Footballers yesterday and today

This week the rich players of Basel FC played the super-rich players of Chelsea. Fifty years ago things were very different!

In this same week Manchester United went to Germany and triumphed over Beyer Leverkusen. They would have certainly enjoyed the return plane trip. Over 50 years ago, when Manchester United went to Belgrade, the return trip via Munich was the catastrophe that all older football fans remember: the plane crash 55 years ago which killed the cream of Manchester United and England footballers.

One player who survived that crash was Bill Foulkes. Five years later, despite being a defender in the days when players generally kept in their assigned places, he scored a vital goal when his team beat Real Madrid 3-2 in the semi-final. The team then beat Benfica in the final.

Life for footballers like him was very different from today. In his Obituary it is recorded that according to his autobiography his early daily life was like this :-

“I would leave my bed at 5am, then walk across the fields to reach the colliery an hour later. Then I would do my shift and be up on the first winding of the cage at 2.30pm. I would shower at the pithead, snatch my football kit from my locker and catch a train from Lea Green station, arriving in Manchester at 4.30pm, though training didn’t start until 6pm.”

After the plane crash he started playing again almost immediately, being promoted to team captain. However, in those days there was no such thing as post-trauma counseling: you just got on with things. He did, however, admit to having suffered emotionally and physically for several years: understandable when you think of the close colleagues who were less lucky than him in the crash.

No doubt some of the rich and super-rich footballers remembered him, and may, when they heard of his death, have been mindful of all that has changed since them. It is also nice to think that, as Chelsea flew back to London after their loss in Basel, the money that the players earn is not always sufficient to guarantee success.

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