I’m embarrassed to say it, but I used to have a bit of a thing about scoreboards when I was younger. Stadium scoreboards, game show scoreboards, cricket scoreboards… you name it, I loved it.
There was something about those static signs with changeable numbers that had me transfixed as a kid. If someone scored a point in a football match or on a TV quiz show, I’d wait with eager anticipation to see the scoreboard update the total, be it manually or digitally. It’s ridiculous, I know, but I loved the magisterial sense of purpose that a scoreboard possessed.
This blog doesn’t take TV nostalgia as its subject, else you’d be spending the next 15 minutes reading about It’s a Knockout or Family Fortunes. Instead I shall turn my attention towards the humble football scoreboard, and they don’t come much humbler than the one installed at Wembley Stadium around the time of the 1966 World Cup.
Essentially this was a single-line display showing the two competing teams and the score. Being very much old-tech, the scoreboard was literally just a printed or painted sign with white characters on a black background along with those all important changeable numbers. And those numbers needed some effort to change as the full set were available as individual tiles that had to be lugged around and slotted into place by a couple of men in white coats whenever anyone scored. It was simple, but it worked.
Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground got an electronic one around the time of the 1966 World Cup, but like so many of their day, it had its faults. Blown bulbs and faulty mechanisms meant text was displayed with letters missing or even shown on a different area of the scoreboard. After a while, fans got used to the garbled messages and even grew to like them as a distraction from the action taking place on the pitch.
With players like Franz Beckenbauer, George Best and Pele in town, fans needed to be reminded about the razzmatazz they were witnessing, or at least reminded who it was they were watching.
In addition to the basic electronic scoreboards already resident at some NFL and baseball stadia, bigger, more advanced displays cropped up at a small selection clubs across the country. Many of them not only displayed the score and scorers but also entertained the fans with animated imagery and messages.
scoreboard accessory to a more modern version in 1978. The World Cup that year reinforced the notion (at Buenos Aires at least) that a new technological age had dawned, yet actually the rate of progress was still painfully slow. Even in Spain four years later, the old hand-painted name plates and tiles were still being used.
By the mid-1990's, Sony's Jumbrotron system was appearing at some of the world's major musical and sporting events, affording spectators the chance to see real-time video on enormous screens. The ability to provide people not just with text-based information but moving pictures and action replays left the traditional scoreboard looking rather old-fashioned and redundant all of a sudden. Even down-at-heel football clubs across the UK saw the potential to attract fans, even if it meant snapping up cruder, cheaper versions of Sony's big screen.
the scoreboards of days gone by told us exactly what we needed to know in a beautifully simple way.