Wading my way through what is a recurrent theme at this time of year, that of angst caused by the lack of ‘signings’ at Hibs encourages me to consider a little of the way things used to be in professional football too many decades ago to admit to.
Of course nowadays the average supporter is well used to new faces in the squad, freshening up the team and creating interest around Hibs, and most other clubs for that matter. It should be remembered however that this state of affairs was not always so. Perhaps only two decades ago matters were quite different in an era that was not dominated by football agents, ‘Bosman’s and pre-contracts.
In those days we football fans were quite used to watching a very similar team evolve only very slowly over a period of seasons. We had our favourites, and just like now our villains, but we identified with those players almost like they were old friends that we renewed acquaintance with every other Saturday afternoon at 3pm. How easy it is to recall fan favourites such as Arthur Duncan pacing the left touchline every week for year after year or an Eric Schaedler, tough and fully committed to the cause week in, week out, having the entire East Terrace making every tackle with him?
The truth is that in those days, which now seem from such a greatly different era in football, the game was a far simpler one in many respects. It was seldom we as fans talked at length of board members and what their exact roles were for example – mainly because we weren’t particularly interested in what the ‘suits’ said or did generally speaking.
Every team had its resident hard man, skilled player, stalwart of a dozen seasons or more and character goalie. There was no real need to go fishing for your rival’s version of these players unless they were substantially and unarguably better than the men turning out in the one to eleven jerseys for your side. Of course most teams would push to sign that left back who was more accomplished than the one you already had, but the difference was the lack of fan clamour to do so by comparison to today.
Without wishing to be patronising, I often feel sorry for younger fans today. They seldom have the opportunity to build a relationship with their heroes on the pitch like we did. In past times we’d look for the team photograph in the close season and the biggest changes would be who had grown a moustache or their hair a couple of inches over their collar. The faces were always very much still there in the main, the Stanton’s and the Blackley’s peering out of the team line-up photograph, looking happy and optimistic for the new campaign.
Football will most probably never return to those days and this how it should be, forever changing, moving on and reflecting the society in which it operates. It’s difficult not to imagine that the current merry-go-round of cheap expendable and sometimes ordinary talent takes the average team absolutely nowhere in terms of tangible success however. Will the young fans of today be talking in legendary terms about their heroes, just as we insist on doing from those days?