Date: 10th September 2019 at 9:26am
Written by:

I have a book in front of me. I love books. I buy them new and I buy them second-hand. I read them, I keep them, and I read them again. I write them, sell them, review them and give them as presents. I have even thrown a few away when the author proved unworthy of the description. I love the look of them, the feel of them, the smell of them. I love holding one, flicking through its pages in a random and ever-so-slightly mindless fashion. My house is full of them. They are on bookshelves, in bookcases, on chairs, under chairs, on the floor in piles and squirreled away in cupboards. Their disparate subjects make for some strange bedfellows: Thomas Hardy is on a shelf with Rupert the Bear and his friends, while a textbook on car mechanics sits next to a 1924 guide book to Versailles in French. More appropriately, Michael Palin is on top of an atlas, George Best is under a table with a book on cocktails while Gerald Ford naturally has the Vietnam War on top of him. I could go on.

Readers of a certain age will remember a series of pocket-sized reference books published by Frederick Warne which were one of the joys of my childhood. I am talking about the Observer’s series: miniature encyclopaedias, all colourful and alluring in their shiny white jackets. I used to spend hours in Ruddocks leafing through them, and occasionally I would buy one if I had any money. They covered a multitude of topics from sport to architecture to commercial vehicles, and were a window on a world that seemed vast and exciting. I had a good collection of them, possibly twelve or fifteen eventually. Observer’s Books do not exist anymore, which I think is a real shame. Apparently they were publishing them as late as 2003 in a number of revised formats, but I never even saw them go. It is entirely possible that the diversity within my current book collection was inspired by the diversity of the Observer’s series, and I cannot thank them enough for that.

This particular book in is the 1972 edition of The Observer’s Book of Association Football, and it is a treasure trove of information about football as it used to be. It is an important book to me because it is my original copy and was published at the end of my first season watching Lincoln City, 1971-72. Besides being a record of that particular year, it has also become a snapshot of an age that is very much over. The game depicted within its yellowing pages is almost unrecognisable from the hyper-marketed, money-driven business we see today. I accept that it is almost fifty years old, and fifty years is a long time by any human yardstick, but I cannot help feeling that something elemental has been lost along the way. Allow me to explain.

The 1972 edition was written by renowned football statistician and writer Albert Sewell, who was associated with Chelsea for many years as their programme editor and a host of other things. He was the statistician for Match of the Day from 1968 to 2005 when he retired at the age of 78, and was awarded the MBE shortly afterwards. Albert died on 26 June 2018 at the age of 90, so let’s pay tribute by taking a look at his masterpiece.

The foreword is written by England manager Sir Alf Ramsey, who celebrates the sheer size of the world game and the 138 member countries of FIFA (today there are 211). He also adds something very interesting about scientific developments in football, curiously echoing the twenty-first-century tendency towards sports science and training. Sir Alf believes players in 1972 have never been fitter, and that tactically the game is at its zenith. He also looks forward to the qualifying campaign for the 1974 World Cup and states that it will take a very good team to stop England regaining the world crown – presumably, he had not heard of Jan Tomaszewski at that point.

The History of the Game chapter names Britain’s largest stadium as Hampden Park (135,000) and laments the still recent demise of Accrington Stanley from the Football League (1962); he also states that Stanley were one of the founder members of the Football League, which unfortunately is wrong. The writer sees floodlights as one of the wonders of the modern game, and gives the relatively recent removal of the maximum wage restriction (1961) as the key to retaining the very best English players within the Football League. Little did Albert know at that point what the abolition of the maximum wage would eventually lead to.

Each of the 92 Football League clubs (spot the two main differences there) has a whole page dedicated to it. To be very topical for a moment, some of those names have since disappeared from the Football League, and some have disappeared from every league. Barrow, Chesterfield, Hartlepool, Notts County, Southport, Stockport County, Torquay United, Workington, Wrexham and York City are now plying their trade in non-league circles while Aldershot, Chester, Darlington, Halifax Town, Newport County and now Bury are no longer plying their trade at all. To all of those mainly forgotten clubs, thank you for being part of my football history. Lincoln City are sandwiched between Leicester City and Liverpool in these pages, alphabetical neighbours and Football League colleagues – will we ever see that again in our lifetime?

As far as the club section goes, I am sure you are dying to know what it says about Lincoln City. Here it is in full.

‘Lincoln City have experienced sharply contrasting fortunes since becoming founder members of Division Two in 1892. Twice they were voted out of the section after finishing at the foot of the table – in 1908 and 1911. Three times they have won the championship of the old Division Three North, and five times they have had to apply for re-election to Division Four.
The achievement in winning the Third Division North title in 1948 was particularly noteworthy since City’s team was composed entirely of part-time players.
Andy Graver, who had two spells with the club, scored 144 League goals for Lincoln through the 1950s and another successful centre-forward was Jim Hutchinson whose 32 goals in 1947-48 made him leading marksman in the Third Division that season.
Lincoln’s most impressive season of all was in 1951-52, the last time they won honours. As Third Division North Champions they were the highest-scoring Football League side that season with 121 goals. Graver, later transferred to Leicester and then brought back again – each time at a still-existing record fee for Lincoln – scored 37 of them, including six in the club’s biggest ever win of 11-1 against Crewe Alexandra.’

It feels strange to see seasons from just after the war highlighted in that piece, but this book was written almost half a century ago. He is wrong about City being voted out of Division Two twice, it was actually three times (1920 as well). He is also wrong about Andy Graver having two spells with the club (he had three), scoring 144 League goals in total (143) and 37 in 1951-52 (36), but that is forgivable: can you imagine having to come up with enough interesting and accurate information about all 92 clubs in the days before the internet and its glories? Within that challenging context, Albert Sewell did a fine job despite the minor errors. At least he did not try to inflict passes completed and touches in the centre circle upon us.

It then goes on to cite our record attendance, our modern capacity (given as 25,000), best run in the FA Cup (4th round, which was wrong even then), League Cup (4th round, still to be beaten today), pitch measurements, highest League scorer in a single season (Allan Hall with 42, now known to be wrong) and our highest transfer fees in and out (Andy Graver). It gives our telephone number as Lincoln 21912 and there is no postcode. Our shirt is red with white sleeves, dating the book to a very specific period in our history.

The 92 club pages contain some fascinating information. An astonishing number of the grounds have gone of course, 31 of them to be precise: goodbye to Highbury, Burnden Park, Goldstone Ground, Eastville, Ninian Park, Sealand Road, Saltergate, Layer Road, Highfield Road, Feethams, Baseball Ground, Belle Vue, Leeds Road, Boothferry Park, Filbert Street, Maine Road, Ayresome Park, The Den, Somerton Park, The County Ground, Manor Ground, Elm Park, Millmoor, Old Show Ground, Gay Meadow, The Dell, Victoria Ground, Roker Park, Vetch Field, Fellows Park and the Boleyn Ground. That is more than a third of the 92 Football League grounds that existed in 1972.

Blundell Park has also rotted into the sea during the same period.

The capacities given for each ground are surprising, but it must be remembered that this was the golden age of terracing before the Taylor Report changed the face of sports stadia forever. The Valley is given as England’s largest ground at 67,000, while Highbury, Villa Park, Old Trafford, Burnden Park, Ninian Park, Stamford Bridge, Goodison Park, Maine Road and St James’ Park are all rated at 60,000 and above. In the 50,000+ bracket are St Andrew’s, Ewood Park, Highfield Road, Selhurst Park, Leeds Road, Elland Road, Anfield, Vale Park, Bramall Lane, Hillsborough, Roker Park, White Hart Lane, The Hawthorns and Molineux. Meadow Lane is given as 45,000, Home Park as 40,000 and – incredibly – The Shay as 38,000. And can you imagine 40,000 at Belle Vue? No, I can’t either. But that is how it was: squeeze them in and hang the consequences, a policy which had catastrophic consequences throughout football’s history and would do so again in the 1980s. Small wonder that we are now left with all-seater stadia and all-ticket matches every week.

The highest transfer fees paid are also fascinating even with inflation taken into account. The British record had just been broken with Arsenal paying Everton £220,000 for Alan Ball in December 1971. Manchester United’s record is shown as £200,000 for Ian Moore (Ian Storey-Moore) in March 1972, as is Manchester City’s outlay for Rodney Marsh that same month. Only seventeen other clubs had paid as much as six figures for a player at that point in time: Aston Villa, Chelsea, Coventry, Crystal Palace, Derby, Everton, Leeds (for Allan Clarke), Leicester (for Allan Clarke), Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland, Spurs, West Brom, West Ham, and surprisingly Stoke City. The vast majority of those were for exactly £100,000 and came during 1971-72, so we could conclude that the 1972 Observer’s Book of Association Football witnesses the birth of the £100,000 footballer in earnest.

Allowing for inflation, that transfer fee of £220,000 for Alan Ball roughly equates to £2.9 million in 2019. The British record currently stands at the £89 million Manchester United agreed for Paul Pogba in July 2016, so a teeny difference there. In turn, that £89 million equates to around £6.9 million in 1972: would a club have paid £6.9 million for a player in 1972? Not a bloody chance. There are several good reasons for that: there were no outrageous television fees, no agents and no endemic financial lunacy in those days.

What about that other evil of the modern game, player wages?

It is noticeable that the subject of wages is barely mentioned throughout the entire book, and there is only one reference in passing. The top stars of world football have their own pen pictures: Gordon Banks, George Best, Franz Beckenbauer, Luigi Riva, Johann Cruyff, Jairzinho, Gerd Müller and Pele are all present and correct, and they are the heroes of my childhood. It states that Pele is the highest-paid player in the world without giving any figures, but it also names his 1970 Brazilian World Cup-winning colleague Roberto Rivelino as the next highest at £80 per day. That equates to around £1,050 per day in 2019, or an annual wage of £385,000.

Let’s just highlight that again: the world’s second-highest-paid player in 1972 was earning the equivalent of £385,000 per annum in 2019. To place that into starker contrast, the best-paid player in the world today is believed to be Lionel Messi, with around £70 million per annum in wages and bonuses. So adjusted for inflation, Messi earns around 180 times what Rivelino was earning in 1972.

There is also a small chapter on the eighteen members of the Scottish First Division (two divisions in those days), although these are not in the same detail as the English clubs. Presumably, the publishers did not expect the book to sell very well north of the border, especially not with a photograph of Bobby Charlton in full England kit on the cover.

To round things off, there is a good section on the top European clubs, and they are reasonably similar today. Some have dropped from view – Dukla Prague folded in 1996, while the likes of Ujpest Dozsa and Gornik Zabrze have been replaced by Borussia Dortmund, Porto and Roma at Europe’s top table. The most notable aspect of European football is the number of clubs now playing under different national entities following the collapse of the Communist Bloc in the 1990s. As for European competitions, the European Cup Winners’ Cup was thriving in 1972 but does not exist anymore, having been merged with the new-fangled Europa League in 1999. Chelsea were the reigning champions at the time of publication in 1972, with a 2-1 replay win over Real Madrid in Athens. Perhaps some things never change, then.

And so ends a wander down memory lane, a pleasant two-hour ramble through the past, my childhood, and how things used to be. The book is now lying face down on the chair next to me, and I note that other books in the Observer’s series include Moths, Pond Life and Lichens. I wonder whether there is anyone – anyone, anywhere – currently thumbing through a yellowing copy of one of those three? Would that be as enjoyable as flicking over the pages of Association Football? Absolutely it would, if that is your hobby, and that is the glory of books.

I cannot comprehend how anyone can prefer one of those awful Kindle things which gives no joy of ownership whatsoever. As our lives become increasingly digital, something remarkable is being lost. The same applies to the sheer screeching dreadfulness of digital music to replace analogue. The pleasure of rushing to your local record store and returning with a vinyl disc in a colourful cardboard sleeve has already been taken from us: we are forced to download a heavily-compressed skeleton of the aural spectrum instead. If you are the kind of person who is unable to tell the difference, I feel genuinely sorry for you. And the same thing applies to books. A flickering image on a PVC computer screen is far from being the same experience as owning a beautifully designed, beautifully produced book and placing it on a bookshelf for later.

Everything is becoming disposable, replaceable, instantly forgettable. I am told that the digital medium will be used to preserve everything for all time, but I have absolutely no confidence in that statement. What exactly is being preserved? Books, in particular, are far more than a series of words on a screen, but that is what we are being offered. Will I be able to go online in fifty years’ time and view a copy of the 1972 Observer’s Book of Association Football? No. Why not? Because I can’t even do it now. And that worries me.

Books are history. They are historical documents that should be preserved and treasured, yet their importance is being eroded with every month that passes. The publishers tell me that electronic digital media make books available to a far wider audience at a fraction of the cost, and therein lies the real reason: profitability.

So I’m afraid I am left with no option: can I get off at this point, please? I think I will keep my books, if it is all the same to you. I will keep them on the same shelf as my memories of how football used to be – before money tried to take them both from me.

Who did our members consider to be August’s star players?

Player of the Month is JACK PAYNE, who has made a terrific start to life at Sincil Bank with some match-winning performances. If anyone was wondering why we did not sign Shay McCartan on a permanent basis, they now have the answer.

Second place goes to CIAN BOLGER after an impressive start in place of the suspended Jason Shackell. Bolger looks a different player to last season and is set to play a key role in 2019-20.

Third place in theory goes to Grant Smith, although his rating is based on just the two performances. In terms of games played, JOE MORRELL probably justifies third spot in the month in which he received his first call-up to the full Wales squad. Can he become City’s first full Welsh cap since David Felgate in 1983?

Special mentions this month go to Wales U21 international Aaron Lewis, who has impressed everyone with his desire to be here; to Harry Toffolo, who has stepped up a gear this season; and to Tyler Walker, who leads the goalscoring charts with four in his first month.

The average team score of 7.22 sets the benchmark for the season.

1. Jack Payne 7.78
2. Cian Bolger 7.66
(3. Grant Smith 7.50)
4. Joe Morrell 7.48
5. Harry Toffolo 7.46
6. Aaron Lewis 7.43
7. Michael O’Connor 7.34
8. Callum Connolly 7.28
9. Harry Anderson 7.26
10. Tyler Walker 7.20
11. Jason Shackell 7.03
12. Josh Vickers 7.01
13. Ellis Chapman 7.00
14. Neal Eardley 6.96
15. Michael Bostwick 6.95
16. Jorge Grant 6.90
17. Bruno Andrade 6.85
18. John Akinde 6.79

Individual ratings by match:

Accrington: Jack Payne 8.36
Rotherham: Cian Bolger 8.62
Huddersfield: Grant Smith 8.80
Southend: Jack Payne 8.38
MK Dons: Harry Toffolo 7.92
Doncaster: Joe Morrell 7.20
Everton: Bruno Andrade 8.13
Fleetwood: Tyler Walker 7.88

So where does that leave us regarding the current Player of the Season standings?

No prizes for guessing at this point.

Home Player of the Season:

1. Bruno Andrade 8.13
2. Jack Payne 8.01
3. Tyler Walker 7.60

Away Player of the Season:

1. Grant Smith 8.80
2. Cian Bolger 8.47
3. Aaron Lewis 7.80

Player of the Month:

August: Jack Payne 7.78

Writer: Scotimp

Thank you to Graham Burrell and Lincoln City Football Club for the photograph!

Posted by Vital Lincoln City on Tuesday, 10 September 2019

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