“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars”, reflected George Best, a Manchester United legend. “The rest I just squandered.” This famous quote captures the essence of The Age of Innocence: Football in the 1970s, a photographic eulogy for soccer’s first international superstars — Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, Maradona, Johan Cruyff —and how they molded the “beautiful game”. The book showcases the world’s love affair with their lives, on and off the pitch. From their girlfriends, vintage cars, questionable fashion and athletic heroics, these players’ spirits are still prevalent today.
Athletes were different in the ’70s. They were accessible. The veil today’s celebrities hide behind — agents, endorsements and public sensitivity — wasn’t drawn so tightly, so players had more freedom to be candid and raw (in a way that didn’t involve drunken tweets). The legends of the ’70s were just like Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo, except you’d be more likely to grab a beer with them. The book’s editor and former editor of the British Journal of Photography, Reuel Golden, has edited similar works about Queen Elizabeth II, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. We asked Reuel about the process of putting the book together, the extravagant lifestyle of the time and why this golden age of European soccer demands remembrance.
Q. What was the impetus for the book?
A. Well, we felt like it’s the world’s most popular sport and the World Cup was coming up in Brazil. We had never done a football book, and certainly never a soccer book. But I thought an interesting approach would be to focus on a decade because it would show the game in a different context. It would also be about the decade itself, so it would have sort of a cultural aspect to what we were covering. It’s a little bit like we’re moving the camera away from the soccer fields and focusing on the lifestyle, the culture, the fashion, the girlfriends, the cars — of the 1970s.
Q. Why the 1970s?
A. The main thing about the 1970s is there was the World Cup in Mexico in 1970. And that was the first time the World Cup was televised live in color and it was when the game became really global for the first time. It was in an era where you had these fantastic national teams like the Brazil team in 1970, West Germany, the Netherlands, and club teams like Ajax and Munich. You had these very charismatic players who were becoming the first wave of soccer superstars. The game was becoming very popular, but it still kind of low key. The players weren’t surrounded by agents, and lawyers, and sponsors; there wasn’t the control that there is now. But it’s not like everything in that decade was perfect. There were hooligans and racism. It wasn’t this perfect age, but it was more innocent compared to now. And the game itself was very entertaining; it was more free flowing and less kind of cynical.
The ’70 World Cup was in Mexico. The ’74 World Cup was in West Germany. And the ’78 World Cup was in Argentina. They were all very different, but all were in football-mad countries. And it’s these three World Cups that dominate the narrative of the book.
Q. Were players more honest?
A. Yeah, exactly. I think players were more honest. The game was more like the early stages of [this year’s] World Cup in Brazil. It was very open and everyone was saying, “Oh, this is the best World Cup for years, but once it got to the knock out stages, the games became more cagey. But certainly in the opening gate, I think that was sort of a reference to football in the 70s. It was free flowing and players looked like they were playing for the love of the game, not because they were paid huge salaries. And also players stayed with the clubs for a long time. It wasn’t like they played for two years for a club, they were loyal kind of servants of the club.
Q. What was the development process for the book like?
A. It’s a photographic history, so we start doing photo research. I had photo researchers in Brazil, Argentina, Europe, the U.K. — and I was doing some of the photo research as well. The idea is to show stuff that hasn’t been seen before. For example, I went into the archives of Sports Illustrated, and they went into their archives, and they pulled out slides, prints and chromes of every single photo they have from soccer in the 1970s. So it’s just really burying yourself knee deep in the archives. It’s very important that the research is done physically because if you only do research online, it means that if you can access that, then everybody else can. Once you have the images, you start trying to figure out how to tell the story. With all of our books, there are lot of people involved. I am the editor, so I oversee things. It was my idea to do this book, but in terms of putting it together — the layout — that’s basically me, the publisher, and the art director.
Q. What surprised you about the process?
A. The majority of these photos were used sort of to illustrate things in newspapers and magazines. Most of them originally appeared in the back pages of, say, a German newspaper or a magazine. What surprised me is how well they looked in our book, where they published really big. People have higher visual standards than they did in the ‘70s; a lot of these photos look really good and have stood the test of time. What also surprised me was that a lot of the 1970s fashion — the clothes that guys and their girlfriends were wearing — it’s kind of come full circle. They look kind of cool again. You know, these ’70s fashions have kind of come back in vogue. Kind of like the movie American Hustle, it was sort of celebration of the 1970s. The people and the clothes kind of looked ridiculous, but in some ways they look quite current.
Q. Were there any frustrating parts about the development process?
A. Well, this was actually a really easy and fun book to do because the deadline was very clear. We had to get the book out in time for the World Cup, which we managed to do, and that was a good motivator. Sometimes if you have too much time, then that gives you the luxury of maybe changing things and trying to get different photos. But we all had to work really hard and collaboratively to get this book out in time. So panic can be inspiring.
Q. So how does this book compare to other ones that you’ve put together?
A. I am really happy the way that it turned out, and people seem to be responding to it in a really positive way. It seems like people are turning the pages and kind of laughing at some of the fashion and the slight kitsch element about it. But also, I kind of grew up in the ’70s, so for me it’s been a bit of a nostalgia trip. Some of the other books I’ve done, they’ve been really good to do, but I don’t necessarily have a super-strong personal connection with the material. Growing up in London in the 1970s, I used to go to soccer games, so [this book] was sort of a trip down memory lane for me.
Q. What will the younger generation of soccer fans get out of the book?
A. I think that there are a lot of world superstars in the book that people will recognize. For example, there are quite a few photos about the old Cosmos in the ‘70s; that was sort of the first wave of interest in this country [America] in football. In soccer. I think for the younger soccer fans, they will find it like a historical document — what the game was and what it’s now become. The players look more like regular people in some ways. They weren’t insanely athletic looking. Like Cristiano Ronaldo; he looks super fit, almost like a sprinter. In the book the players are smoking, they’re not in the peak athletic condition that the footballers are expected to be in these days. They are more regular looking.
Q. Thoughts on Qatar as the site of the 2022 World Cup?
A. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think what made this World Cup so great and compelling is because it was played in a football-mad country. The history of the World Cup has shown that when football is part of the host country’s culture, it always produces a more exciting tournament. The politics are a very important issue, but Qatar doesn’t really have any football tradition or history. The ’70 World Cup was in Mexico. The ’74 World Cup was in West Germany. And the ’78 World Cup was in Argentina. They were all very different, but all were in football-mad countries. And it’s these three World Cups that dominate the narrative of the book.