time Machine.  So perhaps we’d all better settle for what we’ve at least some chance of getting, rather than pandering to this hopeless desire for a past to which distance has lent a false enchantment.  But that’s easier said than done – when the nostalgia bug bites, it bites hard.

Now – where did I put that Rubik’s Cube….?