Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Fortysomethings' Guide To TV's Great Sporting Moments - A Third Extract

For the third extract from The Fortysomethings' Guide To TV's Great Sporting Moments I highlight one of the worst nights in the lives of most Englishmen-over-the-age-of-forty-and-under-the-age-of-sixty. Oh, the bitter tears that were shed over Kevin Hector's last minute miss...!
17 October 1973
Over to Our Live Outside Broadcast From: Wembley Stadium, London.

Action Replay: On 17 October 1973, in response to the escalating Yom Kippur war, OPEC - the Arab oil producing countries - cut production and quadrupled the world price of petroleum. This single move effectively signalled the end of the relative affluence upon which, as Ian MacDonald wrote in Revolution In The Head, 'the preceding ten years of happy-go-lucky excess in the West had chiefly depended.' It's a rather less sentimental suggestion for 'the day the Sixties – conceptually - ended' than some symbolic musical event, like Altmont or The Beatles splitting-up, but it's probably a much more realistic one.

The resulting financial crisis in Europe sent inflation spiralling. It was the moment when, almost overnight, 'the Swinging Sixties' turned into the 'sober, and soon-to-be-unemployed Seventies.' As a bizarre coincidence, on that same day England's football team, needing a victory to progress further, could only draw 1-1 with Poland in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley. This failure to reach the final stages of a tournament that England had actually won just seven years previously may seem a vastly insignificant moment to some. But, just as that infamous 'some people are on the pitch' victory in 1966 seemed to encapsulate the definitive spirit of an age – when England (and, specifically, London) was, literally, on top of the world – so the gloom that settled over the country during the winter of 1973-4, with its three-day week, power cuts and cod war with Iceland, was inextricably tied to the failing fortunes of Sir Alf Ramsey's ageing side.

What Happened Next?: England had warmed-up with a 7-0 thrashing of Austria in a friendly a week earlier, but the Poles – the reigning Olympic champions - were a fine side (along with West Germany and the Netherlands one of the real cult international teams of the era). They had already beaten England in Chorzow in June, a match mainly remembered for England’s vile canary yellow change strip, a catastrophic error by Bobby Moore which presented the Poles with their second goal and for a frustrated Alan Ball being sent-off for fisting a hapless Pole in the bollocks. At Wembley, the first half was a tense, nervous affair and, although England had all the possession, it ended goalless. The ITV expert panel, discussing the game at half-time, included the forthright views of Brian Clough. Having been sacked as Derby County's manager just two days earlier Clough – 'the best manager that England never had' in the view of many, this author included – declared that the, somewhat eccentric, Polish goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski, was 'a clown' and that England would score several times in the second half.
In the event, Tomaszewski – with a mixture of genuine brilliance and some outrageous pieces of good fortune – managed to get a hand, a foot or (on one occasion) a head on virtually everything that the desperate England side could throw at him. And on the two occasions when they did get past him, he was saved by the woodwork. Then, with half an hour to go, calamity struck. Norman Hunter missed a simple tackle on the halfway line [Note 1] and the Polish winger, Robert Gadocha, crossed to Domarski who shot straight at Peter Shilton. The England keeper, who had hardly touched the ball all night, somehow conspired to dive over it and Poland were 1-0 ahead.

[Note 1: Barry Davies's 'Hunter has to win this ball,' remains one of that great commentator's most memorable utterances. ]

England quickly equalised – Allan Clarke, coolly slotting home a penalty after Martin Peters had been tripped – but, thereafter, they could find no way past the stubborn Polish defence and their inspired goalkeeper. With a couple of minutes left, Alf Ramsey made his final gamble, throwing uncapped Derby centre-forward Kevin Hector on as substitute for the ineffectual Martin Chivers. Hector's first touch of the ball was to connect with Tony Currie's vicious inswinging corner – but although his goal-bound header beat Tomaszewski it was somehow scrambled off the line by a defender. England were suddenly faced with having to cancel a bunch of plane tickets to Munich the following summer.

Back to the Studio for a Summing Up: Ramsey lasted just two more games in charge –  friendlies with Italy [Note 2] and Portugal – before being unceremoniously dumped by the Football Association.

[Note 2: Italy’s winner in a 1-0 win at Wembley came from future England manager Fabio Capello.]

Sir Alf's replacements were, firstly, Joe Mercer as caretaker and then, the following summer, Don Revie. It would be another eight years before England qualified for a World Cup finals tournament again. The Poles, meanwhile, went gloriously on to the semi-finals, only losing to the eventual winners, West Germany in controversial circumstances. Tomaszewski became a national hero and, these days, he works for Polish television. In 2005, he returned to England to commentate on another England/Poland World Cup qualifier. This time, perhaps because the Poles didn’t have him in goal, England won comfortably.

What the Papers Said: Most of the English press chose to portray the defeat as the blackest day in the history of English football. 'For 90 minutes [they] gave their spirit and their hearts to the battle,' wrote Geoffrey Green in The Times. 'Yet … this England side was, basically, short a brain. Football is played in the mind and what England truly lacked was some guiding star.'
Also That Day:

· In Music: The Simon Park Orchestra's 'Eye Level' spent a third week at No. 1 holding off David Cassidy ('Daydreamer'), Slade ('My Friend Stan') and Ike and Tina Turner ('Nutbush City Limits'). The charts also included classics by David Bowie ('Sorrow', no. 16), The Who ('5:15', no. 20), Marvin Gaye ('Let's Get it On', no. 31) and, erm, Al Martino ('Spanish Eyes', no. 19). Meanwhile, a new entry at no. 36 was 'Top of the World' by The Carpenters. Clearly, Karen and Richard hadn't been watching the goings-on at Wembley.

· On TV: The match, needless to say, dominated the evening's TV schedules, carried live on ITV and with subsequent highlights – if you could stomach to watch it all over again - on Sportsnight With Coleman on BBC1. Earlier, the BBC's alternative to football was the Derek Nimmo comedy Oh, Father! and Softly, Softly: Task Force. BBC2 had a musical offering - George Hamilton IV and Other Folk. ITV followed the match with Whicker Way Out West – in which Alan 'meets the Jesus people.' A pretty average night then but, at least, the kids had something decent to watch in the afternoon – Josie and the Pussycats and Crystal Tipps and Alistair on BBC and Arthur and the Britons on ITV.

· In The News: With Israel's forces crossing the Suez Canal after the attack of Syria and Egypt during Yom Kippur, Egyptian President Sadat offered to attend a peace conference with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Henry Kissinger shared the 1973 Nobel Peace prize with Hanoi's negotiator at the Vietnam truce talks, Le Duc Tao. Michael Heseltine apologised to the Commons over 'a misunderstanding' concerning previous statements concerning the cancellation of the hovertrain. Cellist Pablo Casals was taken critically ill (he would die two days later). In the on-going Watergate judicial hearings, Judge Sirica refused to order President Nixon to hand over White House tapes in his possession to the Senate Investigation Committee.

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