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Southampton Kits 10 of my favourite

26 Jan

1976 – 1980 Admiral ‘Candy Stripes’ (home)

saints-candy-stripes

After the initial years of turmoil in which the Saints played in a kit featuring a sash, squares and halves from 1896 onwards the kit entered a settled period where evolution, not revolution was the order of the day. This state of affairs lasted right up until the mid-1970s. For clubs everywhere the this time was a watershed in which new commercial and aesthetic forces saw something of a re-visiting of the artefacts of club identity.
Saints themselves adopted a new crest, designed by a supporter, in the 1974-75 season and in 1976 the kit received its first major overhaul for years. In keeping with the spirit of the age Admiral delivered an effort which is both bold and distinctive, yet at the same time manages to respect traditions. The fact that years later the kit is available for sale in the club superstore is testament to the design.

1980 – 1985 Patrick ‘Inverted Ajax’ (home)

keegan

The ‘inverted Ajax’ is a kit which is synonymous with a bobble-permed Kevin Keegan, the clubs surprise star-signing. One story is that the design was chosen so as to give the sponsors logo maximum exposure – at the time when shirt sponsorship was first taking off – and would go on to be adorned by three separate sponsors in its lifetime: Rank Xerox from 1980-83 Air Florida 1983-84 and Draper Tools 1984-1985.Draper Tools themselves were a local company, with their HQ in nearby Chandlers Ford (a place in which more than a few Saints of the era chose to live) and the company would go on to have a fairly long association with the club.

Despite apparently being shaped by the wrong reasons the kit is an aesthetically pleasing effort. Had such a design appeared today in all likelihood internet message boards would be aflame with protest, but thankfully for this kit they didn’t exist back then and any controversy which may have arisen in the Daily Echo’s letters page now lies buried on micro-fiche in the basement of Southampton Central Library

1989 – 1991 Hummel (home)

saints-89-kit

In the main the recent history of Saints recent kits is one of simplicity. Few kits have either offended, or set the world ablaze. This kit from Hummel is, for me, the best of this quietly-competent no-frills bunch, if only because as a kid I also thought the chevrons on the arms were pretty cool. It also saw the emergence of Mat Le Tissier as a real talent.

1993-1995 Pony (home)

le-tiss-pony

It’s funny how time can change perceptions. In its day I hated this kit. As a fashion conscious teenager the fact that the highly uncool kit sponsor Pony’s chevron logo (a boxy Lada to Nike’s sleek tick) was the kits prime feature was bad enough, but the fact that it was a mere template kit – shared with West Ham – only added further insult.

No one was more glad than me to see the back of it, but looking back from today’s standpoint that chevron didn’t look quite so bad after all and actually seems like quite an interesting twist in amongst a rather identikit parade of fairly conservative strips which would follow in the decade after. Perhaps it’s time for a reappraisal? The truly awful away version can however, never be redeemed.

2002-2004 Saints (third)

cup-final-kit-2003

For most of the noughties Saints produced their own kits in-house. In the main there was little on offer in terms of design flair, but the one which stands out is the 2002-2004 yellow third kit. Aesthetically it is pleasing and I like the collar design. Most importantly for a fair few yellow will always be the Saints traditional away colours and when I first followed Saints away one of the fans main chants was “Yellows, Yellows”, a fact raised by someone at a SISA meeting when it was revealed that the away kit would be changing colour. It is also of course the colour worn in 1976 when we won the FA Cup so it was more than fitting that being drawn as the away team for the 2003 final the Saints would be wearing this yellow kit. One of my friends still wears his to 5-a-side and I cast the occasional envious glance.

2010-2011 Umbro 125th Anniversary Shirt (home)

saints 125 kit.png

To celebrate the clubs 125th anniversary in 2010 the club commissioned a kit to resemble the clubs first ever strip from 1885 – a white shirt with a red sash. Kit supplier Umbro rose to the occasion producing a tasteful, unfussy shirt which was in every way superior to Pony’s 1995-97 attempt to recreate a kit of yesteryear.

Notably the shirt didn’t feature any sponsors logo. This was a conscious decision on the part of the clubs new management. Not only did it enhance the sense of reverence for the clubs history, but it spoke of a financial solidity. The fact that the club could do without the income from shirt sponsorship was a marked difference to the dark-period of financial turmoil the club had just emerged from. As for the stripes, well it’s just for a year isn’t it……

2012 – 2013 Umbro (away)

pinstripes

A bit of a confession to be made is that I actually quite like the 2012-13 home kit; I’m quite a fan of the 1980s retro touch that the pinstripes bring – even if they do remind you more of Nottingham Forest than Saints.
I realise that it’s not to everyone’s taste as it is but the merest of nods to the traditional stripes so my compromise is to include that seasons away kit in my top 10 list. It still has that 1980s feel, but avoids stepping on the toes of tradition.

2014 – 2015 In house (away)

1415away

In 2014-15 kit design went in-house again. To the relief of many fans the stripes made a much heralded return for the home kit, having being absent for 3 of the last 4 years. It’s the dark blue away kit which caught my eye though. Combined with dark blue shorts and dark blue socks the whole strip had a sleekness about it which looked quite cool.

2016 – 2017 Under Armour (home)

current-kit

With kits now changing every single season kit designers face a conundrum. They must satisfy both the need for novelty and the need to respect tradition. The current seasons kit strikes a perfect balance between these two forces. The traditional stripes are present, but the white panel offers something new. And if we win the League Cup in this kit then

2015 Lotto – ‘ the kit that never was’ (home)

saints kit design.png

As a teenager one of my favourite pastimes was to design new saints kits. This was all done using pencil and paper, but these days the internet and decent graphic design software support a whole subculture of amateur kit designers. Some of their output is actually quite good and even rivals the professionals. One such design is this kit which very neatly references the ‘candy stripes’ of the 1970s. Though it’s unlikely ever to be made, could it one day influence a future official design?

The perils of 5-a-side in the summer

16 Aug

Sunny

The August holiday and wedding season has rolled around again, and with it comes the challenge of getting enough players together for the weekly 5-a-side kick-about. It’s something of an irony that whilst it is the wetter months and the waterlogged pitches they bring which play havoc with 11-a-side fixtures when it comes to the small-sided game it is these warmer months in which just getting games on feels like a bridge too far.

According to stats from Sports England each week just under three quarters of a million people aged 16+ play small-sided football on outdoor pitches. Many of these will play on artificial all-weather pitches, whilst well over a quarter of a million play small sided football indoors, under cover. In both cases fixtures are unaffected by all but the most extreme weather, but whilst these allow for football to be played all year-round free from the risk of waterlogging in winter, or being rock-hard in the summer the problem becomes one of getting anyone to play at all when your week-in-week-out regular players are off on their holidays.

It is a perilous time for many groups of players. Contact books are stretched to the limit as the text messages fly about “we’ve got 7, need 3 more.. does anyone know someone who can play?” or, “going to be 4 a-side this week”, which elicits a groan at the thought of all that extra running in the heat. Some groups simply give up, vowing to reform in September, but for those involved in leagues there is little choice, but to soldier on as much of the investment in all-weather facilities has been driven by commercial operators who are unwilling to see their profits dip in the summer and therefore run their fixtures regardless.

This has led to some strange consequences. Small-sided league football over the summer often resembles wartime football where the top players of the day routinely ‘guested’ for teams close to where they were stationed. This all means that teams fluctuate wildly, so one week a team of world-beaters who you suspect may have more than one semi-pro in their ranks, turn out the next week to be a bunch of press-ganged no-hoppers whose ruddy cheeks make it look as if they haven’t kicked a ball in a few years.

In my possession I have at least one league trophy which owed more to the skill in persuading someone, anyone, to turn up than it did to any prowess on the pitch. The race for second place came down to the last day of the season and it was with a sense of relief that our opponents, who were occupying the second place slot, failed to appear automatically giving us the points which allowed us to leapfrog them into the runners-up slot. This was more than a little fortunate as had they turned up my makeshift side would have been on the receiving end of a real thumping.

The rise and rise of 5-a-side

21 Jun

Thursday evening at an outdoor 5-a-side centre and a crowd has gathered around two sides of the corner pitch. Peering in through the protective mesh fencing the object of attention is one Matt Le Tissier. Playing at his customary pace the splendidly languid Southampton legend receives the ball and resists the attentions of a younger and fitter opponent by gently nudging it behind his standing leg. His opponent succeeds in getting something on the ball, but it’s not enough. Seemingly out of nowhere, Le Tissier fires off a fast angled ball which instantly transports those watching the back to some point in the 1990s and which a teammate fully does justice to by converting into a goal.

The most unusual thing about the scene is the spectators. Aside from a brief period in the 1980s when Soccer Six attracted large crowds and appeared on television, small-sided football hasn’t ever really taken off as a spectator sport. As a participation sport however, the small-sided game, and in particular 5-a-side, has grown significantly over the past fifteen years to the extent that it is now the way in which most of us experience actually playing the game.

Figures from Sports England’s Active People survey for 2014/15 reveal that among those aged 16+ who reported playing football at least weekly 740,200 participated in small-sided outdoor football, whilst an additional 292,600 reported participating in small-sided indoor football. This compares to the 598,000 who reported participating in 11-a-side in the same period. Moreover whilst the number of those participating in 11-aside on a weekly basis has declined by over 100,000 and the numbers playing small-sided indoor football have dropped by around 150,000 since 2009/10 – the first year in which the survey differentiated football by type – the numbers playing small-sided outdoor football have held relatively firm.

There are several interconnected factors which can be implicated in this shift in how we play the game; technological, economic and social. In terms of technology, anyone with experience playing on pre-3G astroturf, and all the bloody knees and elbows that entailed (known affectionately as astro-burns), would find it difficult to disagree with one supplier of 3G pitches who describe 3G as “the most significant and successful development in synthetic surface technology designed for football and rugby at both competitive and recreational levels.” 3G proved a real game-changer in providing an all-weather surface which could be played on again and again with little of the wear demonstrated by grass pitches and which also provided a pleasant playing experience.

3G could of course equally be used for 11-a-side, however to build 3G pitches requires finance. Initially his investment would not come from under-pressure public bodies who owned and operated the majority of existing grass pitches, but from the private sector. The simple equation is that outdoor small-sided pitches, taking up much less space, offered such investors a much better return as more games and paying-players can be squeezed into a smaller area. The sheer scale of this private sector investment in small-sided football cannot be underestimated; One of the market leaders, who specialise in outdoor small-sides football, Goals soccer centres, boasts on its website that it operates 500 pitches which play host to over 130,000 players a week.

The final factor is social change. In general explanations offered for declining participation centre around changes in working patterns, less free time, or the growth of more individualised leisure pursuits. The influential academic Robert Putnam famously observed that in the US that, between 1980 and 1993, whilst the number of people bowling had been increasing, league bowling experienced a sharp decline, of around 40%. It may be that small-sided football, is perhaps better placed to weather such pressures than the 11-a-side game which tends to be based almost exclusively around competitive leagues and which requires an overall greater level of time commitment than small-sided football.

There are signs however, that the growth of small-sided football may have reached its limit. The Sports England data show that numbers playing outdoor small-sided football has stabilised over the past few years, whilst in March of this year it was reported that Goals Soccer Centres had posted its first annual pre-tax loss in 12 years. Against this there is also some evidence that 11-a-side 3G pitches are beginning to attract grant funding, particularly as many grassroots leagues have approved the use of 3G for competitive games. For now though it still appears true that while we may not particularly enjoy watching small sided football, we do prefer playing it.

A Brief History of Football Blogging

25 Feb

The coming of the bloggers

At the very end of 2010 the website of The Guardian newspaper carried an article entitled 100 football blogs to follow in 2011 in which the articles author James Dart, asked rhetorically whether the forthcoming year would be the year of the blog. His conclusion was that it very possibly would be, pointing to the evidence of a range of blogs “which have grown, improved, developed and cross-pollinated in recent time” and which dealt with subjects ranging from football finance to the ins-and-outs of Slovakian football. It was a high point – even a golden age – for a format which few had heard of a decade before, so where had these bloggers come from?

The term ‘blog’ was itself coined in the late 1990s, originating from a fusing of the words web log. Early blogs were essentially journal-like posts hosted on the internet which tended to be organised in chronological order and took personal issues as their topic. In its early days blogging was something of a niche activity as in 1996 in the United Kingdom only 4.1 out of 100 of people had used the internet in the past year. This figure though would though rise rapidly to 26.8 out of 100 by the year 2000 and 70 out of 100 by 2005. Alongside this the coming of online tools, such as Livejournal and Blogger, launched in 1999, and WordPress in 2003, made creating blogs even easier.

As well as increasing in sheer numbers blogs also expanded in their range of topics; Politics, Technology, Cookery, Film, Music, Fashion as well as other sports all became the focus of bloggers and their blogs. In football blogging there were some echoes of the much celebrated fanzine culture of the 1980s where fans created DIY publications which they distributed themselves either via mail, or by selling copies on street-corners on matchdays.

The ‘zines as they were known were in their time heralded as transforming football discourse, giving ordinary fans a voice which was used to kick back against those in power, such as club owners and a hostile government and blogs such as Twohundredpercent, which focused heavily on the financial travails and mismanagement of clubs, appeared to follow in a similar vein. What really marked out the bloggers though was the sheer diversity of topics. Numerous sub-genres flourished alongside one off oddities. Blogs could be found on almost any football related topic; Football finance, football kits, football tactics, ground-hopping, music and football, football manager the game, stadium architecture, chips at non-league football grounds, and finally blogs dedicated to football in various nations and regions around the world whose entire footballing effort would have previously merited little more than a few lines in the pages of World Soccer. By the late noughties this whole scene was coming to maturity and at the top end blogs such as In Bed With Maradonna had established a clear brand image matching the traditional media for upholding quality editorial standards. Successful bloggers also gained large followings on the internet as a result of their writing. By contrast many traditional media outlets had been slow to embrace the internet and their online efforts at the time compared poorly.

Who were they?

As for the bloggers themselves, very little is known however, some US based research presents a few clues; A survey of 214 sport bloggers carried out by the John Curley Centre for Sports Journalism at Pennsylvania State University, published in 2009, found that 9 out of 10 sports bloggers were male with many being under 30. The researchers also found that the majority were college graduates, though fewer than 1 in 5 had a journalism, or communications degree. Similarly the 2011 paper focusing on eight prominent sports bloggers which cites the John Curley research found one common theme among participants was that the majority had what the authors termed ‘good educational pedigrees’, but despite this they had expressed dissatisfaction with the jobs they had just prior to their sports blogging careers. This may well suggest that for at least some blogging was an outlet for educated individuals, produced by successive expansions in further education, who felt their newly acquired skills were underused in the conventional labour market.

What did they achieve?

So what exactly was the impact of these educated, but directionless young adults? To answer the question one must look back to the recent past; Ahead of the Euro ‘96 semi-final meeting between England and Germany The Mirror newspaper ran a front page headline which read “Achtung! Surrender!” with the strapline “For you Fritz, ze Euro 96 Championship is over” If this was not excruciating enough the headline was accompanied by pictures of Paul Gascoigne and Stuart Pearce’s heads, sporting superimposed WWII style helmets. At the same time the bespectacled, pyjama wearing character ‘Statto’ with his interest in facts and figures was singled out as a figure of derision on the popular Baddiel and Skinner show Fantasy Football League. Both cases reflected the state of mainstream English football journalism. While there were of course exceptions, it was in the main both insular and anti-intellectual. The bloggers offered the perfect antidote to this producing writing which revelled in both intellectualism and internationalism. Analytics became the new cool as bloggers discussed nuances in tactics and on-pitch performance measures – Statto was having his revenge.

Two decades on from the Mirror’s headline the mainstream of English football writing is virtually unrecognisable. The influence of the bloggers over the past decade been apparent as the mainstream has absorbed their style and content. This can be strikingly overt such as The Guardian newspaper which has entered into partnership with some bloggers to reproduce the content of their blogs via the Guardian Sports Network.

The not so good
The impact of the bloggers has however, not been universally welcomed. Bloggers can be seen to pose a challenge to both the authority and livelihoods of traditional journalists. In 2013 Barney Ronay of The Guardian foretold the death of the traditional journalist at the hands of the amateur blogger:

At a time of rare and delirious expansion, football journalism in its traditional form is also facing the spectre of its own slow death. Not because nobody wants to do it any more, but because everybody seems to want to do it at the same time. It is hard to imagine this process in other day jobs: the suburban milkman setting off on his morning rounds and finding hundreds of other people already patrolling the dawn streets on rickety box-car floats quietly leaving their own bottles of home-brewed white liquid on the shared doorsteps, brushing past him on the driveway as he stands, a little bewildered in his dairy apron, just lingering long enough to mutter something barbed about traditional milkmen being finished…

Ronay’s concerns are not unfounded. In the past few years a number of journalists have found themselves unemployed – a situation which has arguably not been helped by the competition they face from an army of amateurs prepared to do their role for little, or no financial reward. On the other hand traditional journalists have managed to defend the exclusivity of the access they enjoy to the games key figures whilst bloggers do not appear – at least for now – to be threatening the status of the elite group at the top of the sports-writing hierarchy.

A more cutting criticism can though be made that despite increasing the number of voices in circulation the football blogging movement did little to increase the diversity of those voices. Like traditional-media sports writers, football bloggers were overwhelmingly white and male. This lack of diversity arguably finds itself reflected by the fact that whilst blogging explored many niche subjects issues such as race, gender, sexuality and discrimination received little attention.

The end of blogging?

But has blogging had its day? In 2014 a crisis of confidence arose as a number of prominent football bloggers began asking whether football blogging was over. They pointed to the loss of prominent and popular blogs, to bloggers giving up because of boredom, burn-out or lack of time, and to the incursion of the mainstream into football blogging territory. Elsewhere, from across blogging genres, there were also reports of a drying-up of comments on blog posts. With few reliable statistics it is always hard to verify such anecdotal evidence and it is possible to find contrarian viewpoints that football blogging continues to be in good health, but nevertheless the feeling that something had changed was there.

For some it was not necessarily a clear-cut case of doom and gloom. Instead they pointed to an evolution taking place in blogging. This development – like that which gave rise to the blogs – was down to technological changes; Smart phones with high quality cameras and video recording capability, faster internet speeds and platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have opened a new genre which had come to be termed ‘micro-blogging’; More visual and easily digestible than traditional text-based blogs micro-blogging is far less time-consuming for its authors whilst the social-media configuration enables easy sharing and allows large numbers of people to engage in an open conversation. Unsurprisingly football related micro-blogs have proliferated ranging from football kit designs, pictures of grounds, analytical graphs, football stickers and images from old video games.

More disputed is whether such evolution is a good thing. Whilst some may celebrate the expanding reach of blogs and point to the added dimension the use of micro-blogging can provide established blogs others may regret the dumbing down and loss of quality compared to what may be regarded as football blogging’s golden age. If anything though this evolution underlines the impact technology continues to have on football writing and suggests that the future for both the bloggers and traditional journalists is far from being settled.

Player Autobiographies – an analysis of what’s on the shelves

15 May

Recently I carried out an experiment. On a day trip to the lovely city of Chichester I visited the local Waterstone’s and headed straight for the football section; The aim was to jot down all the football autobiographies on sale and then do some analysis. In total there were 16 different titles – these are the results:

Player Biographies

The biggest single characteristic the group shared was top flight experience, either as a player, or manager. The sole representative from outside the top flight was Ben Smith with an autobiography titled Journeyman: One man’s odyssey through the lower leagues of English football. In this case the lack of a top-flight career is the unique selling point of the book. This is very much in the vein of books like Garry Nelson’s Left Foot Forward: A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer, published back in 1996. 

The second most common characteristic among authors is that three quarters have retired from playing. There is a good reason for this; An autobiography written mid-career makes for a dull read; it lacks the distance necessary for proper reflection and the author isn’t going to want to damage their career prospects by settling scores, or by revealing their love of wild partying and addiction to gambling. As Joyce Woolridge recalled in an article on player autobiographies for When Saturday Comes Stanley Matthews dad had once remarked “What folk will bother to sit down and read the comings and goings of a lad of 23? When you have really lived and have a story worth telling that may benefit the community, then by all means get down to the task of writing your story.”

69% of the authors had a British, or Irish nationality. The exceptions were, Sven Goran Ericcson, Dennis Bergkamp, Sergio Aguero, Andrea Pirlo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It will be interesting to see whether this changes as the number of foreign players in the Premier League has grown. In part the explanation for the low number of autobiographies by foreign players is that as most authors put pen to paper (or rather speak into a ghost-writers dictaphone) after retirement (see above), but even allowing for a time lag, this number seems low. Similarly there have traditionally been very few autobiographies translated into English from players who have had their entire career abroad, even very notable ones – certainly you’re not likely to see Oliver Khan’s Ich. Erfolg kommt von innen (translation; I. Success comes from within) appearing in Waterstones anytime soon.

The majority of authors were also full-internationals – 69%. This is because autobiographies only tend to get written by top players – and these invariably have graced the international stage at some stage in their career. Among those without international honours was Sven Goran Eriksson who was of course an international manager and Sir Alex Fergusson who although not gaining a full cap did play a number of games for a Scotland XI on a tour.

Finally 31% of authors had a connection to Manchester United. Although this is low compared to the other figures when it is considered that Manchester United are simply one of 20 top flight clubs it is possible to see how disproportionate this actually is. Undoubtedly much of this stems from Manchester United’s dominance in the 1990s when every other person in my school appeared to support Man U. The economics behind this is, of course, that players associated with better supported teams will be more likely to see their autobiography on Waterstones shelves as fans like to read about players who have been at their club, either through affection for that player, or for a glimpse behind the scenes that it may offer.

The list of ‘authors’

Trevor Brooking

Alex Ferguson

Dennis Bergkamp

Paul Lake

Andrea Pirlo

Stephen Gerrard

Sven Goran Eriksson

Ryan Giggs

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Gary Neville

Vinnie Jones

Paul McGrath

Roy Keane

Ben Smith

Alan Stubbs

Sergio Aguero

How to succeed at football blogging

10 Mar

Row Z is now approaching three years old. Old enough for me to have put together an anthology, but also old enough for me to have picked up a few tips for successful blogging. I’m not saying that I follow all these points – it’s a question of time and to an extent will power, but here is my brief list of what I feel are the important points for any football blogger to consider:

Pay attention to style

It might seem superficial to say, but even the best prose in the world is going to look insipid when set in a standard WordPress, or Blogger template. A good, instantly recognisable style can work wonders. It could be a colour palate, a font, a logo, a clever use of images, or even an entire package which cements your blogs identity.

Good example:

In Bed With Maradona – more commonly known as IBWM – is the one to emulate here with its distinctive visual grammar which exudes a type of coolness complementing the leftfield articles the site specialises in.

Teamwork

For all the diversity of the football blogging world there are essentially two types of blogs; Ones operated by individuals as a solo-effort and those run by a collective. Although it’s not impossible for solo blogs to succeed, success is much more likely to be achieved as part of a team effort; A pool of writers means much more content, many more ideas and perspectives, and far less chance of burn-out.

Exploit the gaps

Blogs are at their best when they fill a gap. While there will never be a shortage of broadsheet, tabloid or magazine articles on the race for the Premiership title, or the merits of the Arsenal squad the same can not be said when it comes to an analysis of the Slovenian second division which could expect to receive about a paragraph a year in World Soccer, if lucky.

Good example: Futbolgrad brings in-depth knowledge to focus on a region which despite being of interest to many receives little attention in the mainstream media.

Tweet-Tweet and Tweet again

This was a tip passed on to me by other bloggers – get on Twitter. There is a huge community, or sub-culture, of bloggers and readers on Twitter and it’s a great platform for publicising your posts and engaging with like-minded writers.

Take a wider view of success

When we’re talking about success in blogging what does it actually mean? Most people’s first answer would probably be hits, or for some maybe even money. For others success might mean an effective-stepping stone on to bigger and better things – i.e a job as a paid journalist.

The truth is that success can come in a multitude of forms. It could just as equally be measured by how much you have improved as a writer, how much fun you’ve had, or the number of friends you’ve made along the way. It could even be about some bigger and loftier aim of playing a part in drawing attention to a marginalised or neglected part of the game whether it’s grass-roots, women’s football, or even the Slovenian second division.

If you have any tips of your own, please leave a comment.

In praise of Manager’s Notes

24 Jan

Programme notes

Arriving at a football ground in advance of kick off there are a few options for passing the time until kick-off; Watching the teams warm up, listening to the up-tempo motivational music pumped out by the tannoy system, observing the antics of the furry team mascot as it gambols around the sidelines, or reading the managers programme notes.

Manager’s notes are something of a football institution, but they have not been universally well-received. Ahead of a game with Manchester United in the 1969-70 season the then Arsenal manager Bertie Mee could barely contain his disdain when he set out his view in the notes that:

“I strongly believe that a Football manager’s job is one that does not permit him to appear too often in print. Equally, however, I believe that I owe it to our supporters to tell them from time, to time, just what is going on behind the scenes.”

It was not until the tail-end of the season, some seven months later, that Mee would allow his words to appear in the programme on the occasion of the second leg of the UEFA Cup against Anderlecht with Mee’s chief topic being his pleasure with the progress of Arsenal youngsters Eddie Kelly and Charlie George.

While some managers continue to avoid programme notes, leaving the job variously to chairmen, club captain, or programme editor, Mee’s view appears to be in the minority. Indeed one of his successors in the Arsenal hot-seat Arsene Wenger routinely fills several pages with conversational-style observations and anecdotes ranging from the performance of the team, the players, injuries, discussion of the attributes of the opposition and reflections on the ones-that-got-away. Reading these the fan can be forgiven for thinking, for a few moments at least, that they are engaged in a one-to-one chat over a pint with the manager.

Wenger has, of course, been with Arsenal for some time, but programme notes can be useful too for incoming manager looking to make a vitally good first impression with fans; setting out their credentials, and just as importantly their vision to return the club to greatness and like Louis Van Gaal, in his notes ahead of Manchester United’s pre-season friendly with Valencia, anticipating that “special moment” when he would be “walking out into the stadium as the manager of Manchester United.”

Equally for the under-pressure manager programme notes can provide a space for setting out excuses for ‘undeserved’ defeats; a long injury-list, fixture congestion, the bad luck in hitting the crossbar, the unjustly awarded (or denied) penalty and the unfair sending-off. Programme notes are a place for the manager to rail against everything that is wrong with the world.

For those of a more sporting bent, notes also allow the manager to acknowledge the achievements of the visitors, and of their opposite number – particularly if the visiting manager is a former colleague from back in their playing days. In fact this gesture is expected as demonstrated by the furore surrounding Jose Mourinho’s omission of any mention within his programme notes of Arsene Wenger’s achievement in leading Arsenal for his 1,000th game in charge against Chelsea.

Mind games, perhaps, but Mourinho – whose own notes rarely rise above the average – would do well to take a lesson from Brian Clough who manages to combine a gesture of sporting acknowledgement with a reminder of his own greatness. Welcoming Aston Villa ahead of a 1979 clash Clough opens his notes with:

“If there is any manager and club who have had more publicity than myself and Nottingham Forest this season it’s got to be Ron Saunders and Aston Villa.”

It is a line which you can only imagine Clough saying, though in a modern managers life you sense that there are several more pressing issues to attend to than sitting at the word processor and banging out a few hundred words, besides there is no shortage of capable writing talents involved in putting together the glossy ‘match-day magazine’.

Such developments should however, be resisted as managers notes are by far at their best when at their most eccentric and off-message – though few can be more off message than a one-time manager of Hampshire’s oldest football team, Fordingbridge Turks, who in recounting a 5-3 loss to Southbourne suggested that with the exception of two players “the rest of the team need shooting.”

When boss of Conference side Yeovil Town in the 1989-90 season Brian Hall, in his On the Ball column, eschewed the usual topics to produce some classics of the notes genre; One fine example being a surprisingly humorous account of a six-and-a-half-hour nightmare journey to Nottingham en route to take on Boston. Of the M1 Hall’s sense of frustration is tangiable as he writes

“We explored at about 1mph every yard of it from just outside Luton to Toddington, had a break to discuss the road surface and surrounding countryside and decided we were enjoying it so much that we continued our examination for a further five miles.”

It is a description which lays bare the unglamorous life behind-the-scenes in the lower reaches of the game. More importantly it somehow reduces the distance between the manager and the fan, which is what manager’s notes are all about.

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