I played soccer at my Grammar School in Leiston in Suffolk in the First XI for about 4 years, during which, being a very small school with only about a total of 70 boys in total, we lost most of our matches with other much larger schools such as Beccles, Bungay and Lowestoft Grammar Schools, Framlingham School and the Royal Naval School at Holbrook near Ipswich by scores in the double figures – but still we persisted.
Leiston Grammar School 1st XI in 1968
I haven’t seriously supported a professional soccer team since my school days, though while living in Suffolk, I did give allegiance to the local team (Ipswich Town), who swung from the old Second to the old First Divisions regularly, as they were a provincial team with a small, but mostly home-bred talent pool. Then Alf Ramsay took over as manager and everything changed – within a few years they were First Division and FA Cup champions as well as taking the Fairs (European Cities) cup. I watched them occasionally play Chelsea, a Second Division rival in those days, and local rivals Norwich (Canaries) and while serving in Rheindahlen in Germany, went to Cologne to see the second leg of the Fairs Cup Final in which they drew with FC Koln, enough to secure them the cup. Alf Ramsay went on to manage England and win the World Cup in 1966, watched avidly by my best friend Justin North and myself on my parents’ black and white TV above the Ship Inn, Dunwich bar. Alf Ramsay had been followed at Ipswich by Bobby Robson, who also took Ipswich to the top of the First Division before following Alf to the England managership.
However my interest waned to some extent, particularly after Ipswich sold all their talent and drifted down through the rankings. Then in 1983, I had returned from Germany to attend a Masters Course at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) in Manchester and one day, with some RAF and Army friends attended a Manchester United v Liverpool match at Old Trafford. In the days before all-seater stadiums, the majority of the crowd stood and this was no exception with an attendance of about 90,000 – more people than in the entire British Army of the Rhine at that time. We stood in a stand behind one of the goals and the crush was so great that literally, when the crowd swayed to watch a corner taken or some play in the extremities, we were carried along in a crushed wave, our feet off the ground. I could well understand the crush problems if there had been an emergency such as at Middlesborough or Heisel. The atmosphere was electric and the language blue – miraculously faint when shown on Match of the Day on TV. The game ended in a draw, but quite an experience.
Later during my military career, while serving in Antwerp in Belgium, my Army Married Officer’s Quarter (MOQ) sat in a cul-de-sac in the pretty little Flemish town of Lier, with the Lier football stadium at the end of the road. Lier were a Belgian First Division team but attracted little interest until Nottingham Forest with Brian Clough in charge came to play them. The match was first class and in the Belgian stadium there was none of the rowdiness usual in England and many family groups attended. No bad language and the crowd ate burgers and drank beer during half time while cheer leaders and bands marched around the stadium rather like an American baseball or football match. Afterwards in the evening, Brian Clough and the players were entertained by our Sergeant’s Mess and had a good boozy evening, with our fearsome huge Regimental Sergeant Major, Jock Black, in the chair, who had played in goal for the Army team and had suffered a back injury at some point as a result. The Senior NCOs were soccer fans to a man, but the officers were mostly rugby supporters and players so it was appropriate that the Sergeant’s Mess did the entertaining.
These personal links aside I was driven to write this blog for two reasons, again because of, to me, interesting links. The first, which stimulated these words was an article on ‘Alumni in the Spotlight’ in the latest copy of the Manchester University Alumni magazine ‘Your Manchester’ in which an MU (not Man Utd) graduate Matt Smith was highlighted. Now a striker for Leeds United, Matt graduated with a BSc International Management with American Business Studies degree in 2011, commenting on particular on his two goals on 28 January this year that knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup. What really attracted my attention however was that he had been brought on while playing in Cheltenham Town’s Academy before being talent spotted and moving to Manchester New Mills before signing for Oldham Athletic.
Matt Smith – MU and Leeds
Finally, we have a family connection with the international history of soccer in that Veronica has a 2nd cousin, Herbert Kilpin, who in 1899 while working in Italy and playing as probably the first English International Player to play on the Continent, was the founder of AC Milan and is honoured in the AC Milan museum.
Herbert Kilpin was a keen footballer and played in defence and midfield for Notts Olympic in Nottingham as an amateur, where he was born in 1870. In 1891, Kilpin, a lace-maker, moved to Turin to work for Edoardo Bosio, an Italian-Swiss textile merchant with links to Nottingham lace manufacturer Thomas Adams. In the same year Bosio founded Internazionale Torino, believed to be the first Italian football club and Herbert became part of the team, in fact, he became the first-ever Englishman to play football abroad. In 1897 he travelled to Milan, where in 1899 after a drinking session in a Milanese tavern, the Fiaschetteria Toscana, lace-maker Herbert Kilpin and five other Englishmen who missed their cricket, founded the Milan Football and Cricket Club which became AC Milan.
Herbert Kilpin became Milan’s first coach and captain, as well as the team’s star player. In the city he’s celebrated as the ‘first true Milanista champion.’ He even designed the team’s kit and is quoted as having said “We are a team of devils. Our colours are red as fire and black to invoke fear in our opponents!” The strip has now been worn by world soccer superstars like Ronaldhino, Shevchenko, Kaká and David Beckham. With Herbert at its heart the football team won their first league title in only their second season (1901).
He was actually a portly figure who played in every position and probably wouldn’t have been a top English player. However, Italian football was in its infancy and pioneers like Herbert became heroes. Amusingly, according to John Foot, in his book ‘Calcio, A History of Italian Football’, Herbert was famed for his drinking and even kept a bottle of whisky in a hole behind the goal. He claimed this was to soften the blow when the opposition scored. Despite his love of a drink, Herbert led Milan to a further two championships in 1906 and 1907. He died in 1916 and was buried in a part of the cemetery reserved for Protestants. In 1999, AC Milan paid for a new tombstone and their illustrious founder and superstar, was reburied in the Monumental Graveyard in Milan.