Threeandin is proud to welcome a man who made his name in the upper reaches of Division 2 in the 1970s and 80s as well as being a Scotland and England international, Lawrence Gray-Hodson.
He’ll write exclusively for us as the season progresses, dealing with all the issues the domestic game throws up. In his first column though he looks back to the World Cup.
When you’ve been around the game of football for as long as I have there’s very little that surprises you. Let me tell you, I’ve seen things in dressing rooms and around the back of nightclubs that wouldn’t make the back pages in a million years. It makes the idea of Gazza turning up with chicken and lager for a mentally disturbed murderer seem downright normal.
That’s why, after the World Cup final, I had to laugh at the people who jumped on their ivory towers and looked for the immoral high ground when it came to pundits reactions to the game. There was a lot of focus on how rough the Dutch were. I watched the game with Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles and, over a few jars of sangria in Marbella, we chuckled away to ourselves about how times have changed. You think Holland played dirty? You were never on the end of a Johnny Giles reducer or a Peter Storey fisting.
Compared to the games we played in the men in orange were like precious ballerinas handing out flowers and lemon cakes to the Spanish. This new breed of fan who thinks he’s so clever because he has a blog audience of a few dozen and some backslapping followers on Twitter just doesn’t understand the game of football at all. Sure, they can talk about diamonds this and pyramids that, deep lying midfielders and false 9s but you talk to any ex-pro and they’ll tell you none of those things matter at all.
The reality of the game is out there on the pitch, the 22 men doing battle with each other. You don’t see any of them out there with text books, do you? Of course not. Books are for libraries and the decent class of waiting room that doesn’t lumber you with months old issues of Time or Reader’s Digest.
That’s why when they accuse British pundits, who everybody knows are the best pundits in the world because we invented the game and have been talking about it longer than anyone, of double-standards it makes me want to choke them on my own vomit. I lost count of how many times I heard them say great men like Alan Hansen and Andy Townsend were hypocrites for criticising the Dutch’s foul play while saying nothing about teams who play like that in the English league.
Are they stupid or what? They simply don’t get it. If they can’t see there’s a difference between foreign brutality and British brutality then they need to open their eyes. Sure, some foreigners think they can kick opponents as hard as we can, maybe that’s true, but they do it differently. They’re sly, underhand, devious and full of trickery. I remember playing an away game in Italy back in the 70s and the minute the ref’s back was turned they would literally gouge your eyes out. Poor Wilf Mortenson ended up playing the second half with an eye-patch on just so no bits of mud would get into the socket.
Not us though. We wouldn’t stoop to their level and if we had to go in two footed on somebody we made sure it was in full view of the officials. That’s the difference. That’s what sets the English game apart and that’s why it curdles my loins when people accuse the likes of Ryan Shawcross and Martin Taylor of being monsters. There was nothing devious about what they did, there was nothing nasty and foreign, it was good, old fashioned, honest British brutality, in the best traditions of the game.
Did they get red cards? Of course. They took their punishment like men, unlike the sneaky, whinging immigrant de Jong or van Bommel who wouldn’t have lasted two minutes on the field with Chopper Harris or Trevor Cherry. As for their so-called victims, well they show their mettle by running off scared to places like Ukraine, which in my day didn’t even exist!
So when Hansen and Co criticise the Dutch for what they did, it’s not hypocrisy. It’s bravery. They’re trying to maintain the standards of the game in these fair isles. Everything else has been homogenised by the EEC, or the EU as they like to be called now, don’t let our football go the same way.
I pray that the bosses at the BBC and ITV, who know more about the game than the plebs who watch it week in, week out, don’t succumb to the populist notion that these men are bad for the game. Nobody wants to see a player get his leg broken – except for Billy Bremner, he loved that – but serious injury is part of the game, always has been, always will be. Perhaps it will take going through a season without the spectacle of a man trying to hold his leg together to make these idiots realise what they’re missing.
Let’s hope that never happens.
Lawrence will be happy to answer any questions regarding the article, or anything else, in the comments section!