Gerry Harrison, Martin Peters, jumpers for goalposts... is our football any better today?
- Credit: ANGLIA TV
It’s true that some of us can be guilty of giving nostalgia too much credibility, but sometimes it is heartening to turn back the clock and realise that some things really were better back in the day.
I was reminded of this during the week when I happened upon BT Sport’s Big Match programme. It was from April 16, 1977, and featured as its main match Spurs v Sunderland, with Norwich City v Bristol City on the ‘undercard’.
Hearing commentaries by the likes of Gerry Harrison and Gerald Sinstadt again is always a treat – Harrison was so under-rated.
Anyway, to the games: Spurs were in trouble in he old First Division and needed the two points then on offer for a win. It ended 1-1, not the greatest of games. And one of the eye-openers came when the camera focused on the Sunderland bench. The manager sat in the middle, his trainer to his right, complete with sponge bucket, his substitute to his left. And no one else.
All three were exposed to the elements: no cosy roof, no cushioned, high-back seats bearing a sponsor’s name. This was when the word bench really did mean bench. Modern-day football grounds have mini stands just for the managerial support staff: there are people to wipe a player’s sweaty brow, tie up errant bootlaces, show instant replays of contentious pieces of play. They’ll soon have someone to berate the referee on a player’s behalf.
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One thing I did notice was that when a corner was taken, the ball was within the quadrant. This particular shape has little or no effect on a football pitch today: players simply push the limits of placing the ball as far away from the flag as they can: the extra millimetre is clearly vital. Matthew Etherington tried it in front of the Snake Pit when playing for West Ham in February, 2004, but such was the vocal outcry from behind him that he was spotted and, as he played silly so and sos with the referee once too often, he ended up sent off.
Anyway, back to the match: there were three bookings that day, two from Sunderland for kicking the ball away. And post-match, presenter Brian Moore just couldn’t leave it alone, grilling Sunderland’s Tony Towers about time wasting. In those days a booking was taken a lot more seriously. Three bookings was worth talking about. Now, they are ten a penny; you get booked for the slightest misdemeanour, games constantly disrupted for a bit of robust behaviour.
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Anyway, the real excitement – and quality – came when the cameras turned to Carrow Road. City beat Bristol City 2-1 that day, with two superb goals, from Martin Peters and Kevin Reeve, two men at opposite ends of their playing careers.
Peters’ goal was magnificent, a half volley from 25 yards which he hit on a diagonal run. The technique left me drooling. Reeve, then 19, took a long pass in his stride and volleyed it home - another excellent finish.
This was all 40 years ago, but the quality of finishing was as good as anything you will see today. The football on display was excellent, the physical nature of the game perfectly acceptable. It was good. Very good.
So, fast forward... next weekend, when football begins in earnest, I shall be treated to hours of TV coverage of the best players and best teams. No stone unturned.
Those who are paraded in front of me won’t be earning a few thousand quid a month, they will be earning that in a morning.
To prove how much they take home, have a look at the results of some research by FootballSalaryGuide.com which says that the average Brit needs to work 4,524 weeks or 87 years to earn an equivalent annual wage of a top Premier League player.
The average Brit earns £539 per week while the average Premier League wage is £2,438,275. Doctors and nurses would have to work an average of 48 years, teachers 87 years. Female footballers need to play for 70 years to earn the same as their male counterparts. And if you are in trade and construction then you face 132 years busting your bits to earn a top-flight footballers’ annual salary.
What footballers do on the pitch has changed, but the salaries are now obscene. And the funny thing is, the product is not that much better, if at all. You can’t reinvent the wheel: football is a simple game which has seen a few minor changes over the years, but I can’t see that it is a better spectacle. The caution of managers has eroded the excitement value; the zealous approach towards curtailing the physical side of the game has simply prompted more ingenious ways of deception.
How I long for Gerry Harrison and Martin Peters...