Why we 'Oldies' stay away

Last updated : 27 June 2011 By Tony Scholes

In April 1991, the Ex-Clarets Association sponsored Burnley's home game against Peterborough United and that brought a number of their members, our former players, back to Turf Moor.

One of those players was Jimmy McIlroy, who didn't attend many games at the time, and he explained why in an article in the Burnley Express during the next week.

For the record, Burnley won the game 4-1 with both Roger Eli and Ron Futcher scoring twice. Below are Jimmy Mac's views on football in 1991, far removed from the game he'd played in the 1950s and 1960s.


John Connelly was walking two yards in front of me, when a voice said: "There's our right wing today," and in the split second before turning round the thought crossed my mind that the speaker was no spring chicken.

Sure enough, he was a fellow in his fifties and the bloke it was spoken to was of the same vintage, they both had to be because what soccer fan under 40 would know what a right wing was?

The remark was made outside Turf Moor on Saturday before the start of the Peterborough United game, and the reason John and I were there was that the Ex-Clarets Association was sponsoring the match.

Now, no disrespect to this current Burnley side - but it has to be said that that is almost the only reason every one of we former Clarets were there - the other reason being only a fractional one that our old egos still enjoy recognition and the odd compliment.

The reason we aren't regular visitors to Turf Moor, and I think I speak for all my old mates, is that none of us understands the game that is played these days.

It isn't played at our pace, the formations are different and the whole pattern of play is confusing.

I'm certain of course, to the lads involved today, players, coaches and managers, there are no such problems. They can easily explain tactics and the responsibilities of each individual, and they can be forgiven for looking at us as if we've been asleep since hanging up our boots.

The older we are the further we are out of touch. Just as I was finishing in the 60s the idea of packing the defence was in its infancy and then Alf Ramsey shook the football world by disbanding with wingers and winning the World Cup - so needless to say, everybody followed suit.

To get players back behind the ball it meant they had to be really fit to cover so much ground - so training was really stepped up, with the result that they are much, much fitter than in my time.

Work rate became a substitute for skill; everything was done faster and footballers became superb athletes. The rhythm went out of the game, as did individual skills, and not only did we old codgers view it with disdain, we simply couldn't understand the changes taking place.

It is difficult to say if the changes in style came about through the vision of coaches or it was forced on them by the quality of players coming on the scene.

It is not surprising that pre-war and post-war there were some superb ball players in the game, after all kids had very little else to do then other than kick a ball around for entertainment.

And not only that, but in most cases the ball varied from a tennis to a smallish rubber one that unquestionably developed a delicate 'touch' and 'feel' that is impossible to obtain today. What youngster would dream of kicking a tennis ball around when he is given full sized plastic balls every birthday and Christmas - balls that are too heavy and large to hone skills to  high degree.

Somehow, the pressure on managers was nothing like as intense as today, in fact, managers were very much low key figures in the game.

Then it seemed as star individuals became scarcer the media had to see other heroes - and the obvious persons were the managers of successful teams.

Motivation became the creed of the day, the successful managers had it and the also rans had not. Managers were conquering heroes, the fellows out on the field were just the lackeys who carried out the brilliant tactical plans construed by their bosses.

The rewards for success were tremendous, for failure it was the sack and the turnover in managerial casualties became, and still is, unbelievable. In fact, the time in which a manager is allowed to achieve success matches the speed of the game out on the field.

For our colleagues who stayed in football the changes taking place were gradual and they learned to adapt and accept them. To those of us not involved they only hit us periodically with the result that they not only came as a shock, but they were baffling too.

On Saturday, time after time I looked at the army of players bunched in the middle of the field with both wings wide and empty, a sight I'm aware is  seen on every ground in the country from schoolboy up to international level.

I don't know why the full width of the pitch isn't used, vaguely I imagine it has something to do with playing 'tight' or cutting down space whatever that means, but having had it drilled into me from an early age to find as much space as I could, my commonsense refuses to accept anything else.

As a player one of my best passes was from inside right (right inner to you young fans) to outside left (opposite flank). Today, I'd be bewildered because there is no one out there to receive it, except occasionally a defender and my instinct would be to hesitate before sending him on the attack.

Times certainly have changed. Many of today's defenders possess as much skill as forwards so I'm left with the impression that a player could be picked up from any part of the field, put in another and do just as good a job.

But it isn't just a new pattern of play that keeps us old has-beens  away from watching - it's the fact that we believe the players in our day were superior to the ones in action now. Which is understandable because it was a more individualistic game then and individuals were allowed to shine.

On top of that I've always believed old players, old anything certainly in sport, in fact hold an inflated opinion of their abilities. I'm sure we weren't as good as we thought and still think we were.

Unable to see ourselves as others see us - and even others could be miles out too, how do we measure our skills? Maybe the ball players of my era would find today's speed would destroy their skill and timing - who knows?

Overriding everything - different game, different speed, different attitudes - is the fact that the majority of old players find it much, much more difficult to be entertained than does the out-and-out fan.

Spectators obtain thrills and excitement in admiring talent in others at a level far below that which would cause a stir in an old player. The better the old player has been the higher his level of appreciation, so that anything less than seeing Liverpool at their best, or a George Best or Paul Gascoigne in action, leaves them unmoved.

I remember once seeing and old Irish golfer on television looking bored to tears. He was Harry Bradshaw, one of the finest post-war European professionals, leaning on a fence at an Open at Royal Lytham with an expression that clearly said "Why am I here?"

Harry had not only played with the best but had been one of them, so only the occasional super shot from the like of Seve Ballesteros was likely to stimulate his interest.

The odd time I go to a game, I usually end up asking myself the same question. I don't think conceit comes into it - it's just the penalty to pay for turning back on the road away from the past.


This article was reproduced by kind permission of the Burnley Express