To Coach or Not to Coach…
Only this very past week, I bought off the web - and for the ridiculous cost of £2.50 plus p & p - a copy of Billy Walker's 'Soccer in the Blood', written back in my halcyon days of 1960. What a man!
I soon found that at the time of writing his book, Billy was the very same age I am now - 62 - and so I allowed myself the thought that we were seeing life from the same mountain top, though we have of course lived very different lives. He was, arguably, Villa's greatest-ever star, a player apparently considered as good as the previously incomparable Steve Bloomer. He was Villa's last captain of England.
Though he was speaking of a very different era, there is so much wisdom in his words, and I found myself wondering just why it was he wrote such a short book (128 pages), for he was clearly erudite and did not lack in ability to tell a good story. There were so many stories he could have told, I am sure, but didn't. That he wrote so little about his life at Villa - considering his love for the club - is a wonder. He wrote enough just to open the door slightly ajar to those times, that's all. What calamity!
But one thing that he spoke of with great feeling in 1960 is as true then as it is now. That there was a great danger of players being over-coached. He reckoned that if football was played 'in the grand Villa style' - a sort of push-and-run game that Spurs executed so brilliantly in 1960-61 - then we would have no need to fear nations such as the Brazilians. He also spoke of the lack of true personalities in the game in 1960, but that actually became not the case quite quickly as the likes of Greaves, Law, Charlton, MacKay, Bremner, Moore, Baxter, Dougan and Georgie Best, and more (English, Scots and Irish), did become just that - great 'personalities' - as the 60s wore on. But to-day - what personalities do we have in British football? And this has been a developing situation since the 70s, I think. Billy Walker's words were perhaps written just a bit too early, as I now feel that the time of over-coaching has now been reached and the 'names' are just not there anymore. David Beckham has been the greatest 'name' in recent years, but I think that was more down to media exposure. Did Beckham really compare – playing-wise - with the names of the 60s?
Just as Billy said then, the game is crying out for a handful of 'personalities', and I feel - and hope - that Martin O'Neill has the ability to coax the likes of Gabby and Steve Davis into being self-expressive spirits. Coaching can only go so far, and if there is natural ability, why coach it out of them? Is football now merely an industry to churn out the players to feed the commercial animal that has now evolved?
Up the Villa!
Researching 'The Villa Chronicles' - to be published mid-2007.
John Lerwill's fantastic Villa history pages
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