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The Big Match revisited

Retro seventies ITV televison is all the rage in the Rust and these past few days I’ve been tuning into The Big Match Revisited broadcast at 6am. It’s being shown chronologically and we are now at December 1979.

Two things interested me: how has football changed and how has its presentation ?

As to change, I was prepared for the fact that there were only 6 overseas players then (Ardiles, Villa, Tarantini, Marangoni, Thijsseen and Muhrren), far less diversity – though I did see an effervescent young Garth Crooks starting his career at Stoke – but I was surprised by how bad the pitches were. I think only Arsenal had under-soil heating and when the snow fell most games were cancelled. Some pitches, notably Derby’s  Baseball Ground, hardly had a blade of grass.

I do not believe that the level of football  is much higher now in the Premier, think of the England forwards playing in the 70s: Mike Channon, Paul Mariner, Allan Clarke, Rodney Marsh, Trevor Francis, Frank Worthington, Malcolm MacDonald, Ray Kennedy, Bob Latchford, Martin Chivers, Francis Lee, Kevin Keegan – we would not mind some of these going into the Euros.

I was also impressed by the presentation. On one programme the second commentator was a young MartinTyler and Brian Moore -the principal one for London Weekend – also anchored the show. Though genial he did examine the issues in depth, for example he looked at the way matches are called off without enough sensitivity to the travelling fan. Hooliganism was still rife, you could hear Leeds fans chanting ” Hallo, hallo, Leeds aggro …” a prelude to an attack on opposing fans. Stadia were far less comfortable and, as we were to know by the mid eighties, far less safe. Yet I would say fans enjoyed their football more, tickets were more affordable, tv did not dictate kick off times, it was Saturday at 3 pm. Players were numbered 1-11, there was one substitute and players were not paid significantly more than those who could afford a top priced season ticket. The turnover of the leading clubs must have been 1% of today and personnel numbered club secretary, manager, trainer and board. The chairman, often a local successful businessman, ruled. There were very few live matches. England were going through a poor cycle, failing to qualify fir the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, which pleased most other nations as their fans were involved in may a riot in foreign parts.

One thing I did enjoy was the total absence of the social media, tweets, and texts. A competition was run for the personality of the month and won by Barry Hughes, an Englishman plying his trade as manager  in Holland, who had a long running feud with the opposing manager. He produced a hooter and blew raspberries at him. A boy of 7 was the winner. He wrote in  a lumpy, childish hand how much it all amused his dad. The lad would be in his forties today – I wonder if he can afford to go to football now.


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About Rex Mitchell

Rex Mitchell is a Brentford supporter from childhood. This has not prevented him having a distinguished Fleet Street career as a sports reporter and later deputy football editor. A widower, Rex is a bit of a bandit golfer off his official handicap of 20 and is currently chairman of his local bowls club. More Posts