Forgive England’s World Cup performance in Brazil this year but whatever the national team accomplishes it is subordinated by the British passion to support its geographically local soccer clubs participating in the Football League. These teams are town or city based, sometimes with more than one team existing in a large city – for example Liverpool and Everton in Liverpool, and Manchester City and Manchester United a few miles away. Each club grows its own players, finds its own, or buys its own, or a combination of all three. Unlike in the USA, colleges and universities do not act as talent feeds. Money matters and today clubs having access to the richest benefactors tend to field the teams that are the most successful. Expect to see a minority of players in the top teams originating from England.
I began my support of football with York City before I reached my teenage years. Formed in 1922, the team has had more downs than ups, but continues to be followed by a faithful group of supporters. My memories go back to the 1954-55 season. I can remember the town’s pride as York City became the first Third Division club to participate in a FA Cup semi-final replay. It reached the semi-finals after beating successful teams such as Blackpool, Nott’s County, and Tottenham Spurs. In the semi-finals it drew 1-1 against Newcastle United, only to be defeated 2-0 in the replay. Newcastle went on to win the FA Cup that year. Who remembers Arthur Edwin Bottom, the scorer of 8 goals during the FA Cup tournament that season? Four years later Newcastle signed him on to its player roster.
After a few more seasons of supporting York City I confess to shifting my allegiance to Leeds United. The York team moved down the league rankings of the Third Division, and by the 1958-59 season it had been relegated to the Fourth Division. By the early 1960’s the team occupied the lower half of the Fourth Division and on several occasions had to seek re-election to the League. Since I lived in the West Riding of Yorkshire, albeit only three miles from the York city boundary, I used “place of residence” as justification for my switch and because Leeds was one of the “capitals” of the West Riding! I recall this transfer occurred shortly after Don Revie arrival as manager of Leeds United for the 1961-62 season. He quickly built the team so that in 1964 it won promotion to the First Division. 1965 to 1973 became the golden years of success for Leeds United. Those were the years of Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter, and John Charles. In 1974 the Revie reign ended as he was appointed as the England Team Manager. By this time I was working “down south” and I lived in in Basildon, Essex, and then Brentwood. Here the local team was West Ham United, but none of my work colleagues were able to shift my football allegiance from the North to the South. Trouble struck Leeds in its 1974-75 season with the appointment of Brian Clough as Don Revie’s successor. People from Yorkshire are not shy to express their opinions and after 44 days Clough said goodbye to Leeds. Leeds continued with moderate success but no longer dominated English football. By the end of the 1981-82 season the club had been relegated to the Second Division. And as this situation worsened my support for Leeds United wavered. My allegiance did not shift but my public support went into hibernation. I was saved from having to shift my allegiance to West Ham by being relocated by my firm to San Francisco in August 1979. Football at that time took on a whole new meaning as I became acquainted with the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers. It was not until 30 years later that I could return my memories to Leeds United as I watched the movie “The Damned United”. If you haven’t seen this film, I encourage you to take the time to watch this piece of football history. You can judge who was the most successful coach of that time – Don Revie or Brian Clough.
But despite escaping the need to support West Ham by relocating to California, it seemed that my support for Leeds United had come to an end as I saw the team relegated to the Second Division in 1982. At about the same time my mother (Mary Louise in my historic fiction novel “An Unplanned Encounter”) had moved in to a flat/apartment located just off the Kings Road, Chelsea, England. She was about 20 minutes’ walk away from Stamford Bridge. Here was my answer. At last I could let go of the North and move my support to the South and to one of those premier London Clubs. And so began 30 years of support for Chelsea Football Club that continues to this day. It is the only English soccer team my son has supported and he now he has his one-year old son dressed in Chelsea colors. He has been inducted into Stamford Bridge and has survived the London Underground encounter with a group of Tottenham supporters. When challenged on which football team he supported he was able to reply with his convincing American accent “the 49ers”. He was left untouched. My support of Chelsea has witnessed similar events to those I saw at Leeds United. Times had been turbulent for Chelsea and in 1982 the team came close to being relegated to the third division. But they won the Second Division title in 1983-84 and then occupied the top division until being relegated again in 1988. The team immediately won the Second Division championship and bounced back into the top division. While performance continued a little erratic for the next few seasons the team survived in the new Premier League, and by the late 1990’s Chelsea was established as one of the top sides in England. Ownership of the club shifted to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in June 2003.
Soccer and its players today seems so very different from the days of supporting York City, but different in a very positive sense. As I wrote my novel and researched England during the later years of World War II it seemed fitting to include mention of Chelsea in the book. One of the ways England celebrated the end of World War II was to boost morale by inviting the Soviet Union’s leading club team, Dynamo Moscow, to tour Britain. The first game would be against Chelsea at Stanford Bridge on November 13th 1945. The game ended in a draw 3-3. Reference to this game is included in my book. The record shows it was a great football game (“one of the best football matches ever seen on British soil”), was attended by a sell-out crowd, and a score line engineered for diplomatic reasons. Chelsea was destined to win until the referee allowed an equalizer to stand despite the Dynamo player being several yards offside. Soccer remains a global sport today. It helps millions of people take their minds away from their economic and social challenges and to dim the realities of a world at war when you think of the Ukraine, Israel/Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Chad, Nigeria and Somalia. Thanks go from me to the Chinese and the Tsin Dynasty who during the second century BC played with a ball made out of leather and kicked ( called Tsu-Chu or kick-ball) and the codification of soccer that began in the schools of Britain during the 16th century. Today, as a result, we have the World Cup and Chelsea F.C.