The sport, you might imagine, has changed a bit from those long-lost days of working class solidarity. But according to the first part of this excellent social history, football started as the rich man's plaything it has now become again. All that people's game stuff, it was just a phase it went through.
The rules as we know them were invented in public schools, played, if the footage of Etonians hoofing the ball in the air over the heads of a lost midfield pack, the Graham Taylor way. The only way for northern upstarts to gatecrash this party was if they were financed by local businessmen's fortunes. Blackburn Rovers, for instance, had agents scouting foreign parts for the best talent, attracting it to the moors with the promise of filthy lucre. Nice to know some Victorian values still hold good.
Like People's Century, the pleasure of Kicking and Screaming's first episode lay in the way in which archive footage was sound-tracked by eye- witnesses' memories. The pictures of the white horse, Billy, clearing the pitch of spectators before the first Wembley Cup Final, were spruced up no end by learning that the policeman on his back had no idea where Wembley was before he set out that morning. "Go up the Edgware Road and turn left," was the instruction. If, in subsequent episodes, the producers can make that shot of Geoff Hurst scoring the fourth in the World Cup Final live again, the nation would be united in thanks.
Football was half a century old before anyone thought to film it. Our present national obsession has been chronicled into the ground throughout its short life. Cutting Edge's The Trouble with Money (C4) celebrated a year of the National Lottery by catching up with a few winners and losers, many of whom we were already familiar with, thanks to the tabloid assumption that if you are rich you must become famous. Cheap shots of cheap shoes, lingering close-ups of winners not able to work out how to operate their expensive new ovens, this was standard sneering fare. Except for the parts when Lee Ryan was on screen. pounds 6.5million richer after the finger picked him out, Lee has subsequently lifted two of his own up to the rest of the world and revealed himself a gloriously cool customer. "Don't be soft," he said as his wife shed a tear for the previous owners of their palatial new pile. "We're the gaffers now."
Sadler's Wells or Lee Ryan, it is difficult to know which tabloid winner has given the nation more pleasure.
Sunglasses perched high in the glorious confection that is her hairdo, two candelabra jangling from her ears, several items of big game draped around her shoulders, Bet Gilroy made a characteristically low-key exit from Coronation Street (ITV). Without a lottery win to finance her dream of buying the Rover's, she went out of our lives forever. As she climbed aboard a taxi out of the street, she grinned like a woman released early from a life sentence. She might be happy, but for the rest of the country, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will be the poorer for her passing. Perhaps Lee Ryan might organise a national hand-out as compensation. No, thought not.Reuse content