Mud, Glorious Mud!
Date: Friday 11th November 2005Football, contrary to some public opinion, did not begin with the birth of David Beckham. To start with, he is not a northener; which may account for tinted hair, abuse of tattooing that was initially the property of home-sick servicemen, and the dress sense of a Christmas Tree. And his father wasn't even a twinkle in his granddaddy's eye when real football was being played. Neither was he the first player with lace on his underpants. Albert Quixall (used to play for the unspeakables down the M63) had a penchant for peroxide and shorts that were little more than a jockstrap with frills. The 'glamour boy' disease made an attack at our beloved club via Syd Farrimond's olive-oiled legs and the prototype Campo curls of a certain Warwick Rimmer. Fortunately, the epidemic was soon put down. If Kevin Davies looks a little bronzed at times, it's due to all the fresh air training. Most of the rest of our squad brought their tans with them from sunnier climes. Enough said.. Now, to the matter of sports equipment: Pick up a pair of today's football boots and they remind you of those little lace bootees for new born kids. 'Real' football boots were a different thing altogether. In Albert Ward's (Bradshawgate)and Len Tobutt's (Bridge Street) sports outfitters, a new pair of leather boots took two assistants to just lift them onto the counter and it took three weeks of running on cobblestones before the legs were strong enough for you to cope with them. Kill a cow, hack off a sizeable lump of its hide, give it a scrape, let it dry in the gas oven and bingo; you had the makings. Sew the shapes up with triple catgut, make two toecaps from the cow's horns and the soles from a bull's forehead and then make the studs from eighteen layers of leather with three inch nails for knocking into the soles, and you were match-ready. Oh, don't forget those square leather laces. For the first few games the tops of the boots shaved a few layers of bone off the ankles, since they came three inches above them, but what the hell, it was football? Dubbin, a sort of thick yellow axle grease, was applied somewhat futilely to both balls and boots in the mistaken belief it eventually softened thing up. It was waterproof, and that was about all. Beyond that it was just a mud trap. Speaking of mud, just what happened to it? What fun was had when it covered the colours of players shirts on a winters day and no one knew who was passing to who. That's where individuality began in football. It was safer just to keep the ball than risk being fooled by the clingy stuff that covered all. If the ref had upset you, you could do a slider on him and claim immunity due to non-recognition. Bring back mud! The balls, ah the balls. Today's beach balls are designed for sheltered accomodation and under-heated pitches ,not the rigours of wind, snow, rain and mud that their predecessors had to live with. Imagine panels of the same raw cowhide, stiched together, and never mind the trimmings, and with a gaping four inch slash left open. Into this gap was inserted a thick rubber pancake - sort of a blood-pressure tester's big brother - with a flapdoodle bit of tube sticking out. The end of a bicycle pump was then inserted into the tube and half an hour of blood, sweat and tears began. When finally some sort of circular and very hard shape had been achieved, the tube was bent over, tied with string and forcibly pushed inside the mouth of the finished product. Another 15 minutes of trying to get one of those square leather laces through holes on the gaps edges and two minutes of bouncing on concrete to see if it stayed up and you had a match ball. Heading one of these things was equivalent to head-butting a telegraph pole and heading the bit with the lacing would today be a guaranteed hospital visit. Track suits?? What the hell was a track suit? Get changed, get out there and get on with it. Football shirts were made of coalbag reject material and nothing else was needed. Eskimos have been known to apply for the formula of the weaving. Nothing can be further from the modern concept of a track suit (much later in time, I might add) than it's original purpose; to clothe the bodies of athletes when not in action and keep the muscles warm. When confronted by some of todays citizens, vastly overweight, munching a burger and who have never mounted a flight of stairs in anger, one has to wonder at the motives of Nike, Addidas and others who supply them in size triple extra large. Why not just call them burger-suits and be done with it? The only track the majority of wearers ever see is when they go away by train. Track suits indeed. Today's 'pedal-pusher' pants were designed after the 1953 football shorts of Bolton Wanderers. Style, we invented it! Football academies were invented in the north. Try kicking a tennis ball on wet cobblestones whilst wearing a pair of clogs and you'll begin to understand why. This was the cornersone of the Lofthouse era. After being whacked on the shins a few times in this manner and ass-landing on those blue-setts, it is little wonder those of my generation find the football school of dramatic acting of today a pain in the nether regions. 'Goal poaching' was referred to as 'titty-line' playing and scorned openly. And so to our beloved Trotters. Bolton Wanderers has a genuine ring to it that spits 'north' at you and chops off the frills. Even the rest of our unspeakable northern neighbours have the decency to call themselves United, Rovers, City etc, whilst below Watford Gap, well... what sort of a name is Tottenham Hotspur? Arsenal, Fulham, Charlton and Chelsea are mere post codes. No proud ring to them like the northern teams. Thereby lies the difference. Bolton lads were brought up on real boots and balls as described above. Although we have now rounded in a few volunteers from further afield, they are all Boltonians at heart. They did not always even have Burnden Park as their meeting place for tactics either. Their first headquarters were in The Brittania Inn on Derby Street (long demolished) The magnificent Reebok Stadium is one of the better things of modernity, but some of us will always remember the football in the raw of times past, medicine balls, pit clogs an all. When we went a-wandering, we went a wandering. Long live the Lilywhites, another Trotter nickname (when super (souper) meant thick fog), from the glorious past. Trotters, Lilywhites, Wanderers or Superwhites, we love em. Bring it on...!