Football For Beginners: 40 Ways It Has Changed In The Last 50 Years

It’s now over 50 years since England famously won the FIFA World Cup for the only time. And as one of their famous squad members, Nobby Stiles died earlier this week, it was another reminder of how much the game has changed in that time. 

There is no escaping its presence. Even as a novice, it’s probably wise to brush up on your knowledge. So, let’s take a look at 40 changes over the last 50 years. Some good. Some bad.

1. It’s no longer the working class game

At the turn of the 1970s, football was still very much a sport for the working classes. You only have to look at transfer spends to see that’s no longer true. Liverpool – €1.48bn since 2000 isn’t even the biggest. Meanwhile, top players earn over £1m a month while a day out at the football can cost more than a holiday. Madness.

2. The death of Saturday football

With a blanket ban on TV coverage between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday, most top-flight matches have moved from the traditional slot. The Saturday routine is no more.

3. Football’s explosion of international talent

Fifty years ago, international players were a rarity. In 2020/21, though, it’s not uncommon for teams to field more overseas players than British ones. It has undoubtedly increased the quality and made the league accessible to global audiences.

4. Racism’s red card

Alongside the concept of embracing diversity, football has cleaned up its act regarding racism. There is still plenty of progress to be made, but it’s a much brighter scene than it was back in the 70s and 80s. And further improvements are made each year.

5. Celtic no longer shine in Europe

They dominate the Scottish scene. But the 1967 European Cup winners and 1970 runners-up are now lucky to stay in Europe beyond Christmas.

6. Women’s football is thriving

Women’s teams weren’t allowed to play between 1921 and 1971. Fast forward to today, and the WSL is a beacon of hope for millions of young girls. Meanwhile, the England Lionesses are finally getting mainstream recognition.

7. Women on TV

Similarly, female faces have become a regular feature on TV in recent times. Karen Carney, Alex Scott, and Sue Smith are just three recognisable names in the modern era.

8. Omnipresent technology

Even if you’ve never watched football, you’ve heard of VAR. Football operations are now driven by scientific data too.

9. Safety is taken more seriously

Aside from sports science into preventing player injuries, there are rules in place to stop kids from heading the ball. This can only be a good thing.

10. Facilities have vastly improved

From the pro ranks down to grassroots football, pitches and training facilities are in better health than ever before. It’s still not perfect, but ask your Dad about the quality from when he played. You’ll be astounded at the conditions they had to endure.

11. Football merchandise

Football merchandise has been big business for many years. However, the plethora of products now available means you can find some amazing gifts for the football fanatic in your life. Even as a non-supporter, this can make your life a lot easier.

12. Football is fashion

Likewise, football-inspired football fashion is all the rage. Retro kits are now playing a prominent role on match days and non-match days alike.

13. The FA Cup is no longer king

It still means something, but the magic of the cup isn’t what it was 20, 30, or 50 years ago.

14. The Champions League is…

In fact, simply qualifying for it by finishing in the top four of the Premier League is better than winning some trophies.

15. Players are worth crazy money

As well as the aforementioned spending by clubs, the speed of growth is mind-boggling. The first £1m signing was Trevor Francis in 1979. By 2017, Neymar was worth £200m!

16. Video games are nearly bigger than football

Sure, real football is still the main attraction. Nonetheless, the growth of football games cannot be ignored. From FIFA to Football Manager, the virtual action is almost as important as the real thing. Almost.

17. Football is in colour

Yeah, a little crazy to think the famous Geoff Hurst goals were shown in black and white.

18. The TV analysis is imperative

When watching a game on TV, the pre-match buildup and post-match interviews are crucial. So, if you’re the spouse or parent of a football crazy person, you want to keep this in mind.

19. But football content is instantly available

Goal scored? It’s on social media in seconds. For millions of fans, this is the new standard for consuming football media.

20. Football films are largely terrible

If you think digging out the Goal trilogy will please your football-loving friend or partner, you’re probably wrong. For some strange reason, the magic of football usually cannot be captured in a script. The exceptions are very seldom.

21. The Championship play-off final is worth over £170m

The winner will earn at least that much for getting promoted to the Premier League. Crazy.

22. The rules are weird

There isn’t nearly enough time to discuss it in detail, but offsides and handballs are strange. They should be simple rules. The truth is that fans, pundits, players, and officials very rarely agree on them.

23. Kick-off can go backwards

The rules used to stipulate that the ball had to be kicked into the opponents’ half, even just an inch or two. In the modern age, you can kick it straight back to a teammate.

24. Goal kicks can now stay in the box

Up until a couple of years ago, the ball had to leave the 18-yard box. Now, you can play it to a defender inside this area.

25. Goalkeepers used to be allowed to pick it up

Before 1992, defenders could pass the ball back to the goalie, who could pick it up. The rules changed because it started to be overused – check out the 1990 World Cup, it’s laughable.

26. Pele is no longer the definitive best

Arguably the two best players ever are currently still playing. Sadly, nobody seems able to appreciate them both. The debate surrounding Messi and Ronaldo is fierce, and it might not ever end. Never offer your thoughts unless asked.

27. Football music was once great

Even if you don’t know your football, you probably know Three Lions, Back Home, World In Motion, et al. Sadly, it’s a trend that died in the 20th century. Or, at least, those that have tried to recapture the magic have failed.

28. New football stadiums are incredible pieces of architecture

The new Tottenham Hotspur stadium hosts a brewery and bakery while the pitch can be retracted. It’s all very hi-tech.

29. But people miss the old ones

A lot of fans bemoan the over usage of modern bowl stadium. They are deemed soulless and do not match the character of old grounds like Upton Park or Highbury.

30. Players dive

If you don’t like football, you’ll be accustomed to saying that they’re all divers. That wasn’t the case in the 60s and 70s. Honestly, some of the tackles were brutal. You won’t get that today.

31. Goal frequency is rising again

Goals aren’t scored as frequently as they once were. Check out the Boxing Day – 1963 to see a record of 66 goals in 10 games. However, the rate of goals in 2004/5 was just 2.5 goals per game. This season over 3 goals are scored per game.

32. Stats now mean everything

People used to monitor the number of goals players scored. Nowadays, everything from pass direction and distance to the xG are calculated. The days of just watching with your eyes rather than using stats are no more.

33. Football isn’t as tribalistic

Once upon a time, you supported your local team. Times have changed to reflect the increased access and fact that people move around.

34. Wembley isn’t Wembley

The ‘new’ Wembley is now a teenager. It’s great, but it’s not the place where Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup.

35. Alcohol not allowed

In sight of the pitch? A beer is a red card offence.

36.. Footballers are celebs

George Best was arguably the first real superstar playboy while only the elite pros were genuine global superstars. Today, even an average top flight player can have a global reputation. Meanwhile, teenagers are living the celeb lifestyle before they’ve played a senior match.

37. Youth players no longer get bullied

For many generations, upcoming players in the youth ranks were given tough love during their academy days. The harsh pranks have been lost from the routines. On the whole, it’s for the good.

38. Football programmes are almost obsolete

They might last forever, but the traditional paper matchday programme is far less important than it once was. In a world of club websites and social media feeds, it’s often easier to access content through online methods.

39. You’re allowed an opinion

Once upon a time, the football debate was a very alpha male-dominated arena. In today’s climate, people tend to respect opinions even if they don’t agree. So, even a casual fan is allowed to make a point without getting shot down.

40. The Match of the Day theme is football heaven

OK, so not everything has changed… 

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