The Big Match: Sunday In The Park With Brian

Compared to the games shown on The Big Match, everything about today’s football is better.

Only so much more boring.

In quiet weeks during the football season the good people at BT Sports often show episodes of that 60s and 70s highlights mainstay The Big Match presented by the legendary Brian Moore. In Scotland we had our own football programme as did every other TV region in the UK, each region showing highlights of their local team’s home fixtures. As well as a Scottish First Division game we also were given highlights of a top English game too. The Big Match, which was broadcast to the London region, featured a London game plus highlights from one or more of the regions, ‘..and today’s pictures are from our friends at Anglia TV,’ Brian would say. Commentators in all the ITV regions were as familiar as the teams themselves. The great Arthur ‘What A Stramash!’ Montford (more on him later), Gerald Sinstadt at Granada, Keith Macklin at Yorkshire (who also hosted a Sunday tea-time religious quiz show and the first series of Pot Black), the illustrious Ken Wolstenholm at Tyne Tees and Hugh Johns at ATV. We all knew these guys’ voices, certainly more so than the competent but anonymous commentators of today.

And who could forget Idwal Robling? Although a BBC commentator, he entered a competition in 1970 to win a place on the BBC commentating team for the 1970 World Cup. He fought off challenges from Ian St. John, Gerry Harrison and Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart (funny how he turns up so often in this blog) to clinch the job, after Alf Ramsay (who reportedly had a love of the Welsh accent) gave him the nod when he tied with St. John. Sadly he didn’t get a live a gig at the World Cup but did some first round highlights games.

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Idwal smirks after beating Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart to the line

Although the football could be pretty humdrum in these programmes, so much about how football was televised, watched, discussed and presented in the 70s continues to be fascinating, given the way the game has changed over the last 50 years. Like anything, sometimes for the better but frequently for the worse.

It’s fair to say the 60s and 70s were a more innocent time for football. Relatively few games were broadcast, from a fixture programme of about nearly 150 games, maybe 20-25 might have had highlights featured around the country. 24/7 satellite and cable football coverage was a long, long way off and, because of this, you appreciated football on telly much more. Live games were very rare and tended to only be the Scottish and English cup finals, a few Home Internationals and World Cup games every four years. The idea of billions being pumped into football was just a pipe dream.

And talking of pipes, the legendary Brian Moore presented The Big Match and commentated on the featured games between 1968 and 1983 and his pipe was never far away. Lying stationary on his otherwise empty presenting desk or in a small ash tray, in later years it disappeared, clearly because producers thought 9 year olds watching the programme on a Sunday might begin puffing on a Churchwarden and using their pocket money to purchase half an ounce of rough shag in the local tobacconist. Brian Moore was The Big Match, he was to ITV what David Coleman was to the BBC, the voice of football.

Brian had a child-like love of football. He never really stopped seeing it the way a 14 year old sees it. As a heroic, tribal, virtuous endeavour where cynicism was a word footballers didn’t understand. Well, that was probably true, but not in the innocent way Brian thought. In fact, the opening credits to the programme, which changed every so often, always featured a few ‘wacky’ incidents and characters, which was in keeping with Brian’s rather sanitised and rosy view of the game. As The Big Match also included an awkward interview with a hirsute, wide-lapelled player or manager who had been involved in the televised game, Brian’s awe and excitement was often palpable. Difficult questions were rarely on the agenda, although the inarticulacy of the player often found any question difficult.

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Hirsute and wide-lapelled

While commentating on a game Brian was always trying to find the best in players. If something mildly amusing happened like a player helping one of the opposition to his feet after a hefty tackle, Brian would begin to chortle and say ‘That’s lovely to see!’ He so desperately wanted to see the ‘nice’ side of the game. Barry Davies on the BBC was similar in his adolescent adulation of professional footballers. In interviews he would always chuck them questions in the hope of getting a marginally droll response. Commentators like Brian and Barry just loved Ron Atkinson, for example, or ‘Big Atko‘ as the Saint and Greavsie chummily referred to him (footballers and managers’ nicknames always had to end in ‘o’ or ‘ie’). In an interview before Ron Atkinson’s West Bromwich Albion had a big cup game against Ipswich Town, Barry Davies took him around Wembley Stadium followed by the BBC cameras obviously, and led him into the home dressing rooms. They were empty but for an Ipswich Town shirt which, coincidently, had been left hanging there (by a BBC production assistant, no doubt). ‘Oh look!’ grinned Barry and beamed as Ron spotted this shirt and lifted it off the peg. He was almost pissing himself in anticipation as he awaited Atko’s inevitable side-splitting bon mot. Which never came. He just stood there examining it, mumbling ‘Hmmm, yeah…’, desperately trying to think of something amusing or even faintly interesting to say. Poor Barrie. What a blow. And this, I think sums up commentators’ interactions with many footballers. To use one of their favourite words, disappointing.

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Barry Davies: Interesting. Very interesting!

And it’s not just limited to footballers. Often The Big Match would involve celebrities in their Christmas Special shows and in 1976 presenting duties were handed over to none other than Chairman of Watford FC, Mr Elton John. To describe Elt as wooden at the start of the show is an insult to wood and maybe the producers were a bit worried about this so they wheeled in two ‘jack- the- lads’ of the game, Mike Channon and Kevin Keegan to lighten up proceedings. They began the show wearing flamboyant glasses and earrings. Oh, you boys…! The banter began to dry up a bit after this, a bit like their England careers at the time, but not before The Big Match annual Christmas ‘bit of fun’. This involved clips of games, players, referees from over the year being speeded up, reversed, repeated etc. And, no, it’s not nearly as funny as it sounds (and it doesn’t sound nearly funny really). ‘That’s the best one ever‘ exclaims a tittering Elton.

Worst banter ever

I know it’s easy to mock and technology was much less sophisticated then, and they really weren’t very funny. But who cared? It was what it was at the time. And despite Channon and Keegan firing comedy blanks, can you imagine Kevin De Bruyne or Harry Kane (I’m actually struggling to think of any other International players, such is most modern players’ lack of personality) going on to some football programme today and hamming it up?

There are many things you notice about these 70s highlights programmes that are so different to today’s clinical, over-technical, often skilled but tedious fare we are served up.

The pitches for one thing. By October every ground featured was at best a mud-bath, at worst a ploughed field. But, strangely, this didn’t detract from the games, it actually enhanced them. Players had to dig in, sometimes literally, and the skill of many to negotiate these quagmires was impressive. Sometimes it was difficult to know what the ball was going to do and this ramped up the excitement. Some pitches were notorious, and not just in the depths of winter. You’d have done well to spot a blade of grass on Derby County‘s Baseball Ground at any time of year, for example. And despite all their loot, Old Trafford was pretty awful. In fact, it’s easier to try and think of a ground where the pitch actually held up reasonably well during the middle of the season. And the amazing thing was, all the commentators would concede was ‘..conditions underfoot were tricky.’

Now that’s a proper 70s pitch!

At the end of games it was customary for young fans, usually in parkas, to run on to the pitch and mob their heroes, whether they won or lost. Police didn’t seem that bothered and the commentators didn’t even refer to it. Someone ‘invading‘, as it was described at the time, was a fairly common occurrence then and occasionally, however, some bozo would run on to the pitch during a game. Usually the guy was completely stoatious and it was generally good-humoured, it even added a bit of levity to a very dull game. Particularly when he evaded the rugby tackles of pursuing coppers. On highlights programmes like The Big Match the cameras would actually follow the invader around the pitch and even have a laugh about it. In the rare event of it happening now the sniffy commentators would just say ‘We don’t want to see that.‘ In fact, we do! It would be a welcome break from the tedium of watching Manchester City or Chelsea or Spurs pass the ball back and forward in their own half for 10 minutes. Now seeing them try to perform that at The Baseball Ground would have been interesting. But like so many other common elements to the 60s and 70s game, pitch invasions are a thing of the past. My favourite pitch invasion ever was after the legendary Ronnie Radford scored that screamer for Hereford United against Newcastle United in an FA cup tie in 1971. Never have so many parkas been concentrated in one relatively small area.

So much joy! So many parkas!

Occasionally The Big Match cameras might go ‘behind the scenes’ after a match, and such was the case after the Southampton v Manchester United clash in 1973. Brian couldn’t hide his excitement when he announced that TBM had been kindly invited into the players’ lounge after the game. A fairly lengthy item followed where a grinning Brian followed players of both teams around the rather cramped, formica-lined environment with a microphone. What made this particularly interesting watching it now was that every player interviewed was knocking back a pint. And, of course, no viewer then would even have remarked on it. And why would they? It’s only in recent years that footballers, some at least, are described as ‘athletes’, non-drinking and only eating a macro-biotic diet (whatever that is). I don’t think Frank Worthington, Stan Bowles or Rodney Marsh, great footballers that they were, would have any truck with this type of lifestyle. It’s rumoured that Frank Worthington failed a medical in the 70s to sign for Liverpool due high blood pressure brought on by ‘excessive sexual activity.’ ‘They were great days,’ said Frank. He was probably also referring to his football career.

The approach of referees to the vicissitudes of the game was also very different. Referees tended to be elderly, portly gentlemen who held down responsible jobs during the week, such as a Shipping Clerk or Woodwork Teacher. Players rarely questioned his decision other than a childish moan and a group of players surrounding a referee was unheard of. It took a lot to be booked in the 60s and 70s and even more to be sent off. Scything tackles were common but only occasionally punished and the term ‘professional foul’ was not in the vocabulary. A word in the ear was all that was usually needed. And referees universally wore black, in fact one of the more expressive chants from the terraces of the time, ‘Who’s the bastard in the black?’, has been rendered virtually meaningless thanks to the modern referees’ rapidly expanding palette of flamboyant bright colours.

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Alan ‘Sniffer’ Clarke gets a word in his ear

Which brings me to another ‘Grumpy Old Man’ point. How irritating is it when a commentator apologises for any ‘bad language’ that may have been heard while a live game is being broadcast? Is there anyone in the world watching live games who isn’t aware of the type of language that tends to be heard at football? Is there any football fan who might be shocked or offended by that type of language? Is there anyone who even notices it when it’s broadcast? Brian certainly never ever referred to it. But he probably thought all football fans were of the type that featured in Roy of the Rovers comic strips. Bless him!

Another regular feature of The Big Match was viewers’ letters. Two or three letters were usually read out by Brian, most of them from teenage fans. What I particularly liked about this item was the fact that Brian used to read out their full address on the programme. For what now takes a matter of seconds, a correspondent would have to find a postcard (not particularly easy), write his (and it was usually a ‘him’) question or request, buy a stamp, take it to a letterbox and post it, probably wait 2-3 weeks in the hope that it might be selected for broadcast. What a palaver! A bit like voting for acts on Opportunity Knocks! For example, on the 8th September 1974 edition 13 year old Tony Woodward of 45 Blossom Square, Reading in Berkshire wanted to know why Keith Peacock, playing for Charlton in the previous week’s televised game versus Gillingham, changed his shirt at half time? You can’t pull the wool over the eyes of some eagle-eyed young fans! And Brian revealed that Keith perspires a great deal and so changed his shirt at half time, so there you have it Tony. You’ll have slept soundly that night having had your burning question answered and you now know it’s because Keith Peacock is a sweaty bastard. On the same show 14 year old Steven Brill of 31 Seddington Road, Hendon wanted to know if it’s legal for goalkeepers to swing on their crossbars. The short answer was yes and no. Hope that answers your query, Steve. Keep those letters coming.

Talking of this 8th September 1974 edition, it featured a match which summed up the vagaries of league football as it was a second division game between Fulham and York City which the visitors won 2-0. A couple of interesting points from this game (and there are always interesting points I would argue). York City were then in the second highest tier of English football, they now occupy the National League (North) and play the likes of Spennymoor United, Farsley Celtic and Alfreton Town. Their strip was maroon with a distinctive white ‘Y’ motif which looked like they had been sewn on individually by the manager’s wife. And the York City manager Don Johnson (no relation I believe) puffed away on a pipe in the YCFC dugout throughout the game.

A fine 70s kit!

Playing for Fulham were Bobby Moore (who looked well past his sell-by date, looking slow and overweight) and Alan Mullery, who joined Brian in The Big Match studio on the Sunday afternoon to discuss the game. Fulham were managed by tweed-wearing, pipe-puffing Alec Stock, an old school campaigner and a dying breed even then. Paul Whitehouse claims to have based Ron Manager on him and in an edition a few weeks later Stock was interviewed in the TBM studio after a game against Southampton and he railed, gently, against the ‘Southampton chaps‘ who had been a little overzealous in their tackling. Marvellous.

It’s fair to say managers (and they were mostly managers, not coaches at this time) were a very different breed. Pipes were almost de rigeur as the manager, trainer and sub huddled in the cramped, wind blown dugout during the game with only a tartan rug covering their knees. There was none of this prowling around the technical area, dementedly pointing and waving, bellowing at the fourth official or booting bottles of water around if the decision went against you. Although during the mid-70s the egotist manager did begin tentatively to emerge. And who was the first such individual to see himself as a ‘personality’? Step forward Malcolm ‘Big Mal’ Allison, Crystal Palace ‘coach’ and friend of Brian Moore.

Malcolm Allison had been at Manchester City before landing the ‘glamour’ job at Crystal Palace. His Man City track suit was binned and replaced with a fedora, an oversize sheepskin coat and an enormous Cuban cigar. The personality coach had arrived! Malcolm milked the flashy side of coaching to the limit and, in cahoots with the tabloid press, created an image for himself that still endures. In fact, the flick-to-kick football game Subbuteo included a model of a fedora and sheepskin- wearing manager to stand on the sidelines looking not dissimilar to Big Mal in his heyday. One of his most memorable stunts was to invite Playboy columnist and glamour model Fiona Richmond into the Palace communal bath, and, as they frolicked in the bubbles, a tabloid photographer snapped away. Somehow you couldn’t imagine Alec Stock doing this. Marvellous as it may have been.

Some years ago I was changing trains at York Station en route to Edinburgh and as I disembarked a large man in a camel coat and an even larger glass of whisky, which had been filched out of the buffet, was waiting to board. It was unmistakably Big Mal.

And talking about Crystal Palace and 70s managers, I recently watched a very interesting BT Sport documentary about the post-Busby Manchester United. Tommy Docherty was interviewed about how he became Man United manager in 1972. He was Scotland manager at the time and was at the Crystal Palace v Manchester United game at Selhurst Park. United had just been humped 5-1 by a Palace team languishing at the bottom of the English First Division. At the end of the game Docherty was invited into the Palace board room by Busby and offered the job on the spot on a 3 year contract at £30,000 per year. That is….£30, 000 a year! I have to say I was quite shocked at this revelation. Manchester United were one of the biggest clubs in Europe and this is what they paid their manager. Today that would translate to just under £400,000 which was, and still is, a lot of money but compare it to what managers/ coaches are paid now and it’s a drop in the ocean.

A few years before this edition of TBM, 1970 to be precise, Brian Moore and his colleagues at ITV had opened the television Pandora’s box and unleashed on an unsuspecting TV football audience ‘the pundit.’ In fact it was many, many years before this word would ever be used to describe an ex-pro who talked incessantly and lugubriously about some dull, ultra-fine point he noticed in a boring, meaningless televised game. For the 1970 World Cup in Brazil someone had the bright idea of putting together a panel of ‘experts’ to argue, bicker and nitpick about every World Cup game televised for the whole of July. The first panel comprised Jimmy Hill (inevitable), Malcolm Allison, Pat Crerand (recently retired, ex-Man United and Scotland midfielder), Derek Dougan (talismanic Irish Wolves striker) and Bob McNab (Arsenal full-back). Latterly Cloughie (another of Brian’s muckers and then Derby County manager) and Jack Charlton became involved. Bizarrely, it was one of the few occasions ITV beat BBC football coverage in the ratings, forcing the Beeb to quickly put their own panel together. Football would never be the same. Sadly.

The Accused

But in their favour, they didn’t use diagrams to show where a striker should have been running, how much space a defender gave an attacker or even mentioned diamond formations. They just squabbled and you sort of knew after the show they’d go out and have a skinful (there were some big drinkers on that panel). And all the time Brian Moore grinned knowing this was pretty innovative telly. He wasn’t to know punditry would eventually disappear up its own back four.

During his long tenure with The Big Match and ITV sport, Brian Moore became a cult figure and a Gillingham FC director. The Gillingham FC fanzine during the 80s and 90s was entitled ‘Brian Moore’s Head Looks Uncannily Like London Planetarium, which was a line from Half Man, Half Biscuit’s track ‘Dickie Davies’s Eyes.’ He died in 2001 aged 69 and it’s fair to say, for the huge football fan that he was, he lived the dream.

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The Big Match, and all the regional versions of it, showed players who are now considered greats in action, at a time when football coverage was extremely limited compared to what we have today. And because of that, footage of these players and teams is hugely valuable. At a time when football has become so clinical, so technical and so lacking in real personalities, The Big Match Revisited programmes are an antidote to the tedium which encapsulates so much of the modern game, when a football highlights programme was a part of the weekend you looked forward to and all the better for being rationed. And it’s hats off to Brian Moore for being such an integral and vital part of that experience.

And that was lovely to see.

When Football Grounds Were Fun

Match day at Brechin’s Glebe Park

The homogeneous nature of modern stadia is just another reason why football has become so mundane

This blog may be about 60s and 70s popular culture but it is defiantly not one of those places where I moan about how crap everything is today compared to the past. That’s not to say that the 60s and 70s weren’t a golden age for comedy, music, TV and a few other things, because they were. But over the last 50 years there has been some amazing examples of all these categories as well as some absolute rubbish. It’s just the nature of things.

That said. There is one aspect of our modern cultural life that has deteriorated significantly since the 60s and 70s and although elements of it are better, something has never been replaced. Right, get to the point. I’m talking about football grounds here. You may already have read about Shoot and Goal magazines which will have given you the gist of what I’m getting at.

In short, football clubs have lost much of their distinctiveness, quirkiness, exclusivity and, dare I say, beauty through the way their grounds have changed. I completely understand that it’s all been done in the name of safety, comfort, increase in capacity and, inevitably, increased revenues. I completely understand that but I just miss the little things, eccentricities, peculiarities and oddities as well as wonders you saw and appreciated at grounds when you attended away games. Sadly that has gone forever.

In 1983 Simon Inglis published the football stadium bible, The Football Grounds of England and Wales, updating it a few years later and adding Scottish grounds. For football ground aficionados like myself this was the Book of Revelations, the font of all football ground knowledge that you would consult before visiting a new venue. His enthusiasm and love of those quirky little features that made a ground distinctive, that added an extra layer of excitement and intrigue to any away game was infectious. These little features were the history of the club, they’d been there for maybe a hundred years or more and often became synonymous with the club’s identity. He also introduced me to the Frank Lloyd Wright of football architecture, Archibald Leitch. Born in Glasgow in 1865, Leitch designed some of the greatest and most iconic stands in British football history. Some, though criminally few, are still standing, though most of these have been redeveloped but keeping their original decoration and structure, such as Ibrox, Aston Villa, Kilmarnock, Dundee and Everton’s Goodison Park.

Simon Inglis’s Book of Revelations

It’s true that few grounds still have those fascinating little distinguishing features due to redevelopment. There was a time when a game would be taking place on TV and you could tell the home team purely by the ground’s architecture. It’s still possible in some cases but not many. Uniform stands on every side of the pitch, of breeze block and corrugated steel, goal nets that all look the same (much more on this soon) and pitches that no longer even cut up, all make for a homogeneous viewing experience. Yes, it’s more comfortable, certainly safer, a higher quality of football and invariably more expensive but it’s a very different world, better in some ways, worse in many others.

I first started attending games in 1970 and still attend them today. Of the 133 clubs in the Scottish and English top leagues (134 if you still count Bury FC who were expelled from their league earlier this season) I have visited over half (76 to be precise. 79 if you count 3 teams in the English National league who have dropped out the top flights, Notts County, Chesterfield and Stockport) so I feel I have some knowledge of the subject. Out of those 79, 29 have moved to different grounds from the ones I originally attended. Of the remaining 50 most have changed their ground significantly in some way or other, usually as a result of the Taylor Report which required all top division grounds to become all-seaters. The outcome of this is that most grounds have lost their distinctive character, a few still retain a bit of their retro- charm but it’s rare. To read Simon Inglis book now is to find out what the football grounds of Scotland, England and Wales used be like.

The first ground I ever attended was Tynecastle, home of my team Hearts (or to give them their Sunday name Heart Of Midlothian). The game was against St. Johnstone on August 29th 1970 and we lost 3-1. I didn’t even see our goal, a late penalty as we’d already left in (my uncle’s ) disgust. I remember vividly walking into the stadium and being completely blown away by the size of the pitch and its blinding greenness and how incredibly close we were to the action. Like many grounds of the time we had a fairly average Archibald Leitch stand (recently demolished) and banks of terracing on three sides. The open-to-the-elements standing Gorgie Road End was the largest and most interesting as it had a huge scoreboard at the back of the terracing where half time scores at other grounds would be displayed manually. The other games taking place were listed alphabetically in the programme, so you really had buy a programme if you wanted to keep abreast of half time scores. No electronic scoreboards then. In fact, we don’t even have one now. No need for such new-fangled gadgetry when a tranny in the ear will suffice.

Until redevelopment in the 1980s the tenements behind this end had one of the best views of the game from their kitchen window than probably at any other ground in the UK. They must have been sick when the first new stand was built, apart from the amount it took off the value of their properties.

Hearts’ ground now is trim, clean but still one of the most atmospheric grounds in the country. The designers, at least, maintained the close proximity of the stands to the pitch, but like so many other grounds, lacks the feeling of distinctiveness it once had. At one time you could walk along the main thoroughfare, Gorgie Road, and not even realise a football ground was there, unless you looked up a side street and saw the narrow main entrance, and, despite the redevelopment, that’s still the case.

Most top flight Scottish grounds are similar in their nondescriptness. Rangers have kept their magnificent Archibald Leitch main stand but have built on to it and kept their main red brick facade. Kilmarnock are the only Premier club whose ground bears some resemblance to that of the 60s and 70s with their old stand and the floodlights perched on top of the roof, although the three other sides are relatively recent.

Killie’s old stand

St Johnstone, Hamilton and Livingstone play in utilitarian stadiums with not a single feature to recommend them, built quickly and cheaply. The latter two teams even play on synthetic pitches, it’s like watching football in an oversize subbuteo ground.

In the lower divisions, however, Dundee United’s Tannadice is still quite interesting. In the 60s and 70s before redevelopment it had the steepest terracing in the country. Dizzyingly so. Anyone losing their footing would plunge about 30 feet unless their tumble was arrested by a cast iron crash barrier. Those were the days! The ground also had high walls at each corner of the pitch which displayed an advert for the good people at Skol lager. When televised a small part of this historic terracing can still be seen at the far left hand corner where the stand meets the the terracing behind the goal. They still have the same strange little stand that stretches from half way along one side of the pitch and snakes around the corner to about a third of the way behind the goal. Not that long ago, behind this same goal were allotments and a particularly poor attempt at goal will have destroyed some poor guy’s cold frame, on probably more than one occasion. It still shares the same street with its neighbour, Dundee FC‘s Dens Park which still has an original Archibald Leitch stand.

Scottish League 1 Raith Rovers’ Stark’s Park still has a lovely old fashioned Archibald Leitch stand which, like the Tannadice stand stretches part of way along one side of the pitch and round the corner behind one of the goals. It’s now named after Raith’s most famous fan, crime writer Val McDermid, and still has benches which extend from one end to the other. On the other side of the ground trains still pass regularly and get a fleeting view of the action.

The Val McDermid Stand with its lovely wee gable.

At one time Airdrie’s Broomfield was a fantastic old fashioned stadium. Famous for its pavilion in the corner, it was reminiscent of Fulham’s Craven Cottage and Bradford Park Avenue‘s old, now abandoned, ground with its ‘Doll’s House’. Broomfield was a cauldron with a huge standing area curling two-thirds of the way around the ground. Airdrie now play at the grandly named Excelsior Stadium just outside Glasgow, but that’s all that is grand about this mundane breeze block construction.

Many lower league teams in Scotland still retain many of their old features, and, to be fair, there are some grounds I have not been to including Forfar, Albion Rovers, Stranraer and Peterhead. Of the grounds I know of Ayr United’s Somerset Park is one of the few that still looks the same as when I last visited in 1974. Although, inevitably, the forces of change are looming and plans have been drawn up to transform the ground into a stadium for ‘the future’.

A ground that will always be close to my heart(s) is Arbroath FC’s Gayfield. I attended my first Hearts away match there in 3rd November 1973. Set right on the sea front, if a beleaguered centre half wellied the ball out of the ground, it could conceivably end up in Denmark. With the exception of some covering at the once open end of the ground, Gayfield has stayed pretty much the same as when I visited for the first time all these years ago. There is one other aspect of Gayfield which I feel is worth mentioning, and will return to the fascinating subject of goal stanchions very soon.

Fir Park, the home of Motherwell FC is another ground that has little architecturally to recommend it these days but not too long ago it featured the biggest pun, probably, in world football. Across the top of what was once a covered standing area was the advice in huge block capitals, ‘Keep Cigarettes Away From The Match.’ Sadly this advice has disappeared and it now advertises some mundane loan company or something, but for many years this greeted fans weekly.

‘Well’s world record breaking pun.

To find any quirkiness in grounds today any fan of football architecture has to forget about the top flights in both Scotland and England. In the English Premiership the top teams have spent hundreds of millions on upgrading their grounds to a level of uniform blandness, Spurs actually spent £1 billion on their recently opened new stadium. With the exception of Everton’s Goodison Park (and there are plans for them to leave soon) White Hart Lane was the last English top flight ground to retain any of its original features. Up until the 1980s it still had a white picket fence around the perimeter and for many years advertising around the pitch wasn’t allowed. Changed days. And taking centre stage was its magnificent Archibald Leitch East stand with its famous gable and its cockerel standing majestically above it. Spurs have one of the most state-of-the- art stadiums in the world now, but the character has gone.

Everton’s Goodison Park was another ground with wonderful Archibald Leitch designed stands. Its triple-tiered stand was the first of its kind. It’s still a wonderfully atmospheric stadium, something that doesn’t come across on TV. When I visited in 1998 I was pleasantly surprised by how compact it felt and how close the fans were to the pitch. Always a good sign. This three tired stand, the first of its kind, adds a real majestic quality. It’ll be a very sad day if they do leave and, like West Ham whose fans have never taken to their new stadium and the running track that separates them from the action, Everton will lose something special that Goodison provided. When footage of Goodison in the 60s and 70s is shown on TV it is noticeable that large semi-circles were created behind each goal which seemed rather odd. These were installed for safety reasons as Goodison was used as a World Cup venue in 1966. For many years I thought it added to the ground’s charm, as did the church of St Luke The Evangelist which jutted into the Gwladys Street terracing behind the goal and has now been closed off and can hardly be seen. Plans to move the club to a new stadium 2.5 miles away and have Goodison redeveloped as a residential area will rob the English Premiership of one of the last grounds of a bygone era. One final interesting fact about Goodison (well I think it’s interesting). Everton were the first club in England to install dugouts after playing a friendly at Pittodrie ( a stadium that has never had much to recommend it architecturally) against Aberdeen in 1931, who were the first team in the UK to have dugouts in their ground.

Everton’s neighbours across Stanley Park, Liverpool inhabit its famous Anfield stadium which has lacked any sort of architectural distinction since the it demolished its lovely gabled old main stand in the early 1970s. However, the sight and atmosphere of the Kop on match days was always the most distinctive part of Anfield with the banks of fans on the Kop swaying to the ebb and flow of the game like a field of poppies in the breeze.

The only other English Premiership ground of note is Aston Villa’s Villa Park. Although three sides of it are fairly ordinary, the Trinity Road stand along one side of the ground is still a sight to behold with its claret and red curved balcony wall and gable on the roof displaying the Aston Villa crest. Dating back to 1922 it’s amazing this stand has survived the mass development of 90s. Maybe if Villa had been more successful during this time it may not have.

A few clubs whose old grounds are sorely missed are Newcastle’s St James’s Park, Southampton’s The Dell and Arsenal’s Highbury. Each of those stadiums were unique for a number of reasons.

Although still on the same site St James’s Park bears no resemblance to the seething hotbed of a stadium of the 60s and 70s. Any TV footage from this time gives the impression of the fans nearly encroaching on to the pitch, and occasionally they did! The distance between the fans and the pitch was so narrow, the players could almost touch the spectators. The intimidating nature of this ground for visiting teams must have been almost palpable. As a student in Newcastle during the late 70s I attended many Magpies‘ home games but even then the stadium was being redeveloped and was hardly the bear pit it was a few years previously. The famous covered Leazes End had been ripped down and wasn’t replaced for many years, a bare wall taking its place. A flat pack stand was erected on one side although the original main stand remained until redevelopment in the 90s. But the guts had been ripped out the stadium and the team’s fortunes reflected the lack of atmosphere as they remained in the Second Division until ‘The Keegan Revolution.’

Southampton’s Dell was an amazing ground that defined the glorious differences in football grounds in the first half of the 1900s . A hotch potch of stands and bits of chaotic and disorganised terracing all within touching distance of the pitch was similar to St James’s, though smaller. With the goal nets right up against the wall of the terracing behind the goal and fans spilling over on to the narrow track, it was an exciting to place to go or even watch on telly. In 1978 the ground’s capacity was reduced to 25,000 which was probably the beginning of the end for this fantastic, atmospheric, quirky little ground. No doubt a Tesco stands in its place now.

Wolves’ Molineux was a place of beauty. Famous for its European matches played under the floodlights in the 50s, their stands were wonderful constructions. Using curves where most stands were clean straight lines, it was probably one of the most distinctive grounds in Europe. In the 1970s the club built a huge expensive new stand which almost bankrupted them and this caused the ground to fall into dilapidation. I attended a game there in 1996 and almost two-thirds of the ground was closed off with these tremendously evocative old stands rotting criminally. It was many years before the club recovered and those amazing stands stood derelict before being demolished. Wolves now have a state-of-the-art squeaky clean stadium but it’s not a patch on their glory days.

I visited Millwall FC’s The Den in their last year playing there in 1993 before moving half a mile up the road to the New Den. Talk about from the sublime to the monotonous. The Den was a classic old fashioned ground. Little stands on both sides, a covered standing area, an open standing end behind one of the goals and the players even walked on to the pitch from behind one of the goals. It was atmospheric, could be intimidating but had some great pubs two minutes walk away. A year later I visited the New Den which was one of the dullest, unatmospheric, clinical grounds I had even been to (up till then at least). I know that all clubs had to change in some way, be it for safety or comfort, but this just seemed like madness. The powers that be in the boardroom had ripped out the guts of the club in one fell swoop. The Millwall situation was the writing on the wall for many clubs, leaving their heritage, history and character behind for the sake of…what? Millwall now have a larger stadium, for me completely lacking in atmosphere or charm and where has it got them? And this is true of many, many other clubs.

Arsenal’s Highbury was an Art Deco masterpiece situate in the middle of north London. Begun in 1931 the original Archibald Leitch stand was replaced by two almost identical stands at the east and west sides of the ground. Rather than designers Highbury was created by 1930s architects and little changed between the opening of the new stands until Arsenal left Highbury in 2006. Every wall, every, corner, nook and cranny featured some sort of Art Deco design, it’s marble halls, busts and stairways made the stadium more like a an Art Deco museum rather than a football ground. It’s tight pitch, the smallest in London, and with the fans close to the touchline, it provided an atmosphere second to none. Highbury didn’t have a dug-out. That would be too common. It had shelters, which always looked very cramped on telly and they looked more like greenhouses. But it was only the home shelter that had heating, the away shelter didn’t. Highbury even inspired a curious 1939 detective film called The Arsenal Stadium Mystery starring Leslie Banks. Filmed on location throughout Highbury, and featuring some Arsenal players of the time including manager George Allison, it tells the story of a player dropping down dead on the pitch in a match against Arsenal and the subsequent quest to find the killer after it emerges he was poisoned. Although, by all accounts, the Emirates Stadium is impressive, it could never have the style that Highbury had.

Probably the greatest football stadium ever built.

Football has gone the way of football grounds. It’s better technically, there are fewer mistakes, it’s cleaner though probably more cynical, it’s more distant, players are more skilful, and clubs are run more efficiently and clinically. Grounds are more comfortable, you can get a nice risotto or pasta dish at the kiosk, programmes are £8 and, if you really want it, you can pay for hospitality, sit in the warmth, have a three-course meal with wine and rub shoulders with captains of industry, all for a few thousand quid. That’s all fine and good, if you like that kind of thing, but I miss the roughing it, the quirky features of old fashioned grounds, the cock-ups in defence and the off-the-ball chinnings (no more of them thanks to VAR).

But if anyone wants to see grounds that still retain some unique, idiosyncratic features, it’s necessary to visit some of the lower league clubs in Scotland and England, although these are disappearing quickly. For example, Brechin City’s Glebe Park is famous for its hedge which runs along one side of the ground or the nets at Grimsby‘s Blundell Park which were donated by local fishermen. Over the next couple of years I’m planning to visit as many of the grounds I still haven’t been to and re-visit some of the ones that still retain a bit of charm. These venues are disappearing fast and will not be there for much longer. The inevitable forces of change are hovering over every old football ground like a zeppelin over Wembley.

So don’t hang about. We’re running out of time.

The Carry-On World XI

Just in case anyone thought this blog might have delusions of intellectual grandeur..it doesn’t.

Matron, take them away……

Football these days is up its own arse. If I see another one of those interminable, arty introductory sequences on Match of the Day or Sportscene again, I think I’ll spit. The ones that make out a particular match is a clash of Greek gods and Titans as written by Eurypides and filmed by Stanley Kubrick. FUCK OFF! It’s Burnley v Crystal Palace!

It is my duty, and anyone else’s who thinks in a similar way, to prick such pomposity, to parry such pretension, to expose all that bollocks and show football for what it is. A (sometimes) enjoyable pastime on a Saturday afternoon, although that’s a rare event these days thanks to the good people at Sky, BT, Amazon, Premier Sports and whatever other ‘platforms’ exist to ruin our game. It’s a bit like all those commentators who constantly refer to it as ‘The Beautiful Game‘. Just because Pele said it once doesn’t mean it’s true. There’s nothing beautiful about it, it’s rough, sometimes violent, dirty and cynical. And that’s why we love it. As the great Danny Baker once said, there’s nothing a crowd enjoy more than an off-the-ball chinning. But due to the boring nature of players nowadays, there’s sadly few of those anymore.

So here is my slightly rude world eleven, just to hammer home the fact that football should never be taken seriously. Please feel free to make any other suitably naughty suggestions, should anyone else read this post who has a schoolboy sense of humour like mine.

  1. Pumpido
  2. Dicks
  3. Bumstead
  4. Van Gobbel
  5. Shittu
  6. Scheidt
  7. Fuchs
  8. Ufarte
  9. Kuntz
  10. Umtiti
  11. Goodwillie

Subs:BALL and ARCE

Back of the net!

Shoot and Goal Magazine: When Football Was Football and Not Just A ‘Product’

Where did it all go sadly, and boringly, right for our footballers?

During the 60s and 70s football was a much more working class sport.  For a start a minority of relatively well-off people actually sat down at a game. The stand was where decent, usually older men (and it was mostly men) could be shielded from the adolescent noisy ne’er-do-wells who populated the vast, gaping terraces. The only women who ever ventured to a football match were what would be later described as WAGs. The (current) girlfriends and the (current) wives. Until, of course their beaus were caught being indiscreet in a local night-spot with a girl called Sharon. Or Tracey. Footballers from this bygone era must look at the automatons and athletes playing for top clubs now and wonder if they are the same species. Apart from earning more money in a week than 60s or 70s players would earn in a career, modern players’ bodies are temples and not the temples of doom belonging to yesteryear stars. Today’s top players are rarely even photographed leaving nightclubs in a sheepish manner, their minders, advisers, gurus and agents warning them off such behaviour. Most, I would guess, aren’t even bothered about attending such emporiums of temptation. One couldn’t really imagine Kevin De Bruyne or Christian Erikson leaving Romeo and Juliet’s night spot in Bury or Hornchurch holding hands with Kylie who had been out on a travel agents’ beano, who earlier had been knocking back Mojitos like they were going out of fashion. Now the same couldn’t be said for Stan Bowles or Frank Worthington or even, for that matter, Charlie Nicholas. It’s also well documented that footballers left training at lunchtime and headed straight for the boozer. Ten pints and 40 fags later they would drive home in their Ford Sunbeam and doze in front of Quizball until it was time for training again the next morning. Where did it all go sadly, and boringly, right for today’s footballers? 

An insight into how 60s and 70s and players were from a very different planet completely can be found in the football publications of those, seemingly, far off days. Many publications came and went and some came across as just too boring to even recall (Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly?) but the two stalwarts of the genre were ‘Goal’ (1968) and ‘Shoot’(1969).

Goal’ was aimed at a slightly older target audience, 16+ while ‘Shoot’ was targeted at younger readers, around 10-15.

Shoot magazine was colourful, crammed with pictures and posters of current football stars and teams to be pinned up on a bedroom wall, whether you supported those teams or not. Shoot also did something that was, many years later, to be used very successfully by a plethora of ‘celebrity’ magazines. It not only shared intimate details of top footballers with its readers (nightclub liaisons notwithstanding) but also suggested that these lofty sporting individuals were our friends. 

Shoot introduced a range of long-running features which not only attempted to get under the skins of these demi-gods,  but took us into their gorgeous luxury homes (or ‘mansions’ as they liked to refer to them,) and shone light into the magic that was their impossibly glamorous lives (or so we were led to believe). 

Shoot’s longest-running and USP feature was ‘Focus on…’ where a different footballer each week was given a series of questions about their likes, dislikes and petty peccadillos. It took a little time to realise just how limited and narrow footballers’ lives and attitudes actually were. 

Well..he was only a bairn..

The responses rarely fluctuated.  What Person in the World Would You Most Like To Meet? Invariably Cassius Clay or latterly Muhammed AliBiggest Drag in Soccer (Who ever called it ‘soccer’?): Losing or returning from away matches having lost, Favourite Food: Steak (ALWAYS steak although some gastronomes threw in a few chips), Favourite Drink: The occasional lager, Favourite TV Shows: Sports programmes. If you Weren’t A Footballer What Would You Be?: No idea (Few even had the wit to say ‘Unemployed’). These answers were regular and often. Why young kids idolised these guys is anybody’s guess but it was a more innocent time. Perversely though, it was my favourite part of the magazine.

Responses to Favourite Singers and Favourite Actors was similarly goal-line narrow in scope. Players chose from a limited group and were always strictly MOR. They rarely strayed from the calm, unchallenging waters of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley Bassey, Sammy Davis Junior, Andy Williams and Dionne Warwick.  The idea of Ralph Coates suggesting The Velvet Underground or Ian Ure professing his love for The Electric Prunes was just unthinkable.

Favourite Actors were similarly constricted. John Wayne and Steve McQueen, naturally, Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand and, inevitably, Raquel Welsh (who once in the 70s attended a Chelsea match with Jimmy Hill. I have it on good authority, though, they were not romantically linked).

Of course, there were occasionally exceptions to the rule. Malcolm Allison, for example, in 1972 stated the The Person In The World He Would Most Like To Meet was Enoch Powell M.P. and his Best Country Visited was South Africa. Well fancy that! Curiously, his Miscellaneous Dislike was ‘Narrow-minded people.’ And he also took the opportunity when asked what his Personal Ambition was to shamelessly promote his new game ‘Spot-On-Soccer’. He hoped it would become a ‘classic game.’ Can’t win them all Malcolm. In fact, you didn’t win that many as a manager either. Even odder was the job he’d have done if not a footballer manager: a psychiatrist. Some years ago I was changing trains at York Station and as I was leaving the train Malcolm Allison was getting on. In his hand was a glass which contained an extremely large measure of whisky. Once a 70s footballer manager….

Other exceptions to the hard and fast rules of ‘Focus on…’ were Franz Beckenbauer who, enigmatically for Der Kaiser, wanted to meet Mao Tse Tung, Chris Cattlin of Coventry City’s favourite singer was Harry Secombe (what?!), Brian Hall of Liverpool’s favourite food was liver, kidneys and carrots (revolting), while Leicester midfielder Alan Birchenall was on the horns of a dilemma and couldn’t decide whether he’d prefer to meet Adolf Hitler or Neil Diamond. I feel your pain, Alan.

These were also the days of ‘free gifts’ with comics and magazines, little incentives to kids to buy a particular publication and Shoot shamelessly, and thrillingly for the sporty adolescent boy (i.e. me), issued a range of football-based statistical tools throughout the calendar year. Its most celebrated enticement, issued every August for many years, was the full-colour league ladder! Printed on cardboard on which all four English and both Scottish leagues were included. Little tabs representing every English and Scottish club could be detached and slotted into the league ladder every week to account for changes in each team’s position. In truth, few readers could be bothered messing about with them after about half a dozen games of a new season but they were initially exciting. They represented the start of a spanking new football season after the longeurs of the summer months, particularly when there was no World Cup that year. It also allowed you to mess about with league positions and see what it would look like if your team was implausibly at the top and the teams you hated were at the bottom. In short, the ladders allowed us to dream. For a few weeks at least. Then in January Shoot would release their full-colour English FA and Scottish cup wall charts, where teams’ progress could be plotted from round three to the final in May.  Again by the Fourth Round filling in the little boxes with a felt pen began to get a slightly tedious but what the hell, it looked good on the wall of your bedroom. In the days of instant statistics at the push of a few buttons, such fripperies seem rather quaint and maybe even slightly opportunistic on the part of the magazines, but they were different and I wish I still had them today.

Shoot magazine also tried to draw in its young readers by featuring three very well known columnists throughout the 70s. To describe the three players involved as ‘columnists’ was maybe going a bit far as they almost certainly only had a short telephone conversation with a ghost writer each week, but their ‘columns’ were masterpieces of pointless creativity, tedium and repetition. 

A Shoot fixture throughout the late 60s and 70s was Bobby Moore, World Cup winning England captain (as they never stopped reminding you) and all-round decent chap. His weekly thoughts circumnavigated the English game from A to B and there was no dull and dusty corner of Upton Park which wasn’t explored, analysed and left out to dry. Every single week. Occasionally he (or his increasingly desperate ghost writer) tried to spice things up by chucking in a bit of non-football minutiae. His column of 21st July 1973, for example,  began, ‘Here I am lazing away the hours with my wife Tina, and children Roberta and Dean in Marbella, Spain.’ Well, where else would a 70s footballer and his lovely ex-model wife be during the close season? So far so predictable. Writing a weekly column at that time of year must have been far from easy. 

Or was it? Step forward columnist number 2, Mr. Alan Ball, or ‘Soccer As I See It by Alan Ball’ to give the column its official title. This, invariably, was just a rehash of what Bobby Moore was talking about essentially but, in Ball’s case, about Arsenal. If anything Alan Ball included a bit more about his glamorous private life. The films he’d been to see, restaurants he’d eaten at and at this time of the close season, where he was on holiday, and yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s Majorca! With, obviously, his lovely ex-model wife Lesley and daughter Keely. 

Third on the bill was the one and only George Best whose wayward life eventually led to him being replaced with the more child-friendly and dependable, but just as lugubrious, Kevin Keegan.  The alliteratively titled ‘Keep Up With Kevin Keegan’ continued to carry the torch of tedium after Georgie’s heavily bowdlerised column was given a free transfer. 

It was a clever ploy by Shoot to feature these players at a time when football still had an air of mystery and excitement to it. The occasional tantalising glimpses on Saturday night football highlights programmes, Sam Leitch’s Football Preview or ‘Sportsnight with Coleman’ was about all anyone saw of these, and other, stars. Regular live football on TV was a long, long way off and it was the novelty of only occasionally seeing them play that elevated them to such heights of wonderment.  And we continued to put up with the humdrum nature of their lives which, at the time, seemed impossibly glamorous. Shoot was shining light into magic. They were our friends, they were talking to us.  An idea celebrity magazines tapped into many years later. 

But Shoot was not alone in welcoming us into the lovely homes of our footballing idols.  ‘Goal’ also did its bit but for slightly more mature readers. Goal was less colourful and more wordy, even including regular league tables and a pools guide for the older fan without a bird. 

In the early 70s Goal included a short-lived celeb footballer column and featured ‘Bobby Charlton’s Diary.’ Short-lived? Not short enough as it was a column of such mind-numbing dullness that the classified ads at the back of the magazine gave the reader a comparative frisson of excitement. The opening sentence to his September 1968 column was ‘The World Cup is still nearly two years away so there is a lot that can happen between now and then.’ You losing your column for a start, Bob.  And it went downhill from there. Goal, therefore, eschewed the need for football celebrity columns and, it’s true, colour posters were sparse but what they did have every week was ‘The Girl Behind The Man’! A feature of such breathtaking 70s crassness  it could take its place with Dick Emery, The Wheeltappers and Shunters’ Social Club and Old-English Spangles as an iconic 70s product.

The feature spoke for itself.  After a long hard day of training, drinking and fagging it, where does this Third Division footballing demi-god go when it’s closing time at the Coach and Horses (pubs did shut at 10.00pm don’t forget)? Back to the little lady, of course.  And those ‘’Girls Behind The Man’ were only too happy to open up their gorgeous suburban semis to the Goal photographer.  A regular ingredient of the photo-shoot was the bikini shot. One could imagine the slightly sleazy, unctuously Brylcreemed photographer suggesting, ‘Do you have a bikini, love?’ Usually the girl behind the man was only too happy to recline on her vast suburban lawn as a February wind blew icily around her.  Let’s face it, we were told they were all ex-models anyway. Take the lovely Beryl Harris (28 September 1968), lovely ex-model wife of Cardiff City striker, Brian Harris, for example. Beryl’s hobbies are sunbathing and gardening, and here’s a gorgeous shot of Beryl doing some gardening in her bikini to kill two birds with one wide-angled stone. 

Not all wives were quite so willing though. Here’s Peter Cormack’s wife Marion who particularly enjoys swimming, dancing, driving and playing records and she is usefully photographed spinning some discs on her state-of-the -art radiogram.  As Marion appeared in the January 30th 1971 edition of Goal, a bikini shot must have been out of the question, even for an ex-model.

Shoot and Goal magazines eventually merged in 1974 as a number of other less worthy but more colourful football magazines became available but this flag of convenience wasn’t to last. Shoot continued until 2008, latterly as a monthly edition but football, and technology, had changed. Top class football was more clinical, scientific, distant and less characterful.  Young people were less interested in the individuals and more focussed on the team, or more accurately, the brand.  Would any modern player be interested in a weekly, or even monthly ghost-written column nowadays? It’s not as if they need the money and despite Bally and Moore-O’s efforts at trying to make their lives seem endlessly glamorous, they can’t really compete with today’s stars’ lives.  And would they want to? Details of how they tweaked their nutritional regime, bought a new Aston Martin/ private plane/ Rolex watch or signed a new image rights’ contract, despite their lives being truly glittering, just doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Today’s top players are bland, untouchable and so removed in every way from the fans, that Shoot and Goal just seem like quaint anachronisms, evoking a time when fans still felt part of the game. Now they they are expected to feel privileged to be allowed to watch it, at a price obviously. 

With billions of pounds swilling around in the game, players coming from all over the world for short but expensive stints with certain teams before , expensively, moving on, every football league in the world available, at a price, to be watched 24/7 and rolling TV news and statistics at a touch of a button, the world of teenage football magazines seems like a different age. But I think I preferred it when my football idols went on holiday to Marbella, and were only too happy to share this rather mundane information with us. 

Now, what did I do with those league ladders?