Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Fri 7 March 2008

British Football in the 1980's - Revisited

You'll have to excuse me for a moment. I'm going to get rather nostalgic.

A number of other blog sites have recently been talking about a programme currently being shown on the ITV4 channel here in the UK called 'The Big Match Revisited'. Ours is about to join them, if a little belatedly.

The reason why so many people have brought up the subject of 'The Big Match Revisited' is because it pulls the curtain back on a period in British football history that people like me remember fondly but very rarely see these days.

That period is the early-1980's, a time when football was a very different animal from what we know today, yet for all its foibles, people of a certain age like myself (i.e. 30 years or older) have largely forgotten all the good and bad things that made it what it was. Until now, that is.

What ITV4 are doing is showing a series of programmes which were originally broadcast exactly 25 years ago. In London, that programme would have been 'The Big Match', a Saturday night show featuring highlights of two or three football matches that had taken place earlier that day. There were, however, equivalent programmes shown in different regions of the UK, but they all did the same thing - give viewers their first and probably only chance to watch the best bits from a small selection of the latest football games 'de la jour'.

It's proven to be real appointment-to-view TV for us thirty-somethings. Only yesterday I sat down to watch this week's show - a re-run of the North of England version of 'The Big Match' called 'Match Time' presented by former ITV anchorman Elton Welsby and co-host Denis Law.

Now herein lies the first point of curiosity. I never knew the former Manchester United legend had ever been employed by someone as a TV front-man, and to be fair, he didn't make a bad job of reading out the football news headlines on the show. What was more difficult to understand was what in god's name possessed him to settle on that hairstyle. It looked like he was balancing a stuffed cat on his head. Never mind... more of Denis later.

It was then time for highlights of the first featured game between Liverpool and Stoke City. The Reds, of course were rampant at the time, winning the First Divison title year in, year out, and the 1982-83 season was no different. Here, however, is Curiosity number 2: Stoke City playing in the First Division. Not a regular occurrence in the early-80's or at any time since, but luckily the ITV cameras were there to capture this rare event on film.

Sadly for them, they were beaten 5-1 by one of the all-time great Liverpool line-ups who, in my opinion, played rather poorly. All the stars were there to see - Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson (not just with a moustache but with a beard, too) and Bruce Grobelaar (sporting a beautifully cut mullet) - yet the passing was at times lacking in accuracy and overall the interplay between them left a lot to be desired. Stoke must have wondered what the score would have been if Liverpool had played better.

Really though, for me a programme like this isn't so much about judging football performances - it's in the fine detail that one gains the greatest enjoyment. Neither team's kit featured any shirt advertising - it was banned on TV back then. Ironic in a way, considering Liverpool weren't allowed to have 'Crown Paints' on their uniform, yet it loomed large on the three 20-foot advertising boards that were regularly in full view of the cameras (see left).

And that kit - the one with the white pinstripes. What a classic. I absolutely adored any kit with pinstripes back then. It seemed like the ultimate in football design... an interesting reflection on what goes through the mind of a 12-year-old boy, I suppose.

Even the pitchside advertising hoardings provide a rich harvest for the ardent nostalgist. These days they're all about electronic moving imagery promoting worldwide brands such as Nike or Mastercard. What did Liverpool have back in 1983? Wooden advertising boards promoting KP Nuts, John West tinned salmon and Slalom Lager (Slalom LAGER?!?!?)

Anfield still had its crash barriers in place on the terraces back then, a reminder that crowd trouble was far more of a sinister threat than it has been in recent memory. And the crowd - just over 30,000, we were told. It sounds quite low by today's standards and perhaps it is, but for a game against Stoke (no offence) at a time when Liverpool were 14 points clear at the top of Division One, it was a fair effort on the part of the crowd in attendance that day.

Still, it was all good to see a quarter of a century on, as were the highlights of the Everton v Sunderland match and the Notts County v Spurs match, too (Notts County AND Stoke City in the top flight at the same time?!? We must have been dreaming...)

All that was left to complete a perfect 45 minutes of escapism was a round-up of the day's news from the aforementioned 'Law Man'. Were all used to seeing the goals and action from any match that ever takes place in this modern era, but back then TV cameras weren't so omnipresent, so programmes like 'The Big Match' had to make do with black and white stills photographs taken by the Daily Mirror or some other tabloid newspaper to illustrate any exciting events. Cheap, but effective, you might say.

And finally, a look at the league tables... well the top and bottom bits, anyway. Just looking at the names of the teams and the levels they were playing at is enough to make your mind boggle. There was Nottingham Forest and Coventry City near the top of Division One, Arsenal in 15th and Swansea and Brighton propping them up at the bottom. Derby and Middlesbrough were stuck at the bottom of Division Two and in Division Three the leaders were Portsmouth. How things have changed.

How they've changed indeed, but that's why we like our football history so much. It's wonderful to step back from the here-and-now that sometimes lacks so much in the way of imagination to gaze through the looking glass into the Never-Never-Land of our youth. We probably thought it was all a bit humdrum back then in all fairness, but we should thank ITV4 for giving us a chance to see it all again. It's what helps keep us young, after all.

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