Bob Dylan was right.
The times they are a changin’.
Life, football. And how the latter is reported, dissected, discussed.
It doesn’t seem so very long ago that I might not have known the result of a midweek game involving Norwich until the following days newspaper dropped through the letter box. Then, joy of joys, it all became a little bit easier after Mum and Dad bought me a radio and I became, in an instant, one of the generation of school kids who listened to Radio Luxembourg under the sheets and blankets every night.
Or, and this is when it was easy to go to bed early, Sport On Two was on BBC Radio Two from around 8pm whenever there was a big night of football on.
Peter Jones, Maurice Eddleston and Jimmy Armfield.
I may now look back at those long but hugely enjoyable evenings turned into 1500m on the old long wave dial with suitably rose tinted spectacles but, even in today’s multimedia age of 24/7 national and local TV and radio, of which I am, against my wildest dreams at the time, now a small part of, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a sports show quite so much as I did that one.
They’d usually pick up live commentary of a game involving one of the English club sides in Europe midway through the first half before providing full and uninterrupted commentary of the entire second half with, after around 22 minutes or so, Peter would hand over to Mike or vice versa for the rest of the game.
Yet, as much as it was entertaining to listen to how ‘supersub’ David Fairclough was taking on St Etienne on his own or how England were struggling to break down the massed blue ranks of the Italian defence at Wembley, my adrenaline levels would only soar to a peak when, after a passage of play had broken down, Bryon Butler would intone, “…we hear there’s been a goal at Norwich, where the Canaries are playing Queens Park Rangers, over to Alan Parry at Carrow Road…”
And there was Alan on the phone in the Carrow Road press box (Mick Dennis – did you have one each or was it a purely communal facility?), the excitement in his voice barely hidden by the crackle on the line as he confirmed that, “…yes Bryon, Norwich have gone one up and what a lovely goal it was too…..”
Ah, what joy!
Dad, lurking downstairs of course, would not know the score and wouldn’t until Sportsnight came on a little later. In true Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? style, he’d see me off to bed with a dark warning, “I DON’T want to know any of the scores”. But, nonetheless, I’d still creep downstairs and interrupt him and Mum with a “…I know you don’t want to know any scores Dad…(“I don’t, go on, go away”)…but it’s good news from Norwich, put it this way…”
He could find out about whatever David Fairclough (Liverpool Are On The Radio Again could easily have been a fanzine to accompany the late and much lamented Liverpool Are On The Tele Again), Bob Latchford and Peter Withe had been up to later on. But it did feel my duty to let him know that all was well at Carrow Road.
One I never flinched from. No matter what he might have said.
Ceefax, for me, changed all that. Indeed, my steady awareness of its presence and youthful potential was a bit of a life changing moment because, for some reason, I now felt I could do without Peter and the lads on a football evening and focus on other things, mostly not doing homework or thinking about girls I had absolutely zero chance of getting anywhere with (the entire female population of Norfolk at that time) whilst Ceefax quietly operated in the background.
It provided occasional moments of excitement, notably whenever the page numbers changed (e.g. from 2/3 to 2/4), something that meant, to the Ceefax expert, that, in order for the page numbers to have so suddenly and dramatically increased, someone, somewhere, had scored a goal.
The resulting tension was unbelievable, tension made much more worse for the fact that, inconceivably, the pages either stopped turning over at all, or, even more mystifyingly, went from 4/4 to 2/4 again, thus missing us out completely.
So might it have been us? Wait for it, wait for it….
Coventry City 0-0 Norwich City
Everton 1-0 West Ham
“…ah no, b******s, its bloody Everton.”
And so the evening would continue in that vein. Mind you, if we were at Coventry, I don’t know why I even bothered; I can rarely remember us getting a good result there.
It is, of course, a little too easy to look back at the football you remember from a couple of decades or so ago and compare today’s game extremely unfavourably with that which you remember most fondly. I do it myself.
I’ve written books about the clubs exploits in the 1970s and 1980s – a similar one relating to, guess what, the 1990’s will follow suit soon – whilst, last week, I championed John Bond as my all-time great Canary. Even today, if I was asked to list my all-time Norwich City XI, it’s highly unlikely a player from today’s squad would get into it, but only because my default (see, harking back to football’s good old days again) formation for such trivia is 4-4-2 which means no place for Wes unless I change my legendary line up choice to a 4-3-1-2 or similar… he might just sneak it then.
But then do we all love Wes so much because he is a throwback, a reminder of a time when most teams had a player like him and those of his ilk weren’t so much regarded as a curiosity as he is today; an indulgence, a risk even, as part of the team, as integral a requirement for any starting XI as “the big number nine” or “tricky number eleven” was?
Take a look through some of the first-team squads from the early to mid-1970s for example. Most teams had their own enigmas in there somewhere except, of course, as I said above, they simply weren’t regarded as mavericks back then. Yes, they were certainly crowd pleasers but they weren’t the endangered species that our Wes unquestionably is.
Stan Bowles at QPR; Eddie Gray at Leeds; Tony Currie at Sheffield United; Willie Carr at Coventry City; Alan Birchenall at Leicester City; Alan Hudson at Chelsea; Charlie George at Arsenal and, of course, George Best at Manchester United.
Them and countless others. The sort of company that Wes Hoolahan deserves to share. His footballing peers.
He, like they, has that certain joie de vivre about his game, the ability to make the extraordinary seem ordinary and that which is difficult look deceptively simple.
It’s football Jim but not as we know it. Because it’s football with added risk. And how we thrill for a little risk in the game today, a little certain something thrown into the beige mix of 21st century football, a little colour and excitement.
How we will miss Wes when he’s gone. Just as we miss all of those other entertainers.
That rich mix of colour and entertainment that he brings the game is, I feel, also missing from how the current game is covered on TV, radio and the media in general.
It’s so sudden and immediate, so in your face and constant that there seems little time to take a step back from it and, with doing so, to consider your options and to take it all in.
Much as a player like Wes does when, during the intense heat of a modern game, all pace, power, sweat and commitment, he steps back, puts a foot on the ball and considers the options.
Wes is like Neo in The Matrix – standing alone and fighting off, single handedly, the clones of the modern game, those hard working, identikit players who look to destroy rather than create and block rather than build.
Is he ‘the one’? As far as today’s game is concerned, certainly in this country then yes, yes he is. Or very nearly. There are very few, if any, like him playing in at the top level of the English game today.
The game, the clubs, the players, the coverage and the analysis. It’s in your face, an ever present, unrelenting and merciless.
It’s like Tinnitus.
It’s the sort of non-stop exposure we probably all dreamt of when we were trying to get a signal from our radios, else found ourselves watching Ceefax all those years ago.
Yet has it made us enjoy and appreciate the game more, made us feel more informed, entertained and part of things?
Or was it a lot more fun when you had to make a bit of an effort to find out what latest scores were or only found out your club had signed a player when, and only when, the move had been completed and there he was, signed, sealed and delivered?
I remember finding out that we’d signed Roger Gibbins from looking through an EDP one morning as I sat waiting for my turn in the chair at Albert’s, the gentleman barber of old Heacham town.
I don’t think I’d even heard of him up until then. Yet today he’d probably have his own YouTube highlights video.
Albert was a Leeds fan so he wouldn’t have been bothered. But I delighted in finding out, quite unexpectedly, that we’d signed a new player, even though very few of us had ever heard of him. He made his debut in the home game against Arsenal on August 25th 1976, a blistering hot day that saw us lose 3-1, Malcolm MacDonald scoring his first Arsenal goal in the process.
Yet much of the post-match talk would have been about the new boy and how he’d had a shot cleared off the line. He looked a good un’ in the making and, to be fair, he wasn’t bad at all.
And that would have been that.
Canary Call would implode today. “Thaaaat boy Gibbins Chris, what’s Jorn Bonnnnd playin’ at? If he’s ‘int good enough for Oxford, why is he good enough for us?”
But of course, there was no Canary Call, no internet and no TV coverage Not of that game anyway. We turned up, we watched it, and we went (via the Kerrison Road chippie) home again with our Pink Un. And started looking forward to the next game.
In the meantime, everyone had lives to get on with and the football was, pretty much, put aside until that next game. Which was, in this case, a trip to West Bromwich Albion – just three days later.
So I’d have been tuning in to Sport on Two again.
“Whilst we wait for the trainer to come off the pitch, let’s quickly go over to the Hawthorns again and hear from Alan Parry….”
“Two minutes into the second half here Peter and West Brom have a penalty, Billy Steele bundling Tony Brown over in the area…and its Brown whose going to take it, he scores, scores past Kevin Keelan in the Norwich goal, 2-0 West Brom… back to you at Highbury…”
‘But…’ I’d think; ‘…we can still win this. So I’ll stay tuned’. Besides, how else was I going to know the day’s football news? After all, there was still nearly twelve hours to go before the newspaper arrived through the letterbox again. And I had double metalwork the next morning. Not good.
Thank goodness the football was on then.
Minimal coverage compared with today but so many simple joys and memories.
I wonder if we’ll all look back at Jim White and transfer deadline day in quite the same way come 2035?