Re-Publishing historical football content digitally

Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly / No. 200: Apr 1968

The Wind of Change in European Soccer – 1951-’68

By on 12 April 2018

In April 1968, Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly published its 200th edition. To mark this event, the writing team chose to look back at how the game had developed since the first issue was published in September 1951.

With the European competitions very much at the fore this week, SoccerAttic has chosen to re-publish this article from that 200th issue where Leslie Vernon, the European football columnist reviewed developments in the game across Europe in those 17 years.

The period had seen the advent of both the European Cup and the Cup Winners Cup and the progression of the game across Europe as hungrier, more progressive and tactically aware ‘continental’ nations seized the initiative from a complacent England – both nationally and internationally. At the time of writing, Spurs and West Ham had enjoyed success in the Cup Winners Cup but Celtic were the only British team to have triumphed in the European Cup. Manchester United would go on to win it in May of that year.

The tone is particularly interesting at the beginning of the article as he describes the dominance of pre-war English football. England famously never entered the World Cup until 1950, following a fall-out with FIFA in 1928 over payments to amateur players. After re-joining in 1946 a slightly superior attitude prevailed within the FA that, even the catastrophic performance in that 1950 World Cup, continued until Alf Ramsey was appointed after another disappointing World Cup in 1962.

We believe Leslie Vernon wrote these early paragraphs a little bit tongue in cheek to make a point about how costly our complacency had been in the face of the rising force in European club and international football. Decide for yourself if you think we’re right. The article is here:


The Wind of Change in European Soccer  – 1951-’68

By Leslie Vernon

BEFORE the last war, England were undisputed champions of the world. The inventors of this magnificent game called football did not have to bother to enter any international competitions, not even the World Cup, to prove their superiority. The Continentals were in the habit of sending their most dated toadies to England to study and learn the secret of how to play football “a la Angiais”.

Every year, one foreign country was selected to receive the gilt-edged invitation for an appearance in England. This was a great honour, although the result was a foregone conclusion, an easy—almost contemptuous — victory for the hosts.

As Paris was the centre of fashion, so was London the Mecca of football. When Arsenal introduced the famous “W” formation, Europe rushed to copy them, and in next to no time every continental team had their own “stopper” centre-half, boasting proudly that they were playing just like the “English professional”!

The leading foreign countries of the immediate pre-war period were Italy (twice winners of Jules Rimet trophy) and the Central European trio, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. But the actual teams and players could not make any impact whatsoever on the English public. They were considered unknown nonentities who might as well have played the game on a different planet!

England’s first official participation in international football was the disastrous World Cup adventure in 1950. Defeat, by a scratch team of “mercenaries” carrying the flag of the U.S.A , was the tragi-comical ending of the myth of England’s invincibility. The idols had been dethroned—Europe was ready to pick up the  general’s baton!

This escape from the shadow of the giant, gave the Europeans a new-found confidence, faith in their own methods and judgment. Hungary were the first country to emerge from mediocrity and develop into powerful leaders. The fabulous “Puskas-team” using a withdrawn centre-forward, Nandor Hidegkuti, baffled defences and capitalised on mistakes with uncanny accuracy.

The full international team played thirty consecutive matches undefeated, one of them was the often-mentioned 6-3 triumph over England at Wembley. The leading club-side in Hungary at that time was Honved. With players like Kocsis, Czibor and Lorant playing alongside the phenomenal “Galloping Major”, Puskas. They were beaten in a friendly at Molineux by the great Wolves side, but the match was a fine advertisement for international club football.

By the 1954 World Cup, the European game was making tremendous progress in almost every country. West Germany, a hitherto second-rate footballing nation, won the trophy, and the names of Rahn, Liebricb and the Walter brothers, became familiar to supporters everywhere.

Later, with the advent of open professionalism, a national League competition was introduced in West Germany called the “Bundesliga”. The average attendances of this competition are among the highest in Europe and the Germans have established themselves as a world power in football.

AC Milan from Charles Buchan's Football Monthly April 1968The Continentals had tactics as well, most of them beneficial—some, like the Italian “cattenacio”, or massed defences, less so. But the game was alive in Europe. Its constantly changing face, its willingness to develop, to experiment, to improvise, were proof of this tremendous vitality. The new formations, 4-2-4 and later, 4-3-3 were tried and adapted to the requirements of the teams. No new idea, either in playing or in coaching and training was rejected out of hand. There was, and still is, a burning, constant desire to learn, to improve, and, if possible, to find something new, revolutionary, surprising.

And the Europeans were always internationally minded. Fixtures against foreign teams were “red letter” days in the calendar, whether they were friendly encounters between the respective national teams or only club games.

In order to regulate these matches and give them more meaning, the European Cup was introduced, in 1955. This was more than an instant success—it was a sensation! The idea captured the public’s imagination and to be the Champion of Champions became the highest aspiration of every club manager in Europe.

At first, Real Madrid dominated this competition to an almost incredible extent. They won the trophy five times in five years! They paraded a galaxy of stars collected from all over the globe. Alongside the incomparable Di Stefano, Raymond Kopa, Didi, Del Sol, Gento and many other great players wore the famous all-white jerseys of the Kings of European club football.

Following the launching of the European Champions’ Cup, the progressive minded leaders of football introduced two other Cup competitions. They were the Cup Winners Cup and the Inter-Cities’ Fairs’ Cup. The most recent innovation is the revitalised Nations’ Cup. Streamlined and renamed “European Championship”, this competition is an ideal- way of providing continuous competitive football for the national teams. These tournaments are highly-popular with supporters everywhere, including the British Isles. The visions and hopes of a few men, who, after the war, were dreaming of fully integrated European football, came true!

Nowadays, 100,000 attendances are commonplace in Moscow, Budapest, Madrid or in a Polish mining town called Chorsow! Feyenoord of Holland have an average League crowd of 50,000! Countries like Poland, Bulgaria, E. Germany and Belgium have made rapid strides.Benfica from Charles Buchan's Football Monthly April 1968

Names of foreign teams like Benfica, Inter-Milan, 1860 Munich have become familiar, not only on the Continent, but in England as well!

And the 1966 World Cup was not only a triumph for Europe, who provided the four semi-finalists, but was also a final re-affirmation of the fact that now, Britain is an integral part of the European football scene.

Spurs Take on Benfica in the 2nd Leg of their European Cup tie in 1962. Spurs had lost 3-1 in the 1st Leg in Lisbon

At the time of writing, Celtic were the only British team to have won the European Cup. Manchester United would go on to lift the cup for England later that year. Pics from Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly app, July 1967 issue. Click the image to  view full size.


Jock Stein from Charles Buchan's Football Monthly - July 1967

16-02-19 CB Jul 67 Celtic fans

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