Two obituaries today, one of Nobby Stiles, one of JJ Williams. The second being a sporting generation younger than the first but equally dominant in his chosen game.
But the conjunction of the two leads to an observation. I’ve never actually seen film of Nobby playing. Not knowingly at least, although I’m sure I’ve seen a clip of the ’66 final at some point. Whereas JJ was one of those that I spent the 70s watching. Sitting on the sofa, father in his armchair, us both twitching in excitement and bemoaning the English inability to hold a pass.
This isn’t just about a function of decades though. Rugby was and is, in England, a middle class game, among players and watchers. There are regions where this is not so – Cornwall for example – but it is largely true across the country. Football, until the late 90s at least when it became reverse fashionable, was a working class game.
Wales is very different in this, or at least used to be in the period I’m talking about.
Of course, all the English – and most of the Welsh – know this already as it’s rather in the bone. For outsiders though. It would be entirely common that if Nobby hadn’t been in that World Cup Final then generations of an entire layer of society would have no idea who he was or even have known of his existence. Despite being a European Cup winner, League etc. Equally, there are generations of a very much larger layer of society who didn’t – and don’t – know who JJ Williams was even as that Nobby ignorant layer regards him as one of the greats.
Of course, this is normal in that followers of one sport will know the players in that sport and etc. The point being made here being that in England, until recently, those mapped so closely over class backgrounds. Indeed, which sport you followed was one of the definers of class……