PETER Kay gave an interview to The Big Issue a few years ago in which he revealed he had been recording TV adverts on to a compilation tape since the 1980s. He claimed that whenever he stuck it on at parties, the room would go crazy (I think he meant in a positive way).
Kay realised, even then, that if there is one thing large sections of the public find more fascinating than repackaged TV nostalgia, it’s raw TV nostalgia. A quick scout around YouTube will prove the point.
Among the extraordinary gems up there that no one in their right mind would possibly have saved (and yet have) are adverts from 1978, regional TV continuity announcements from 1980 and – most incredibly of all – an LWT in-house Christmas tape from 1983 that proves beyond doubt Jim Rosenthal was the inspiration for Alan Partridge.
This hankering for the fripperies of TV nostalgia is, I think, the attraction of The Big Match Revisited, which has just begun a new (perhaps that should be old) series on ITV4. Every Thursday lunchtime, an episode of The Big Match from the corresponding week 30 years ago will be repeated in pretty much its entirity.
And that means you not only get to see old football (which is on all the time anyway, thanks to ESPN Classic). It means you get to see the cheap sets and the weirdly polite, slightly awkward post-match interviews too.
This series of The Big Match Revisited will focus on the second half of the 1978/79 season, and started with a repeat of West Brom’s classic 5-3 win at Manchester United in December 1978.
The match has been shown so many times since, that it was arguably the least remarkable aspect of the programme. But the show as a whole did give a fascinating portrait of Britain during the Winter Of Discontent, without the need for intercut news footage of piled-up bin bags, or interjections from ‘comedians’ laughing away to themselves about what crazy haircuts we all had.
First of all, the show wasn’t actually a repeat of The Big Match. It was, instead, The Kick Off Match, Granada’s highlights show of the period. So instead of the famous Big Match brassy fanfare to introduce the show, we got a remarkable theme tune featuring Francis Monkman, formerly of 1970s prog rockers Curved Air, beating seven bells out of his keyboard over a montage of spectacular goals.
This was followed by a shot of presenter Gerald Sinstadt, seemingly slouching back in his seat, introducing the main game in front of a green and white plywood set that looked as if it would fall over if he moved an inch.
The match itself, of course, stands out not only for the wonderful quality of West Brom’s football, but also for the shameful racist chanting directed at their three black players, Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendan Batson.
“The booing of the black players . . . paid off there, or repaid, by Tony Brown,” said Sinstadt as Cunningham set up Brown for West Brom’s first goal.
It was a theme he returned to at the final whistle. “And the magic that black footballers are bringing to the league, completely in evidence,” he said in his summing up. This was meant as a compliment, but it’s hard to imagine a commentator getting away with such a remark in 2009.
The most extraordinary comment, though, was cut out of the ITV4 repeat – and I only know about it because I’ve seen a different edit of the show on YouTube.
West Brom manager Ron Atkinson, only 25 years away from his own racism storm, was asked to nominate a man of the match by Elton Welsby (who looked so young that he still seemed to have traces of puppy fat).
“I’d have said it would be a toss-up between one of the coloured front people,” Atkinson replied. “Today, I think Cyrille Regis.”
It’s tempting to look back on these days with a glow of smugness, to say: “Well, we’re all more enlightened now.”
But are we, really? It was interesting to note that Granada’s match director at Old Trafford on that day in December 1978 was a woman, Patricia Pearson. Three decades later, a woman is still not allowed to commentate on Match of the Day without facing a deluge of protest, not all of it related to her ability.
In some ways, though, nothing has changed. The show finished with a look back at The Kick Off Match’s best moments from 1978, which included Bolton’s players celebrating promotion to the First Division, while manager Ian Greaves stayed in the dressing room, looking as if the bottom had fallen out of his world.
And just visible on the dressing room wall behind him was a yellow sticker. It read: “If you miss the ball, you can always kick the referee.”
Respect? Referees never had it.
Next week, it’s Sheffield Wednesday versus Arsenal from a snowbound FA Cup third round, featuring a youthful-sounding Martin Tyler and some fans throwing snowballs at Pat Jennings. Sounds like fun.