Thursday, February 07, 2008

Somber Anniversary

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest days of European sports. On February 6, 1958, a plane carrying the Manchester United soccer team, including some journalists and staff, crashed at the end of a runway in Munich, killing 23. As the New York Times reports, the anniversary provided some added nostalgia regarding English soccer:

But more than the mournful remembrances, the 50th anniversary has occasioned a wave of nostalgia in Britain for an era when soccer stars were a simpler and seemingly sturdier group than the sport’s contemporary icons, whose off-field excesses are almost as likely these days to put them on the front pages as in the sports columns.

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Manchester United players at the time earned a maximum of $100 a week. The best-paid players now earn a weekly $250,000, and the club’s highest-rated player, the Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo, has been valued by the club at $140 million, according to British newspapers.

The 1950s team played, often, on a sea of mud, with a leather ball that, when wet, had the feel of concrete. Today’s team, at Old Trafford, play on an artificially drained surface like a lawn, with lightweight balls that soar. Many of the 1950s players often came from apprenticeships in coal mines and steel mills, or trades like plumbing, and returned to them when their playing days were over.
Another thing that the article doesn't mention is the ManU team of 1958 was almost (if not entirely - I'm not sure) British. While the English Premier League has risen to be Europe's richest and perhaps best league (it's exploring playing matches on on other continents next year), the number of Brits figuring prominently in the top teams' starting lineups has dwindled. I think that probably figures in the nostalgia.

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