The Professionals meet Starkers and Hutch

Sport on TV
Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE EPISODE of Kicking and Screaming (BBC2) devoted to football in the Sixties was sub-titled From Serfs to Superstars. But since the most charismatic figure in the programme was inevitably George Best, a better motto might have been From Slurps to Champagne Bars.

These days George, with his twinkling eyes and bushy black-and-white beard, comes across like a dirty-minded badger. But he was candid about his extra-curricular activities at the height of his Manchester United fame. "I did sausages," he admitted. "I did oranges, I did after-shave." Not, in fact, the contents of an unlikely King's Road cocktail, but just some of the things that he advertised: Best sellers.

George was no slouch at selling himself, as well, if we believe the rambling anecdote about how he picked up a girl who'd never heard of him and sneaked her past Wilf McGuinness, the exasperated United manager, into the team hotel. "It helps me sleep, boss," Best claimed. "I need to relax."

Alvaro Maccioni, an Italian restaurateur, recalled that Best was often as relaxed as a newt. "I've seen him the night before a game at two o'clock," Maccioni recalled fondly, "and I thought he'd never get up. And yet, he played such football - I was stunned."

Maccioni also revealed that Best would have played for Chelsea FC for nothing, such was his affection for the club. For Tramp, that is, a nightclub just a short stagger away from Stamford Bridge. Perhaps Glenn Hoddle had a quick word with the mercurial Irishman before he opened negotiations with Ruud Gullit.

Chelsea's glamour credentials were impeccable: they had Dickie Attenborough on the board, Lord Snowdon in the stands and Raquel Welch, in bulging blue shirt and shorts, on the pitch - albeit only for a photo-shoot.

In those days Ian Hutchinson was the club's top scorer. There was Hutch with a clutch of thigh-baring French maids, Hutch planting a smacker on a newly crowned beauty queen, Hutch grinning broadly with the beknickered behind of his latest catch over his shoulder, Hutch getting his socks off with a topless Page Three lovely. He really should have been nicknamed "Rabbit" Hutchinson: it's a wonder he ever played a game, what with all the strain on his groin.

But things were different up North, where Don Revie ran Leeds United like a monastery. Long hair was out, beards and moustaches were out, jeans were out, booze was out. What was in?

"It was bingo," Norman Hunter recalled, "and carpet bowls." And there they all were, Hunter, Billy Bremner, Wor Jackie, sitting around ticking off the numbers like a party from the Sunset Old Ladies' Home on a day trip to Bridlington.

But come match day, the Leeds lads threw aside their copies of Readers' Digest, kicked off their slippers and showed their true colours. That nice Norman Hunter, for instance, who looked so harmless in a cardigan, was nicknamed "Bites Your Legs", and his chums specialised in attacks on other parts of the anatomy. "Their ruthless dedication to victory," as James Bolam's commentary delicately phrased it, "heralded a new phase of professionalism." In fact, when it came to professional violence, Leeds made Bodie and Doyle look like pacifists.

Johnny Giles was as brutal in his honesty as he had been in the tackle. "When you're playing for a living," he declared, "sportsmanship goes out the window, and you do what you can to win. If someone's going through with a good chance of scoring and you can pull him down, you pull him down."

Such dedicated nastiness brought an emotional response from their opponents. "Hate," Ian Hutchinson said. "We hated them, and they hated us." So the 1970 FA Cup final replay between the two sides did not make for family viewing: it was, as Bolam gravely intoned, "the dirtiest spectacle on record".

"We kicked them, and they kicked us," Chelsea's Tommy Baldwin recalled. It was football as Biblical retribution: Charlton scythed down Osgood, so Bremner went flying, and so on. "There are some fair old crunching tackles going on in this match," the commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme, jovially observed, chuckling: "It's not for boys." Or men. It was for animals. If the game had been played with a Premiership referee it would still have ended 2-1: Chelsea two players left on the field, Leeds one.

Thankfully, there was time for a little light relief before the end of the programme, and proof that not all that much has changed in the world of televisual sport: cue Trevor Brooking looking like a pillock. This time he was in his England kit, doing synchronised star jumps with a couple of simpering bimbos in hot pants and (for some reason) Celtic shirts. "It was one of those things you hoped that nobody would notice," today's Trevor told us. "You look back on it and think: 'How did I ever get involved with that?' " Another subtitle sprang to mind: From Serfs to Twerps.

Comments