For this interview I had the chance to ask fellow blogger and contemporary (both born in 1973) Paul Whittle about his historical and informative Football (Soccer) blog: ‘The 1888 Letter-Football Then and Now’ https://the1888letter.com/
In this blog the author discusses the different aspects of the professional game in England and the rest of the world from a historical perspective.
Mr. Whittle started his blog only over a year and half ago, but has already uploaded a multitude of posts all dealing with the History of the game.
Soccernostalgia Question: Please tell me about yourself and your background?
Response: I was born in Leeds, England, in 1973, and still live in the county of West Yorkshire. My dad had watched and played football since the 1950s, and I inherited that love of the game. As for my career, when it became obvious I wasn’t going to become a professional footballer, I’ve never had a clear idea. After trying various things, I am now a Civil Servant.
Soccernostalgia Question: At what age did you become a Football fan and what are your earliest memories of the game (on Telelvision or otherwise)? Was there an event/Tournament perhaps that was a catalyst?
Response: I was kicking a ball around as long as I can remember, on the street, in the park or the playground. There was of course much less football on television when I was growing up, but I would watch Match of the Day on BBC or ITV’s Big Match if I could. For specific games, I can vaguely remember Nottingham Forest winning the European Cup (it must have been the second time), bits of the 1980 FA Cup Final, England matches sometimes and definitely the 1981 FA Cup Final with Ricky Villa’s winning goal. I was taken to a couple of games around then but I can’t actually remember too much about them.
Soccernostalgia Question: What made you decide to start your blog?
Response: I had a long-term ambition to write about football, but either never found the time, or didn’t have the confidence to do it. It was also difficult, before the Internet, to find an outlet for football writing without being an established journalist. Maybe ten years ago, I started to write about different interests (literature, music, science fiction) on blogs or just for my own interest, and also did some freelance editing and proof-reading. That made me think a football project was a realistic goal, as my first love and something I’m fairly knowledgeable about. I had an idea for a book, based on the recent past of English football, which took me several years to write. I would like to say more about it if (let’s say when) it is published. Anyway, I began to look at different blogs, making a note of which ones I liked and found interesting, and thought eventually it might be a good complement to the book. I had lots of ideas, some just bits and pieces, over the years, and decided in the middle of 2018 to start my own blog. I realised it would need regular content to be worthwhile, and so far I’ve managed to put a new post up roughly every two weeks.
Soccernostalgia Question: On your blog page, you give an explanation about the name of your blog “the 1888 letter” For the benefit of new readers can you explain why you decided on this name?
Response: It wasn’t actually my first choice! I looked at a few names which were more directly football-related, but they were either already in use, or too close to something else. I’d been researching the early history of English football and read about the letter which the founder of the Football League, a Scot called William McGregor, sent to a number of clubs in 1888. That letter invited them to form what became the world’s first professional football league. The only other results which came up for ‘the 1888 letter’ were about the serial killer Jack the Ripper, so I didn’t think anyone would be confused if I used the name. I wasn’t sure at first, but now I think it’s a bit different and I’m happy with it.
Soccernostalgia Question: In your own words, can you describe the content of your blog to new readers?
Response: I try to cover all aspects of football ‘then and now’, with the main focus on English league football from the 60s to the 80s, which is what I grew up with, or was in the recent past. I wanted to write about players, competitions, teams and games which I thought were historically important, or just interesting. Beyond that, I have expanded into international football, again mainly from the era I know best, and a mini-series about the British influence on the game around the world. Some of the topics I never planned to write about, for example a friend going to the ConIFA World Cup last year inspired a couple of posts. I don’t concentrate on any one specific interest, am non-partisan and always learning more, so hopefully there’s something for everyone.
Soccernostalgia Question: In little over a year, you have uploaded a multitude of posts. How much time per day or week do you spend on your writing?
Luckily I had a lot of material to start with, and I am always adding ideas, which might or might not become full posts. I don’t work on Mondays, which I try to devote as far as possible to writing, and probably manage to get something down most days. I enjoy both the writing and the research, which might just involve watching some old footage on YouTube. I also like the blog format, it allows me to cover a range of subjects at whatever length seems suitable.
Soccernostalgia Question: What is your process on writing a typical blog post? What is the duration in terms of research?
Response: I normally have the basis of a post in mind for a while before I start, so I usually just sit and write as much as I can, the outline of what I want to cover, without checking any of the details straight away. If it’s a particular game, I’ll watch it on YouTube (however much is available) and put down ideas as I go along. If I’m familiar with the subject, sometimes it’s just checking the facts are right and reading it through, adding links and photos. Others, such as the recent one about the British influence in South America, I might have to research on and off for weeks or months as most of the information is new to me. I try to have a draft ready a few weeks before I post, and I have a rough plan for the blog into next year. I’m trying to link more posts to specific dates and anniversaries, and then fit the general topics around them.
Soccernostalgia Question: What research material do you use most, newspapers? Football Magazines? Books? All of the above?
Response: That’s a good question, as the Internet would be the easy and obvious answer! Yes, it’s great for watching old matches, but of course it’s not always 100% factually reliable, so I do have reference books (some of them from childhood), a few Rothmans yearbooks and different annuals which are very useful for information from the time. Sometimes the match programmes are also helpful sources, and I will get books from the library, especially to learn about a new topic. In the last year, the books I’ve read on the origins of South American football, and the NASL, by Andreas Campomar and Ian Plenderleith respectively, have really inspired me to investigate further (I will credit these as I post them).
Soccernostalgia Question: Your blog posts sometimes cover particular matches. In some cases, they are well known matches in the history of the game, in other cases they are not as known. How is the process in your deciding of matches in question (example Hull vs. Scunthorpe, 1983)?
Response: I wanted to have a ‘Match of the Month’ as a regular feature, to give the blog some continuity and also because I thought these might be a bit quicker and easier to put together compared to more in-depth posts. Originally I thought I might cover all 92 clubs of the old Football League, but I’m not sure I can do justice to all of them (and it will take a very long time). I wanted to balance the big, well-known games with more obscure ones and, while for example Brazil-Italy 1982 was always going to be the first one I wrote about (see above), some I’ve found more or less accidentally. I like to link in a few facts about the clubs, players and managers where I can. The game you mention, Hull v Scunthorpe, was interesting to me for a few reasons – an example of how Match of the Day used to regularly feature football below the top division, one of the ‘lost grounds’ (which I once went to) and some famous names at different stages of their careers in Allan Clarke, Steve McLaren and Brian Marwood.
Soccernostalgia Question: Though most of your blog entries cover the Football of bygone era, you nevertheless have entries for the recent past. What is your favorite era of Football and favorite players?
Response: Most people remember their earlier experiences and childhood memories very fondly – I’m no exception. It certainly wasn’t perfect, English football could be violent on and off the pitch, but I grew up with football in the 80s and tend to go back to that period. The 60s and 70s were also still relatively fresh then, and looking back I would say those three decades before the Premier League in England are my favourites, and also cover what I consider the best World Cups in memory. As for players, I liked Glenn Hoddle from seeing him in the 1981 FA Cup Final, he wasn’t a typical English player of the time, but his shooting, touch and especially passing, on terrible pitches and with brutal tackling, were incredible. I never understood – and still don’t – why he wasn’t appreciated more in England. If people haven’t seen him play, his YouTube highlights are definitely worth watching. I also love to see old footage of Maradona as apart from the World Cups, we didn’t see enough of him in England during his prime. Of course there was the Hand of God, but how can you not enjoy his skill?
Soccernostalgia Question: Did you read and collect books and especially soccer magazines as a young fan? If so, which magazines did you read on a regular basis?
Response: I liked to read as much as I could, whether that was weekly magazines like Match and Shoot!, annuals or books (sometimes from the library). I was interested in football encyclopaedias and reference books from an early age, and gathered a lot of information from them. My main collecting was Panini stickers – I had all the albums through the 80s, though I didn’t fill them, including the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. I played Subbuteo as well (did it travel worldwide?). A bit later I also started getting match programmes, when you could buy bundles of random teams very cheaply.
Soccernostalgia Question: Did you follow foreign Leagues as a young fan?
Response: It was much more difficult to do that, although as well as the first foreign players coming to the First Division (Ardiles & Villa, Muhren & Thijssen), there were English players like Kevin Keegan and Laurie Cunningham going abroad, so there was a little bit of coverage. It helped that English teams were doing really well in Europe, as that would be the only time to see clubs from other countries, because there was no regular footage from other leagues until much later. Occasionally I would get to look at copies of World Soccer, which was fascinating because it gave me a glimpse into a whole football world I knew nothing about…
Soccernostalgia Question: As a new Football fan, I remember the level of anticipation I had every week, for the new Soccer Magazine at the newsstands, did you experience that as well? Can you describe your experiences with that?
Response: Yes, I used to get Shoot! or sometimes Match (or even both) from the local shop, I think on a Wednesday, and they were pretty good for kids. I have kept a few copies, but the whole collection went from my mum’s attic a few years ago. One highlight was getting the yearly League Ladders, which allowed you to keep track of every team’s position during the season. I’ve seen a couple of nostalgic blog posts about these (were they only in Britain?) and have them on my list of future topics.
Soccernostalgia Question: Do you follow the modern game and what are your general thoughts on it?
Response: This could be a whole essay, but I find the modern game difficult in many ways, and I don’t think it’s just me ‘living in the past’. I keep an eye on results and can see the improvements in facilities, pitches, protection of skilful players and so on, but the money that has arrived has taken football in a new direction, and brought with it a lot of greed and corruption. I find it’s not easy to relate to multi-millionaires and the amount of cheating (diving or ‘simulation’, trying to con referees and get players sent off) on the pitch makes it hard to watch. Coming from England, I always enjoyed a good sliding tackle – fair physical contact (not fouling) should be part of the game but I see so many challenges, even ones which win the ball, punished with yellow and red cards. There’s a balance which I think at the moment is in danger of going from one extreme of dangerous tackling to another of virtual non-contact.
Off the pitch, many of the moves to new stadiums are just driven by money, and a lot of history has been lost (like Wembley without the twin towers). There is less connection between players and fans, in the English lower leagues players now rarely stay longer than a couple of seasons at a club, less of them are local etc – and, in every country, the richest teams always tend to win! In the 80s alone there were smaller clubs challenging in England (if not winning the league), in Italy Verona won a title, Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao in Spain – it’s hard to see those kind of teams ever competing with Juventus, Barcelona & Co again, which I personally think is a shame. I just wish there was a better way of balancing progress with preserving what was great about the game.
Soccernostalgia Question: Did you (and do you) attend Football matches regularly in England? What are your earliest memories regarding that?
Response: I mentioned earlier being taken to games, those were at Elland Road, Leeds, and the first one was in February 1980 – I only worked this out as there was a reference to it in a school diary I had kept. It was a 1-1 draw between Leeds and Brighton, but I don’t remember anything! Later there were another couple of games, one I saw again on YouTube against West Brom, but Leeds were in decline then, the crowds were getting lower and the atmosphere could be hostile (and my dad wasn’t a Leeds fan!). I saw Nottingham Forest a few times with a friend and his dad, Tottenham to watch Hoddle and Ardiles, and then in the early 80s my dad started taking me to see his home-town team, Oldham, which continued for many years, including in the top division. It dropped off in my 20s, when I played football every Saturday afternoon, and now it’s perhaps a game or two a season; the very last game I went to was earlier this year, Rotherham v Nottingham Forest in the Championship. It was strange because I didn’t have any connection beyond my dad, but I loved going to any match, the atmosphere and the perspective on the game close-up makes it an experience that just can’t be reproduced on television. I was lucky to see games in quite a few grounds, big and small, some of which are now gone. I also once saw Major Indoor Soccer in Los Angeles (1983, on a family holiday) which is another future blog post, but apart from a Red Star match in Paris a few years ago, I haven’t been to games in other countries – something I’d like to do.
Soccernostalgia Question: What was the first World Cup that you followed as a knowledgeable fan?
Response: 1982, and it’s still my favourite one. I was 8 and already a fan, but to see it all beamed in from another country, the colours, crowds and kits, everything about it was exciting at that age. Bryan Robson’s goal at the start against France, Gerry Armstrong’s winner for Northern Ireland against Spain, these were great moments, but the teams I’d never seen before seemed so exotic. The huge difference to now was that there was no real worldwide coverage, the non-British players were totally unknown to me, and almost every game I discovered some wonderful players. Which brings me to the Brazil team, who I fell in love with from the first game against the USSR. I’d never seen a team play like that, before or since, with such flair and style: Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Junior, Eder, names that will never be forgotten. I don’t mind saying that I cried when they lost to Italy, it seemed so unfair! Then after many years I was able to see their games and goals again on YouTube, and my childhood memories hadn’t fooled me, they were still amazing to watch.
Soccernostalgia Question: Do you interact with other bloggers and how has that experience been?
Response: That’s something I’m only starting to do now, as I feel more confident in what I’m doing myself, and able to approach people on a more even footing. I’ve had a couple of corrections (which is fine) and a few positive comments, and really hope to build on those interactions as it can otherwise feel like you’re just working in a vacuum.
Soccernostalgia Question: Explain how Social media outlets have helped you with your blog as well as your interaction with others?
Response: I wasn’t sure about twitter, as I’d never used it before and it doesn’t always seem a friendly place, but decided it would help the blog and, I hope eventually, the book. I joined at the very end of 2018 and once I started tweeting, found I actually enjoyed it and it was manageable to get something out more or less daily. I started with a list of football birthdays (copied from the 1984 Guinness Who’s Who of Soccer) and just kept adding anniversaries etc – I’ve just been posting #OnThisDay so far, unless it’s to link to a new blog post, but might change it a bit at some point. It’s really useful to put out snippets of information, of course it’s nice to get followers, likes and comments, and hopefully it will direct more people to the blog where my more in-depth content is. I haven’t tried Facebook yet, I’m not sure I could manage another platform just at the moment.
Soccernostalgia Question: Listening to podcasts along with facebook and twitter, I have gotten the impression that british fans seem to be interested in the English league, similarly the Italians seem to be only interested in the Serie A. Do you feel that to be the case, were foreign leagues covered around the time you became a fan? I remember growing up as remote from Europe as we were, all the major western leagues were covered in print and television and I was able to be knowledgeable on all these leagues. Can you describe how the coverage was for you on print and TV growing up?
Response: This is a really interesting question, and though I’ve touched on it above, I think this would also be good to look at in-depth in the future. The world has changed so much since we were growing up, it’s impossible for later generations to imagine not having Internet or mobile phones, no 24-hour global TV coverage… that must have been great for you, being able to access all the leagues without any national bias. I loved the English league but I also knew, especially after 1982, that there was so much more, but no way of reaching it – Maradona, Platini, Zico, etc – until the next World Cup. I do believe it made the World Cups more exciting as well, when players seemed to arrive out of nowhere. I think globalisation has also affected styles of play, every nationality is represented in each other’s leagues, both coaching and playing, so it’s harder to say there is a distinctive ‘style’ to each country now.
On the specific question, overseas TV coverage was really limited to the major tournaments, and luckily England qualified for all of them in the 80s apart from Euro 84, so we got to see them, whereas I think the failure to qualify for the 74 or 78 World Cup meant less attention on international football. As I mentioned, the success of British clubs in Europe also helped, as most of those games were covered. For South America though, it was virtually non-existent. All I remember, very distantly, is maybe Flamengo beating Liverpool in the World Club Cup. For print reference, the most you might see were the major league tables or news of a big transfer, like Maradona to Barcelona, but apart from World Soccer, not very much – not enough for my liking.
Soccernostalgia Question: How do you envision the future of your blog? What would you like to do or cover that you have not done so far?
Response: I’d like to expand the content as much as I can, certainly with interviews (which I’m starting to make contacts for), book reviews, and series where I can go into a bit more detail on a given topic. There are competitions and countries I’d like to cover, and also maybe profiles of particular players, but there are so many good blogs out there, I don’t want to repeat their content if I can help it. The idea of working with other bloggers, especially ones who are genuine, independent fans and not representing organisations, is really appealing and I’d like to move toward that kind of collaborative project. Having different perspectives from fans worldwide, and producing something original, would be ideal. Whatever happens with the book, I definitely plan to continue the blog.
Soccernostalgia: Once again thank you for taking the time for this interview.
Blog address: https://the1888letter.com/
On twitter: @1888Letter