England Football Online
Contact Us Page Last Updated 28 January 2002
Peter Young
23 January 2002
Following English Football from Afar
It's getting easier, but technology still can't put you there in the flesh


In May, 1953, I emigrated to Canada.  I had no choice; I was nine and captive of my parents.

Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen had just led Blackpool to victory in the F.A. Cup final at Wembley.  Derek Dooley, Sheffield  Wednesday’s young goalscoring phenomenon, had just lost his leg.  England were still unbeaten against Continental opposition on home soil; Hungary’s celebrated 6-3 victory was still several months away.  

My father was a regular at Old Trafford, and so I followed Manchester United.  The season they won the F.A. Cup final, 1948, was the season I learned to read, pouring over the football pages of the Sunday newspapers he brought home.  The only way to make sense of the football summaries and tables was to learn to read them.

Attending football matches was a rare treat for me.  In the days when football fans stood on the terraces, not many small boys were taken along.  Bert Trautmann, Manchester City's famed German goalkeeper, lived round the corner from us in Bramhall, Cheshire and took me to my first Football League match in late 1951.  Bert drove my father and me to Maine Road and had to make a few stops along the way.  I remember crowds of young boys mobbing him at each stop, and Bert signing autograph after autograph.  Ivor Broadis and Don Revie were held scoreless that day, and it was Stoke City 1 Manchester City 0.  I can still picture Bert stretched out full length to his right as the ball went by him for Stoke's goal.  He berated himself for the goal on the way home.  I remember my dad telling him no goalkeeper in the world could have stopped the shot.  As a matter of fact, Bert probably was the best keeper in the world at the time.  He was hugely popular in the Manchester area and, indeed, in all of post-war England, and he still has my gratitude for giving a small boy a wonderful memory that has remained fast for more than half a century.

Televised matches started a year or two before we left England.  The first one I remember watching was Arsenal beating Hibernian, 6-0, in a late summer exhibition match touted as a showdown between the champions of England and Scotland.  Mostly, though, I got my football from the Sunday newspapers and the wireless.  Every Saturday at 5 p.m. my old granddad, Woodbine between nicotine-stained fingers, would take to his armchair by the fire, pull out his Littlewoods coupon, turn on the wireless, and listen to the Saturday afternoon results.

Canada had no such comforts.  The media never mentioned the football played mostly with feet.  We had to wait six weeks for arrival of the Sunday newspapers, faithfully posted by my grandparents.  And then in 1957 we emigrated to California in the U.S.A., where it was even worse because the newspapers took even longer to reach us.

We were starved for English football, and we had a taste only rarely.  In 1959 England, with Walter Winterbottom in charge, visited Los Angeles, where they beat the U.S.A., 8-1.  It was captain Billy Wright’s 105th and last international and young Bobby Charlton—hair still on top of his head with no need for the comb-over—got a hat trick.  Jimmy Greaves, a skinny newcomer still with Chelsea, went scoreless.  

For those of us who craved the football news and results, the beginning of the monthly World Soccer magazine in 1960 improved things quite a bit, but we were still always a month or two behind the times.

We saw the marvellous European Cup final of 1960--Real Madrid with Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Francisco "Paco" Gento destroying Eintrach Frankfurt, 7-3, at Hampden Park in Glasgow--on film about a year after it was played.  Later in the 1960’s we had visits from Manchester United and Manchester City and several Continental club sides.  And in 1967 Wolverhampton Wanderers, just promoted to the First Division with Derek Dougan at centre-forward, won the championship of a summer league of transplanted European club sides as the Los Angeles Wolves.

In the early 1960’s ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports began carrying the F.A. Cup final on the same day it was played, true bliss even if the American announcers seemed to spend most of the match explaining offside and fouls and corner kicks as Danny Blanchflower led Tottenham Hotspur to the double.  Then came the telecast of the World Cup final of 1966, also on same-day delay--another great treat for us.  They had to cut out part of the second half, of course, because they hadn’t planned on extra time, but still, it was heaven.  In the late 1960's, the North American Soccer League began, and the same Danny Blanchflower was providing colour on the telecasts.  He didn't last long; he was honest and blunt about what was wrong with NASL football, and that apparently didn't sit well with the television network and the sponsors.

From 1970 on we had no trouble watching the World Cup finals; they were either on Spanish-language TV or could be seen via live satellite telecast on the big screen at local sport arenas.  Football fans in the U.S.A. learned the basic Spanish footballing vocabulary, although “Goooooooooooooal” and "Gol, gol, gol" needed no learning.  We watched Brazil beat England 1-0 at the 1970 World Cup with 10,000 others at the Forum in Ingelwood, then the home of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.  The following week it was Germany over England 3-2 in extra time at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, better known as occasional site of the Academy Awards.

Later in the 1970’s the public broadcasting network carried weekly edited versions of German and English league games, usually a week or two old, as well as the occasional friendly international, with Toby Charles and Mario Machado doing the match commentary.  Don Revie’s England, featuring Kevin Keegan, came to Los Angeles to play Brazil in 1976, and Bobby Robson’s England, with Bryan Robson, Glenn Hoddle and Gary Lineker, to play the U.S.A. in 1985 and Mexico in 1986.  

We’ve also had visits from many more English, European and South American club sides and many other national teams as well.  Over the decades, we’ve seen Santos with Pele, Benfica with Eusebio, Manchester United with George Best, Argentina with Maradona, Brazil with Zico, all in Los Angeles.  I must have seen the U.S.A. play in the Los Angeles area 40 times, Mexico at least 20 times, Argentina and Brazil several times each, and many other national teams one or more times.  And, of course, I saw Bobby Moore, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Johan Cruyff and a host of other stars play with U.S. club sides in the ill-fated North American Soccer League of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Great stuff, but not the same as English football.  For that, the big breakthroughs for expatriates in the U.S.A. came in the 1990’s.   There were three.

First, the British pubs in the U.S.A. began carrying satellite telecasts of the games.  We could watch weekly league matches and most England internationals.

Second, the English newspapers became available on the web.  Because of the eight-hour time difference, we could actually read them a day ahead of their publication date!  A little later came a host of football websites.

Third, the advent of digital cable meant we could get many more English league games and even England internationals on home television, either through one of the new sports networks, like Fox Sports World, which carries Sky Sports news and matches, or through pay-per-view programming.

We’re almost spoiled for choice now.  Perhaps someday soon we’ll be able to watch any match we want.  But it still isn’t the same as being there in the flesh.  I love all football, but my favourite football is English football, not because it's the best--it isn't--but because it's the football I first knew.  And for English football in the flesh, you still have to be in England.  Until the advent of some technological advance beyond my imagination, I’ll have to settle for second best.