Brian Viner: How the footy revolution was televised many years before its time had come

'If memory serves, it was dour. Of course, it was in black and white'
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The Independent Online

Today's is an auspicious date. Or maybe an inauspicious one, I'm not entirely sure. For it was on 9 September 1960 - also a Saturday - that a Football League match was first televised live, and the seeds sown that would grow into multimillion pound deals with Sky, Sunday morning kick-offs, and the Garth Crooks post-match interview.

The pioneering match was Blackpool v Bolton Wanderers at Bloomfield Road, not necessarily a fixture to set hearts aflutter these days, but one that in 1960 still evoked the famous 1953 FA Cup final - Blackpool 4 Bolton 3 - which posterity named after Stan Matthews even though it was Stan Mortensen who scored a hat-trick.

That has always seemed rather unfair to me. Matthews might have played a blinder but Mortensen deserved his share of immortality. After all, nobody has managed to score an FA Cup final hat-trick in the 53 years since. So I think a little bit of ambiguity should be introduced, and that it should henceforth be known as the "Stan" final.

Anyway, in September 1960 neither Blackpool nor Bolton were quite the powerhouses they had been. Indeed, Blackpool would miss relegation from the First Division by only one point at the end of that season, and Bolton by three.

For the benefit of those interested in statistical quirks, it was Newcastle United and Preston North End who went down in spring 1961, in 21st and 22nd place respectively out of the 22 teams then in the top tier, yet relegated Newcastle had scored 86 goals, eight more than runners-up Sheffield Wednesday. The Magpies' problem was that they conceded a whopping 109, a defensive record that would have been considered dodgy even in the leaky Kevin Keegan years.

Dusty old League tables always have this effect on me, so let me stop digressing, and get back to that inaugural televised match. FA Cup finals and internationals had been shown live before, of course, but League football had been considered untouchable until the Independent Television Association decided to give it a whirl.

On the Friday, the Bolton Evening News informed its readers that: "Those who have neither the inclination nor the time to go to Blackpool tomorrow will be able to see part of the game on television, for this fixture is the first of those to be shown on the screen on Saturday evening."

People who complain now that telly executives wield too much power over kick-off times should be aware that it started happening on day one, almost 50 years ago.

The match itself, unfortunately for the ITA, was not exactly edge-of-the-armchair stuff. A couple of days ago I phoned Jimmy Armfield, who played for Blackpool at the time and, sure enough, he remembered it as dismal fare. "We lost 1-0, as I recall, and nobody paid much attention to the fact that it was on television.

"Ever since the 1953 final there'd been a bit of needle between us and Bolton - there'd even been talk of Blackpool trying to sign Nat Lofthouse - so it must have looked like quite a tasty match to televise. But if memory serves, it was very dour. I can certainly remember them putting up the gantry, and I think there were just two cameras. Of course, it was all in black and white then. I've never seen it and, from what I remember, I wouldn't want to."

I asked the great man - the original overlapping full-back and still the best, some say - whether he could put me in touch with anyone else who played in that historic game and might remember it.

He went through his former team-mates - "he's dead, he's dead, he's dead, he's alive but not very well, he's dead ..." - and came up with only two names, Bill Perry and David Durie. I told him that I'd interviewed the likeable Perry three years ago to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1953 final, in which he scored Blackpool's "other" goal. "Aye," said Armfield, "he's a nice chap for a winger."

I phoned Perry but diligent journalistic research can be easily stymied; he was out. I had more luck with 75-year-old Durie, Blackpool's inside-left on that day in 1960. "I think we won," he said. "Jimmy Armfield thinks you lost," I told him. He laughed. "It's a long time ago, you know. Either way, I can't remember the television cameras being there."

That they were (and that Bolton won 1-0) is testified by the verdict of the Bolton Evening News' pseudonymous television critic, the mysteriously named "Cathode". "If this was an historic moment it was very nearly, I would say, an historic flop. As an audience-drawing programme it has to be judged on exactly the same terms as all-in wrestling, The Larkins and Candid Camera."

Those were ITV's other Saturday evening shows at the time, and they were deemed far more successful than the experiment in live football which, as Armfield said, was widely ignored. It would be many more years before League football was regularly transmitted live on British television. But it's worth reflecting that the first nuts and bolts of the juggernaut were fitted at Bloomfield Road 46 years ago today.

Who I Like This Week...

Steffi Graf, who remained steadfastly, Teutonically phlegmatic in the crowd at Flushing Meadows while her husband, Andre Agassi, cried his eyes out following his third-round US Open defeat by Graf's compatriot Benjamin Becker, which signalled the American's retirement. Agassi, after a career which started at roughly the same time as the original B Becker's, put on a right old show for the indulgent New York crowd. Indeed, it would not have disgraced that other cheesy Las Vegas entertainer, Liberace. I admire Agassi, but the tears and the corny speech - "you let me stand on your shoulders and reach for my ambitions" - turned what should have been a moving spectacle into a mawkish one. Graf looked as if she understood that.

And Who I Don't

Thomas Bjorn, both for his intemperate attack on Europe's Ryder Cup captain, Ian Woosnam, and for his subsequent grovelling apology. I'd have admired Bjorn if he had criticised Woosnam less vehemently and then declined to apologise because, by all accounts, some of what he said was justified. It does appear that the beefy little Welshman, while one of the finest foot soldiers anyone could have in their camp, is not necessarily cut out for officer status. At any rate, it was wrong of him to allow Bjorn to learn from television that he had been omitted from the team, if that's what happened. But the Dane, by going so wildly over the top, lost credibility. It was an unseemly episode.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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