It is often the praise we give talented writers that they â€œpaint with their wordsâ€. Places and people seem to appear in front of our eyes and weâ€™re engulfed by them. What can we say then about Jon Spurling, who in ‘Get It On: How The ’70’s Rocked Football, manages to transport us back in time and presents us in front of the characters and personalities that defined and redefined the world around them?
Spurling makes a fascinating job explaining and showcasing the times and the personalities, but also of letting the protagonists, of which heâ€™s interviewed a great deal many, tell it themselves. In their own words, interviewed across a lifetime in journalism, the men who shaped (and were shaped) by this era give their take on what happened and how it went down. It offers incredible insight into their minds and how were taken the decisions that ended careers, scored historic goals, and transformed football.
Society was changing in the 1970s, and football with it. Much in the same way, football was changing society. There was a new generation of players who not only adored the limelight but were also ready to reap the benefits of their popularity. Names like George Best, Alan Ball, Rodney Marsh, or Charlie George were cut from a different cloth than their predecessors and knew what they wanted. New icons for a changing society, they enjoyed the first flashes of superstardom but struggled with its consequences. Spurling shows us the highs and lows fame brought for football’s first superstar in Best, but the explosion in popularity and fame opportunities for footballers, as told through the eyes of iconic photographer Terry Oâ€™Neill and the participants on his famous clan portrait
There was also a new generation of managers, who embraced their role not as stern-faced dictators but as bombastic showmen who could just as well enjoy their time on the headlines. The brash and loud, bigger than life personalities of men like Brian Clough, Tommy Docherty and Malcolm Allison differed fundamentally from the way Sir Alf Ramsey o Bill Nicholson had run their ship. Spurling takes us, for example, through the rise and fall (and rise) of Clough’s career, his irruption into the scene, both as a manager and as a TV personality; how his detail-oriented management style made him successful and his controversial outspoken personality made him popular, but also how reckoning came for him as his antics get him (in all but name) sacked from the Derby job, his erratic 44-day stint at Leeds and his rebirth as a manager at Nottingham Forest.
There were smart men around the sport, who recognized the times were changing and were quick on their feet to grab their opportunities, be it on TV, marketing or the sportswear business. The introduction of the opinion panel, club brand awareness and the branded kit, were the first steps into the exploitation of footballâ€™s commercial appeal that we live today, with the good and the bad. Spurling tells us the story of Paul Trevillion, the man who masterminded the Super Leeds to make Revieâ€™s team more marketable, and ofÂ the early boom of the replica kits market, as Bert Patrick’s Admiral tempts first Leeds United and then most of the English league into changing the kit market.
Just as well, there were smaller clubs hitting way above their weight, turning the leagues upside down and producing shocking results, be it the meteoric ascension of the likes of Derby County and Nottingham Forest under Clough, the building of a European powerhouse in Liverpool under Shankly and Paisley, or the giant-killers in the FA Cup, it was a time where traditional powers as they were could not be confident to be left to their own devices. Spurling goes in-depth into Bill Shankly, the culture he built at Liverpool and his struggles to find an enjoyable life after football, but also on how Liverpool entered the Paisley era, with changes to the style of play, the player recruitment and the pre-match preparation. Just as well, he dives into some of the most famous giant-killing fixtures in the FA Cup during the 70s and the FA Cup triumphs of Ipswich Town and Sunderland.
It is also perhaps the first time the issues of racism in the game and the rising problem of hooliganism are taken into account. Itâ€™s about the profound sense of injustice, how it affected those involved and the strange sense of camaraderie that arose from them when everything else failed. Spurling chronicles the rise of Hooliganism as the economical crisis in the UK worsens and the discrimination suffered by first black stars in Millwall and West Bromwich Albion.
All of this was thrown into one giant blender and what came out was a new era, one fascinating and exhilarating (as well as often misguided and at times dark), which Spurling narrates masterfully
Much in the same way, Spurling goes over the struggles of the older generations, as some of the most laurate men of the previous era struggle to remain on top, perhaps failing to recognise that the very ground below their feet is shifting, and resistance is as futile as insurmountable the distances. Spurling shows us Sir Alf Ramsey wrangling to replicate his success with the generation that followed the World Cup Winners of â€˜66, and how even Don Revieâ€™s message fell on deaf ears during his stint with England.
In an era as we live today, where the traditional role of the manager is all but a relic of the past, and even some of those who but a decade ago were on the cutting edge of the tactical game struggling to remain relevant and connect with a new generation of players, it does perhaps work as a cautionary tale. With transfers fees climbing and rule changes allowing for the first foreign players to impact the English game,Â it could very much be that it was in the 70s that the seeds of the game as we know it today were planted.
It is, fundamentally, the story of a generation of non-conformists challenging the status quo, masterfully told and interwoven. There is always some light and some dark to every chapter; no blissful innovation goes without the lamenting of something lost, no sparkling personality goes without a troubled downfall, no merry band of winners can ever challenge indefinitely under the ever-changing circumstances of the sport. Get It On is a transversal cut through the ethos of an era, a snapshot of seismic changes that forever transformed the landscape of English football. There are a lot of insights to take from it, as well as so much to reminisce about from a time that, with its own heroes and villains, shaped the years to come and pushed the game forwards.