Baughurst Boys and Why England Don’t Win World Cups

Posted on November 15, 2013

When I was a kid in the 1970’s, I was approached by Margaret Withey to see if I could gather up a group of kids from the school playground to form a football team to represent Baughurst Boys at Under 10’s level.

This came as something to a relief to my mother, who was frantically trying to keep me away from Cubs and Scout groups that were led by unregulated single men who suffered from sweat gland issues, drove three wheeled cars and still lived with their mother’s.

As we have found out with ‘Operation Yew Tree’ the days before CRB checks were a kiddy fiddlers paradise, so putting me Mark Cunningham, Kevin Mitchell and the others, under the wing of Margaret and our manger in waiting, Peter Nicholson, was an ideal distraction from Lord Baden Powell’s band of dubious men in nylon trousers.

Peter was a kind and friendly man, who just wanted us to enjoy ourselves, however this brand of management had its flaws and the results were patchy. Our first four games ended in narrow defeats, with reverse scores of 11-0, 22-0, 8-0 and 13-1. I had meticolously planned a Micky Channon windmill celebration when I scored my first goal but when it came in a 13-1 defeat I was so shocked and excited I ran to Scotland back with my team mates chasing me. Football does that to you.

I will argue that this string of disappointing results was not a true reflection of the quality we had throughout a side that was severely handicapped by our goal keeper, Steve “Warby” Warburton, a boy with the physique of wet paper bag, the balance of a baby foal on a frozen lake and the mental strength of Frank Spencer. Back in the seventies, if you were useless, you were the last to be picked in the brutal public team selection and as a punishment you were put in goal. Warby fitted this stereotype with aplomb.

Sadly, Warby’s invisible hands were a bridge too far for the beleaguered Peter Nicholson, who by now, was a broken man. To maintain his dignity,Pete nullified his contract by mutual consent and was soon to be replaced by another Pete, the irrepressible maniac, Peter “I don’t fuck about” Hockney.

As soon as Warby missed his first training session to do his homework, Peter dispatched him into early retirement and employed Carl Munson and latterly Renny Smith to take up the position of goal keeper that had insofar, hampered our search for humiliation avoidance.

Renny was something of a revelation and I can still remembering us all gasping in admiration as we witnessed the first save ever made by a Baughurst Boys goalkeeper. The results began to change too, as Pete, installed into us that if a game could not be won by skill, violence was always an option. Having the freedom to volley someone across the shins and receive praise for your troubles was liberating stuff and it was a tactic that Paul Buckthorpe in particular, took on with relish.

Despite occasionally being branded as thugs by the defeated opposition, Pete had installed in us a fear of his wrath if we were beaten and though we were never the masters of our age group, we had come a long way in a short time and we were developing rapidly, physically and mentally. We were not to be messed with.

The reason Pete did this was that, in reality, he knew there was no other viable option to win football matches. The pitches were often like the Somme and allowed no chance of developing the natural flair that some of us possessed, with a pass on the ground bobbling and bouncing out of control or sticking in the mud.


The Ardiles Flick: Pete Wasn’t a Fan

When I showed Pete the ‘Ardiles Flick’ I had taken months to master, he told me to piss off home and eat a bowl of porridge. In Pete’s world, whenever possible, the ball had to go air bound and we were taught from early age the lines that were familiar up and down the country.





It was like playing football with an unexploded bomb but what else could Pete do in reality? Brimpton, where we played, was effectively a ploughed field on top of a hill that looked across the Hampshire Downs. It was often brutally cold and it was before the days of gloves in football (Pete would have killed a glove wearing nancy boy) so all 22 kids played with their hands hidden in somewhere up their sleeves making the game look like it was a disabled match.

In many ways we were disabled, because in Italy, Spain, Brazil, Germany and Holland, kids were already playing on smaller astro-turf pitches and were being taught to pass and treat the ball as a friend and not a mortal enemy that needed to be got rid of or kicked to death. It was no coincidence that England failed to qualify for the World Cups of my childhood that were in Germany in ’74 and in Argentina ’78.

As the world moved forward England stood still, with a series of flukes backed by an undeniable spirit, disguising the obvious flaws of a team that reached the quarter final in Mexico and inspired by Paul Gasgcoigne, a heart break semi -final in Turin at Italia ‘90.

These two world cups were, in a strange way, detrimental, because they led the FA to believe that all was okay and that a tournament success would come as early as Euro ’96, another tournament that ended in bitter tears courtesy of the dastardly Germans.

The problem is, with football, the public gets what the public wants and in England, it is in our DNA to watch thundering local derbies, crunching tackles, fisticuffs and a flurry of red and yellow cards. British footballers have traditionally been tough council estate kids who know how to mix it and if you look at the picture cards from the seventies, half of them look like they could do twelve rounds with a fairground boxer.

When this is transported into the European game, it gets picked apart by technical superiority and the blood and thunder attitude that comes from the Premier League, results in sending offs that back home wouldn’t even warrant a yellow card. Both David Beckham (1998) and Wayne Rooney (2006) were sent off with straight red cards that just wouldn’t have occurred in a United game against Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea.

Footballers are accused of not caring when they play for England but I think that is just cheap nonsense. I just think they find it almost impossible to change a way of performing that has been installed in them since they were eight or nine.

It’s like putting Usain Bolt in a walking race and saying: “I know you’re tempted…But for fuck’s sake don’t run.”

Of course, English football coaching has moved on since I was a kid, but it is constantly trying to catch up and the Spanish and the German’s are light years ahead in terms of technical strength. It is something that will have Roy Hodgson waking up screaming in the night as he decides which way to go in Brazil 2014.

Do England dare trying to play with technical finesse and run a risk of group stage elimination or do they bustle and bundle their way to a quarter quarter-final and hope for the best?

Personally at this stage of their development, I think they should go for the tried and tested Baughurst Boys route to success.

The Pete Hockney way.

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