Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Match of the Day Soccer Annual 1979

Mike Channon’s favourite edition of Match of the Day was the one shown on the evening after the 1976 FA Cup Final. He was busy celebrating with his Southampton team-mates but, said Channon, “I cheated a bit and asked a friend to record both the match and the programme in the evening on a video tape recording machine I had just acquired.”

This, friends, was 1978, an era when VCRs were as rare as the hairs on Bruce Forsythe’s head, yet Mick Channon wasn't the only player to watch his favourite MOTD on tape. Colin Lee did likewise in 1977 after Tottenham’s 9-0 win over Bristol Rovers - a match in which Lee scored four:

“I can’t remember a great deal about the game itself, although a supporter taped Match of the Day and gave it me as a souvenir. I don’t have a recording machine myself, but I have a friend who has one and we've watched it a couple of times. It’s unbelievable.”

Ah, did we ever live in a world where VCRs were considered ‘new-fangled technology’...?

Further on in this Match of the Day Annual for 1979 (printed in 1978, stat fans), we find the article ‘Scotland The Brave’. Here, some education is provided for us English types about Sportscene. This was Scotland’s alternative to Match of the Day itself and, presented by Archie MacPherson, it had several differences that we Anglophiles wouldn't have been aware of.

According to the feature, a typical half-hour show would have contained “...fifteen minutes or so from the chosen [Scottish] Premier League fixture of the afternoon... the odd snatch from a rugby international or other non-soccer sporting event that Grandstand cameras might have conveniently collected during the day, and then ten minutes from the preferred English match out of Match of the Day’s clutch for the night.”

There were also technical limitations that restricted Sportscene’s ability to provide quality programming: “Slow-motion replays - such a feature of Match of the Day talk-ins - are as yet unknown in the north - for the simple reason that the BBC’s only slow-motion replay unit is safely locked up in London!”  Probably best to nip round to Mick Channon’s house: he’s got a VCR with a slow-motion function on it...

‘Goals of the Season’ needed no introduction and didn’t get one either - it was a feature that diagrammatically described all the winning goals in MOTD’s history up to that point, along with some incidental text to flesh the piece out. Another feature was ‘Short Passes’ in which we’re presented with interesting and amusing facts about BBC’s longest-running football show. Here’s an example:

“It was a woman who was responsible for Match of the Day including the manager’s name in their pre-match team line-up. Mrs Lillian Bruce from Harrow, Middlesex, wrote asking the production team to do it - and they latched onto her suggestion.” Tell that to your mates down at the pub the next time the conversation goes quiet....

After the sort of quiz that cropped up in virtually every football annual ever made, there was a feature called ‘Switched on Fans’ about celebrities that supported football clubs. Surely the biggest name of all back then was Eric Morecambe, a man who was never happier than when he was referring to his beloved Luton Town while on-screen with Ernie Wise. Right enough, he opened the piece:

“I always watch Match of the Day - every Sunday afternoon!” said Morecambe. “Officially it’s in my ITV contract that I've got to watch Star Soccer or The Big Match - but unofficially I sneak a look at Jimmy Hill. The last time I saw anything like that on Jimmy Hill’s chin the whole herd had to be destroyed.”

In ‘It started at Anfield’ we get a two-page article telling the story of how Match of the Day had developed from its early days on BBC2 (“watched by even fewer than had actually attended League club grounds during the afternoon”) to the Jimmy Hill-fronted programme on BBC1 seen on TV when this Annual was published.

Among the self-congratulatory text (“it is television’s most comprehensive football programme”), one small section proves to be of particular interest, namely that surrounding BBC TV’s competition in 1969 to find a new commentator. In a wonderful piece of never-in-this-day-and-age brilliance, the competition was ultimately won by the late Idwal Robling, a Welshman who played for Great Britain’s football team in the 1952 Olympics.

Here we see a picture from the MOTD annual showing all the participants in that search for a new commentator, among them Gerry Harrison (who went on to be ITV’s man behind the mic for the Anglia region), Ed Stewart (BBC Radio 1 disc jockey and Everton fan) and Ian St John, a former Liverpool and Scotland player who went on to be a more than capable co-commentator and front man for shows such as On The Ball and Saint and Greavsie.

After a pictorial palette cleanser showing various players ‘In Focus’, we hear the amazing story of Jimmy Hill’s life, such as it was in 1978. As we mentioned in our recent podcast, there’s much more to Hill than the stereotyped waffle everyone latches onto these days. In ‘My Role - Jimmy Hill’, we learn that the former Fulham player was acting as adviser for the World Soccer Academy in Saudi Arabia, an owner of the NASL franchise Detroit Express and Managing Director at Coventry City - all on top of his role as presenter of Match of the Day.

Some of his better known achievements at Highfield Road - changing the club strip to Sky Blue and giving the club its nickname accordingly - are mentioned, but his work beyond Coventry City was what particularly caught the eye. Running a company that “acted as advisors to the London based Sportsman Club” as well as performing a role as Chairman of Goaldiggers “an organisation that is linked with the National Playing Fields Association" was just the tip of the iceberg for the great man. He also raised money for several charities and wrote books and newspaper columns when time allowed too. To think that all that came about as a result of a serious knee injury as a player is a testament to his determination to succeed in the face of adversity.

In an age when football commentators barely last a minute without spouting one statistic or another, it’s interesting to read how much information Barry Davies compiled in the week leading up to one of his commentaries. Davies, who retired from MOTD in 2004, commented: “I have a newspaper cutting book on each season which goes back eight or nine seasons. I will get out the results sequences of the two teams and will go over their results this season, their scorers, their running league position, the crowds and full teams. I will try to keep it up-to-date myself but if I am not completely accurate I’ll give Jack Rollin a ring. He’s a freelance journalist who keeps a mountain of facts and figures.”

Having pored over all kinds of data from player cards to personal notes, Davies would then get the relevant clubs to send him their last two home programmes to fill any gaps on recent knowledge and would pay a visit early in the week to the managers of the teams he’d be commentating on the following Saturday. The key to Davies using all this information efficiently, however, was keeping it in his head rather than on paper: “Facts should come to you automatically while you are doing the commentary and you should not be trying to force your facts onto the viewer.” Modern-day commentators take note...

Finishing off the Annual was a feature on the footballers who appeared in the BBC’s Superstars series and an article on how Match of the Day is put together every Saturday thanks to the efforts of cameramen, Outside Broadcast teams, presenters and and many more people besides.

But it’s the item called ‘It began with Chairman Mao’ that provides great insight into a memorable piece of football nostalgia, namely the opening title sequence for Match of the Day in the late-1970s. Many of you will remember it for one reason and one reason alone, namely the sight of various pictures being made by a crowd of football fans in the fashion of an Olympic Games opening ceremony (see example below).

The titles were the idea of Pauline Talbot who said: “Whenever I think of crowds I think of China and the magnificent rallies held there. As I considered ideas for Match of the Day, I thought of a picture I had seen in a magazine years ago of 8,000 Chinese children holding up cards to form a picture of Chairman Mao. They call it card flashing.”

Within days, the children of Hammersmith County Girls’ School and Christopher Wren Boys’ School in West London were herded into Queens Park Rangers’ Loftus Road stadium and given numbered cards to form the eight different images seen during the opening title sequence. Over 2,000 separate cards were printed and cut in a “giant warehouse” and the large images were designed on a sheet of graph paper to help identify who was holding up which card.

“If a card representing, say, the tip of Jimmy Hill’s nose was out of position” said Talbot, “I was able to look on my graph, check the number at fault and call out that number through a microphone, asking if the person holding that card could please get it right.”

And so it was that on such meticulous organisation the Communist Party was founded - to say nothing of a fine football annual.


  1. Matthew Gilbert21 May 2013 at 02:12

    Adding the manager's name to the pre-match line-ups on Match of the Day... well, I was about 11 and had a very silly sense of humour... I spent at least ten minutes giggling uncontrolably at the picture of the Oxford United badge - a fierce-looking ox's head with horns coming out the sides - just above the legend 'Manager: Ian Greaves'.

    When poor Mr Greaves passed away recently, this was still the first thing that sprung to mind.

    1. Oh dear!!! Having never seen what he looked like, I couldn't pass comment about his similarity to an ox... :)

  2. There was a time when a caption accompanied action replays. I found it most amusing particularly after a goal was scored.