Then And Now by Peter MacGibbon

Huddersfield Town story posted by Peter MacGibbon on 22/07/2003
No! I haven?t got the title the wrong way round, I?ve just been thinking about all the differences between when I first started watching Town and now. There are actually quite a lot, affecting spectators, players, finances and the game itself.Then And Now by Peter MacGibbon

Let?s start with the time of the kick off. Back then all games were played in daylight, no floodlights until the 60?s, so it wasn?t a fixed time but variable, much like the time of the first race at race meetings. At the beginning of the season it was 3pm but in the depths of winter it was 1pm or 12.30pm.

Next, how did you get to the game? In the pre 1950s gates were much bigger than now and very few people had a car. The picture gives a pretty good impression of what the traffic was like in 1946.

(Incidentally I lived just past the trolley bus and the big house, a men?s workhouse. Our house was set back from the road backing on to Quarmby?s paper mill whose big chimney stack you can see in the picture.)

The answer to my question is that you walked to the game. On a Saturday, from an hour before kick-off, Leeds Road was a mass of humanity. There were trolley bus ?football specials? but they could only go walking pace because of the throng. 20,000 people walking to the game was a sight indeed.

Once you were in the ground the majority of spectators were standing, of course, not sitting. This was pre-Taylor report and pre the rebuild after the 1950 fire.

When the players come on to the field another difference is immediately obvious. No sponsors on the shirts and the shirts numbered from 2 ? 11 with the goalkeepers in green roll neck sweaters. Sometimes they wore yellow if one of the teams was in green, Plymouth, Celtic, or Hibs for example, or it was an international. Actually having said that I remember that shortly after Jack Wheeler was signed in 1948 he appeared in maroon on one occasion. I don?t know what the rule is now but then the stipulation was that ?keepers had to wear distinctive jerseys but the colour wasn?t actually specified.

The numbering on the shirts referred to the specific positions on the field. Hence the skipper, Eddie Boot, playing at left half, normally wore 6 but if Hepplewhite was injured and he played centre half then he would wear the number 5 shirt. No 15, 19 or 23! In fact no squad! No squad because there were no substitutes in those days. Apart from the fact that they didn?t know he had broken his neck one of the reasons Bert Trautmann played on in that epic cup final against Birmingham in 1956 was because if he had come off an outfield player would have had to go in goal and City would have been down to ten men. The aforementioned Jack Wheeler, who was with Town until 1956 makes the point that he finished all games with injuries.

That brings us to another difference once the game has started, goalkeepers often end up in the net. No mollycoddling like now! At that time the fact that they could use their hands was considered to give them advantage enough!

The player?s boots were very stiff heavy leather affairs, which had to be broken in, not today?s slippers, and the ball was also heavy leather, even heavier when wet. The plastic balls used now are a definite advantage; its not long since Jeff Astle died from the long term effects of heading a heavy leather football. I remember our wee John McKenna on the right wing who never ever headed the ball. One day he tried to, although it may have been accidental, and he was carried off unconscious.

No sponsors on the shirts because the idea of sponsorship was still many years away. Those were still the days of maximum wage limits for the players. Not so good for them but it did ensure that the club was solvent with the gate receipts covering the outgoings. Those were the days before inflated transfer fees. It took the best part of 40 years for transfer fees to rise from the ?1000 fee paid for Alf Common in 1907 to the ?25k we paid for Peter Doherty but less than 25 years from the ?1m Notts Forest paid for Trevor Francis in 1979 to the obscene amounts of ?30m+ that players are commanding today.

Harking back to the 2-11 player numbering, in those days most teams played the W formation. That?s something I want to look at in a future article, and to compare with today?s 4-4-2 etc.

Enough of my meanderings for today! Thank you for your patience.


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