Happy birthday, World Soccer


Britain’s first-ever magazine devoted to the global game, World Soccer, is celebrating its 50th birthday this month with a special anniversary edition. Fifty of football’s most famous figures have answered questions on their careers and what they think about the modern day game. Those who have agreed to take part include Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, and Michel Platini; the world’s greatest ever player, the only man to both captain and coach his nation to World Cup success, and the man in charge of UEFA. Tellingly, any individual who asked for payment in order to share his thoughts was rebuffed by the magazine. The fact that the fifty contributors chosen, who also number Eusebio, Gerd Muller, and Zinedine Zidane, are using World Soccer as a platform for their views is proof enough of the weight that the magazine carries, but for them to be speaking for free is an even greater accolade.

The first issue of World Soccer came out in October 1960 at a time when footballers playing in Britain were still governed by a maximum wage and Uruguay had won more World Cups than Brazil. This month’s copy features an advertisement on the back cover for Cristiano Ronaldo’s pink Nike Mercurial boots. Some aspects about football have changed beyond all recognition during the past half-century, you understand, but, fuchsia footwear aside, other elements of the sport remain more familiar. Uruguay, for example, after a prolonged spell of underachievement at international level, progressed further than their South American rivals Brazil in South Africa this summer.

Some features of the magazine have stayed much the same too. Brian Glanville continues to write a column, 47 years after his first contribution. His effort this month covers not only Wayne Rooney’s struggles, Lokomotiv Moscow fans’ racist treatment of Peter Odemwingie, and the format of the Champions League, but also the subject of money in football. The Football League lifted the restrictions on footballers’ pay in 1961 and, though the mere notion of a maximum wage now seems “iniquitous” to Glanville, later in the magazine it emerges that he predicted back in 1963 that its abolition might lead to “a concentration of power; a world in which the strong survive at the expense of the weak.” The world Glanville was referring to in 1963 exists now, he would argue, in the self-dubbed “Greed is Good” league, the Premier League.

With modern Britain having had a minimum wage for over a decade, any reluctance amongst 1960s commentators to fully embrace freedom of earnings in football might seem to belong to a bygone era, like Glanville’s way of addressing the managers of the time as “Mr.” But, given that English football’s anxiety about the prolonged dominance of the “big four” – a concept that revolves around the theme of which teams will qualify each year for the exercise in printing money that is the Champions League – was alleviated by economic forces, with Liverpool’s recent financial paralysis allowing Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City to compete for European qualification, it is very difficult to deny that Glanville was right to be wary in 1963.

The abolition of the maximum wage was the bridge between the legalisation of professionalism in English football in 1885, 22 years after the formation of the Football Association, and the current day situation in which six-figure weekly salaries are commonplace. Has this transformation from Corinthian spirit to superstar status been good for the game? Most people acknowledge that football is a faster, more athletic spectacle now, but the downward trend in goalscoring is bemoaned as the unfortunate result of the organisation and fitness of the team taking precedence over individual skill. Glanville, then, justifiably foresaw that the emergence of a select group of powerful clubs would have on-field consequences: “Mr Matt Busby, the manager of Manchester United, told us the other day that not only was it going to happen, but that it would be a good thing for the standard of the game. Mr Alan Brown, manager of Sunderland, seemed less sanguine; and so am I.”

The opening of World Soccer’s archives this month has allowed its readers an insight into how the issues affecting football on and off the pitch are as intertwined now as they were fifty years ago. Furthermore, the ability of the magazine to provide a tangible reminder of the significance of its writing from over the decades shows that online writing, in which we play a part, has a long way to go to attain the longevity and renown of the printed format.

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  • Suminder Sandhu says:

    Excellent article. The transformation of the game has been undeniable but the same ideological battles continue. Quality read, Will.

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