For absolutely no reason I have just promoted the subject of Sport by about forty positions. It was the last one on my provisional list; now it’s at the top! As usual I will start with a little diversion.
Advertising, Television and Money
As you know, back in the fifties television was virtually non-existent (and, basically, very poor quality,) so there were few opportunities for televised sport. The BBC effectively controlled the very few sport events every year that were shown and it kept very strictly to its policies of no advertising. You can see already how things might have differed from today – when many sports are driven by vast revenues that come from advertising and television rights. Back in the fifties sport did not play such a major part in the world of entertainment.
Much of what follows is either about changes in televised sport or general changes that have arisen from television. Other changes have been driven by technological changes.
I have to start with football, effectively our national sport then, as it is now. In theory, we did football at school. (More, later about school football. For US readers, ‘football’ means ‘soccer’ not American Football.)
My earlier post,  Football Pools said a little about professional football in the UK. We knew that it existed and anyone interested could follow results on television or in newspapers. Primarily it was spectator sport just for those fans who went to matches and watched from the terraces.
I think it’s fair to say that actually watching live football was more of a working class activity then. Tickets were much cheaper, in real terms, and most were in stands or terraces, without seats. (My experiences of actually doing this are virtually nil.) I suppose our local team was Leyton Orient but no one in our family ever supported a team well enough to be interested in weekly results. My father followed the football pools, so the time around 5 pm on a Saturday was sacrosanct (revealing the results over poor quality television.)
It was before the split of the Premiership and the strangely renamed Championship, so the leagues were named more sensibly – Division One to Division Four. Promotion and relegation were simpler, based just on positions at the end of the season. There were no play-offs. (Now relegation extends to the bottom of Division Two – what was Division Four – with promotion from the Conference. Back then, the bottom two teams just reapplied for inclusion, generally successfully. We knew nothing of the Conference.)
In addition, we had (and still have) the F.A. Cup, a knockout competition, which messed about with fixtures a bit. (Probably not much has changed over the years.) At all levels, drawn Cup matches were replayed at a later date – even the Cup Final. There was no such thing as a penalty shoot-out. Apart from Cup matches, including replays, and matches postponed because of bad weather, all matches took place at the same time – three o’clock on Saturday afternoons and Bank Holidays. (There was no point in matches at different times or on Sundays until they were televised.)
I was thinking this would be a short post, with a couple of line about each sport but there is a lot more about football …
At the time of writing, the football leagues are officially the Barclays Premiership, Sky Bet Championship, Sky Bet League One and Sky Bet League Two. These sponsored names would have been unthinkable in the early days of televised football, when the BBC would not show any form of advertising. Now we see sponsorship all the way round the touchline, on players’ shirts and behind the manager when interviewed on television.
We also now have news, pictures and interviews with individual footballers. Many are so famous that their wives and girlfriends have also achieved celebrity status. When the game was first televised, football shirts just had the player’s number. They were named by the commentators (just the surname) and that was about all we knew of them.
The Game of Football
I keep thinking of more differences. Even the ball pictured above, with its familiar design of hexagons and pentagons, is relatively recent. It used to be a much harder ball made of stitched leather.
I am not a fan of football but it is now so popular on radio and television that it is unavoidable. I don’t know all the changes (and I’m not going to search the Internet for such unexciting detail) but here are some obvious changes.
As noted earlier we never had penalty shoot-outs. We didn’t have extra time either. (I’m not totally sure about this.) If the result was a draw and one side had to win, the match was replayed. Substitute players were almost unused – they were only available when players were injured.
The referee was helped by two linesmen and that was all. We had no television or other technology to replay dubious decisions. (Television was live. The ability to replay just a few seconds was very limited at first.) The only means of timing a match was the referee’s watch. If he allowed extra ‘injury time,’ the amount was up to him. If he didn’t notice the time and forgot to blow the whistle, they just kept playing.
We didn’t even have yellow cards and red cards. A player could be warned by the referee or sent off. The official would make a pencilled note in his notebook.
I know virtually nothing about the rules of football or its tactics but I do remember the only two lessons I ever had at school about the game, when it rained too hard to send us outside. We had the offside rule explained on a blackboard and we had a plan of the field showing positions. The eleven players were arranged as five forwards (outside left, inside left, centre forward, inside right and outside right) three half-backs (left half, centre half and right half) two backs (left back and right back) and a goalkeeper. The possibility of other arrangements was not mentioned.
Well, now, forwards are ‘strikers’; halves are ‘mid-field’; and backs are ‘defenders.’ There are extensive discussions on various formations and now no one plays what we would call a 2-3-5 formation (or is it 5-3-2?)
As with so many things, it was all so much simpler then.
On Saturday afternoon at home, we always followed the final results of the football matches. They were always in the same order. Firstly FA Cup matches, then First Division down to Fourth Division, then the Scottish Leagues. (I’m not Scottish, but Scotland was simpler then – also without its Premiership and Championship.) Then a summary of the pools figures and possible pools winnings. Then there might be a short discussion of one or two matches and the new League tables.
Then, almost as an afterthought, we had results of the rugby matches. There were lots of matches, presumably in alphabetical order of the home team. They were just friendly matches with no leagues and there were never any league tables. Rugby was an amateur sport and nothing else was ever said about the rugby results.
That was about it but once a year we did have the Five Nations Internationals (now Six Nations).
I’m sorry but I can’t say much more about rugby. I don’t understand it. Sometimes I have watched it and I can just about understand tries and scrums. Beyond that, the rules are still incomprehensible to me – as are the positions – and the differences between Rugby Union and Rugby League. (And I can’t understand why they think England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are nations, but then the same goes for Football.)
It has changed since the fifties. Like football it is more of a significant television activity (but in Britain it’s still overshadowed by football.) It is no longer an amateur sport, and fixtures have moved from winter to summer!
I just mention American Football in case I have any American readers. Back in the fifties and sixties it was almost unknown to us here. Now it is mentioned sometimes and some matches are shown on some channels. We have so many channels now. The time difference is a problem but at least one channel, somewhere, will show the entire Superbowl. Its result is even mentioned the next day in the sports news.
In a quaint, historical way, English cricket was run by the MCC – Marylebone Cricket Club, which defined the rules and ran the national cricket team at home and abroad. When the team played Test Matches abroad, until the mid-seventies, it was not called England, it was MCC. (I think for cricket, England has always included Wales. County cricket included a team from Glamorgan. In practice, traditions and the colder weather have not been conducive to cricket in Scotland.)
Even up to the nineties, the MCC, based at Lords, governed everything to do with cricket. Now we have the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB). The MCC remains technically in control of the laws of the game.
Cricket in the fifties was mainly the County Championship, just a straightforward single league system of three-day matches. There were also Test Matches against other countries. In those days England, Australia and the West Indies were the main international teams and we always played a series of six Test Matches – one series at home and one away.
[There have changes in the cricketing ‘counties’ but they were never unduly influenced by changes in local government. The county of Middlesex disappeared in 1965 but even now they still manage to provide a team for the county in cricket!]
National or International cricket was never played on a Sunday, so Test Matches were always six days – Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, with Wednesday as another day off.
There were one or two extra matches. Oxford and Cambridge Universities had their teams and there was the annual Gentleman versus Players match (professionals versus amateurs.)
As for other sports, it was low key without advertising and players were not paid vast amounts.
As for football, I am not an expert, but I can more or less follow what’s happening with the game. There must have been changes to the rules but I can only speak about two areas. Firstly, the length of a session used to be nearly always fixed at two hours but now it’s more often defined by the number of overs. We also sometimes have longer sessions when rain was limited play earlier.
And secondly, (no surprises) it makes more use of technology. Umpires now use light meters to determine if light levels are suitable and they use predictive action replays to decide exactly where the ball went – and would have continued! Originally if you missed a wicket on television you might have another chance to see it, only if you waited until close of play for the edited highlights. You certainly never saw the same action from different camera views.
The biggest change, which I have left to last, is the use of limited overs. Over several years there were experiments with various numbers of overs. Now, One Day International matches take place about as often as Test Matches and we even have Twenty-Twenty, allowing two or three matches in one day. To someone like me, these are quite interesting, but they are not cricket!
Match of the Day
I will go back to football, with a bit of help from Wikipedia to look in more detail at television coverage provided for many years by the BBC as Match of the Day, shown on Saturday evening. Its first broadcast in 1964 had an audience of about 20 000, less than half the attendance at the ground. There had been earlier live broadcasts, starting with an FA Cup semi-final in 1958.
Generally it showed First Division (now Premiership!) level but in the early years it had to show Second Division, even sometimes Third and Fourth Division matches. Some clubs tried to block its extension in 1965 but the BBC agreed not to reveal the actual location until after the day’s play had ended. It’s hard to imagine such an arrangement today!
Kenneth Wolstenholme and David Coleman presented the shows until the mid-seventies. After this the BBC gradually lost exclusive rights with some football being shown on ITV.
I think these three are our major sports and this looks like a convenient place to have a rest. More sport to come …