Saturday, 21 May 2016

396 Match of The Day

First  watched  : 18  August  1979

Finally  I  got  to  watch  the  BBC's  flagship  football  programme  on  a  day  of  huge  sentimental significance,   being  the  day  I  went  to  Milnrow  in  response  to  a  newspaper  ad  and  picked  up a  kitten  who  became  Tuffy,  our  best-loved  family  pet  for  the  next  sixteen  years.

Helpfully,  the  Beeb  put  Match  of  the  Day  on  an  hour  early  because  they  were  showing  a boxing  match  live  later  in  the  evening. This  was  the  first  day  proper  of  the  1979-80  season   and  the  Beeb  decided, correctly, that  the  most  interesting  fixture  of  the  day  was   Manchester City's  home  game  against  Crystal  Palace.

This  was  all  about  Malcolm  Allison.  City's  coach  from  their  early  seventies  glory  years  had been  brought  back  to  the  club   halfway  through  the  1978-79  season  after  City  had  been unable  to  find  any  consistent  form  under  his  former  protege  Tony  Book. Despite  his  return   having  had  little  discernible  impact  as  City  finished  15th, Allison  was  promoted  to  head   coach  at  the  end  of  the  season  with  Book  relegated  to  a  "general  manager" administrative   role.

Once  installed  in  the  top  job, the  fun  really  started. Allison  dominated  the  back  pages  that  summer  as  he  ripped  the  heart  out  of  the  side  selling  Dave  Watson , Asa  Hartford  and  most  controversially  Gary  Owen  and  Peter  Barnes  and  replacing  them  with  completely  unproven  players  at  ridiculous  prices. Steve  McKenzie  a   teenage  midfielder  yet  to  make  his  League  debut  arrived  from  Crystal  Palace  for  £250,000. Michael  Robinson,  a  young  striker  from  Preston  cost  three  times  that. Bobby  Shinton  a  27  year  old  journeyman  striker  from  Wrexham  cost  £300,000. Watson's  replacement  was  Tommy  Caton, a  16  year  old  thrown  straight  in  from  the  youth  team. It  was  crazy  and  you  suspected   Allison  was  being  outrageous  for  its   own  sake  rather  than  shaping  a  team.

The  bizarrely  re-shaped  team  were  facing  Allison's  previous  British  club  Crystal  Palace  who'd  caught  the  eye  three  years  earlier  with  a  run  to  the  FA  Cup  Semi-Finals  whilst  a  Third  Division  club   with  a  team  of  youngsters Allison  had  brought  through. He  hadn't  stayed  to  finish  the  job  but  Terry  Venables  had  kept  the  side  together, achieved  two  promotions   and  now  had  the  tag  "Team  of  the  Eighties".

The  game  inevitably  ended  0-0  with  neither  side  looking  like  they  were  going  to  set  the League  alight.  A  fortnight  later  the  insanity  at  City  peaked  when  they  paid  one  and  a  half million for  Steve  Daley  a  midfielder  from  Wolves, still  I  think  the  most  ludicrously  over-valued  player  in  history. He  was  a  neat  and  tidy  player  but  no  one  else  thought  he  was worth  that  sort  of  money. Allison  and  his  chairman  Peter  Swales  blamed  each  other  for  the deal  for  the  rest  of  their  lives, conscious  that  it  set  back  the club  for  at  least  a  decade.  City finished  two  places  lower  than  the  previous  season, five  lower  than  Palace.

It  wasn't  the  most  memorable  of  seasons  with  Liverpool  retaining  their  title  although  a resurgent  Manchester  United  pushed  them  close. The  surprise  packages  were  Wolves  who'd immediately  spent  the  Daley  money  on  proven  goalscorer  Andy  Gray  and  the  result  was  a League  Cup  Final   win   over  holders  Forest and  fifth  place  finish. Forest  had  the  consolation of  retaining  the  UEFA  Cup.

In    those  days  it  was  still  Jimmy  Hill  at  the  helm  with  his  stock  of  instant  opinions  and former  Arsenal  keeper  Bob  Wilson  as  his  genial  sidekick. There  was  a  big  shake-up  the following  season  when  ITV  won  a  larger  share  of  the  broadcasting  rights  and  Match  of  the Day  moved  to  a  Sunday  teatime  slot. That  presented  me  with  a  big  dilemma as  it  now  partly clashed  with  the  chart  rundown on  Radio  One. I would  have  to  miss  the  first  half  hour  where most  of  the  new  entries  were. I  think  football  won  out  over  pop  up  to  Christmas  and  then with  the  New  Romantics  storming  the  charts  the  radio  snatched  me  back  in  1981.

For  the  next  three  years  the  programme  flitted  between  Saturday  and  Sunday  before  reverting to  Saturdays  for  1983-4. It  was  still  covering  some  lower  league  action  and  I  remember watching  highlights  of  Blackpool  v  York , with  audible  chants  of  "Jimmy  Hill  is  a  wanker ", at  my  hall  of  residence  in  February  1984.  That  was  the  last  Fourth  Division  action  to  be shown  and  the  intervening  divisions  had  been  dropped  by  1986   though  not  before  Manchester  City's  3-0  win  over  Wimbledon  at  Maine  Road   in  January 1985  in  the  old  Second  Division  which  was  the  first  time  I  was  at  one  of  the  featured  games.

In  1988  ITV  won  exclusive  rights  to  League  games  so  for  the  next  four  years  Match  of  the  Day  only  appeared  on   FA  Cup  weekends. The  Beeb   used  it  as  an  excuse  to  slowly  start  pushing  Hill  out  of  the  picture  as  Des  Lynam  became  the  main  host  with  Hill  featuring  as  a  pundit. This  left  them  with  the  unenviable  task  of  doing  a  programme  on  the  Hillsborough  disaster  which  they  did  exceedingly  well, Lynam  identifying  the  key  questions  which  featured  on  the  inquest  just  gone  and  Hill  correctly  predicting  the  arrival  of  all-seater  stadia. I do  recall  being  slightly  peeved  that  they  wouldn't  show  us  at  least  the  goal  from  the  other  game.

Happier  times  occurred  in  November  1991  when  Rochdale  drew  an  away  tie   at   Gretna  in the  FA  Cup  First  Round. As  they  were  the  first  Scottish  side  to  feature  at  this  stage  in  the competition  for  over  a  century  the  game  drew  a  considerable  amount  of  media  attention including  the  Match  of  the  Day  cameras. So  it  was  that  yours  truly  made  his  debut  on national  TV.  Draw a  straight  line  down  from  the  "r"  at  the  end  of  "Milner"  and  there  I  am or  at  least  my  26  year  old  self  is - I  wouldn't  want  them  to  film  me  from  that  angle  today ! Sadly  the  game  itself  was  a  0-0  anti-climax   with  the  only  talking  point  an  outrageous  foul by  our  dodgy  keeper  Gareth  Gray  just  outside  the  penalty  area. It  was  the  most  obvious  red  card  you  could  ever  see  but  the  referee  was  Ken  Redfern , the  only  official  ever  to  give    Dale more  than  their  fair  share  of  decisions. He  conjured  up  an  imaginary  covering  centre  half  to  justify  letting  Gray  off  with  a  yellow. Barry  Davies  commented  "Gareth  Gray  can  consider  himself  pretty fortunate "  but  we  knew  exactly  why.

At  the  end  of  that  season  everything  changed. The  Premier  League  started   and  Rupert Murdoch  swatted  ITV  away  to  win  the  coverage , tossing  the  Beeb  the  right  to  show  highlights  as  crumbs  from  the  table. Match  of  the  Day  resumed  its  weekly  place   in  the  schedules. Hill  was  rarely  involved  now  as  Lynam's  chief  pundits  were  Alan  Hansen  and  Gary  Lineker  both  of  them  very  popular  with  female  viewers  and  his  stand-in  was  the  nervy  Ray  Stubbs.

Lynam  quit  in  1999  with  Lineker  taking  over, a  position  he's  held  ever  since  apart  from  the  hiatus  from  2001 and  2004  when  ITV  won  the  highlights  rights. When  it  came  back  to  the  BBC  Match  of  the  Day  2  was  created  to  cover  the  games  on  Sundays. My  interest  in  the  Premiership  has  diminished  over  the  years  as  teams  I  had  a  soft  spot  for  like Coventry, Blackburn  and  Leeds  have  been  relegated  and  the  matches are  largely  played  by  selections  of  foreign  mercenaries  with  no  connection  to  the  communities  they  nominally  represent  but  I  do  still  watch  Match  of  the  Day  most  weeks,

1 comment:

  1. Whilst I can relate to the sentiments of your last sentence, at least as a United fan, I can point to lads like Rashford, Bothwick-Jackson and Lingard (Warrington is close enough?) doing well for the shirt in recent times. And big things are tipped for Rochdale lad Axel Tuanzebe.

    Whether this will continue under the next manager, I have serious reservations...