independent

Saturday 25 May 2019

History isn't all about winning

Weird Wide World of Sport

A piece of history: After helping Manchester City win the FA Cup against Birmingham City, goalkeeper Bert Trautmann leaves the field rubbing his 'sore'' neck. It later transpired he had broken it. Allsport Hulton/Archive
A piece of history: After helping Manchester City win the FA Cup against Birmingham City, goalkeeper Bert Trautmann leaves the field rubbing his 'sore'' neck. It later transpired he had broken it. Allsport Hulton/Archive

Dave Devereux

History: 1. The study of past events, particularly in human affairs. 2. The whole series of past events connected with a particular person or thing. 3. A continuous, typically chronological, record of important or public events or of a particular trend or institution.

History was always one of my preferred subjects back in the relatively carefree days of school. Whether it be Irish, European or a more global outlook it's imperative to take a hard look at the past to gain any sort of understanding of what has shaped the planet we live in today.

We can learn so much from our predecessors, and hopefully not repeat their mistakes, although given the current state of world affairs, the powers-that-be seem to be blindfolded to the past and appear to be stuck on a depressingly familiar hamster wheel.

With the recent successes of Chelsea, bankrolled by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, and with Manchester City hitting new heights due to the backing of their supremely wealthy Abu Dhabi owners, you often hear supporters of rival clubs throw out the phrase 'money can't buy you history'.

It's obviously a completely ridiculous and unfounded accusation and it's as clear as an Arjen Robben dive that when people talk about history in football what they are really foolishly referring to is the number of trophies won.

Of course, that's a load of codswallop, and if you look at the dictionary definition above, there's no mention of winning, so teams like Man City and Chelsea, or even Scunthorpe United and Tranmere Rovers for that matter, have every bit as much history as the more decorated clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool.

Manchester City, for example, hold the record for the highest ever attendance at an English club's home ground when 84,569 packed into Maine Road for an FA Cup sixth round tie against Stoke City in 1936.

That figure may have been surpassed in 2016 when 85,512 watched Tottenham Hotspur against Bayer Leverkusen, but that was played at Wembley Stadium.

They also hold dear the final day of the 1973-'74 season when they sent local rivals United down to the second tier, when former Old Trafford darling Denis Law's goal condemned the Red Devils to relegation from the top flight.

Anybody who follows football will almost certainly have heard the tale of goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, who helped his side to beat Birmingham City 3-1 in the 1956 FA Cup final, when he played on after breaking his neck. If that's not history, what is?

Plenty would also have you believe that Chelsea had a scarcity of followers before the arrival of Abramovich, but a quick glance at the record books can also put that falsehood to rest.

In 1935, 82,905 fans attended their First Division derby game against Arsenal, the fourth highest official home attendance in England, while over 100,000 are estimated to have squeezed into the stadium for a friendly against Moscow Dynamo in 1945.

Legends of the game have strutted their stuff at Stamford Bridge, from players like Ron 'Chopper' Harris, Peter Bonetti, Peter Osgood and Jimmy Greaves of yesteryear, to more recent stars like Ruud Gullit, Gianfranco Zola, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba.

All servants that have given their all to Chelsea in the past, shaping the future of the club.

Whether you like it or not, that, my friends, is history.

You could easily argue that the clubs with the richest background in England are the ones that came into being first; like Notts County in 1862, Stoke City a year later, Nottingham Forest in 1865 or Sheffield Wednesday in 1867.

When the football league kicked off in England in 1888 it was made up of twelve teams: Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke and West Bromwich. They mightn't seem overly glamorous now but plenty of those founding clubs have had their own share of good days. Everton have spent more seasons in England's top flight than any other club, having plied their trade there for 114 seasons, winning the title nine times in total.

Aston Villa are not too far behind with seven titles and also have a European Cup to their name, while Blackburn have won the league three times and are one of only six clubs to have lifted the title since the Premier League rebrand.

Preston North End, Derby County and Burnley have won two top flight championships apiece, although admittedly Preston's successes came in the late 1800s, while West Brom's sole triumph was in the 1919-'20 season.

That said, there's much, much more to history than winning trophies. Every club, be it Bristol City, Portsmouth or Wycombe Wanderers, whether they have the trophies to show for it or not, have their own tales to tell and special moments to cherish.

In their past they have woven every bit as rich a tapestry as Manchester United or Liverpool, even if the trophy cabinet might tell a different story.

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