Amid the jarring sadness of the brilliant Peter Osgood's premature death there was an intriguing question. It came from the briefest re-examination of his life and times: did the physical brutality of English football back in the Sixties and Seventies ever bring to the terraces the disgust now being provoked by serial diving and play-acting? For anyone only now acquainted with the details of one of Osgood's most significant matches - the war-like FA Cup replay with Leeds United at Old Trafford in 1970 - the answer may be surprising. The historical perspective is surely beyond question. It says that yesterday's clogging was deemed morally superior to today's cheating. Why? Maybe because it wasn't a tissue of deceit, a contamination that couldn't be tracked - or cured.
A code of violence was applied so ruthlessly it might have been handed down from Mafia headquarters but it was accepted as much by the fans as the players. The idea of diving to cause the dismissal of an opponent was unthinkable; for one thing it would have broken utterly the demand on his players of one of the most influential managers in the game, Liverpool's Bill Shankly.
Before every game, and with particular emphasis when it was against Leeds or Everton or Osgood's Chelsea, the injunction was written in stone. "Whatever you do out there," he said, "never let them see they have hurt you." For one of Shankly's key players, Ian St John, it was an order utterly consistent with all he had learned as a young star of the Scottish game with Motherwell.
"There was an old saying in Scotland," recalls St John, "which went, 'Aye, they may say he's a good player but how good will he be with his knee-cap flapping?'" Shocking? Unprincipled? Savage? Maybe it was all of those things, but the degree of public outrage never began to touch that recently expressed when Arjen Robben fell to the ground in his pursuit of the dismissal of the Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina - a shameless act which was seen by many as one of the nauseating moments in the unchecked rush to wholesale chicanery.
Back in Osgood's day some of the fiercest performers were wingers. No full-back lightly whacked a Mike Summerbee or Johnny Morrissey or Terry Paine. Such players never had the reputation of a Norman "Bites yer Legs" Hunter or Tommy Smith, but you fouled them at your deepest peril.
The same was true of John Giles, one of the most creative players of the day, who reflects today: "All I wanted to really do was play football but I wasn't going to die by the sword without reaching for one myself." Denis Law, a magnificent striker but physically slight, was frequently required to go in against much bigger defenders with withering skill and bad intent. St John says: "It was the day of pre-emptive action, because if you didn't do that the chances were you wouldn't be able to play." Fascinating, in a morbid kind of way, was the decision of a referee of much more recent vintage, the Harrow school housemaster David Elleray, to pass his verdict on that Chelsea-Leeds Cup replay after watching the video.
The official on the night, Eric Jennings, booked only one player: Chelsea's Ian Hutchinson. Elleray reckoned that if the game had been played in his day, he would have been obliged to send off three Leeds players (Giles, Billy Bremner and Jack Charlton) and hand out seven yellow cards to their team-mates. Chelsea would have earned 13 bookings, with three each for Dave Webb, Ron "Chopper" Harris and Charlie Cooke, whose chief claim to fame was a mazy dribbling technique.
Recalls Giles: "There was so much stick flying around, I have to admit it was pretty horrendous, and I make no excuse for it. But we did have some strange code of honesty, and I tell you one thing without a shadow of doubt: in the course of the first game at Wembley and the second one at Old Trafford not one player from either side took a dive; no one would have thought about it.
"I don't defend what happened back then, and I certainly don't have any pride in my part in it, but I'm sure of two things. One is it that it was inevitable the game would come to its senses, and that no one who played or managed the game back then would have had any part of today's culture of diving. Then you took stick and you handed it out, but you couldn't imagine faking injury or trying to get a player sent off. Maybe he would be carried off, but that would be another matter."
In all, Giles played 525 games for Leeds. Not once was he sent off or suspended for foul play. "My enemies would no doubt say that the explanation was that I was a crafty little bastard, but I don't think anyone who played then wouldn't argue that it was essential you protected yourself in the only way you could."
St John says: "I remember Ossie [Osgood] clattering one of our guys, and when I rushed to him he held his hands up and said, 'Saint, you know that's not my game.'
"The truth is he could put it about like most of the rest of us, and you wouldn't want to make a case for that. But then everybody, the players and the fans alike, seemed to accept that however unscrupulous the play there was a certain honesty. The referees didn't really know what was going on; if they had, maybe it would have been different. If they and the people directing them had known a bit better, they might have learned, and without the problem of being conned every time they went on the field."
Conning the ref just wasn't a factor back then - at least in the matter of feigning pain - and of course physical abuse had to be addressed sooner or later. The big trouble with the cheating that has followed is that it cannot be so readily identified - or treated.
So it eats away at the heart of today's football. Its appetite is insatiable. A sensible fear is that this may be far from true of the fans.
Big Sam dispatches Beckham's great expectations
No doubt about the most arresting sports headline of the week. "Belt Up Becks", it screamed from the back page of The Sun, a newspaper which over the years has detailed with amazing thoroughness every last speck of minutia in the saga of David and Posh.
Who was making such a stand? A Sven Goran Eriksson asserting the last of his dwindling power as the lame-duck coach of England? An indignant football statesman weary of Beckham's relentless self- aggrandisement. No, it was Sam Allardyce objecting to the England captain's apparent dismissal of prospective national team coaches who have neither managed in the Champions' League or played international football.
Said Allardyce: "Of course experience of the game at the highest level would help. But it's not essential. All that matters is that you are a great manager."
This was a reminder of an exchange between Howard Cosell, the best-paid television man in American sport, and Red Smith, the wry New York writer. They were at a cocktail party and Cosell became exasperated by what he deemed to be a certain lack of respect. So he shouted over to Smith: "Hey, Red, come and tell these bozos how many great broadcasters there are in the world."
Smith, hardly pausing, said: "One less than you think, Howard." We can only guess what he would have made of Big Sam.
Much to admire in Collingwood's fighting instincts
England's combative posture in the first Test in India is as welcome as it is surprising. If ever a bunch of sportsmen looked to be separated from the best of themselves - the relentless pyrotechnics of the historic Ashes win - it was the third-choice captain, Andrew Flintoff, and the remnants of his team earlier this week.
Flintoff showed his commitment when he decided to miss the now well-established ritual of returning to England to witness the birth of a baby. It was a gesture, plainly not so easily arrived at in these days of the new man, that received a wonderful response from his team-mates, and especially the all-rounder Paul Collingwood.
The Durham man (above) is maybe one of Test cricket's least naturally gifted performers, but his resolve to make it to the top of the game has always been as ferocious as it has been modest.
This must have made it doubly satisfying when his breakthrough century came at a time of desperate trial for some of his more glamorous team-mates. He supplied something that without which every team, however full of superior talent, is hopeless. It was the instinct of a pure fighter.Reuse content