Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.


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[101] Barley Water and Barnado’s

I have a few more things to say about sport in the fifties and sixties but I have to start with a Grumpy Old Man rant about amateurism. That’s after a gentle reminder about [61] Sport (1) and [64] Sport (2), which I am you have already read.

Amateurism

Back in the Good Old Days most sport, including football, cricket, rugby, tennis – and the Olympic Games – used to be amateur and that meant that sportsmen were not paid for what they did. When they were paid it was for relatively small amounts. They were not paid to take part in sporting events and they were certainly not paid to train. [Sorry but I use the word sportsmen to include men and women. That was the way we talked in the sixties.]

Now virtually nothing remains amateur. Footballers and others are paid vast amounts and have celebrity status. (Even WAGs – wives and girlfriends – have celebrity status!) Watching sport, either live or on television has become expensive and events are timed to meet television schedules. Most sporting events are steeped in advertising.

(Some of this may be connected with the rise of television. When it was just the BBC, its strict rules of impartiality prevented any forms of advertising. If footballers had advertising logos on their football shirts they would not have been televised.)

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Women in Sport

As another diversion, women then had relatively minor roles in major sports events. Of course their roles in most things were minor and many of them were housewives. There were no forms of football or rugby for women and it was only in the late sixties that the name Rachael Heyhoe (now Baroness Heyhoe Flint) was sometimes heard as captain of the English women’s cricket team. (It made the news but I think it was seen as a novelty rather than a serious sport.) Show Jumping (equestrian) has always been an exception with men and women competing together and the women generally doing better!

There were women in some sports such as tennis and athletics – sometimes seen as a sort of annexe to the main event, the men. There were no women jockeys.

Perhaps the invention of the sports bra in 1975 has helped women towards gradual equality – a process which is still not yet complete.

Athletics

Athletics has been run by the AAA of England since 1991, following a merger between the AAA and the Women’s AAA. The acronym stands for Amateur Athletic Association and it used to be amateur in the true sense of the word.

There were other differences back in 1954 when Roger Bannister ran the first mile in under four minutes. Tracks, 440 yards in circumference, before athletics went metric, were just laid with cinders and shoes were little more than plimsolls. Timing was done with clockwork stopwatches and starting guns were guns (with blank ammunition!). But athletics was very definitely amateur. Athletes were not paid for competing.

You used to have many judges at the finish line, each with a stopwatch for each competitor. With a close finish there was a photo-finish but you had to wait for the picture to be developed. Times were given to the nearest tenth of a second but were not actually that accurate. It would take a few minutes for any result to emerge after all the timers and judges conferred. Now it’s all done automatically to a hundredth of a second and shown on big screens instantly.

It was many years later that money began to creep in. At first it was veiled in subtle wording that allowed expenses, or payments towards a pension but now athletes are openly paid – sometimes in prizes but also just appearance money. They have sponsorship agreements and wear colourful sports kit and fashions. Athletics events are sponsored and advertising logos are seen on athletes’ kit and on their racing numbers.

The AAA has not changed its name but it doesn’t worry itself about the definition of amateurism.

There is now much less distinction between men and women. Marathon, 10 000 metres and 5 000 metres (and their pre-metric versions) used to be for men only and the same was true for throwing the hammer. Now it is only the decathlon (for men) and heptathlon (for women) that seem to be different.

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Tennis

Throughout the fifties, the sixties and the seventies, tennis, as far as I was concerned, meant Wimbledon. As for other sports, televised tennis had no chance of showing anything abroad. The television News would mention the result at Queens, always described as a warm-up for Wimbledon. I don’t think I was aware of any other tennis.

Wimbledon tennis was amateur and more low-key. Entrance to the ground (not to Centre Court) was free without too much queueing. Once or twice I went on the tube (the London Underground trains) from Redbridge station and spent a day watching tennis on outside courts.

Names I remember included Rod Laver, Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. Wikipedia has details of their successes in the modern major tournaments (in France, Australia and the USA as well as Wimbledon.) To be honest in those days I didn’t know that these other tournaments existed. For those who won Wimbledon there was always talk of whether they would turn professional. If they did they disappeared from Wimbledon and effectively disappeared from tennis as I saw it.

In 1968 the sport turned professional and they began to pay prize money. The amounts paid have risen dramatically and now winners get prizes over a million dollars.

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(As for many sports, men and women play in separate events. The men play the best of five sets and women play best of three. In spite of this difference, it was for a long time argued that women should receive equal prize money – something that was achieved in 2009.)

The basic rules of tennis are much as they used to be but I have to note at least three significant differences.

  • There were no such things as tie-breakers. Every set continued until one player was two games ahead. So it was not unknown for scores like 6-3; 6-8; 17-15; 4-6; 14-12. There were instances of much longer matches! Various pressures on time led to the gradual spread of the current tie-breaker system.
  • There were no sit-down timed breaks when the players changed ends. They had a few seconds for a quick drink and a towel down and went to the next game.
  • There was no system of challenges to calls because there was nothing like Hawkeye to read the lines. All decisions were made by linesmen watching – but the central umpire could always over-ride a decision.

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Robinsons Lemon Barley Water was a form of fruit squash available since the fifties. It was apparently produced after a visit to Wimbledon specifically for the players and umpires. It was always visible on the umpire’s chair – almost as a symbol of Wimbledon – and it used to be the only drink available. (Don’t be fooled by the more modern picture above showing plastic bottles. We only had glass then.)

Of course in those days, bottled water was virtually non-existent, canned drinks did not exist and cola drinks had not spread so ubiquitously from America. Robinsons have maintained the link in many advertising campaigns.

Wimbledon used to be very formal in the way it addressed its players, even more archaic than general usage. Until quite recently female players were always noted as Miss or Mrs on scoreboards and married women were referred to by their husband’s names. So, for example Chris Evert-Lloyd appeared on scoreboards as “Mrs. J. M. Lloyd” during her marriage to John Lloyd.

Barnado’s

Dr Barnado’s was a charity founded in the Nineteenth Century to look after homeless, orphaned children. It used to have several homes looking after children including a large area at Barkingside. (It was very near to where the bus took us on the way to school but was tucked away behind the shops where we could not see it. We just knew that it was there.)

From 1947 to 1969 ball boys at Wimbledon came from a Dr Barnado’s school. They were very familiar on televised matches. (Before that they had come from another children’s home.)

Changes in child care, with increasing use of adoption and fostering meant that gradually such care homes disappeared.

Since 1969 local schools in Merton, Sutton, Kingston, Wandsworth and Surrey have provided ball boys and, in a move towards equality, ball girls.

Dr Barnado’s, now renamed simply Barnado’s, is still an active charity caring for children, but it no longer has residential homes for them.

Olympic Games

I remember the games of 1956 at Melbourne, Australia, then 1960 (Rome), 1964 (Tokyo), 1968 (Mexico City) and all the more modern ones.

With a bit of help from Wikipedia, here are some names I remember as UK medal winners at MelbourneChris Brasher, Derek Johnson and Gordon Pirie (Athletics); Terry Spinks and Dick McTaggart (Boxing); and Judy Grinham (Swimming.) In those days news was not instantaneous and newspapers did well to have pictures transported by jet plane to arrive in Britain within 24 hours of the event.

From Rome in 1960 I remember Don Thompson (50km Walk,) Brian Phelps (Diving,) and Anita Lonsbrough (Swimming.) We were beginning to get some limited television coverage.

1964 (Tokyo) has more familiar memories including Lynn Davies (Long Jump,) Ann Packer (400m,) and Mary Rand (Pentathlon.)

(The UK continues to compete as Great Britain in the Olympics, or sometimes GB and Northern Ireland.)

The Mexico Olympics of 1968 is famous for two things. Its high altitude made comparison with other World records difficult and Bob Beamon set a Long Jump Record which stood for many years afterwards. It also brought to public view the Fosbury flop for High Jump, where the jumper goes head first while rolling over the bar. (Previously the landing surface had been sandpits or low piles of matting, and so jumpers had to land on their feet or at least land carefully to prevent injury. With the advent of deep foam matting Dick Fosbury was able to be more adventurous in landing styles and style of jumping.)

(I was going to talk about the Mexican wave – the metachronal rhythm in the stadium but Wikipedia says it was much later.)

It won’t surprise you when I say the Olympics used to be totally amateur. With changes to professionalism in all sports they have gradually become more or less open to professional sportsmen. The Olympic governing body leaves it up to the international governing bodies of the various sports and (at the time of writing) only Boxing remains truly amateur

I can’t say I have any memories of early Winter Olympics although Wikipedia suggests that those of 1956 in Italy were the first to be televised. They used to come in the same years as summer Olympics until the mid-nineties.

The same is true of Paralympics, which used to be a much more low profile event.

 

That’s about it for sport. But just sneaking in from the late sixties we have the continuing quiz show, A Question of Sport.

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[64] Sport – Part Two

I have looked at Football, Cricket and Rugby. Without implying that the remaining sports are less important, they are definitely lower profile in Britain. As I have tried to make clear, in looking at all things to do with sport over the last sixty years I am well aware of the fact that I am concentrating on what I have learned from television. I am not at all keen on watching sport but I am even less interested in actually taking part so my experiences are vicarious. I can only comment on what I remember from my experiences of watching sport.

Television

Television started as one channel, the BBC, and so all televised sport started on BBC. At first it was only major events that were shown and somehow the BBC acquired the rights by default to show these events. So, long after ITV and Channel Four had started broadcasting, all the major sports were still exclusively shown on BBC. It was quite a slow process for these sole rights to be lost but eventually the BBC found it hard to compete financially. Now television rights for sports are big business. ITV and Channel Four show more sport, with several newer premium channels, such as Sky Sports, showing exclusively sport.

The major sports that started like this as BBC only included League football and the FA Cup, the Football World Cup, Rugby internationals, Test Matches in cricket, The Open golf, motor-racing Grand Prix, the Grand National and the Boat Race.

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Golf

We love our quaint old traditions. Just as cricket kept its archaic links to Marylebone Cricket Club, golf is traditionally linked to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, which controls the game. It likes to call itself just the Royal and Ancient or the R & A.

Internationally, the USA has its share in the control of the game and there have always been four main championships in the golfing year, known as the Majors. They are the Masters, (we call it the US Masters,) the US Open, the Open (the USA call it the British Open) and the PGA (the US PGA.) We always like to call our one simply ‘the Open,’ as we got in first before there was a need to call it anything more specific.

Back in the sixties the only one of any importance to us was the Open. I remember early attempts at televising this event. (I don’t think we even knew about the others.) You will remember all about the poor quality of our very limited black and white screens (from [27] Television). Even when the cameraman could follow the path of the ball, it would be impossible for viewers at home. There was no zooming in or playing back. (Televising anything live from abroad was out of the question!)

To me golf has memories of the great players – Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino – but then it also reminds me of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, both keen golfers!

I could have included golf in [20] Sex Discrimination because it has always treated women differently. It still does in the strange way that women play from shorter tees, have different handicaps and generally still have separate membership arrangements. Professional golf separates the men’s competitions from those for ladies.

Back in the fifties and sixties there were many Golf Clubs that did not allow women to be members, or gave them restricted rights, or banned them from entering the clubhouse. (But then I could have said the same about the MCC.)

As someone who only started playing golf on retirement I can say little about how it has changed. Technology has aided advances in clubs. A set used to consist of a set of irons, some woods and a putter. Now the ‘irons’ may have carbon fibre shafts; what we still sometimes call ‘woods’ are made of metal and the bag may include hybrid clubs and loft wedges. Modern golfers with modern clubs and modern balls routinely hit the ball further and more accurately. (This excludes my performance at golf!)

Alfa-Romeo-159-(1951)

Grand Prix

It was never called motor racing, it was always Grand Prix, now it’s often known as Formula One.

As you can imagine, it was very different without the technology we now have. Racing cars were not much different to ordinary road cars, apart from the somewhat streamlined appearance. As a televised sport it was a lot of noise and whatever the commentator could tell us. The action was too fast to see what was happening.

In Britain we had Stirling Moss, a rare success in international sport and a famous character.

MossLotusClimax19610806 Stirling_Moss

You can get an idea of how much less technological it was from the start. All the cars were in a single row on one side of the track and the drivers were on the other side. At the start, drivers ran across, jumped in and started up their cars. Modern cars are far too complex to be started so easily.

It was also a far more dangerous sport with the possibilities of drivers and spectators being killed in accidents.

Horse Racing

I have never understood the prominence of horse-racing in England. We have dozens of race courses where we race horses that only the rich can afford to keep and train. While Ascot week is an event for the upper class, the sport is partly driven by the bets of the working-class. (Lots of sweeping generalizations!)

Newspapers have always had Sports sections and these always seem to include details for every day of horse racing. They list, in highly abbreviated form all the horses, their form and betting odds.

It should not come as a surprise that back in the sixties, there were no women jockeys. Women were not even allowed to be trainers for horse racing.

 

There must be many people, like me, who do not follow horse racing but one race has always caught people’s attention – the Grand National. The newspapers list all the horses and riders. People everywhere used to pick horses from the name without a clue as to form – and there were sweepstakes. But it is a long, rough ride and outsiders often win.

Fifty years ago the television showed just poor pictures from one fixed camera by the grandstand. When the horses went round the far side another commentator was able to describe some of what he could see there.

Fences used to be more difficult and many horses fell and refused. As well as betting on the result you could bet on whether the horse would finish. It was dangerous for jockeys and much more dangerous for the horses. Horses were routinely destroyed as a result of injuries.

Rowing

The only rowing to have any significance back then was ‘the Boat Race’ – between Oxford and Cambridge University teams. It held much the same position as the Grand National and everyone would pick one side to support. I have never quite seen the attraction as the result is usually predictable a minute or two after the start.

You can guess some of the differences then. The race was not sponsored and there was never a thought of women having a race. (Almost all colleges at both universities were for men only.)

Television in black and white meant that we relied on the commentator to know what was happening. But we still watched it.

Show Jumping

Show Jumping used to be much more popular on television than it is now, with several events being regularly shown every year. I can only assume that it was much easier to televise an indoor sport where fixed cameras could show everything clearly. It was quite a visual sport with smartly dressed competitors on nice looking horses. Unlike other sports at the time we knew competitors individually by name. Pat Smythe was well known.

Very unusually for a sport, and even more unusual on the fifties, it has always been a sport where men and women compete against each other on equal terms.

Snooker and Darts

These are two sports that use to have a lower status in life. Snooker was played in snooker halls and darts was played in pubs. Both came to be more well-known through television.

The programme Pot Black, showing a snooker match, was picked as a showcase for the new colour technology of BBC Two when David Attenborough was the Controller of BBC Two. It introduced the sport to the viewing world.

The World Snooker championship, played since the late seventies at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield is still a popular annual event that is easily broadcast with modern television methods. Its fixed central camera position can be used to indicate the planned path of each shot.

Similarly, darts copes well with cameras showing the board in close-up so its World Championships are now televised events.

Both of these are sports where the top players have become well-known celebrities.

Popular Sports

For various reasons, people have become more obsessed with personal fitness. There are now many gyms, swimming pools and fitness clubs, frequented by ordinary people trying to control their weight and develop attractive, muscular, athletic physiques. We had none of this. (OK, there were some gyms where you could do weightlifting or boxing, but they were not common.)

These gyms have treadmills and running machines, cycling machines and rowing machines, using technology that had not been developed when I was young.

We didn’t run on treadmills and we didn’t take up jogging or road running as a hobby. The running shoes that now come as fashion statements did not exist. (I have to admit to knowing one or two people in the late sixties who occasionally went for a run round the PLA grounds at Ilford. That was considered to be exactly one mile so it didn’t compare to modern jogging habits.)

London_Marathon

Not surprisingly there was no London Marathon or Great North Run, (both started in 1981) none of the other popular half-marathons or ‘fun runs.’ For those who wonder about the millions of pounds raised by charities in these races, the idea of any activity being sponsored for charity was unknown then. (There were no wheelchair marathons either but that is another topic.))

While talking of things we didn’t have, there were lots of other popular sporting activities net yet invented – windsurfing, paragliding, skateboards, quadbikes, BMX, bungee jumping, snowboarding or paintballing. We just managed without them.

 

I know I have missed out some sports. I haven’t finished yet …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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[61] Match of the Day

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.

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Professional Football

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, [12] 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 …

Sponsorship

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.

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Rugby

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!

American Football

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.

Cricket

Cricket

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 …

 

 

 

 


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[12] Football Pools

Football_iu_1996

I will try to do some posts about things that played a significant part in people’s live but have now disappeared (or almost disappeared), things that younger readers may not have even heard about. In truly random fashion, I have one of these now between two posts about information. My first subject in this series will be Football Pools.

Football Pools

I am hoping that at least some readers will be thinking: “What?” Football Pools used to be a significant industry in England, so important that they affected how newspapers and television reported football results. I need to set the scene before I explain what they were and how they worked. Then perhaps it will be fairly obvious why they disappeared.

Gambling

There have always been many people who like to spend a little of their earnings in the hopes of winning a lot. Now we have Betting Shops; several National Lotteries with scratch cards; the Internet and on-line betting. You know what I’m going to say next! Back in the fifties, we had none of them.

There were some opportunities for betting. Some pubs had fruit machines. You could bet on horse racing (or greyhound racing) at the meeting. You may have been able to bet on horses by telephone but I think that came later. And there were some limited, illegal methods.

But from the late fifties, for millions of people, there were ‘the pools,’ betting on the results of regular Saturday football matches in England. (I don’t know what life was like in Scotland but in England the Scottish results always came after all the English divisions. As now, Wales was somehow included in England.)

Saturday Football

Before we go much further, we have to put football back to the way it was. We may get to look at football later but for the purposes of the pools, we need to know that virtually all English and Scottish football matches took place at the same time on Saturday every week. (If there were, occasionally, matches postponed to other dates, they didn’t count for the pools.) No football was shown on television or reported on the radio.

The Weekly Form

We need to look at the next picture but don’t think in today’s language. You may all be thinking: “It’s a spreadsheet!” But it was in a world where we had no spreadsheets, not even any computers. It was a piece of paper!

org_47656_pools-panel

Every week you would have a form, like the one shown here, to be filled in. They were printed each week and delivered by hand. You needed the appropriate sheet with the fixtures for that weekend. With uncertainties, like FA Cup replays, only definite fixtures would be listed – if necessary, they could use more of the otherwise ignored lower Scottish Divisions!

Every football match would result in either a Home Win, an Away Win, or a Draw. In its simplest form your task in completing the form is to select eight teams who you hope will produce draws. You gamble against millions of other people in the hope of winning a large sum of money. So, in one column you put eight crosses against your selected teams. You pay what in our money would have been a fraction of a penny and hope to win hundreds of thousands of pounds if the results turn out right! Basically, that was it.

(There were other choices but eight draws was by far the most popular.)

You would probably try a few lines, with a total weekly expenditure of just a few pence. Each column could have a different set of eight crosses. (I won’t go into the mathematics of the perms and plans you can see on this form.) If you were a football expert you would think carefully about each match, study the teams form, look at weather forecasts, read what the newspapers said … Or you could pick numbers at random – that was, in practice, just as likely to succeed. Remember, we didn’t have lotteries, so to many this was just a lottery.

At their peak, there were more than ten million people playing the pools every week. You could post your form. Many were collected by pools agents who earned their living from the commission payments. Postal entries had to be postmarked before the kick-off time of 3:00 pm on Saturday.

Results

In the early days, results would come from Sunday newspapers. The papers would always list the matches, showing the line numbers used by the pools. (The main pools companies always used the same line numbers.) It was also true then, as it is today, that sports sections of newspapers had sections devoted to horse-racing aimed at those who placed bets on them. The papers provided what their readers wanted.

With the advent of television, this became the main information point for early results. They gave the round-up of results at around 5:00 pm on every Saturday evening. (Results had to be phoned in, one by one, to the BBC, then the only television channel.)

I can remember many Saturdays when we children had to be quiet while Dad followed the results over the dreadful quality TV reception, which was then all that was available, looking down his lists. Millions of others must have done the same thing. When all results were in, the television presenter would list the draws in order as a check, with their pools line numbers.

There were complications – postponed matches, abandoned matches, late results. But, soon after five o’clock, the television could tell us the final results, how many draws there were and predicted pools payouts. If there were lots of draws, the payout would be small, but if only eight matches were draws and you picked them, then you had the jackpot, maybe £100,000. In the seventies and eighties they went up over a million pounds.

Nowadays, the pools companies that are left can take entries over the Internet or read in forms automatically to their computers. They can identify all the winners automatically and instantly. Back then, they had very little automation. They could rely on winners to telephone and make their claims. Then they knew which forms to check.

Sometimes there were too many draws and too many winners but only eight or nine or ten draws would produce a big win. These were publicized in newspapers in the same as way as big lottery winners more recently.

(What did we do at the end of the season? There were versions of pools using rugby or Australian Football – but most people just waited for the next football season.)

Score draws

At some time roundabout the sixties, the pools companies made a change to increase the chance of a single jackpot win. They changed the system so that score draws (like 1-1; 2-2; 3-3, …) were the target. A nil-all score happened too often so they were eliminated. This kept the interest in the pools going.

Pools panel

If you have been paying attention you will know the significance of 1963. It was that horrible, cold winter. Lots of football matches were called off or postponed because of the weather and this really messed up the pools. When three quarters of the matches were abandoned because of snow, there was little chance of finding eight draws in those that were left.

They introduced the Pools Panel, a group of football experts. By the time the final results came out, the panel had decided what might have happened to the abandoned matches on the basis of form. They probably worked a lot on guesswork but they produced results that were accepted for pools purposes. Newspaper and television football results would include pools panel results almost as if they had actually happened. This helped to keep the number of high value payments going.

In the nineties, it was the National Lottery and all the other scratchcard lotteries that were the major cause of the demise of football pools, with other factors like Betting Shops and Internet betting. There are still football pools but user numbers are drastically down. They no longer get a mention on Saturday television with the football results. The Pools Panel still meets.

There it was. The pools emerged in the fifties; formed a significant part in the life of most working-class families; and disappeared in the nineties.

I think I was talking about information …