Football Through Formica Tinted Glasses

Mention the 1970s to those of us old to remember it (and unlike the 1960s, if you can remember it you were there), and it conjures up instant memories of space hoppers, glam rock, The Sweeney and – up until the explosion of colour which appeared to accompany the advent of punk – a palette of browns, beiges and greys.

Cars were cream, brown, or occasionally rust. Flock was popular. Brown wallpaper with sunflower-coloured lozenges. Formica was hip. In spite of Bowie in colour on BBC2 appearing as his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, the over-riding perception of the decade is one of immense dreariness. This of course isn’t helped by the memories of power cuts, three day weeks and atrocities carried out by the IRA.

One perception of the 1970s which does radiate a nostalgic glow, is our memories of football. And those looking to recapture a little of our youth or childhood can do worse than tune into ITV4 at weekends – or catch up on the ITV Player – for The Big Match Revisited. Saturday’s show currently features games from 1979 (Chelsea’s heroic 0-0 draw with Liverpool is available to view for the best part of three weeks) and the Sunday show features the 1982-1983 season.

The most noticeable thing about the show is how simple the presentation is. Brian Moore presented ‘The Big Match’ for London Weekend Television and it was literally one man and his desk, presenting highlights of two games with scores and news thrown in. Sunday’s edition from 1983 showed Merdian’s football show, fronted by the legendary Fred Dineage. No pundits. A simple interview after the game with a scorer or a player who had had an impact on the result.

The most noticeable thing about the football is the pitches. Among the almost countless improvements in football over the last 20 years has been the improvement in ground technology. Even in the depths of winter, pitches now remain lush and green – even at Stamford Bridge these days – almost until the end of the season. By spring in years gone by, they’d resemble the Somme. Saturday’s Big Match featured Wolves -v- Shrewsbury in an FA Cup 6th Round tie from 11th March 1979 (my 12th birthday, as it happens) and Molyneux appeared to barely have any grass on the pitch.

Swapping memories on Twitter after watching this, other notable bogs like Derby’s former home The Baseball Ground were cited. Loftus Road remains a shithole even now, but I remember in the early 80s that it was a shithole with no grass before they installed their infamous plastic pitch.

It’s a delight to watch TBMR just to see the advertising hoardings. Long defunct brands such as Visionhire and Murphy jump out at you from the screen, and whilst I don’t think anyone I know has ever worn a Van Heusen shirt, they were a prominent feature of watching football on the TV when I was young.

And hasn’t medicine moved on? If a player went down with a knock in the late 70s or early 80s, they’d be lucky to get a cold sponge or a blast of Deep Heat. Due to advances in physiotherapy players recover from injuries now that would have ended careers 30 years ago. Younger readers will be incredulous to learn that the former Liverpool manager Roy Evans’ first role in the Anfield Boot Room was as a physio. Somehow you can’t see that happening again.

The final thing that catches the eye is the tempo. Or lack of it. These days players are like racehorse. Even 30 years ago, they were carthorses. Even the nippy and gifted were slow, compared to the quicksilver speed that fans have become used to in recent years. And it’s worth remembering that for all the criticism of the behaviour by 21st century footballers, their 70s and 80s counterparts were no angels either. We’ve all heard stories of misbehaviour by the stars of yesteryear. Only in those days, it would be highly unlikely to make the front pages of the papers.

There are many things that are wrong with football today – sky-high ticket prices, ridiculous kick off times, and an ageing demographic amongst them. But when you recall the era of seemingly rampant hooliganism, grounds that were death traps and the sinister presence of far-right groups outside the ground, TBMR provides an opportunity to visit the past at a safe distance and see that perhaps it wasn’t quite the golden age we recall.

Follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67

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