Sunday, 20 January 2013

The News of the World Football Annual 1983/84

The arrival of the 1983/84 season prompted many to wonder how far football had fallen in recent times. The game had lost its allure and was in something of a tailspin but The News of the World Football Annual, through its anecdotal ponderings, acknowledged this for the ages and tried to offer some cause for hope at the start of a landmark campaign.

The season began with a new name for an old competition. The Football League was now known as the Canon League. According to the Annual, an announcement was made on May 5 1983 that a deal had been struck with the Japanese camera and business equipment maker to the tune of £3.2 million, lasting three years.

If that figure seems paltry compared to today’s big money deals, consider this. When shared out, Canon’s money ensured every First Division club would benefit by just £10,000 each. Considering Watford’s Luther Blissett had moved from Watford to AC Milan for £1 million during the summer of ’83, it really didn't seem like much at all. True, more money was distributed for the high achievers in the League, but even then the First Division champions would only get an additional £50,000. Even the winners of the Milk Cup could expect £64,000.

Fortunately, clubs could finally rely on a greater source of income from the new TV deal that had been thrashed out between the Football League (sorry – Canon League) and the two main broadcasters, BBC and ITV. Under the terms of the new agreement, ten live games would now be shown every season. Match of the Day would show five on Friday nights, while the other five would appear on The Big Match on Sunday afternoons. No club would appear in a live match more than once, although the usual weekend highlights would continue in their regular form on both channels.

According to the News of the World Football Annual 1983/84, the new TV deal wasn’t the fait accompli it may have at first seemed. The League were reluctant to allow live games to be shown for fear that it would discourage people from attending matches in person, while the broadcasters were hesitant about showing team shirts with sponsors logos on them. In the end a compromise was reached ensuring this would be the first season where shirt advertising was seen on our screens.

Elsewhere, further changes were being made to the game. For the first time in 1983/84, the Milk Cup Final would be played on a Sunday, and to ensure the pitch was in good condition (and provide an all-round facelift), a new 20-year £4 million contract had been signed by the FA and Wembley Stadium Ltd in May 1983.

Yet such talk of contracts and high finance masked the growing malaise creeping into the international game. In England, attendances for domestic games had plummeted by 1.24 million in the past year reaching their lowest total since the Second World War. Even across Europe, only eight countries had seen an increase in the number of fans passing through the turnstiles (Scotland being one, curiously).

International matches were suffering too. Within the pages of the Annual it’s noted that the British Championship match between England and Wales at Wembley in February 1983 saw the lowest attendance ever for an England match – just 24,000 paying to see a starting XI featuring such talent as Alan Devonshire, Derek Statham and Gary Mabbutt.

As for success on the pitch, things were little better as English clubs were finding their run of dominance in Europe seemingly at an end. The previous season had seen holders Aston Villa knocked out in the quarter finals of the European Cup by Juventus along with English champions Liverpool, beaten on aggregate by Polish side Widzew Lodz.

In the other competitions, the misery continued. In the Cup-Winners’ Cup, Tottenham had been eliminated by Bayern Munich in the Second Round while Arsenal, Ipswich, Manchester United and Southampton all fell at the first hurdle in the UEFA Cup. Perhaps the English clubs could turn to Scotland for inspiration what with Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners Cup and Dundee United unexpectedly reaching the UEFA Cup quarter finals.

The times were certainly ‘a-changing according to the News of the World Football Annual 1983/84, not least because Liverpool, the biggest club in the country, were about to begin a new era under the managerial leadership of Joe Fagan. The 1982/83 campaign had ended with Bob Paisley retiring from the game after a nine-season run in which The Reds had picked up 20 major trophies. They were now faced with the task of trying to maintain their unprecedented success by once again promoting from within the Anfield boot room. No-one could be sure Fagan would be able to do so, but a look back at Paisley’s roll of honour would provide his team with ample inspiration for the coming season.

If Liverpool had one quality above all others it was the ability to score goals, yet amid a period of uncertainty and negativity, it was pleasing at least to be reminded of one final statistic from the 384-page pocket annual. The 1982/83 season had provided the highest number of goals across all four English divisions for 15 years, and which team stumped up with the most goals of all the 92 teams? Why Wimbledon, of course. The Division Four champions scored 96 in total - nine more than Liverpool.


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