Flasback in time

Cameron Carter revisits The Big Match

Nostalgia is such a beautiful, furry thing that even the mundane and irksome, when viewed from the impossible distance of the future, can bring forth the smile of regret. Many years after the first sacking of Rome, and some time before the final collapse, there were probably some older citizens who became wistful about how one didn’t hear much about Visigoths these days. That is how it is with The Big Match Revisited (Thursdays, 4pm, ITV4), hidden away in the netherworld of daytime digital TV.

The featured matches this month came from 1983 and the peripheral details soon became at least as important as the action. A simple cutaway to the “Swales Out” banners bobbing about in the Maine Road crowd could bring a grown man close to tears. Certain names on the team lists – Mickey Hazard, Adrian Heath – are enough to induce in the over-40s a winged reverie of the type probably experienced by Donovan immediately before the hurdy-gurdy man came singing songs of love.

During Man City’s game with Spurs, Dennis Tueart tried to stop Ricky Villa being booked for a foul on him. He was quite frantic about it, imploring the referee, tugging at his sleeve. That is how it used to be, when ­everything was nicer.

Aston Villa fans singing “Can you hear us on the box?” returns us to a Britain where it was worth remarking on, in hymn, when TV cameras were spotted at a top-flight ground. It simultaneously raises the question “When did people stop calling the television the box?” And while we’re wondering about that and whatever happened to promising England Under-21 Nigel Callaghan, nostalgia has us bundled in the back of its metaphorical van and everything that is old is good and ­everything modern is evil.

Back in the studio, there was more to ­soften the jaded 21st-century heart: Brian Moore in his avuncular prime, a curly-haired Elton Welsby describing a “rattling good game” containing “a thrilling series of incidents” and a serious Denis Law reading the football news in a suit, apparently doing community service as a bit-part presenter. Welsby actually said “Thanks, Den” at the handover, as if to impress upon watching ­relatives and ­himself that he actually was, in TV terms, the great Denis Law’s line manager.

Best of the presenter flashbacks was a young Jim Rosenthal wearing a brown junior executive’s suit and a bright side parting. In a slightly unnecessary piece about England’s preparation to play Wales, Rosenthal pre-empted Alan Partridge by several years, newscasting that “the team’s hotel is believed to be haunted by a lady who murdered her son and has been sighted on numerous occasions washing her hands remorsefully in a bowl of blood”. This delivered in the same sober style, complete with abstracted slowing down on the final words, with which he might talk us through some injury news.

All the loveliness stops abruptly, though, when the credits roll. Electric guitar and flute in the same theme music? This blasphemous union would never be permitted in our knowing times. We must be thankful for progress.

Back to today and Football Focus (or simply Focus as they want us to call it, because the two-word title is a bit flabby). There are double standards afoot. On numberless occasions, when invited to comment on the latest Premier League casualty, Lawrenson and his sofa-fellows have complained at the alacrity with which managers are dismissed. Despite this appearing to be the party line on the subject, it’s never too long before Manish, Stubbsy or that young understudy chap innocently raises the question of the pressure certain managers must now be under.

On February 23, ahead of the Carling Cup final, Jonathan Pearce described Avram Grant’s team selection as crucial, adding “this month will make him or break him as the Chelsea manager” to murmurous agreement. This is at a time when Grant had been in the job for barely six months, lost just two of 34 matches in charge, was then in contention for all four trophies and had even started to make jokes in post-match interviews. Perhaps if commentators or pundits were in danger of losing their job after a string of poor performances they might, finally, encourage Manish and Co to change the subject.

From WSC 254 April 2008