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August 2021

Football ancient and modern.

Football ancient and modern.

Charles Veritie.

Football ancient and modern.

As the title suggests this is a look at football in the past and as we have it now.

I started thinking about this because each time I read of something new in football I have asked myself ‘Is it new? And concluded perhaps not.

What would a fan from the 1920s going to a match on Saturday afternoon this season see that was different to what he saw in the 1920s leaving aside the electronics that we have at to day’s stadia and in life as a whole?

The first thing I think he would notice is that the players are taller but that might not be a surprise to him as going to the game he would have noticed the fans are taller too.

The game itself.  How the game is played.  The positioning of the players. The tall attack player in the centre. Fast wingers crossing the ball at the goal line. The running with the ball. Curiously known as ‘dribbling’. I‘ve often asked myself this question. Why was/is running with the ball called ‘dribbling’?

The running off the ball.  The team attacking for most of the game but losing to breakaway goals. Arsenal often won this way in the 30s, which I think is how they got the tag ‘Lucky Arsenal’.  The hoofers and play the man and not the ball. The fouls made that were hid from the referee. The fouls not hidden and not punished.  The referee’s wrong decisions as to where the ball was. I think the fan of the 20s would say the game hasn’t changed

Is the modern fan more knowledgeable about the game than the 1920’s fan? This is a difficult question to answer because we do not know his thoughts on football back then. Today on the internet alone there are 1000s if not tens of thousands commenting on games. The TV and radio fill the airwaves with comments and opinions on games. Then if we are not saturated with all that we can read the papers. A few have an understanding of what happens on the pitch.

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Bill Deedes former editor of the London Daily Telegraph back in the 1980s said that the more means we have to communicate the less we are able to communicate.

As evidence of this. almost every day we moan and groan at the inane comments made by ex players making a living as ‘pundits’. What do they tell us that we don’t already know? Very little. Further more they seem to be chained to a cannon of words and expressions and thoughts so much so you don’t have to be a prophet to write their scripts. Was it so back then?

The league set up might surprise him yet find him asking what is the difference between now and then? I think he would say Ok. Ok so the league names are different but the system is the same.

We will tell him how we have players from around the world. He would say that ‘We did have them to. admittedly not a lot but we had them.

We will tell him how we now have rich owners of clubs who can do what they like with the club. He will shrug his shoulders and say something like ‘O yeah. Like at Arsenal with that ‘Enry Norris bloke.’

We will tell him how some clubs have directors of football and the manager is a coach. I can hear him saying. ‘Didn’t Arsenal have one of those in the 30s that Allison bloke. He weren’t a footballer he was a reporter.’

I saw a video of an interview with Arsene in which he was asked: ‘Would you have a director of football at Arsenal? I saw his face light up and knew there was what I have come to call ‘An Arsene’ was coming. Sure enough. Arsene replied:

‘Yes I would welcome a director of football at Arsenal but he would have to do what I tell him!’

We will probably never know the real reason why Herbert Chapman upped stakes at his high flying Huddersfield and took up Norris’s offer to be manager of Arsenal a club going nowhere but ‘down’. One thing is certain. the then rich owner did not interfere in the football side of the club it’s the same now.

Football ancient and modern. Is there a difference?

The books…


10 comments to Football ancient and modern.

  • That’s a really interesting question indeed.

    There have been a few rule changes about goalkeepers, the number of steps they can take, and receiving a back pass, but other than that the last major rule change that had a huge impact on the game was the change in the offside rule which came in, in 1925, and which in turn led to the development of zonal marking, and the playing out of defence through the WM system.

    As for Norris, he did indeed clear out all the accumulated debts of Arsenal in 1910, and then offered the club back to the fans through a £1 share offer. After that failed he took all the financial risk in building Highbury, but thereafter sought to run the club profitably – and that is his legacy to us.

    But perhaps the biggest change is tactics. Chapman complained of how hard it was to get the players to do what he wanted on the pitch. He was the man who, with Charlie Buchan, basically invented modern tactics, and got the players to do what he wanted them to do. That change happened in the late 1920s.

  • Matt Clarke

    An interesting post, thank you.
    Maybe the modern players are physicaly fitter? You wouldn’t catch a modern Arsenal player smok … oh.

    Us fans are different in some ways. My Dad used to go to Highbury in the mid-1930’s when there were many tens of thousands of fans in the stands and they were, by and large, all well mannered (and they mostly all wore hats. I don’t know if there was a connection).

    I understood that ‘dribbling’ was so-described as it involved a repeated and rapid tapping of the ball, akin to water dripping.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Here’s my take on why it is called dribbling .As you say that the hoofers were then the norm ; so ,whenever there comes a player who does the opposite and takes on the opposition with sublime and skillful control and runs with pace , the fans ( and probably the other players !) watch with astonishment and mouths agape .
    Occasionally there is ‘smacking of their chops'( no relation to ‘getting smacked in the chops ‘!),in antcipation , and both lead to the copious effusion of saliva .
    From this dribbling of saliva came the origins of the term .
    If my version is the truth ,then what would you mind imagine to Sir Stanley Matthews being called ‘The Wizard of the dribble ‘?
    If you cannot use your imagination ,view these youth and their ‘skill’, youtube .

  • blacksheep63

    surely amongst the most obvious differences is the weight of the ball and the kits players wear? Modern footballers would struggle to do what they do with 1920s kit.

    and salaries; post Jimmy Hill players’ wages have rocketed and have completely changed the relationship between players, clubs and fans

  • Armin

    Reading post yesterday, I decided to pick few games clips which can be find on net, and to make “study”. It is hard to be 100% sure because of change in technical performance in cameras and other recording and broadcasting equipment, but seams to me that our bloke from beginning of century would be ok with tempo of game till, let me say mid nineties. From then it would look to him as a bit fast forward, also he would be surprised how close players stand today (opposing players, defender vs attacker). Rest is mainly the same, except famous Ronaldo triangle haircut.

  • WalterBroeckx

    When I sometimes see old games of football like European cup finals from long ago I have noticed at times that everything was slower. Putting a player from 40 years ago in a team from now would result in him getting extremely tired after maybe 45 minutes. Now this is based on European games with top teams like Real Madrid involved.
    I had the feeling that those teams could raise the tempo for a few minutes and that was making the difference.

    Now the games are played at the same pace more. Well that is the impression I have.

    What has completely changed was the referees. when I see how referees and assistant referees did there job compared to how it is now…. But one has to remember that in those days many referees where rather old in fact. As to now they are much younger and fitter and can run more than most players without any problem. This can be seen in the (compared to now) poor positioning from refs and assistants.

  • Shard

    Interesting article. I think the main difference now is the speed of the game, and the constant movement. Although perhaps that is more a factor in England than in Spain. Pressing as a tactic only started in the 70s and 80s, so generally players had more time on the ball before that. Also I think teams have gotten more organised than in the past, where one player could affect the game much more than today. Plus, the level of physicality has gone down. Even watching some games from 12-15 years ago, it’s surprising what wasn’t even considered a foul back then is now a clear yellow card. So I guess that aspect would have changed tremendously since the 20s.

    Rule changes like offside, backpass, substitutions and cards, would also be new, but hardly tough concepts to understand.

  • colario

    Your last paragraph on the referees of the past. We seem to think that the standard of refereeing at least in England could not be worse than it is. How do you think to days standard compares with the past?

  • WalterBroeckx


    a question I asked myself when writing my comment.

    The problem is of course that it is difficult to compare without studying a lot of historical matches from the past.

    Now I do have the impression that based on what I have seen from some old European cup matches that in general the behaviour of the players was much tolerant to anything the ref did. But there wasn’t talk of yellow or red cards at that moment so it is difficult to judge.

    I do think that since the 70ties there came much more violence in the game. But maybe that was based on a society problem? What was the influence of the 60ties and their protests movements of all kinds on this? After the golden 60ties (well in Europe and the USA anyway) people (mostly young people) opposed to the system (any system in fact) and so any authority (including the ref’s authority) was under fire and attacked.

    In fact both from the crowd and players.

    I still remember in 1980 in one of my last games. I was a goalkeeper and our team was to the bare bones: hardly 11 players left that day. I injured my thumb in the warming up and couldn’t stand in goal. So I was put centre forward and my brother who played in the same team was put in goal(he also was rather a decent goalkeeper !).

    Because of the pain and not used to playing up front for a while I was bad. And I even got frustrated and when a defender beat me once again I brought him down. Not a big foul but just a little kick on his leg from behind without the ball near me. And the ref then said to me: calm down or I have to give you a yellow card. And me in my youthful stupidity and angry on myself for having a terrible game I responded to him and said (translated of course) : just do what you want to do as I don’t care. And the ref gave me a yellow card for that.

    Now this was a game that my father attended (and he rarely came to see) and I still remember when going to the dressing room I passed the spot where my father was standing and boy I can tell you that he gave me a mouthful for my lack of respect for my opponent and the ref.

    It was the only yellow card I got in my career for behaving like that. And my father made sure I would never do it again.

    What a memory…. and we bloody lost that match…and I was useless for 90 mins… 🙁

  • colario


    I know the feeling. Wanting to play for Arsenal but only good enuff for spuds!

    You mention red and yellow cards. That is something that would surprise the fan of the 20s and have to be explained to him and I think would find easy to understand. As far as know Herbert Chapman who thought of much that we have in football to day did not think of that one.

    Here is a link to wikis take.

    “As positive as Arsenal were, I thought they were quite negative.”

    Peter Reid