Football vs Golf
Last week-end's Ryder Cup held my attention from the beginning to the last. I am possibly as keen about golf as I am about football, and played golf from a young age at a time when it was not as popular as it is now. But that's another story. The relevance of golf and last week-end's Ryder Cup here is that it was both such a joyous and skilfull occasion, with players of both sides pitting their wits and skills; yet these were players earning millions per year but still had great pride in their side and in their profession.
I wish we could see such pride and joy at Villa and in the national side.
The advantage of golf in one respect is that it is a non-contact sport, and the contestants therefore fail or win according to their own effort and luck with barely any influence from their opponent - except via psychological issues. Therefore the competition is relatively clean and can give rise to the best of humour between players and onlookers. For goodness sake, the public gallery were even chanting songs, football kop style!
I was then amused to read an article by William McGregor written exactly 100 years ago this month in which he said: 'The typical golfer is a perfect slave to his game.' In his piece, 'Mac' was complaining that (in contrast) the average professional footballer of that time did not spend enough time improving his skills, inhibited as he was by the then recently-imposed maximum wage (which was not repealed until 1961). The maximum wage had the affect on players of reducing their motivation to be better at their sport, even though their wage was 'not bad' for the time. Thankfully, as time went on this no longer came to be the case, and 'Mac' would not have complained 10 years later if he had still been alive then.
But Mac's comparison with golf and golfers (and the golfers' intensity towards improving their game) was interesting to me because of my affinity with both sports. It seems to me that in golf there is very much still an inherent drive (forgive the pun!) in players to be better at their game, generating skill that is a pleasure to watch. Now my view of ancient Villa history was that it was a similar situation in football in the club's first 25 years in particular, and yet we now find the English game being more restricted to methods that seem more designed to restrict the opponent rather than elevating the game to entice the spectator by its interest and entertainment. Just, in fact, as Mac described his attraction to the football game way back in the late 1870s when players (he once reported) were constantly trying to uplift their game.
Last week-end we saw two perfect examples of the restrictive modern game in the so-called acceptable 'professional foul' that Rooney attempted on Downing, which ended up as being a miscalculated scything-down of the player, and also Cahill's pull-back on Gabby to prevent him breaking through the centre. But these are just two examples: we constantly see players trying all kinds of means to prevent opponents from skipping past them, and the tantrums and melee in the goalmouth while corner-kicks are in progress can be described as nothing short of mayhem, and often go on uninterrupted by the referee. And the worse is that this state of affairs is now regarded as normal - and professional.
A camera shot of spectators being bored out of their wits at Stamford Bridge mid-way through the game seemed to say it all about the modern English game. Why do we do this? Merely to say we were there when we collected 3 points? Villa fans can rarely say even that at Villa Park, hence a collection of reasons why the attendances have dipped at VP. But Southampton seem to have recognised what needs to be done and are making fair progress towards both entertainment and achievement. Villa, with it's over-vaunted academy, appears to me to be still treading water by comparison.
Football history tells us that even in the early days there was dirty play a-plenty, yet many players were determined to raise the skill-level in the game and to raise the public interest in the game as a result of elevating the level of play. I may be regarded as being churlish as Villa have shown more grit this season than the past 3 seasons, but today's players can elevate their skills and improve the game if they choose: is football at Villa Park just about achieving mid-table safety?
Up the Villa!
For more history, stats, blog, and info on John's books, why not visit John's history site: www.lerwill-life.org.uk/astonvilla/.