Football really was grim thirty years ago. I had forgotten just how miserable it looked back then. As a fan I can recall all too well how low football sank in the 1970’s, when going to games was a risky business.
By 1980 I was working on televised football for Yorkshire TV. But, until this morning, I had forgotten just had awful the game looked only thirty years ago.
What reminded me?
I found myself unable to sleep in on a Sunday morning. I channel hopped and found ‘The Big Match Revisted’ It was the days when ITV had the contract to produce Saturday night football programmes, region by region.
Up in Leeds, at Yorkshire Television, the show was presented (badly) by former Wolves player Derek Dougan. It truly was painful to watch him trying to be a TV presenter. I know. I was there!
My former colleague, the ever professional presenter Fred Dinenage, had stopped working for YTV and was now back down south on his home territory and he presented the Saturday Soccer show for TVS in Southampton.
The games shown this morning were from the end of the 1982-83 season. The feature game was a match at the Baseball Ground between Derby County, who were trying to avoid relegation, and Fulham, who had to win to be promoted.
What struck me was not the football. Not even seeing some players who I went on to know, looking much younger and wearing short shorts.
It was the shots of the crowd that took my attention.
And the pitch invasions. The police dogs trying to get fans off the pitch. And a player being kicked by a fan while the game was going on, as hundreds of spectators encroached on to the pitch near the end of the game.
I stood on countless terraces at football grounds, watching matches through impenetrable, high fences. It just became the norm.
There will be many football fans going to football these days who never had the misfortune to watch the game played through the mesh of a prison camp like fence.
You don’t know how lucky you are.
The game between Derby and Fulham ended in controversy. The referee blew his whistle for an offside 90 seconds before the end of full time. Those fans not on the fenced in terracing immediately invaded the pitch thinking he had blown the final whistle.
When it was revealed the game had not been concluded Fulham lodged an appeal for the game to be replayed. They were losing the match when the invasion took place and would have needed to score twice in the missing minute and a half in order to be promoted.
The Football Association dismissed Fulham’s appeal.
If you have time to watch the highlights below, focus in on the faces of many of those fans.
It doesn’t make for pleasant viewing.
But it does serve to remind us all how much the game has moved on.
I loathe the fact that the game at the highest level is effectively owned by Rupert Murdoch and his cronies. I can’t abide the overwhelming infiltration of foreign mercenaries and their agents whose presence in the game has deprived us of who knows how many home grown, talented players.
And I am far from alone in detesting how many clubs are now owned by people with loads of money, but little or no interest in the game of football.
But going to a football match is no longer akin to entering a war zone. It is too expensive, for sure. I have no idea how anyone can afford to attend Premier League games on a regular basis.
In the 1970’s when, as a London based supporter of Sheffield Wednesday, every match was an away game; I travelled not only to Sheffield every other week, but also to football grounds all over the country.
The anticipation of going to a game was as thrilling as it is today. But having to constantly wonder if you would get your “f***ing head kicked in was not a good feeling.A fan going to football today, who is now the age I was then, doesn’t have to concern him or herself with such fears.
And there is another plus for the modern day game. When I went to watch football in the bad old days you never saw a girl at a football match. And I mean never. It was a male only arena.
Male, teenage football fans are so lucky today. If the game is boring they can always chat up a bird.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s they were a rarely sighted species on the football terraces of England