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Soccer in England - Ein Film von Peter Prestel

Knocking-off time at the George Salter Spring Works in the Midland town of West Bromwich. It's the 20th of September, 1879, a day that marks a turning point in the history of the town.

West Bromwich Albion football club was formed by myself and some work mates from Georg Salters spring company in West Brom in 1879. We usually played cricket during the summer but then come winter we wanted to sport to keep us active, to keep us warm. No one in West Bromwich was selling footballs at that time so we had to walk to nearby Wednesbury in order to buy. This is how we came about our first name which was West Bromwich Strollers. We decided to change it about a year later in West Bromwich Albion.

The proud owners of the precious leather ball "strolled" over to their home ground, Dartmouth Park. Then they donned the blue-and-white-striped jerseys that were to become the trade mark of one of England's most successful soccer clubs. Prior to the historic first kick-off, the pioneers of the new game had themselves photographed for posterity.

Over a hundred years later, the West Brom wizards still wear those striped jerseys. But apart from that, nothing is as it was in those halcyon days. Today, soccer is an international business. The players are highly-paid professionals, "modern-day gladiators." The arenas they compete in are new-style "dream venues." Soccer has become part of a global entertainment industry, where huge sums of money are at stake. West Brom is no exception, though at the moment they're not in England's Premier League. Only one thing is the same as it ever was: you have to get the ball into the net.

This is where the Albion story started: the Salter factory. Today it supplies the car industry, the major economic mainstay of the region. Rover is in a few miles distance. 43-year-old Tony Roberts is a power-press operator at Salter's. With rationalization killing jobs all over the Midlands, he's glad of the work.

One of the few traditions to have survived at Salter's is the tea-break and the loyalty of many workers to the club that had its beginnings right here. Tony has been an Albion fan for as long as he can remember and he's been a home-game season- ticket holder ever since he could afford it. Naturally, the beloved club with a thrush in its coat of arms is talking-point number one for Tony and his fellow workers at Salter's.

O-Ton Tony
ItŽs family tradition. My granddad took me up there first, many years ago. And I was ever since... ItŽs a punch ? to be an Albion. You stick to your domain. It`s like a drug, it`s like taking a drug. Every Saturday. Week in, week out.

Family tradition demands that Tony's 4-year-old son Brian should also become an Albion one day. And then there are the dreams of a professional career. If you want a budding soccer star, says Tony, you can't start early enough.

The professionals at West Bromwich Albion training ground. They've made it into the big time. One of them grew up in Tony's neighborhood: Lee Hughes. A year ago the ginger-headed youngster was repairing roofs. Now he's a professional goal-getter. As top scorer in the division he certainly lives up to the name.

A modern fairy-tale from the world of soccer. Lee Hughes scores for the club he has been a fan of since his earliest childhood. West Bromwich Albion. Hollywood couldn't have dreamed up anything better.

O-Ton Lee
When I had started work, I thought my former chances had really gone about playing professional football for I had no chance now. It is quite hard work when you work on the roofs and that. Then you go training on the nights, and playing soccer is as well hard work. Then it was unbelievable when I got the opportunity to play for the team what you love as well.

A photo session at the stadium with Albion's new shooting star, 22-year-old Lee Hughes. He came to the club for a transfer fee of just on 200,000 pounds. Money well spent.. Naturally, Tom Cardall, West Brom's commercial manager, is very pleased with the deal.

O-Ton Tom Cardall
It is clear, in the first division there is a lot of competition. In the area there is Aston Villa in the Premiership, Wolverhampton and Birmingham City, Walsall not far away, Coventry City not far away. There is also the cricket club. They are all looking for business. We are all trying to attract customers to come to our grounds and particularly here we try to attract to come to the Albions and hopefully when they come for the first time they enjoy the atmosphere of the Albions. And come back again for repeat business.

A hundred years ago the Albions could already count on their staunch supporters. One of the oldest soccer films in existence is of the game between Blackburn Rovers and their striped opponents from West Brom, all the way back in 1898. An equally remarkable fact is that there were professional soccer teams at all at that time. But in England the soccer clubs soon started fencing off their grounds and taking admission fees from their spectators.

So alongside ancient football boots and sundry supporters' cheer-gear, a season ticket from 1883 is one of the most precious treasures in the club`s display ases. Albion's in-house historian is Tony Matthews. If anyone can say how West Brom got their nickname "baggies," he can. Does it come from "bag" or from "baggy pants"?

O-Ton Historian
When they had a closed ground, they had two major entrances beyond each goal for the people to go in, pay their money and stand out and watch the game. Once the game had started the people who have took the money used to walk round the prime to the pitch to the offices carring bags. We gather that some supporters in the crowd used to shout out: "Here come the bagmen." And that`s progressed from here.

Wembley Stadium, London. "God save the King" resounds thrillingly from thousands of throats. Standing in for George V, the Duke of Gloucester welcomes the stripy- shirted Baggies waiting to tread the sacred turf of Wembley against arch-rival Birmingham City in the 1931 Cup Final.

West Brom goes into the lead, then Birmingham equalize. But the rivals from the neighboring city fail to go on and clinch the matter. Finally, Albion triumph 2:1.

Here the winning goal.

The most coveted trophy in British football goes to the little industrial town to the north-west of Birmingham. The victory parada went through a town that tends to shun comparisons with mighty Birmingham. In 1931 people were proud to live in the heart of the Black Country, then still a flourishing industrial region .

West Bromwich today. A ghost of its former self. Soccer fortunes have declined just as steeply as industrial prosperity. Unemployment, poverty, structural crisis are the bugbears of recent years. Plus the legacy of Britain's colonial past, a constantly growing ratio of ethnic minorities whose integration represents a formidable challenge.

Junior West Brom fan Brian with his parents Tony and Tina at the local shopping paradise. This former factory site now boasts the biggest shopping center in all Europe. A sign of the times. Where once steel was forged from iron and coal a consumer cathedral has been erected.

This change has not escaped the soccer clubs. West Brom has opened a fan shop right in the middle of the shopping center. All in blue and white. The price is steep, but Tony simply cannot resist

O-Ton Tony
I mean. players...30 000 the week. You know I have to work a lot of weeks for that, you know what I mean? Well a couple of years for that to account a money like that and I could own it in a week.

Goal-getter Lee relaxing over a game of snooker. "Chilling out" is the more fashionable term used by Lee and his team-mates. After all, what's a 22-year-old soccer pro to do all day when he's not training or giving his all on the pitch?

O-Ton Lee
It is a dream life. You just can`t believe it. When you go to the training 11 oŽclock to right one. And it is quite an easy life. It is the dream really to play in that league. Just loving every minute here.

The dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. Injuries have put a premature end to many a promising career. West Brom's medical department has the up-to-the-minute technology it takes to keep the club's human resources in best possible shape.

Here in the club laundry the washing machines are on the go non-stop, six days a week. It's all part of the soccer business. And as in any other business it's the profit margin that counts. Manager Tom Cardall's commitment to his product is total.

O-Ton Tom Cardall
We try to maximize on our friendly atmosphere... Look after the people... Once they come through the door, it`s up to us to make sure they have a good day here, up to the Hawthorns. We hope, the product is allright on the pitch, but if it is not good, at least they say: they looked after us, they made us feel like we were VIPs, we had a lovely day and we want to come back again.

Dave Turnton, another West Bromwich Albion employee. He masterminds the "Football in the Community" project. At training sessions for schoolboys he explains the rules of the game and keeps an eye out for potential talent. But what he cares for most is the club's responsibility to society. Fighting racism in and around the stadium is one of his major concerns. Over 25 percent of the population here are non-British. "LetŽs kick racism out of football!" is the motto. Dave Turnton believes that with soccer you can change the world.

O-Ton Dave Turton
Racism does and has existed within football. I feel, what you find, is children, the majority of children, both of boys and girls, no matter what age or ability, they enjoy football, they see football on the TV and it is a great motivation to develop an education package alongside that. And adresses you such as racism and develop integration within society.

"There has always been racism in soccer, " says the commentator on an educational video in which great soccer players air their views on the subject. The faces of these children illustrate the fact that Britain has long since gone "multi-cultural." The fight against racism is one of society's most pressing challenges. Soccer and its icons can do a lot to help show the red card to racists inside and outside the stadium.

West Brom fan Tony in front of the TV. Though he has been to all the home games in the last 25 years, he still spends a lot of time re-living them on video. And he wants four-year-old Brian to watch them too, to make a proper Albion out of him. When Brian gets fed up, he goes off to his room.

Brian's room. Albion is everwhere. A childhood all in blue-and-white - sacrificed on the altar of soccer fanaticism?

When he's not watching football, Tony goes down to the canal to fish. His home, the Black Country, is criss-crossed by a unique system of canals.

On board the "President". Skipper Dave and his friends have restored her to her former glory. She's been churning through these still waters since 1909. Once a network of waterways for conveying heavy cargo, the canals are now one big recreation area for leisure-time skippers.

The engine room testifies to the British concern for authenticity in their restoration efforts. Today, the steam engine is a plaything. 300 years ago it changed the face of the world.

Locks like this one were the pioneering invention that made the canal system navigable. Ultimately, the network extended throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain.

Before the advent of steam, it was horse-power that pulled the long barges through the canals of the Midlands. It was a cheap and reliable way of transporting bulk goods. Canals were the veins and arteries of the Industrial Revolution.

The fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution was coal. For the Black Country it was the source both of its name and its energy. In the "black hole", the bowels of the earth west of Birmingham, the miners slaved away at their back-breaking toil.

17:18 Another "hot" sector - steel. Industrial production first started right here in the furnaces of the Midlands.

The Black Country Museum proudly commemorates the early years with a gripping retrospect of local industrial history, spiriting visitors back to the time when the air in the Black Country and the faces of its inhabitants really were as sooty as the name suggests.

In the late 18th century brass foundries like this one sprang up all over the region. The Industrial Revolution was to leave its mark on the next two centuries, and not only in Britain.

The River Severn was witness to a ground-breaking industrial feat of a very special kind: the world's first-ever iron bridge, a historic monument still in use today.

It was completed in 1779, when Britain was a world-leader whose engineers set new standards. A glorious epoch for the Black Country.

The trophies in West Bromwich Albion's display cases also recall a glorious past. They date back to the days when soccer giant WBA welcomed top teams at the Hawthorns and made it to the Cup Final.

O-Ton Tony
If you ask an Albion Fan.. it`ll be the dream come true to go to Wembley, to watch the Albion in a final cup.

1954. The Germans win the World Cup and the Albions get to Wembley.

Soccer was the sport of the working classes.

Wistfully, Tony remembers scenes like these.

Despite the setbacks, Tony has even had his loyalty to the club tattooed on his neck. For him the only people who count, alongside the Albions, are his children and his wife Tina. But family life isn't always plain sailing. Tina is anything but a soccer fan, as Tony found to his dismay a few years back.

O-Ton Tina
He just used to leave early in the morning to go to these matches and I didn`t see more of him till late in the night. For that I just told him: you have to slow down on the matches or we are split up - basically.

Saturday. Match day. The high-point of the week. Tony has been living and working for this the last five days. He and his friends set off for the stadium. Tony can't afford a car, soccer swallows up too much of his pay-packet.

Lee Hughes, the football star from Tony's neighborhood, is just as keyed up. In his brand-new car he drives over to the stadium for his weekend work. Will he manage to notch up another goal or two and earn the ecstatic cheers of the home team's blue-and-white-clad supporters?

One last pre-game pint at the pub next to the stadium. This too is part of the Saturday-afternoon soccer ritual.

Lee is surrounded by autograph-hunters. One of the few occasions for close contact between the star and his fans. What kind of relationship is it?

O-Ton Tony
He is Smethwick born lad, where I come from. He is a lot, a lot of Albion fan, was always playing for them. He is... got to be with the club. Top striker in the first division. Top goal score in the first division so where it goes. Yeah, I think he is gonna do well. I just hope no Premiership club will snap him off.

O-Ton Lee
You have to do some sort of things. I mean you have to entertain all the people. They pay a lot money to come to see you and they want entertainment and you got to produce a good show. And if you produce, you gonna entertain the people.

The entertainers waiting for their big entrance. The manager is hoping for a good turn-out, the goal-getter for lots of goals. The mood is relaxed, the opponents, Bradford City, are last but one in the league tables.

Tony isn't worried either. He goes into the stadium at the Smethwick End, as he has for the last 25 years. The tight security checks are new.

Also new is the seating-only regulation, another security measure. After the depredations of soccer hooligans, most of them British, surveillance cameras and massive police presence have changed the atmosphere in the stadiums.

But when the whistle blows, Tony only has eyes for the game. Lee's first ball contact.

The story of the game is quickly told. The Albions underestimate the team from the bottom end of the tables and before they know it it's 1:0 for Bradford.

With the Baggies still reeling, Bradford stage a skillful counter-attack and West Brom are two-nil down.

Tony is not very amused. His only hope is that his team will pull their socks up in the second half.

In the expensive VIP boxes, tea is served. Here, feelings don't run quite so high. It's more a question of seeing and being seen.

In the President's lounge the atmosphere is even more select. A slap-up lunch is laid on while down on the pitch the players struggle to get the ball into the net. For the commercial manager supporters with money are more important than ever. They book the expensive VIP areas, sponsor players, and hire advertising space. Soccer is big business. But that has done little to lessen its fascination.

Much has been written about soccer and what it means to people. As Tony says at half-time: "Some people say soccer is a matter of life and death. But there's much more at stake."

And after Lee's last shot sails over the bar, another piece of soccer wisdom reasserts itself. There is only one thing that counts "You have to get the ball into the net."

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