Geoffrey Green was educated at Shrewsbury School, where he played football to a high standard. He started writing for The Times in the 1930s when football was not afforded much respectability among the paper's traditional readership. He is considered to be the godfather of football reporting and the world's first anointed Football Correspondent, although he remained anonymous in the paper until 23 January 1967. He also broadcast on football for BBC Radio.
Match of the Century
Most noteworthy of his work was covering the Match of the Century on 25 November 1953, wherein the 'Magnificent Magyars' (Hungary) rammed England by 6-3 scoreline under the heading "A New Conception of Football". It was England's first defeat at Wembley, and the inventors of football were described by him as "strangers in a strange world." New Conception referred to the middle ground between "the hard hitting, open" British method and the "more subtle, probing infiltration" of the continental game.
The best goal of the game was scored by Ferenc Puskas; having received the ball from Czibor on the right near the six-yard box when the England captain Billy Wright went towards him for the tackle, Puskas drew the ball back as Wright charged past "like a fire engine going to the wrong fire" leaving the Hungarian captain free to score from his powerful left-foot.
Many football historians in England believe that it was this defeat that made English football thinking again, and the seeds of 1966 World Cup victory were sown. "English football can be proud of its past. But it must awake to a new future". The venerable Times offers this match-report on their site as part of its dedication to the game and for fans worldwide.
Geoffrey Green had an uncanny ability to articulate the happenings on the football pitch with such eloquence and fervour gravitating every reader towards the 'beautiful game' eventually turning them into fans.
He poignantly captures the importance of FA Cup in England through early years of football as "The influence of the Cup in all this wonderful growth (football league) is almost incalculable, it was the spark that set the whole bonfire of football alight. .. it altered the whole pattern and the whole purpose of the game."
Consider this description of Sir Stanley Matthews in his prime as "It is by the power to call souls out of the abyss into life that greatness is judged. So can Matthews be judged ... Matthews is a superb artist."
Green outlines the wizardry of wingplay in general & Matthews in particular while introducing Garrincha in the 1958 World Cup as "the Matthews of the New world" thus: "the suggestion of the inward pass, the body-swerve, the flick past the defender's left side, and the glide to freedom at an unbelievable acceleration."
Weigh the method of Matthews arch rival in the 1950s, Sir Tom Finney's expansive coverage of wide-spaces on the field "To watch him show the ball to opponents, then whip it away as he weaves and changes pace, is to experience artistry at its highest level."
Or that unrivalled depiction of Sir Bobby Charlton's play "He always possessed an elemental quality; jinking, changing feet and direction, turning gracefully on the ball or accelerating through a gap surrendered by a confused enemy," which certainly brings back those moments captured by Green's purple prose into our minds and senses.
These descriptions of England's greatest players by Geoffrey Green have become definitions by which generations hence shall recall the treasure trove of legends who cast an indelible spell on this game.
Green retired from The Times in 1976 after nearly 40 years of distinguished service.
- On Garrincha in the 1958 World Cup: "the one man above all others to turn pumpkins into coaches and mice into men."
- On Tottenham Hotspur's double in 1960-61: "Their game is to decoy, create and destroy."
- On England's 1966 World Cup victory: "If England, perhaps, did not possess the greatest flair, they were the best prepared in the field, with the best temperament based on a functional plan."
- On the architect of England's victory Sir Alf Ramsey: "Given to doctrinaire, puritanical, even apparently humourless, he has nonetheless dedicated himself to one end – victory. A lone wolf, he yet managed to build up a team spirit among his men unknown before in any international squad."
- On the 1970 World Cup winning Brazilian team: "They have won because their football is a dance full of irrational surprises and Dionysiac variations."
- On finishing his last World Cup assignment in 1974: "And so, on a personal note a well thumbed book is snapped shut on my last World Cup final."
- On Bill Shankly's death in 1981: "Football was his religion and Anfield his kirk. Booking into a continental hotel, he wrote 'Anfield' in the address column. On being asked by the receptionist for his home address he replied: 'What the hell do you mean? That is my home.'"
Inspired By Aston Villa and Villa Park, The Home of The League Game
Being a man of the English Midlands and brought up on the game from the perspective of the region's great institutions, Green captured the awful descent and incredible rise of English football's most historic club, Aston Villa with some of his most emotive writing. Aston Villa were the founding fathers of league football and Green was more than aware of the place the Midlands powerhouse held in the history of the world game. In a report to The Times, published on 23 February 1972, he revealed his awe at Villa's rebirth after their seemingly impossible fall from grace into the Third Tier of English football.
"Aston Villa's real place of course is among the elite. Tradition demands it.
"But the old cry of the Villa is being heard again ringing round Villa Park, which in its time has mounted World Cup matches and more internationals and FA Cup semi-finals than any other provincial stage.
"Yet some 70 years ago here was the setting of a lake, the club offices and gymnasium were an aquarium, on the VIP car park there once stood a theatre and concert hall, and nearby was a rifle range.
"Villa Park was once to Birmingham what Belle Vue is to Manchester and Battersea Festival Gardens is to London.
"Here Athersmith once dribbled down the right wing holding an umbrella aloft in a heavy rainstorm, among the great passing cavalcade have been Sam Hardy, Billy Walker, Dorrell and York, heroes of my youth when the claret and blue shirt was the most respected and feared in the land."
When Villa's return to the summit of the game they created was sealed, through their 1982 conquering of Europe, Green's eulogy to the great old club was complete.
Intrigued by Manchester United
Newspapers were printed out of Manchester until the late 1960s and coincidentally Sir Matt Busby's Manchester United became the first club to actively seek the benefits the media could bring to the game in the 1950s (Busby Babes) and no wonder that Green like many of his peers who frequented there, became intrigued by their young, robustly scouted, team. The chief reason for being captivated was the healthy line of talented young players who came through the Youth Academy at Manchester United - Duncan Edwards, Sir Bobby Charlton and George Best. And it was Geoffrey Green who saw these three popular players in their prime. What was happening at Old Trafford was the complete opposite to what was happening at Villa Park during the same 1950's-60's era. It was clear Green was seeing the game he loved change before his eyes. Innocence was being lost as a new era of commercialism came to the fore. Money and the media were to gain a much bigger say as to the destiny of football and its biggest prizes. Whilst the original giants of the English game struggled to come to terms with the changing landscape, new, formerly insignificant clubs born out of second tier football were grasping the new opportunities with both hands.
Green was one of a very few journalists to have seen, up close, the much heralded Duncan Edwards, to whom he devoted an entire chapter in his book 'Soccer in The Fifties'. "His talent, his energy, his unselfconscious fun and enjoyment of the chase, his ability to make everything seem possible, all this added up to a volcano of excitement that gripped the crowds and the game wherever he played". Edwards would sadly perish in the Munich Air Disaster of 1958, so would eight other celebrated journalists. "Certain it is that Duncan Edwards, had he survived, would have captained England to the World Cup in 1966."
Of significance to Manchester United supporters, Green captured the arrival of George Best,too, against Benfica in the 1966 European Cup quarter-final (modern day equivalent of UEFA Champions' League) in a splendid form "Night a star was born", wherein he described Best's goal as "gliding like a dark ghost past three men, to break clear and slide the ball home - a beautiful goal." Quintessential Best as The Beatle who "was the best of all, as he set a new almost unexplored beat" with his "long dark mop of hair, is known in these parts as The Beatle."
The Manchester club, who would rise after the awful Munich disaster of 1958 and conquer Europe a decade later, continued to play good football even during their return to barren years during the 1970s and 1980s. Out of those doldrum years came Green's 'There is Only One United' in 1978 where he described the club: "As for United, they stand for something more than any other person, any player, any supporter. They are as was once written in the club programme of 1937 - the soul of a sporting organisation which goes on from year to year, making history all the time. They remain a club with a rich vein of character and faith. Because of that they have no fear of the morrow."
Two schools of football journalism
The first was founded by Geoffrey Green through his inspired, illuminating view of the footballing events fully immersed in its present moment thus capturing that true environment for the benefit of posterity. Any disapproval of the game or the methods employed by the teams were conveyed in a subtle manner.
The second school of thought is the Critique, who constantly compares the level of the prevailing standards with that of the past. Echoing similar instances of occurrences in the by-gone era, more often than not ends up painting a negative picture, distilling bare bone details of facts and figures. Another Times writer Brian Glanville is the exponent of this school.
It is safe to say that like the FA Cup, Geoffrey Green set the bonfire of football writing alight with his rhapsodic flow of words that were never used before to describe the simple yet beautiful game of football. His career paralleled the rise of football from a restricted and disjointed following in most countries until the arrival of the World Cup and European Cup, to being firmly entrenched as the king of games with such a popularity to rival even the Olympics. English football and its unique history will always remain secure in the knowledge that Geoffrey Green has cached the folklore of its incipient era.
- The Official History of the FA Cup (1949)
- History of The Football Association (1953)
- Soccer in The Fifties
- There is Only One United (1978)
- Pardon me for living - his personal autobiography
- Geoffrey Green: ‘'A New Conception of Football'’
- Fabio Chisari: '‘Definitely Not Cricket'’ The Times And The Football World Cup 1930-1970
- Frank Keating: ‘'Sir Neville's pastoral idyll embraces the high-tech era'’
- Brian Glanville: Ferenc Puskas
- Noted football writer David Lacey invariably ends his weekly column by comparing the present state of the game by a parallel in Geoffrey Green’s times.
- Aston Villa Official: