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,