Three weeks before Christmas I was supping a pint or three of foaming ale in the company of a Hibs fan. He is as passionate about Edinburgh’s lesser team as I am about Hearts and we meet regularly to put the world to rights although as the night wears on I do tend to find his oft-repeated assertion that Hibernian taught Pele and his fellow Brazilians how to play football just a tad weary. However, he also told me a story about how a Hibs legend - if that’s not an oxymoron - namely Pat Stanton had never forgiven Easter Road manager Eddie Turnbull for transferring him to Celtic in 1976. Admittedly, several pints had been consumed by this point but as Stanton’s passion for Hibs is legendary in Leith it was a story I just couldn’t dismiss as ramblings of a drunken old Hibby. Moreover, it brought home to me just how football has changed over the decades.
The following evening I watched the BBC’s excellent Match of the Day programme and watched the two sides of Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez. Now I’m not implying the Argentinean is overweight; rather there was the sublime side when he scored a fine goal against Bolton Wanderers followed by the ridiculous when he displayed considerable anger towards his manager Roberto Mancini on being substituted in the second half. A week later, he handed in a transfer request. Not only that but Tevez was one of several players featuring in the programme wearing what appeared to me to be a cravat around his neck - apparently the snood is a recent ‘accessory’ among modern players to keep warm, as if woolly gloves wasn’t enough.
Those of you who regularly read my ramblings in the match day programme might not be surprised to read I’m very much an old school fella. Perhaps it’s just me but footballers seemed a much tougher breed in decades gone by. Tackles and challenges would fly in from all directions without as much as a booking, merely a stern look from the referee. More often than not, the player on the receiving end of such a tackle would simply note who committed the act and exact suitable vengeance later in the game, out of the vision of the referee. Nowadays yellow and red cards are brandished for what seems like minimal physical contact. Players wearing snoods and gloves might as well have a sign on their shirts stating ‘please don’t touch me, I’m a fragile sensitive soul so please permit me to run to your goal unhindered’
Older Hearts fans who fondly remember the likes of Drew Busby would laugh at the very idea of ‘Der Bomber’ wearing gloves or something round his neck to keep him warm. Busby, like the late, great, Jim Cruickshank, was also of the breed of player who put the team first before any personal gain. Apart from brief spells at Queens Park and Dumbarton which book ended his long career, Cruicky spent his long playing career at Tynecastle. Similarly, Jim Jefferies spent most of his playing career at the club he supported as a boy and most of his success as a manager has come at the club that means so much to him.
Some of the attitudes that prevail today sadden me. In Aberdeen last month, the local newspaper carried a report that stated that three unnamed Aberdeen players had spoken of their delight that Mark McGhee had been sacked as manager of The Dons. The inference was that some of the team’s lacklustre performances of late had been down to the players unhappiness with the manager (although The Dons performance in their 5-0 drubbing at Tynecastle suggested a more serious malaise) Surely players ought to play for their club with pride and professionalism and put any differences they have with the manager aside when they run on to the field of play?
Similarly, those players who publicly declare they no longer want to play for their country dismay those of us who believe representing your country is the highest honour a footballer could achieve. I think back to players like Archie Gemmill who, despite playing for Derby County at the time, drove his wife more than 200 miles to Paisley in order that his son would be born in Scotland. Gemmill, scorer of a wonder goal against Holland in the 1978 World Cup, even named his son Scotland (although he is more commonly known as Scot and like his father played football for his country)
I know we live in a different age now and the days of players devoting themselves to one club as Gary Mackay did in the 1980s and 90s have been consigned to the history books. Nevertheless, tales like the aforementioned Pat Stanton one do make me recall football in years gone by with more than a degree of affection. Having said all that are still some players today who remind me of the likes of Drew Busby and his ilk. However, if Kevin Kyle takes to the field any time soon wearing gloves and a snood, I will fear the game I grew up with has gone forever!