The wearing of tights when playing soccer remains a minority practice in Britain but in other countries it is common. This must be because of cold temperatures with Russia a location where winter soccer makes tights a must.
One of the cultural differences that interests me is the wearing of tights by boys in some countries; it would be very rare to see a boy in tights in Britain. In Japan their use as acceptable wear seems to be more frequent.
There are rules, though! Boys wanting to wear tights when playing football have to observe the rule that the tights, short exercise lycra shorts or inner wear has to be the same colour as the main uniform. In case of doubt, there are helpful illustrations, shown below.
NG here is the ‘not okay’ message. These rules apply for official matches and things are more relaxed for practice sessions.
Some people have amazing lives. Some people die far away from the place they were born and take life journeys they did not expect, in some cases crossing ideological borders. Bert Trautmann is someone like this and Catrine Clay has told his story in this excellent book.
Trautmann was most famous for continuing to play in the FA Cup final match despite having broken his neck. In considerable agony he joined his victorious team mates in collecting the cup for Manchester City. This was 1956 and England forgave Trautmann for being a German; he was a ‘good German’ and ‘our German’. What this book shows, though, is that it was quite a journey from his birth to a life in post- war Britain.
He was a true believer in the Hitler Youth and as a boy he welcomed a fight. He took part in the war as a loyal German and a loyal Nazi and he was a prisoner of war in Britain following defeat. He stayed here, refusing the offer of repatriation, and settled in Lancashire. He played for a non- league side as a goalkeeper before Manchester City showed an interest in him. At the time, City was a team in the First Division (the highest at the time) so he was in a prominent position.
Catrine Clay shows that the perception of modern times that Germans were duped by a corrupt regime is not correct. Many Germans were willing to fight because Hitler had saved their country. Trautmann’s war record is not easy reading. Re-education of POWs by the British may have been effective and he did have to cope with a certain amount of hostility when he first came to play for City in 1949 but it is best not to forget his early years when assessing his whole life. Catrine Clay has done an excellent job in this book which shows that sport and international relations are closely bound.
I know nothing about Ice Hockey and am not that interested in sport but this film by American director Gabe Polsky is absolutely riveting and, as it tells the story of a group of young hockey players in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, I was keen to see it.
The central figure is Slava Fetisov, something of a legend in Russia for a career that covers 70s Soviet unity, capitalism in 90s America and Putin era politics as Minister for Sport. Much of the film is based on interviews held with Gabe Polsky with ‘talking heads’ from experts of ice hockey and other members of the team included. I was interested to see Vladimir Posner interviewed as he was an eloquent spokesman for the Soviet Union on British television current affairs programmes during the 80s. He was always worth listening to.
Yet, a major question asked by film is why does any sportsperson compete? Is it for personal glory or for national pride? Slava Fetislov may have been an amazing player but he formed one part of a five player group that seemed to act as one person when playing. Their success came from a belief that the team was more important and, as it happened, more effective when individual glory played second place to team victory. This belief flourished in the Soviet system which saw victory in the sports arena as another way of winning an ideological war.
The USA was also using sport as a way of demonstrating that the West’s way of life was superior and it was fascinating to see how these opposing views were strengthened through victory and defeat. It was also interesting to see how Canada and USA used money as the only language they knew to encourage the Russians to join them.
Also examined is the difference in philosophies of the two Soviet coaches. Anatoli Tarasov was loved by his players who saw in him a mentor and father figure as well as a coach. His nurturing of his ‘boys’ was touching to see in the archive footage and his belief was that ice hockey should be as beautiful as the Bolshoi ballet with a fluidity of style from the players. When he upset Brezhnev, he was replaced by Viktor Tikhonov, a man who had no interest in his players as people but who served the system loyally. His oppressive regime caused some, including Fetisov himself, to refuse to play anymore.
The story was dramatic and the accompanying music was stirring. With archive footage effectively deployed this is a film worth seeing and it is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
My latest podcast discovery is this series from the Wilson Center (sic), an American organisation established as a memorial to President Woodrow Wilson. One of the many projects of the centre is a history of the Cold War and a series of podcasts explores the role of sport international relations during this period.
British radio presenter and producer Vince Hunt is the voice that guides us through key events. Each podcast involves an interview with an academic who selects an event or a historical document that illustrates a connection between sport and the Cold War. The selection of topics is fascinating and there is sufficient time to explore each theme, episodes are about 20 minutes each. Vince Hunt is a skilled interviewer; he is able to ask questions which clarify without interrupting historians who know what they are talking about and who are skilled at making their topics interesting.
This series of podcasts is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This BBC radio series of oral histories was excellent and not only because the estimable Bridget Kendall presented it. Each programme is a short exploration of one episode from the early years of the Cold War using interviews with people involved. Use is also made of archive recordings.
The series covers events from 1946 until 1962. I understand that a further set of programmes covering the 60s to 80s will be broadcast next year.
This is the type of programme the BBC does so well: short but informative with space for the people involved to offer reasoned judgements with the benefit of hindsight. Indeed, this is a series that is only possible now that the Cold War has ended.
The obvious episodes are here, including the Berlin Air Lift, the Korean War and Hungary 1956, but there are also aspects of the era I was less informed about such as how important the Greek Civil War was to both sides and how worried America and its allies were (including the Catholic church) over the 1948 election in Italy when the Communists looked close to victory in democratic elections.
These are fascinating programmes. They are in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This book by Nicholas Griffin is a fascinating insight into the events that led to a turning point in international relations during the Cold War. It also makes a connection between a Communist aristocrat from Britain and the thawing of relations between USA and China. The sub-title is ‘Ivor Montagu and the Astonishing Story Behind the Game That Changed the World’. The first part of the book relates the life of Ivor Montagu, a younger son of a wealthy British family who embraced communism and acted as a spy for the Soviet Union. To what extent his activities were known to security forces in Britain is unknown but it is clear that he was regarded with suspicion by the establishment. His mother received a consolation note from Queen Mary when Ivor announced the name of his bride to be!
Montagu had a passion for table tennis and could see how it could be the perfect sport for a communist world; wealth was not needed to participate and it was a great equaliser on the table of play. He codified the game and set off to popularise it across the world. There are interesting tales of how sport can break down barriers. In one, a young Japanese player met a hostile reception from press and public when he played in London after the end of World War Two. By the end of the tournament, though, his skill as well as his dignity won over the crowd.
The second part of the story concerns the political manoeuvres to bring about a thaw in the Cold War and to bring China out of the self- imposed isolation. Table tennis was instrumental in the testing of the waters. The historic visit of the US team to Beijing in response to what was orchestrated to look like an impromptu invitation from the Chinese players paved the way for the later visit of Kissinger and then Nixon to Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao.
Ivor Montagu is largely missing from the second part of the book. He retired as president of the International Table Tennis Federation in 1967. The epilogue returns to his story and poses questions about his possible reaction to the way the Cold War ended.
Nicholas Griffin follows up the stories of players in both the Chinese and US teams and shows that their moment of fame did not bring lasting happiness to all.
‘Ping Pong Diplomacy’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?