The Big Match: Sunday In The Park With Brian

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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.

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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?

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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 were 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 occasional 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. 

TV Football 1968-92 on Twitter: "Back in the 1970s & 80s we had BBCs  Sportsnight with David Coleman & Harry Carpenter, and ITVs Midweek Sport  Special with Brian Moore & Elton Wellesby.

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?

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What was it about the 60s and 70s….?

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Why were these decades simultaneously rubbish and amazing?

The most existential question of all perhaps. But to be more specific, this place is about growing up in 60s and 70s as a questioning and not a passive child. This blog is for the more discerning Generation X young consumer, those who weren’t fooled into thinking that Blue Peter was good for you (OK, it was occasionally), those who felt patronised by Play School, The Children’s Film Foundation and The Banana Splits, those who were able to see the weirdness of much of 60s and 70s variety and those who genuinely wanted to be challenged in their viewing, reading and general media consumption. If you fall into any of those categories then you have come to right place. Of course much of this is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder so thoughts, disagreements, reminiscences and suggestions are greatly welcomed.

Many people of my age look back with the rosy glow of nostalgia at some of the TV programmes, films and literature created for children in the 60s and 70s. Most in my opinion were crap. The problem with children’s TV during these decades particularly was that it was created by middle-aged, middle-class, middle-brow people who thought they knew what children wanted. Nothing too challenging, nothing too scary, nothing too real. Most children, and I include myself in this category, wanted exactly that. Challenging texts that pulled back the boundaries of reality. Stories that made us think, that made us uncomfortable, that made us laugh, that didn’t patronise us. With that in mind there will be little discussion on these pages of Play School, of Mr Pastry, of Biggles, of Scooby Doo or even of Crackerjack (although I do have a sneaking admiration for the great Peter Glaze). There will be plenty about the programmes, films and literature that treated children as sentient beings with more intelligence than they were ever given credit for by some programme makers.

Just occasionally, though, a particularly heinous example of bargain basement telly might be considered. Just for a laugh, of course…

Enough said…

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