Friday, August 31 – 1973
You will doubtless recall the gentleman who telephoned Darlington Football Club during the depths of their troubles last season.
“What time,” he inquired, “does the match start?”
“What time,” came the reply, “can you get here?”
Well, there’s a better one than that going the rounds and it has the additional virtue of being true.
It concerns tomorrow’s Central League football match at Anfield between Liverpool Reserves and Stoke City Reserves.
Normally this considerable non-event would kick off at 3 p.m. like any other football match, thus allowing the patrons adequate time to get home, wash their hands, check their pools, show down a couple of jam butties and be sitting square in front of the telly to see “Sez Les” on Granada TV.
Alas the entire social structure of Merseyside’s Saturday night has been thrown into chaos by Liverpool’s decision, and Stoke City’s compliance, to kick off their Reserve game at 6.30 p.m. for a reason you wouldn’t guess between now and 2,000 AD.
The explanation is that their club captain, Tommy Smith, becomes a free man at 4.40 p.m., which is to say immediately after Liverpool’s League match against Leicester. Until then he remains under suspension for a misdemeanour last season and is not permitted under football law to kick a ball in serious combat.
Liverpool’s reserve match is being rescheduled for the evening solely to give him some realistic practice before the big League game against Derby County next Tuesday.
There are those who will say it’s disgusting. There are those who will say it’s cool. There are those who will clasp their hands in admiration of this latest example of ‘ultra-professionalism.’
Personally I think it’s quite beautiful – though for all the wrong reasons – because it was with an equally sublime disregard for the public that the great sporting figures of the past used to conduct themselves.
W.G. Grace, who was an athlete as well as a batsman, was not above sending a message down to the athletics track imperiously ordering them to postpone the hurdles event because he still happened to be batting at Lords. C.B. Fry, who was a footballer as well as a cricketer, was quite likely to cancel a major cricket engagement at a moment’s notice towards the end of a season simply because the mood took him to go down and play full-back for Southampton.
Plenty of clean-limbed young Englishmen, from the tennis playing Doherty brothers, via Douglas Jardine down to Ted Dexter and the present day had the same autocratic outlooks.
Today it’s known as ‘style’ and it is, of course, what is so desperately missing in sport.
It is not style, but shrewd calculation, that sees an entire match rearranged to accommodate Tommy Smith and that is the difference.
Style now is Malcolm Allison’s Havana, Derek Dougan’s shirts, Brian Clough’s car, Tony Jacklin’s helicopter, Don Roger’s love-life, Glenn Turner’s haircut and David Coleman’s long silence.
Maybe that’s how we like it in an era when we’re all dashing back to watch Les Dawson wisecracking in our living rooms but what an opportunity Liverpool have missed for showing real class.
“What time does the match start?”
“Well, we’re not sure, but roughly when Tommy Smith gets back from his holiday.”
The difference between pomp and pomposity turns out to be considerably more than five letters.
Sir Stanley Rous has pomp, all right, but he has just turned down an extraordinary honour that few football administrators could have resisted, even at the risk of being regarded as pompous.
When Brazil won the World Cup for the third time in Mexico the famous Jules Rimet Trophy their property. Recently they offered a replacement trophy and approached the English president of FIFA for his permission to call it “The Stanley Rous Cup.”
Sir Stanley said ‘no.’
“I was grateful for the gesture, but I refusal the generous offer because I have always been averse to trophies bearing the names of persons,” he said.
The new one, for which England may or may not be competing in Munich next year, will simply be known as ‘The FIFA World Cup.’
I am indebted to Brian Glanville’s new Sunday Times History of the World Cup for this brief but significant insight into Sir Stanley’s character.
(Daily mail, 31-08-1973)