Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Brian Moore and 'The Big Match'

The release of a DVD archive of the best moments from ITV's 1970s and early 1980s football programme The Big Match offers a treat for those old enough to remember it the first time around, and for the rest of us, a glimpse into an era when football really was all about the football, and not about vast sums of money, image rights and WAGs. And at the centre of this feast of proper football is one of the true gents of sport - the late, great Brian Moore


Those of you who are, like me, born after the 1970s will probably only be familiar with Brian Moore as a commentator. For the duration of the 1980s and 1990s Brian Moore was the consummate football commentator – passionate yet professional, with a vocal range that went from a gruff, excitable roar [think Michael Thomas’s title-winning goal for Arsenal at Anfield in 1989, heard from 6mins 50secs here] to beautifully understated, often letting passages of play elapse commentary-free until there was something that needed saying. An example of him letting the football do the talking comes here as Norman Whiteside scores an FA Cup-winning goal in 1985 - simple and succinct, but very effective. Most television commentators say too much, as if the game is on the radio and we can't see it. No need to fill every second of airtime with noise. 

What The Big Match lacked in style, it made up for in substance
But before my time Moore was also a football anchor for ITV, fronting their coverage of The Big Match alongside Jimmy Hill and - for a time - Brian Clough as well. I'd seen bits and pieces of this classic football show, and it all looked charming and entertaining, if rather low-budget compared to today's high-tech efforts. But my interest was piqued when I was sent a review copy of a DVD entitled The Big Match: The Best From The Studio. This sat around the house for a bit until I finally had a free evening to sit and watch it. It's no exaggeration to say that I became completely lost in it's rather geeky, retro charms.

The footage turned out to be an absolute joy; a fascinating glimpse into the football world that existed just before I was old enough to notice. The is very much a no-frills compilation. No new footage, no director's commentary, no bonus features, no accompanying documentary - it's just a bunch of clips, arranged in logical clusters that you select from a main menu. You can't even 'Play All'. To all intents and purposes this is not designed as a typical entertainment product; rather it is an archive, a time capsule, a nerd's paradise.

There's so much to enjoy here and most of this blog will be devoted to telling you of some of the delights to be found on the DVD. But before I do, it's important to stress that while the footage is truly memorable, it is an absolute pleasure to see so much screen time of Brian Moore talking about football. I miss Brian. He was always my favourite commentator. Better than Motson. Better even than the brilliant Barry Davies in my opinion. He brought warmth and energy to every game he commentated on - and he very much stuck to commentating. Davies would get on his high horse about topical issues of the day (hooliganism, England being awful, etc), while Motson could be a bit anecdotal and bring himself into the commentary rather too often for my taste. Moore just commentated on the game he was watching. That was his job. He did it perfectly and professionally. Even if you aren't too bothered about some of the footage on this DVD, it's still a pleasure to watch Moore at work. Right, onto the action.

We start with a section looking at 1970s refereeing and the laws of the game, something of a labour of love for Jimmy Hill (blissfully unaware of how unevenly trimmed his beard is) and his one-man quest to right all of football's wrongs. We see footage of controversial moments, Hill's suggestions for rule changes to improve the game, debatable bookings (or 'name-takes' as Jimmy insists on calling them). He's irked that the FA are meddling with things, and not the right things; they're trying to fix something that, in his opinion, isn't broken. "We should be on top of the world. Our teams are winning in Europe. I don't see why we should be committing hari-kari in this way," he offers.

We're treated to footage from the occasion when a referee was injured and Hill, a spectator that day, had to step in as an emergency linesman at an important game. You've probably heard about this incident but it's illuminating to see so much footage of it. There is a wonderful look on Arsenal manager Bertie Mee's face as he realises that, yes, Jimmy Hill really is going to be running the line. Hill, anxious that viewers might think he did it because of an enormous ego, stresses: "In order to be an efficient linesman, I had to fade into the backcloth. I wasn't there to entertain people, I was there to do a job of work."

Moore reads Hill a letter sent in from a Mr G Iyson, chairman of a Bristol refereeing association, who is convinced that Rodney Marsh was offside when he scored the previous week. At this point ITV show a replay - no clever angles, just the regular footage, and Hill rather easily demonstrates that Marsh is clearly onside. Case closed. G Iyson shamed.

Up next we have Jim Rosenthal's News Desk, a compilation of quirky news features run in this section of the show during the early 1980s. The finest of these profiles two ex-Chelsea stars Peter Osgood and Ian Hutchinson playing for their local non-league side Spital Old Boys and running a pub together. The lads, puffing quite a bit, are interviewed on the touchline at the full-time whistle. Rosenthal asks them about the pub. Turns out it's a really grotty looking place called The Union Inn. They show a still of it. Yuck. "Peter looks after the bar and I look after the catering side," says Hutchinson. I doubt this had the viewers flocking there in their droves.

Fresh-faced Jim

Among the other highlights in this section are Fred Dinenage getting chucked in the bath at Bournemouth and a brief snippet of footage of a bouffant Glenn Hoddle out on his bicycle as he tries to regain fitness after an injury. Hoddle is huffing and puffing along, the bike creaking noisily as he does so.

The segment of the DVD dealing with viewer correspondence is perhaps the best stuff of the lot. When reading out each letter, Moore's house style for crediting authors is remarkably thorough in the detail. "This letter's been sent in from a Mr W E Aveling of 93 Cedar Road, Strood in Kent", he says. What? You've told the nation where this poor sod lives, Brian! Imagine this nowadays. There'd be rude daubings all over the guy's house within half an hour of Match Of The Day finishing.

One letter comes from a puzzled Australian viewer enquiring what the strange pitch-side alphabetical hoardings are, that he's seen during televised games. We learn that the letters correspond to fixtures in spectators' matchday programmes, and the numbers indicate the half-time scores in those games. Another viewer asks, "Where are the Spurs double-winning side now? ITV have prepared a board (yes, a physical board, not on-screen graphic) to answer this one, and they run through the whereabouts of each player in turn and what they do for a living now. Alongside more typical entries like "football coach" and "lives in Toronto" are a few more notable ones. Bobby Smith is, rather vaguely, involved with "buying and selling", John White died tragically after being struck by lightning on a golf course, and Maurice Norman, wonderfully, now runs a knitwear shop in Frinton-on-Sea. I doubt you'll see any current Premier League players treading this path in the years to come.

We're treated to a peculiar tale of a cow invading the pitch at a game, breaking a goalpost and causing the rest of the game to take place with a spectator holding the post up. There's some video of hirsute Norwich striker Dave Paddon scoring powerful free-kicks in much the same way as Cristiano Ronaldo 'pioneered' at Manchester United. A couple of younger viewers have written in too. One asks how to prevent getting blisters from football boots (again, imagine Alan Shearer dealing with this sort of query now), and he is given an insight into how Clough does it at Derby County, ie. force your players to sit with their feet in a trough of surgical spirit. We even see a photo of David Nish undergoing this ordeal - necessary precautions because "Nish's feet are worth a few bob". The other young lad to write in asks if The Big Match can please re-run the clip from last week of a policeman falling over because his sister "laughed so much it made her cry".

Finally, rounding off this section, we get some cracking footage of German goal machine Klaus Fischer practicing overhead kicks in a crash-matted penalty area, complete with Brian Moore's purring over the beauty of the slow-motion replays, followed by scenes of The Big Match presenting Brian Clough with a birthday cake in his office at Nottingham Forest. A dopey-sounding Peter Shilton does the honours with the cake, showing some subtle signs of coercion as he does so:

Shilton [with cake]: "I've got to... err... I've been asked to present this to you."
Clough: "Give over! From Brian Moore? It doesn't blow up does it?"
Shilton [cogs visibly turning]: "Uhh, I don't think so. It better not do. It's his fault if it does."
Clough: "Give us a kiss!" [pecks him on the cheek]


No need for me to say too much on this section, it is simply a compilation of goal-of-the-season competitions played one after the other. There are dozens of absolute corkers, but just a few personal highlights to whet the appetite: Bobby Kerr for Sunderland v Birmingham in 1972, smashed in from a cross a la Paul Scholes against Bradford about 10 years ago; Chris Garland scoring against Spurs for Chelsea in 1972 - worth a look for the way the crowd on the terrace swell forward en masse as it goes in; Don Rogers goal of the season from 1973, scored against Stoke while looking pretty damn awesome in a white Palace kit with solitary red and blue stripes down the centre. Rogers, wearing 11, gets one gold digit on each stripe. This (pictured below) looks undeniably cool; Brian Bason scoring for Chelsea against Carlisle in 1976, notable for the fact that he's down injured in the build-up, but picks himself up and, despite a severe limp, wellies in a rocket.

Don Rogers scoring for Palace in 1973, wearing a rather nifty shirt
The regular 'Where Are They Now?' segment on The Big Match was probably even more interesting to 1970s viewers than it would be to us now. I for one am always fascinated to learn what random players of the 1980s, say Vince Hilaire or Ian Crook, are up to these days. Multiply that by five for viewers in a pre-internet age - it's not a service Rothmans has ever provided, sadly.

The format seems to be: get a letter from a viewer wondering where some old boy is now, track him down, get him to pose for some awkward photos, show the photos one-by-one on the telly while saying what he's been up to. There's some belters in here too. Former Swansea forward Trevor Ford is now "sales director of a prosperous car dealership in Merthyr Tydfil" and is apparently saddened that he remains Wales all-time top scorer, something he puts down to the fact that "centre forwards these days just aren't prepared to get hurt in their quest for goals".

Then there's former Brentford keeper Joe Crozier, now director of a lighterage company, with a fleet of tugs and barges to his name. There's a cracking shot of him standing on one of his barges and pointing at nothing in particular, but the best photo is the one from his playing days. How wonderful is this photo? The panic-stricken facial expression, the ball that looks less like a football than any you've ever seen, the fact that he appears to be screaming "Nooo!". It's slightly like Patrick McGoohan fleeing from the big orb in The Prisoner, only in reverse.

Meanwhile there's ex-Portsmouth man Norman Uprichard, who now works behind the bar in a student union; old Spurs forward turned newsagent owner Len Duquemin, who these days has to leave Spurs games early, in time to get back to his shop and sell the evening sports papers; and what's this - yes! - it's Maurice Norman. They've tracked him down to his wool shop. They've got photos! Natty cardy, Maurice.

The DVD wraps up with a couple of Year In Review features, where they look back on the footballing year just past (1970 and 1971 are included). A clear highlight in this section is Malcolm Allison's thrilling argument live on the show with Alan Mullery. They don't hold back, saying exactly what they think of each other. It largely consists of Allison informing Mullery that he's not as good as he thinks he is, and that he doesn't have any pace. Mullery generally takes this abuse while doing lots of facial expressions like this, before having a pop back. It's compulsive viewing.

There's also footage of Eusebio taking penalties against Gordan Banks (he scores nine out of 10); a player colliding with the goalposts at Swindon and breaking them - quite a dramatic thing to witness; some cracking footage of a packed early-1970s Kop in full voice at Anfield; and Banks again, this time making 1971's Save Of The Year from a penalty in the League Cup semi-final against West Ham. What's most noticeable here is that some of the West Ham team can't look as the taker steps up. Imagine any Premier League team caring that much about the League Cup now.

And that's it. A superb two hours of the sort of football - and coverage of football - that tends to be sadly lacking today. Coverage that focuses purely on the game, diverting only for any aspects of mild humour around it, all glued together by the most tremendous of football men that was Brian Moore.


Fittingly, not wanting to cause a fuss, Brian Moore passed away the same night that England thrashed Germany 5-1 in Munich. His death was largely overlooked by the media - a tragedy almost as great as the fact that he was never included in any Queen's Honours List. However, if any good came of this, it is that it's as if Brian never really died. He lives on in his magnificent commentaries and in his gentlemanly presentation style on The Big Match.

The Big Match: The Best From The Studio is available for £9.99 from Tikabooson.com


Anonymous said...

The memories. The Big Match was my highlight of the week as I wasn't allowed to stay up for MOTD. When it was doing the London region only - they often covered 2nd division matches - usually a recently relegated West Ham or Spurs thrashing some unfortunate team from the sticks. It was only an hour, they can't have shown much football with 3 games, tables, letters, Cloughie and ad breaks.

Richard said...

Great piece. I am a bit young to recall The Big Match in this format - my memories are of the 1980s when it was shown on a Sunday lunchtime or The Big Match...Live on a Sunday afternoon (Elton Welsby anyone?). Moore was the ultimate commentator of my generation. I admire Davies and found (still find) Motson irritating, but Mooro is the one that evokes the fondest memories.

Regarding how football coverage has changed, I was explaining to a lad in my office, 20 years my junior, that MOTD used to show the extended highlights from one match when I was a kid, and later it added brief highlights from one other. There weren't cameras at every game and overdubbed commentary, so it was tough luck if it was a terrible game.

Fond memories.

Lloyd said...

Some great memories here - I remember the Klaus Fischer episode which became even more telling after he managed a superb overhead kick in a World Cup semi final.

A mate of mine does a great Brian Moore impression. The shtick is to emphasize the words "all about" i.e. Berti Vogts? Liverpool know ALL ABOUT the German skipper.

Anonymous said...

ITV Big Match was seen in Republic Of Ireland via Ulster television. Its Sunday afternoon slot was at same time domestic soccer matches in League Of Ireland kicked off and it damaged attendences's in what was called the Bass League

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