« The Miracle of Old Trafford | Main | A Passion Undimmed »

Reliant on the Radio

BY MIKE HENNESSY / @mikeymike2711

Whilst frustratingly struggling to find a stream for the Shrewsbury Carling Cup game earlier this season, I reflected on the fact that we can now see any game that we want in full these days, whereas in the past, we weren’t so well served, or spoilt.

Back when football started - 1986 – very few games were televised; legally or otherwise. In fact, the season before, the Football League and the television companies couldn’t agree on the price to show even highlights, so we had no football on the box for half a season. Can you imagine that, eh kids?

We, in Arsenal world, thought that was something of a blessing given our struggle to finish 7th under Don Howe that year. After coming close to announcing Terry Venables as a replacement, the club turned to George Graham – a man who’d played for us in the late sixties and early seventies when we used to win things.

Enough of the history lesson – this season was the first that I regularly attended matches at Highbury, and with Graham reinvigorating the club we actually had a successful season (I thought it would always be like that, of course). We had a run in the League Cup, those days sponsored by Littlewoods, getting to the semi-final where we were drawn against Tottenham. Ahem.

The first leg was at Highbury, live on TV. We lost 1-0, with that ‘two bob’ striker Clive Allen getting lucky. The second leg was also broadcast, with, again, Allen scoring. He was so ‘two bob’ though that he missed four one-on-ones in a painful first half that you almost wished hadn’t been shown on TV.

Then Arsenal fought back. First, Anderson, then Quinn pulled us back to level the tie. There was no away goals rule so it was 30mins of extra time before the referee called time.

It was to be a replay the venue decided by a toin coss which Arsenal lost. We weren’t unhappy about that though, we were better away. The game would take place the following Wednesday. Only, this wouldn’t be on the TV. Eh?

There were no designated sports channels and the BBC who had covered the second leg had already set their schedules. ITV meanwhile had Coronation Street – there was no chance of seeing it on the box.  As it was in those days, we relied on the radio.

No Twitter, no live blogs, no Radio 5Live, no talkSPORT, no TV. It was BBC Radio 2 in those days, mixing live coverage with reporters at different events, football or otherwise, beaming in updates.

On Wednesday 4th April 1987, the BBC had a reporter at Aberdeen, who they visited sporadically, throughout our match.

I remember sitting at home, knowing that dependent on the result, I would see the pictures from White Hart Lane, but only later, on Sportsnight.

The game kicked off. More than anything, when you relied on the radio commentary, you relied on the crowd noise to give you an indication on how things were progressing. Arsenal fans took up the whole of the away end, but Spurs were obviously the home side. As such, any loud background chanting and cheering was likely to come from the enemy.

Things started badly. Clive Allen (again getting lucky) put Spurs ahead in the tie for the third time. The game rolled on. At half-time, I later found out, that Spurs announced on the tannoy to their fans the process of applying for tickets for the final. It turns out this was used by Graham to inspire the boys in the changing room.

With no countdown clock on the television I remember spending the whole night checking my watch trying to determine how long was left. The nerves built and built, there were only eight minutes left. Radio 2 visited their man in Aberdeen for a goal update.

Nowadays any such action would be broadcast simultaneously on the screen allowing you to concentrate on your own match. Or of course you’d press the red button.

There I was listening to 30 seconds of guff about a game I couldn’t care less about until the Scottish commentator announced:  “…And we go back to White Hart Lane...”

When the live feed went back to White Hart Lane, there was cheering.

Something had happened. A goal?

If this was a second goal for them, the radio would go off. I would turn my light out and go to bed – it was a school night, after all.

Whatever had happened, the commentator, who may well have been the great Bryan Butler, took his time to tell us. I like to think he was shaking his head in disbelief at what he’d seen rather than there being technical problems.

The cheering, to me, sounded like Spurs had scored again. So, with hand hovering over the off button, I waited until…

"And we have had a goal here, and would you believe that Arsenal are now level once again, through Ian Allinson." Our sub had scored! We were level!

Soon after we stormed forward again, it sounded great on the radio, and Rocky Rocastle burst through the Spurs defence to send a shot under their keeper. Arsenal were going to a cup final for the first time in seven years!

When I got to see the highlights later, I did so with a huge smile on my face.  It was great to see the celebrations at the end, too.

I always smile when I hear people moaning about not being able to watch a stream on the internet. I just think back to listening to that game on the radio. They were the days. 

Reader Comments (1)

Yep, those were the days -a good read and a trip down memory lane

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.