About a month ago, I got up one Sunday morning to cook a bit of breakfast. I opted for the healthy Scottish selection - black pudding, bacon and sliced sausage - and while those wonderful delicacies sizzled under the grill, I switched on the television for some early morning viewing. I tuned into ITV4 where the pre 9.00am offering was The Big Match, a re-run of a football highlights programme from 1983. Of course, July is usually the time of the year when football withdrawal symptoms kick in (see what I did there) While pre-season games are okay in their own right, the lack of competitive games has one yearning for the days of thrashing your city rivals in a cup final at Hampden and partying all weekend. Now this may say something about my age (having reached the half century earlier this year) and my levels of sadness but I found watching The Big Match from nearly 30 years ago rather fascinating.
Yes, it was English football (I suspect ITV4 didn’t think showing a re-run of Scotsport’s Arthur Montford waxing lyrical about Morton versus St. Mirren would entice many viewers outside Renfrewshire out of their beds on a Sunday morning) but it was football nonetheless. I missed the opening part of the programme - there was a danger of my black pudding burning to a cinder - but caught the highlights of Watford against Aston Villa at Vicarage Road. In these days of television cameras nearly outnumbering spectators at some games, it’s easy to forget how different things were three decades ago. For starters, neither Watford nor Aston Villa had sponsor’s names on their shirts. About half the crowd, a healthy sized one at that, were standing on an open terracing and many of those who were under cover were also standing. However, this was a time before the tragic events of Heysell, Bradford and Hillsborough and the subsequent tragic loss of lives at these venues. As Hearts supporters of my generation will tell you, many a happy Saturday afternoon was spent standing on the terracing at Tynecastle, the more sensitive among us opting to stand under the Shed when it rained, as it often did. Prior to safety being the number one priority at football grounds, we thought nothing of it. The fans at Vicarage Road in 1983 certainly thought nothing of it as The Hornets and The Villa served up a rip-roaring game, which the home side won 2-1 with a late goal.
The Big Match programme ended with a summary of other games from a young presenter called Jim Rosenthal with a hairstyle that was pure Alan Partridge. We saw the goals from Leicester City against Wolves and an even younger Gary Lineker toe poking a typical effort into the net from about eight yards out. And the word Walkers was nowhere to be found at Filbert Street…
1983 was the year Hearts returned to the Premier Division after two seasons ‘downstairs’. The second half of season 1982/83 saw the emergence of the teenage John Robertson as a first team regular and while he was scoring goals for fun in the First Division, there were those who questioned whether the wee man could prove as effective in the top flight. This was answered in spectacular fashion on the first Saturday of September when ‘Robbo’ scored two goals against Hibernian in his Edinburgh derby debut - the first of which was one of the best goals I’ve ever seen and one which the wee fella still says today was one of his best in a long career.
While The Big Match highlights programme down south was showing games largely free of shirt advertising, in 1983 Hearts were blazing a trail and were one of the first clubs in the UK to have shirt sponsors. When Robbo scored his two goals against Edinburgh’s other team on that memorable afternoon, he had the name Alexanders emblazoned on his shirt. Traditionalists may have tut-tutted but Chairman Wallace Mercer was very much a man ahead of his time and any way of getting revenue into the club was generally welcomed. A few years later, Mercer knew the impact the advent of satellite television would have on the game although I’m not sure if even the man they called the Great Waldo realised just how much.
That’s why it’s quaint to look back at a time when teams with shirt sponsors were still a novelty, when you could leave the Tynecastle Arms at ten to three and still be able to take your place on the terracing in plenty of time for kick off and Jim Rosenthal had an impressive head of hair (and wasn’t reduced to standing on the touchline for a pre-season friendly at Southampton for Channel Five)
Incidentally, Hearts won that Edinburgh derby in 1983 - Robbo’s double helping secure a 3-2 win at Tynecastle. In the 29 years that have elapsed, it’s fair to say Hearts have enjoyed the Edinburgh derby several times since - particularly when it’s played in Glasgow!Twitter @Mike1874