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"It matters a great deal who is going to win, but not at all who won"

Willie John McBride, Irish Rugby player

50 Greatest Football matches

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Richard Whitehead (Ed), The History Press, 2019. ISBN9780750990585

The concept is simple: reports on 50 football matches as they appeared in The Times next day. The 50 matches chosen range from 1883-2018. All the iconic of matches are included – the white horse Cup Final, the 1953 Stanley Matthews Cup Final, England losing to the great Hungarians, Celtic’s and Manchester United’s European Cup triumphs, England winning the World Cup, the 5-1 win over Germany and Liverpool’s great comeback against AC Milan etc.

The book works at several different levels. For anyone interested in the history of the game, recalling the great matches is of interest. The inclusion of the friendly match between Wolves and Honved is a reminder that in the days before the European Cup or Champions League this was the only opportunity for an English club to play a continental club.

For those of us who write reports on sport, and worry if our words will still be relevant the following day, the idea of being read 100 years later is quite a daunting one! Us modern writers also need to remember that we can type on a computer and email the report – having checked on social media if our first judgment on an incident was correct. Most of the reports in the book were dictated to a copy taker, with the writer having no access to live or action replay TV footage.

Some of the old reports include facts that would not be thought to have any relevance today – who won the toss, the singing of the national anthem in the presence of the King etc. Other quaint matters included the listing the teams in the form of “R. Charlton”, presumably to refer to him as Bobby Charlton would seem too informal. The report on Nottingham Forest’s European Cup Final victory in 1980 included a quotation from the manager, referred to as “Mr. Clough”.

The report on the 1923 Cup Final includes a discussion of whether the referee’s decision to disallowed goal by J R Smith for offside was correct or not – no VAR, no action replay, just opinion.

A lovely book which brings back so many memories of and also reminds us of a bygone age in terms of style of report and the challenges of the writers would have faced without the technology we take for granted.



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