Billy Bonds and onwards…was football better in the past?


Was football really better in the past?

Is it really 43 years since Billy Bonds lifted the FA Cup?, which has now made me think….

Was football better in the past?

It’s a common enough and passionately held view that it absolutely was better. What we mean by ‘the past’ varies, of course. They often coincide with the decade when we’re 11 to 21 years old, set in our carefree youth, unencumbered by the weight of the world. Whether that was in the 1950s or 2000s it’s not uncommon to look back, not in anger, but with affection.

It has apparently been clinically proven that the music you feel most passionately about in those years is the music (Mott the Hoople anyone?) that stays with you your whole life and forms the core of your cultural landscape, so why not with football?

And more broadly, the idea that a largely illusory golden age has passed and everything is worse than it was, also has a long tradition and is probably as old as civilization itself.

Rarely a day goes by without hearing old gits like me hector young people by saying, “you don’t know you’re born, you lot”, because they like avocados and have never seen frost on the inside of a window.

However, butting up against this notion, with just as much passion, is the perspective that modern is always best. Avocados are brilliant. Players are faster, fitter and better quality now. Stadia are better, pitches are better. TV is better. There’s more football to watch and more is better. Now is everything. Now is all we’ve got and therefore only now matters.

This is certainly what those who sell us football today want us to believe and much propaganda is pumped out constantly to make enough of us believe that actually today’s game is fantastic, the best it’s ever been and they’ve been telling us this for about 30 years now, as though football is like Gillette’s new razor, every year adding an extra blade and shaving you closer.

Sports science has replaced the magic sponge and an ex-army sergeant major rubbing players’ bodies with ice cold water. Psychology is replacing shouting. Mentality now matters. Pitch maintenance is now a sophisticated horticulture business and not just an old bloke smoking a Woodbine (ask your Grand Dad) with a lawnmower, a three-pronged fork and a roller. The days of sand and mud pitches are long gone.

Players used to play 65 games per season on heavy pitches, fuelled with steak and Guinness, when you could kick someone’s knee cap off and only get a yellow and yet are now said to be tired after half-a-dozen games, despite much better fitness and physio.

More players seem more injured more of the time. Is it just because the game is faster? Are we protecting players or mollycoddling them? Are they now built more for athletics than they are for football? Does any of this make football better or worse entertainment?

We certainly still love going to a game. Grounds in the top flight are almost always full despite the costs of tickets going up in real terms by a factor of up to 10 in the last 30 years. There’s football on television all the time, TV rights fees are still high and football is as rich as ever, despite often relatively low viewing figures for paywall football. Are we really that hungry for all this broadcast football, or has it lost its appeal due to over-exposure?

VAR is becoming embedded into the game, the energy to fight it seems to be waning. Why is this happening and what has it done to football?

What does ‘better’ even actually mean in a football context and is it anything to do with entertainment or, God forbid, fun?.

So, was football better in the old days?

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  • brooksy says:

    Hi, long time reader but first time posting. Just wanted to add about sportsmanship in the game. Born in mid 70’s and watching football then and into the 80’s the game was tougher and players got kicked and tackled hard. But they just got on with the game. None of this rolling around or arguing with the ref constantly. Sometimes refs would give a goal kick by mistake only for the keeper to overall him as he wanted credit for a save. The vinnie jones and gazza ball grabbing incident ending in laughter. Players tackling each other(hard sometimes) but helping each other up and patting each on the back. The modern game is still wonderful and some of the football played is out of this world. Just wish it still had that sportsmanship to it. Anyway, now registered and keep up the good work high and team

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