The Saturday Men, revisited…
ONCE upon a time dear reader, football was played only in black and white. It’s true. Even the blues were a lighter shade of black, the grass was either a vibrant shade of black if it was August or a flat muddy black kind of colour if it was January.
Supporters wore hats at all times, be they men or women, and very often hurled them into the air when goals were scored, leading to them returning home wearing an altogether different style of bonnet to the one they’d left the house in, causing some husbands to have to do some substantial explaining work to a wife waiting by the cooker wielding a rolling pin.
Goalscorers were greeted by strong, manly handshakes and a pat on the back, missed chances saw hundreds of supporters instinctively cover their eyes so shocked were they, and there were no tedious phone-in shows, merely collections of old men in local cafes discussing tactics, false teeth clacking as they did so, others sucking on gums long since untroubled by enamel.
Children, this is not a time wherein dinosaurs roamed the earth, but a vision of the game as it was played less than 50 years ago, back in the early 1960s, back before The Beatles arrived and invented colour.
Fortunately, it’s also an era that was caught on film, by the Ford Motor Company of all things, the motor manufacturer funding a series of documentary films that looked to capture various slices of British life back in early 1962, from shop floor to football field.
“The Saturday Men” was one of them, a very early example of the fly on the wall school of film making, cinema verite of a kind where the cameras went behind the scenes and simply rolled.
The club who opened their doors to the film makers was us, West Bromwich Albion, an established top flight club with England internationals such as Bobby Robson, Don Howe and Derek Kevan in their midst, a club that had been FA Cup winners just eight years before.
The film captured them on the training pitch, in the dressing room afterwards, before and during matchday, as well as going in and around the Black Country to see what the supporters made of it all and just what the players did away from the game.
As a document of its time, it’s fascinating. The voiceover talks of professional football being an occupation whose members value status and cars above all other things, though this was not strictly true – at the time, the maximum wage had only just been abolished and club captain Robson, about to set off to the 1962 World Cup, used to walk to work from the club house he lived in. He was on the princely sum of around £25 a week.
Nonetheless, film of star midfielder Alec Jackson back home in Tipton captured a sense of dislocation between a working class lad who’d made good and the friends and relatives he’d left behind playing snooker in the local club. Although Alec continued to go there for a frame or two, “he’s no longer liked as much because of his success” we were reliably informed. Thankfully, having met and talked to Alec in those very same Tipton environs in recent times, I can inform you that the voiceover was 100% wrong.
Elsewhere, there’s Stuart Williams, coming towards the end of a distinguished career that clocked up more than 30 caps for Wales. With an eye on the future, after training, he heads off to sell machine parts for a local company, “trading on his name because local buyers all want to talk to a footballer”.
At the other end of the age scale is youngster Clive Clark who spends his afternoon roaming the streets with nothing to do, “waiting nervously for Saturday”. Watching Clark, it’s easy to see where Richard Lester might have got his ideas from for the “This Boy” sequence of “A Hard Day’s Night”, the sequence that established Ringo Starr as the actor amongst the Fab Four.
Other highlights include Don Howe on his life as a stripper – “You get up in the morning and get dressed, come to work and take your clothes off and get changed. Work, take your clothes off, get changed go home. Take them off again to go to bed in the afternoon. Get up, put them on, have your tea...” A busy life in the Howe household clearly.
Then there are the locals, discussing tactics in the cafe owned by former Albion cup winning striker Teddy Sandford. “Playing him theer? It’s like tekin’ the sugar out of a mon’s tay while he ay lookin’!”
A bygone era, a simpler era. For better or worse, it’s long since gone, but the atmosphere seeps through every second of this half hour film, a little gem well worth seeking out online on the BFI Player.