Jack the Lad: The good old days

20th February 2019
Club

Loyal Swans fan and website columnist Jack the Lad fondly remembers FA Cup draws and replay marathons from years past, and the one recent change to the game he welcomes.

Waiting for the FA Cup quarter-final draw the other night took me back to the days when people used to gather around their radios on a Monday lunchtime to listen to the draw.

No star players picking out the balls from a transparent plastic contraption in front of the watching millions live on TV, just a crackling radio and your imagination to rely on.

In your mind's eye you would picture some crusty, old FA blazer reverentially picking the balls out of a velvet bag before solemnly announcing the number and corresponding team name as fans up and down the country waited with bated breath.

Dreams would be made or crushed over the airwaves. The anticipation seemed to be heightened by the fact you were depending on your hearing alone.

Ears would almost be pressed up against the radio to ensure nothing had been misheard.

“Did he really just say we’d been drawn at home to Man City?!”

There would usually be photographs in the following day’s papers of players awaiting their fate huddled around a battered old radio in a pokey training ground room or a local café.

They are now just another set of footballing images consigned to football nostalgia.

The draw got me thinking about other things which have all but been sent to the footballing archives.

White pitches, green line markings and orange footballs. Remember them?

No?

You haven’t lived.

Back in the day, I used to get disproportionately excited if it had been snowing on a Saturday and there was the prospect of a snow-covered pitch on that night’s Match of the Day.

We used to get our thrills from simple things back then!

In the days before undersoil heating, if there was snow on the pitch, groundsmen would generally leave it there to stop the turf underneath from freezing and would only brush away the snow a few inches either side of where the line markings were – not just at one end of the pitch like at Anfield recently!

Anyway, I’m talking about proper snow here, not just the light dusting at Liverpool.

Obviously a white ball would be difficult to pick out against a carpet of snow, so the iconic orange ball would be taken out of storage, dusted down and pumped up for play.

There really was something special about watching teams chasing a plain bright orange ball around a snowy pitch, especially if there was a bit of a blizzard blowing up as well. I can almost see Motty in his sheepskin coat now!

Getting so excited about an orange ball may seem odd to younger readers now, especially when they come in so many colours and patterns these days. But back in the Seventies and Eighties it was a real novelty and one of the treats that have sadly all but disappeared from the modern game.

Another is outfield players taking over in goal. A keeper being sent off used to send me into raptures of delight, and the earlier in the game the better.

Whatever happened you knew you were in for a treat. The 10 men would usually be under the cosh, so the stand-in keeper would be in for a busy time.

If he was hopeless, there was the comedy value, and slightly sadistic pleasure, of watching a normally accomplished professional footballer performing with all the panache of a Sunday morning parks player.

But every now and then, you would get some closet keeper taking over the gloves and having an absolute stormer, pulling off a string of spectacular saves, or using a mixture of luck, unorthodox techniques and unusual parts of their bodies to keep the ball out.

It’s a rare sight in these days of specialist substitute keepers, but I remember Alan Tate having a rare spell in goal for the Swans against QPR some years back.

Tatey was doubtless delighted to keep a clean sheet, but I have to admit to being a little disappointed he wasn’t given more of a chance to show off his skills as The Hoops barely managed a shot on goal.

Another blast from the past, which is now sadly extinct from our game, is the marathon FA Cup replay.

Back in 1979 there was a third-round tie involving this Saturday’s opponents Sheffield Wednesday, which looking back, seemed to last half the season.

Arsenal may have won the FA Cup that year, beating Manchester United 3-2 in the final, but they took their time getting there, needing no less than four replays to get past Third Division Wednesday.

The first match, on January 6, saw the sides draw 1-1 at Hillsborough, a scoreline that was repeated at Highbury three days later.

The tie then moved to a neutral venue – Leicester City’s then home Filbert Street - for the second replay and ended up 2-2. The third replay finished all square at 3-3 before Arsenal finally got past the Owls 2-0 on January 22.

The Swans had their own mini-marathon cup tie in 1980 when they drew 2-2 with ‘Team of the Eighties’ Crystal Palace at the Vetch, 3-3 in the first replay at Selhurst Park and then won 2-1 in the second replay in front of 21,400 at Ninian Park of all places.

Of course, all of the above have disappeared from the game for valid reasons. And as much as I love a nostalgic look back, you’ll probably be surprised to hear that an old fuddy duddy like me isn’t against all progress!

For example, I’m a big fan of VAR. As long as long as the powers that be ensure that they make it clear and obvious to the officials that clear and obvious, actually means clear and obvious!

Perhaps I’ll keep that rant for another day.

C’mon you Swans!