Colin Jose’s piece on Thursday covered the short history of the Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League in the early 60s.
Although it is often mentioned that we see very little of a close season nowadays, it is worth remembering that players from 30 years ago and before often spent 11 months of the year playing as well. (During the heyday of the NASL some players played 12 months of the year with no break).
The biggest difference is that without global television their extended seasons often went unnoticed to most with the possible exceptions of local newspapers that might send a reporter on tour.
As Colin described, players from other countries would often travel to North America, South Africa, Australia (essentially new countries with relatively large immigrant populations) to play on loan deals for the summer.
In some cases players would opt to move to one of these countries as the end of their careers drew closer.
There were also overseas tours that teams undertook for extended period of times during the summer. Today you might have a team visit North America for a couple of weeks – years ago it would be unusual to have a tour last less than four weeks with most stretching to six weeks or more.
Sometimes special tournaments would be arranged with other touring sides or teams factored existing tournaments into their schedule. I can vaguely remember Dundee traveling to play in the USA in the summer of 1962.
Later in the 60s teams were invited to represent US and Canadian cities and the competition would form the basis for the North American Soccer League.
And it was not only club teams. Countries would often tour their full international teams or a “B” squad of players.
What I found intriguing about Colin’s article were the calibre of players that a fledgling league such as the ECPSL attracted. These were not run of the mill players or players desperately looking to cash a few extra pay cheques at the end of their careers.
Here are pen pics of the players he mentioned.
Matthews may have been 46 when he played in the summer of 1961 but only five years before he had won the European Player of the Year trophy and it would be another 9 years before he played his last professional game.
To say that he was a physical phenomenon would to easily dismiss his total commitment to fitness and conditioning. He was the David Beckham of his day without the pop-culture baggage. He remains the oldest player to have played in both the English top flight and for the national team.
Blanchflower arrived in Canada having just captained Tottenham Hotspur to the domestic double – the first English club to do so in the 20th century. He had also been voted England’s Player of the Year, an honour he had also earned in 1958.
He captained Northern Ireland to a place in the quarter finals of the 1958 World Cup.
Blanchflower is still regarded as one of the best passers ever to grace the game in the UK and one of only a handful of players who could also be thought of as “thinkers” and insightful contributors once he retired.
Upon his return to Tottenham he would lead Spurs to a repeat of their FA Cup win.
A Scottish international who played in the 1958 World Cup Mudie had signed for Blackpool from Dundee junior football just after WW2.
He spent 15 years with Blackpool playing much of it with Stanley Matthews and was a key part of Blackpool’s 1953 FA Cup win.
Mudie was 31 when he played in the ECPSL and would play for another six seasons in England with Stoke City and finally Port Vale.
Haynes was the first footballer to appear for England in every class of football available – school, youth, under 23, `B` and full international level. He was also captain of England when he traveled to play in Canada in 1961.
Around the same time the maximum wage in England was abolished and Haynes became England’s first £100 per week footballer – an outlandish sum at the time.
Regarded as the best player ever to appear in a Fulham strip Haynes career was to be impacted by an accident in 1962. It kept him out of football for a year and many believe that if it had not been for the accident Haynes would have captained England in the 1966 World Cup.
A Scotland international goalkeeper Younger made his name as part of the great Hibernian team of the early 50s. Younger moved to Liverpool but returned to Scottish football as player/manager of Falkirk.
However, after a year he returned to England – this time with Stoke. After his stint with Toronto City, Younger played for Don Revie at Leeds United before retiring in 1963.
A different time and certainly something that cannot be repeated. Nonetheless these players were all stars of their day – Matthews, Blanchflower and Haynes arguably some of the best who have ever played the game.
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