This is one of my “just humour me” posts.
Most sports thrive on history. Cricket’s history is as interesting as you want it to be; just pick up a book and read. My own lifetime has seen all kinds of twists and turns, and while I have barely watched a ball of Test cricket since Sky bought the game, I’m happy enough with what’s in my head.
In America history is everything. Baseball is positively drenched in history, and, perhaps typically, the over-sweetening deflects from the really interesting business of who did what, when, and how well. In the past everyone was a hero, a legend, and a triumphant product of the great game.
We do the same over here to an extent. The past is rightly glorified, but only the stars and the characters get remembered. As it should be perhaps – what will people say about Aaron Hughes in 50 years time? (not a criticism!) – but it does tend to mislead, or leave great gaps for those with enquiring minds.
I have in my possession a scorebook from 1949, published by the Cleveland Indians baseball club. It was sent to me by a friend in America. I didn’t ask for it but nor did I ask for the rest of the stuff he sent: loads of Sonny Rollins music, a few books, and a few old baseball artefacts. The scorebook is really interesting:
That’s a game between the Indians and the St Louis Browns in 1950. Players from the past, but caught in action, so to speak. Weirdly, I know these players: Mickey Vernon was a pretty good first baseman, little power but took a walk; Larry Doby a young Negro Leaguer whose superstar career was, at this point, entirely ahead of him. Had he been born ten years earlier he wouldn’t have been able to play in the majors because of the colour of his skin; as it was he went on to be a huge star. Luke Easter wasn’t so lucky: the colour line was lifted at the end of his career, so the public only got to see him thwacking balls well out of the ground for a few years while he was in his thirties. What might have been? Al Rosen was a slick fielding third baseman, Ray Boone (is it?), part of the Ike-Ray-Bob-Brett-Aaron lineage that played for most of the last century; Bobby Avila a massively underrated Mexican second baseman… wonderful team, and here they are, as new.
In football we haven’t got this information. People can talk about the greats, but the devil is in the detail and we have little of that. Fulham is served well enough in that we have the amazing Dennis Turner Complete Record, but even that can only go so far. Martin Plumb’s books bring a very specific era to life with great verve, but again, there are massive gaps. At some point we need to get enough people with enough memories in one place, to piece a few of the less obvious jigsaws together before its too late. Nobody will lack for information about the present era, but the past needs capturing. How can this be done? I want to know about the players, but more, I want to know what it was like to watch a game in the 40s, in the 50s, and in the 60s.
We have clues. The books are excellent, and you hear snippets on the message boards. But probably we need video:
Pretty good, eh? That’s the same pitch we see Danny Murphy and his team speeding around today. Think about that. Beautiful isn’t it?
Here’s another game:
Watch that clip, then this:
Feel it. Amazing. Haunting. History isn’t boring; history is two years ago and forty two years ago. It’s all important.
We need more of this. Footage must be available. Must be. This is what I was on about the other day. We don’t need cheap t-shirts, tracksuits and leisurewear, we need goals and tackles and men in black and white charging around that field by the Thames that we know so well.