Forest on TV: Football Special to Sheffield, 1984
First published in "Forest Review" on Wednesday, 19th September, 2018 versus Sheffield Wednesday
1984/85 was the last season of ITV highlights on a Sunday afternoon as the habits of a generation of football fans – and their families - were changed forever.
Since the late 60s, households across the country carefully choreographed Dad’s local Sunday morning match, post-match pint and snooze on the settee, then family Sunday roast, and all culminating with the much-loved regional highlights.
For us in the Midlands it was of course ATV’s Star Soccer and for today’s visitors in the Yorkshire TV region, the rather perfunctorily titled Football Special and, later, not much more imaginatively, The Big Game.
Some very fortunate folk straddling the TV region divide could receive both. Indeed, my Nan on her 21st floor flat could even get the North West’s Granada on a good day.
The regional football programming and its associated quirky branding sadly disappeared at the end of the 1982/83 season. ITV highlights became “networked” – i.e. the whole ITV network took the same matches under The Big Match moniker, rather than regional choices – hosted by the reassuring face of Brian Moore.
Richard Hill’s brass-filled rollercoaster of a theme tune for Star Soccer had long since been replaced and the network highlights adopted the lighter 80s vibe of “Jubilation” by Jeff Wayne, which had been used on The Big Match in its London guise since 1980.
This loss of regional identity was briefly forgotten when on the first day of the 1984/85 season the ITV cameras were at a sun-drenched Hillsborough for our visit, with the infatigable Martin Tyler commentating, just as he had with distinction for five years previously in the Yorkshire region.
Wednesday had been out of the First Division for 14 years but our paths had crossed regularly in the first half of the 1970s.
However, those paths diverted dramatically as we conquered Europe (twice) and they nearly fell into Division Four. So it felt like a new expedition as thousands ventured northwards to be part of a bumper 31,925 crowd.
The first-day-at-school feel was further enhanced by a host of new signings, including Johnny Metgod from Real Madrid, and only our second new kit since we were promoted in 1977, with Skol replacing Wrangler (pleasingly, our Brazilian-based supporters are still able to enjoy Skol where it’s the number two beer brand).
Bomber was captaining from left back, Trevor Christie made his debut, but no place for new signing Gary Megson.
Megson could nearly claim to have played for and managed both clubs – but he was never selected by Cloughie, who was alarmed by his pre-match sickness habit and soon concluded “he couldn’t trap a bag of cement”.
Wednesday fielded Lee Chapman up front, who less than five years later would discover that scoring four goals for us in a League Cup Quarter Final v QPR wasn’t sufficient to get him the headlines if Cloughie was your manager.
On the pitch, our neat, intricate football which led us to top scorers the previous season was no match for Wednesday’s brawn and directness as we lost 3-1.
Brian Marwood’s theatrical fall would not defeat VAR these days but Mel Sterland dispatched the twice taken penalty against Steve Sutton – no need for an action replay as the penalties were identical – before Peter Davenport equalised when Martin Hodge curiously vacated his goal.
In the second half, Imre Varadi travelled unchallenged from their penalty box to ours before beating Sutton with aplomb and then substitute John Pearson benefited from confusion between Sutton and Paul Hart to wrap it up.
We were actually top of the table the next time we featured on The Big Match – away at West Ham in September – and still second in mid-October but we fell away to ninth, a point and a place behind Wednesday, with both Megson and Christie long gone.
In fact, we only managed a solitary point against Wednesday in their first two seasons back in the First Division in the mid 80s.
The poor run ended with a 3-2 double in 1986/87 and another double the season after. With Wednesday’s current superiority over us standing at an infuriating seven straight victories, it’s long overdue we gave our Brazilian colleagues a chance to raise a Skol for us all.