(All images reproduced from the matchday programmes purchased on the day and credited as such).
While lockdown 2 has limited my ability to visit new grounds and add to the blog, I thought it was a good time to dip into the past. I looked out old programmes and have tried to recall my experience of the ground visited and the match seen.
Saturday 14th May 1977 Birmingham City v Everton at St Andrew’s stadium
I’m starting with only the second ever game I’d been taken to at the age of seven in May 1977. This match came around the time the silver jubilee celebrations were starting and featured Birmingham City (My home team) at home to Everton. A fortnight earlier Everton had been beaten in the FA cup semi- final by their Liverpool rivals. The team sheet reflects some great football names, Howard Kendall, Trevor Francis, Kenny Burns and Jim Montgomery (that save from the 1973 FA Cup final) for Birmingham City and Bob Latchford, Bruce Rioch, and the legendary Welsh keeper, Dai Davies for Everton.
I remember being part of the crowd of 22,630 and sitting in the railway end behind the goal. I can remember the noise of the crowd eminating from the Kop, full in my memory, of standing Bluenoses and the singing from the Tilton end. In the old Railway end stand I can remember the plastic seating and the awful toilets dating back from the 1920’s/30’s.
I also remember the smell of bovril, tea and pies from the snack stand. I remember the big Ansell’s sponsored scoreboard adjacent to the stand I was in and how the half time results were slid into the corresponding letter slots matching the programme, so you could see how other games were going.
In 1977 I was totally obsessed with Trevor Francis and remember him playing a part, although it may be just my memory, in the goal Blues scored through Kendall… who would later go on to manage Everton to two Division 1 titles. Everton’s goal came from an ex Blues player, Latchford and the game ended 1-1.
The season ended well with Blues in 13th place and the following year brought the famous shiny Blues kit (yellow – away and blue – home) as well as the brief sojourn of Sir Alf as caretaker boss.
My programme also advertises season tickets for the following year… with prices ranging from £45 to £10. The matchday programme cost 15p. The gross median household income was £4202 in 1977 and today is around £34000. If the cheapest Blues’ season ticket cost £16 in 1977 it represents 0.24% of gross median income. Today the cheapest season ticket cost in 2019/20 was £449 and this represents 1.45% of £34000 (gross median income). The cost of parking has risen even more when you look at the club car park prices from 1977.
Saturday October 21st 1989 Tottenham Hotspur V Sheffield Wednesday – White Hart Lane Stadium
Next we jump forward 12 years to a visit I made to the Spurs ground to see a team rich with Lineker and Gascoigne, who would go on to star in England’s ride to the World Cup Semi Final in Italy the following summer. I sat behind the goal in an upper tier and can remember the ground feeling very much different to the place id visited with my Dad, when I saw Blues play there in the FA Cup ten years earlier, with Hoddle orchestrating Birmingham’s demise and tormenting 1978 World Cup winner Alberto Tarantini in the Birmingham defence.
Records show there were 26000 fans at White Hart Lane that day. It was just before the popular explosion that followed Italia ‘90 when football became cool again, but despite the crowd being nowhere near the capacity I remember a great atmosphere and a clinical performance by Spurs with Lineker grabbing two headed goals alongside Moran’s opener, to complete a 3-0 victory. Gascoigne shone and I remember him going very close with a mazy run into the box. Seven years later I was lucky to be present at Wembley when he scored his famous volley against Scotland at Euro ‘96.
One other name that also links those two matches is “El Tel” Tottenham’s manager, who took over the England job after Graham Taylor. The programme notes reflect his optimism and confidence (who wouldn’t with Gascoigne and Lineker in the team?) and Spurs needed this having seen their rivals rise, Phoenix-like from the ashes, under George Graham, to win the Division 1 title that year.
Saturday 6th November 1993 – Notts County v Crystal Palace – Meadow Lane
The next game jumps 4 years further into the 1990’s. By this time I was living in South London and for two years, 1993-4 and 1994-5 I had a season ticket with Crystal Palace. The first year I saw 38 of 46 matches as Palace won the league and in my second season I saw them reach two semi finals and yet get relegated. The first season was memorable for goals galore from Chris Armstrong and John Salako, once he’d returned from ACL surgery. Gareth Southgate was a young captain from midfield and the season ended with the trophy being presented at the final game with Watford, while I stood on the Holmesdale terrace for the final time before the new stand was built. (Palace somehow contrived to lose that match but it didn’t spoil an amazing season)!
This game is from the first of those two seasons, when I travelled on the Palace supporters coach to Notts County, and was seated behind the goal in the away end.
Palace went into the game in second place in the league. A crowd of 6,603 gathered to watch the game and despite Armstrong scoring twice Palace let the game slip 3-2. I remember being quite impressed with Meadow Lane and am sad that Notts County have sunk into the non league. Although I did develop a real affinity with Palace that season, I didn’t switch my allegiance and when I went to watch them away at Birmingham was still hoping they’d lose to my team! Armstrong was unstoppable that year, battling Collymore and Hendrie to be top scorer all season, and I’m always surprised he never made an impact at international level.
The Notts County programme also shows that games were being broadcast live for free on ITV (Central). The First Division (championship today) has always been a really competitive and open league and my favourite for watching matches over the years.
Saturday 28th April 1990 -Sheffield United v Bournemouth – Bramall Lane
This game was one I attended when visiting a friend in Sheffield and her husband was a true Blades fan. He took me to this match which was the final game in a promotion chasing season. United were at home to Bournemouth, and as the table pre match showed, the game was crucial, both to Sheffield United who wanted to go up automatically and to Bournemouth who were trying to stave off relegation.
I remember it being a really sunny day and I also recall that many of the United fans were wearing the luminous yellow away kit that the team had worn that season. It was truly hideous but when worn collectively by a large number of fans made quite an impression! There were 20,000 fans present and they made quite a noise. The ground seemed quite big, as I was sat down towards the front of the stand level with the edge of the penalty areas and facing the managers dugouts. When I next visited, in January 2012 for a Birmingham City FA Cup fixture, when Sheffield were struggling in League One, and the crowd was small, the ground just didn’t seem to be the same place I had visited on that warm April afternoon 22 years earlier. I am sure the return to the Premier League in 2019 and the success the club has had, means the ground once again reverberates with noise and atmosphere.
One thing on the day that the programme notes reflect, is the presence of two of the real “character” managers of the 1980’s and 90’s. Dave Bassett of Sheffield United, the once leader of a Wimbledon’s “Crazy Gang” and Harry Redknapp, later to find fame as “King of the Jungle”. The game reflected their personalities with Sheffield winning 4-2 and securing their place in the automatic promotion places, whereas for Bournemouth, although plucky going forward, their leaky defence led to their eventual relegation that season.
The game saw Luther Blissett, former England, Watford and AC Milan forward play for Bournemouth and he scored one of their two goals. A young Brian Deane also played for Sheffield. I also remember Tony Agana I think, score a soft header which the Bournemouth keeper just seemed to misjudge. At the end of the game the Sheffield players performed a lap of honour and I think there was a small pitch invasion. It was a really exciting day and a special game to be an onlooker at.
Wednesday 1st January 1992 – Plymouth Argyle v Portsmouth – Home Park
This 2nd Division game happened to be the closest New Years Day match to where I was staying with friends in Dartmoor for New Year. I went with a friend, Graeme and walked through the park where the ground is located. I remember sitting in the main stand alongside the pitch and being quite impressed with what was a relatively small and compact stadium. There was a crowd of 8,867 in the ground and it had a good atmosphere… I also remember there being lots of sung banter between the fans of the two south coast clubs.
Portsmouth had some young talent on display that day, including Darren Anderton and Kit Symons and it was a very hard fought match. Plymouth eventually won 3-2 with goals from Marshall, Turner and Morrison. Portsmouth’s season went on well and they finished 9th in the league and manager Jim Smith (ex of Birmingham and known as the “Bald Eagle”) took them to a close FA Cup Semi Final against Liverpool, where they lost 3-1 on penalties after a replay.
There was also an appearance by ex England winger Mark Chamberlain, who went on to be the father of Alex Oxlaid-Chamberlain.