Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Big Match: Manchester United (DVD)

For those of you who aren’t in the know, The Big Match is a wonderful range of DVDs containing footage from ITV’s football archives. The DVDs, made by ILC Media, typically focus on an individual club and a selection of TV games they appeared in from the late-1960’s through to the early-1980’s.

From the nostalgist’s point of view, this set provides everything you could possibly want: bags of brilliant football action, all the original titles and signature tunes, plus the inimitable Brian Moore introducing each of the games. Each disc also comes complete with a bonus set of items culled from the records featuring Moore, Jimmy Hill and Jim Rosenthal discussing tactics, interviewing players and reading viewer’s letters. There’s also a generous helping of the sort of humorous clips that gave the show a friendlier, more relaxed feel than its BBC rival, Match of the Day.

Putting those bonus features aside, let's first take a look at The Big Match: Manchester United, released back in 2009. There are 14 match highlights to watch (see details below), starting with a 2-1 win for United over Arsenal that's notable for being Peter Marinello's debut for The Gunners.

The Next George Best?

As the fresh-faced Brian Moore told us after the game, Marinello was once nicknamed 'the next George Best' although the player was at pains to tell people he was 'the first Peter Marinello.' Given the celebrity spotlight and heavy drinking he endured during his time in London, it's probably fair to say Marinello was ultimately wider of the mark than those people that judged him.

The next match, from the tail end of the 1970-71 season, was United's trip to Crystal Palace which seemed to generate just as much excitement off the pitch as on it. To begin, Brian Moore told us that the Greek national side were in the UK to play England in a friendly and had opted to watch this match at Selhurst Park rather than see Arsenal or West Ham. Their decision, we're told, was made squarely on the basis of wanting to see George Best in action – a shrewdness of judgement borne out by Best's brace in a 5-3 win.

Shooting practice at Palace

After the match, Moore told us that 'he always thought Palace were a fair minded club but they were disappointed to lose a match they thought they'd win.' Was the famous commentator being brutal in his assessment of the South London club?  Not a bit of it. Unbeknown to us, Moore was just teeing up a short, humorous clip edited together by the boys in VT.

Cut to a number of tanks trundling around the perimeter of the Selhurst Park pitch firing at randomly chosen United players that were seen writhing on the ground in agony.

We can only presume there had been some sort of military hardware demonstration on the day of the game and The Big Match, being what it was, couldn't pass up an opportunity to make it look like Palace had sent the tanks out to blast away at the United players. Weird, but pleasing in a 'couldn't-happen-in-this-day-and-age' sort of way.

A gradual slide

The first few highlights packages we see on the DVD show Man United as a team in transition at the start of the 70's. Although the big names such as Best, Law and Charlton were still around, so too were a number of lesser-known players long since consigned to the history books. By the time the 1974-75 season rolled around, United were only a shadow of the side that had won the European Cup six years earlier and they now found themselves in Division Two.

A new order emerged for United, destined as they were to make an immediate return to Division One under Tommy Docherty. We get to see his transitional side in an exciting 4-4 draw at Hillsborough during which Lou Macari (2), Ron Davies and Stewart Houston all got on the scoresheet, but these were worrying times on the terraces.

The hooligan element

When Bernard Shaw scored to put Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 up, many Manchester United fans ran onto the pitch. Commentator Keith Macklin concluded that this was another attempt to deliberately get a game postponed as had happened in a previous Man United match against Newcastle United. On this occasion at least, the rowdy fans were cleared and the game was allowed to continue.

The next clip showed a resurgent United brushing aside Birmingham City in January 1976, but it was the frosty post-match interview that caught the eye on this occasion. Birmingham's Archie Stiles had been sent off for aggressive behaviour towards Alex Forsyth and this prompted Tommy Docherty to tell Gerald Sinstadt that this was a growing trend in the modern game. He even went so far as to suggest that the media weren't highlighting the problem enough and told the commentator that TV companies were editing out most of the violent incidents to give a false impression of how things really were.

A big miss

In general terms, Brian Moore was only ever absent from his comfy studio chair once a year, and that was for the Christmas edition of The Big Match. On those occasions, the presenting duties were handed over to a well-known player of the day or, as was the case in 1976, Elton John. In January 1978, however, presenting duties were handed over to Dickie Davies (presumably because Moore was ill) and we get to see the World of Sport presenter being his usual professional self on the DVD as he introduces a match between Derby and Man United.

The clip from the 1979-80 season is something of a collector's item in that it shows Kenny Dalglish providing arguably the miss of the century at Old Trafford. With the score at 1-1, Liverpool were on the attack and Alan Hansen had the ball at his feet. Seeing the United defence push up in a regimented fashion, the future Match of the Day presenter played the ball over the top and ran onto it, thereby beating the offside trap. Hansen was left with only the United keeper to beat but he unselfishly passed to his team mate, Dalglish.

In so doing, Dalglish was flagged offside, but the Scottish international striker was unaware of this and duly shot into an empty net… but missed. Manchester United went on to win the match 2-1 yet for Liverpool it was difficult to know who was more at fault – Hansen for passing to his offside teammate or Dalglish for being so poor with his shooting.


Captain Marvel arrives

The rest of the highlights footage sees United slowly emerging from Liverpool's shadow, beginning with Bryan Robson signing for United on the Old Trafford pitch before their match against Wolves in October 1981. The DVD ends with a rousing 4-0 win for the Red Devils at home to Notts County in which Robson, Norman Whiteside, Frank Stapleton and Mike Duxbury all make their mark.

United's journey from the days of Best and Charlton through a traumatic relegation and back to being a big hitter in Division One again is chronicled wonderfully well here and like all the other DVDs in the collection, it gives a great overview of a fascinating period in football history. We'll be looking at more DVDs from The Big Match collection on The Football Attic in the not-too-distant future.

The Big Match: Manchester United is available from Amazon.co.uk and all other reputable DVD outlets.

Games featured:
1969-70: Man United 2-1 Arsenal ; 1970-71: Crystal Palace 3-5 Man United; 1971-72: Coventry 2-3 Man United; 1972-73: Man United 3-0 Derby; 1973-74: Man United 2-2 Chelsea; 1974-75: Sheffield Wednesday 4-4 Man United; 1975-76: Man United 3-1 Birmingham; 1976-77: Man United 3-1 Man City; 1977-78: Ipswich 1-2  Man United; 1978-79: Derby 1-3 Man United; 1979-80: Man United 2-1 Liverpool; 1980-81: Nottm Forest 1-2 Man United; 1981-82: Man United 5-0 Wolves; 1982-83: Man United 4-0 Notts County.

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