Nowadays, the vast majority of football matches are recorded by some sort of camera. Walk into any non-league ground and you’ll see a hastily-erected camera gantry, and most clubs manage to put out a review of the season of some description or another. Of course, you wouldn’t guess this from your local DVD & CD mega-store. With a couple of notable exceptions (such as the BBC’s excellent three disc “Match Of The Day” compilation and the exhaustive “The History Of Football” series), it’s all about the glitter, the gloss and the fluff. If you landed an alien in the middle of HMV in Brighton’s DVD selection and told them to learn about football, they would report to their home planet that there are five teams called Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Brazil and England that matter, and that the rest of the teams are mere bit players. There is, I guess, an element of truth in this, but that’s a different story. What I’m talking about here is the proliferation of a new cottage industry that came about in the late 1980s: the club video.
There was a time when the only matches recorded by camera were those caught by BBC and ITV cameras – at most, six or seven matches across all divisions, in addition to the “big” matches. In the late 1980s, though, portable video recording technology became more and more affordable, and before long many clubs were stuffing their club shops with videos of anything that they could film. Were you at that terrible 0-0 draw against Barnsley on a cold Tuesday night in November? Well, now you had the opportunity to own a slightly grainy copy of the whole match for posterity, with (at best) no commentary at all or (at worst) a shrieking, hysterical “club commentator” there for accompaniment. A cottage industry had been spawned. Large numbers of people (all of whom should have known better) suddenly found themselves building up unwieldy collections of videos in cheap boxes with badly photocopied covers. Where did you stop? If you bought the “big” matches (and ever got around to watching them), you had little choice but to start getting the rest of the set, and before you knew it you had an entire bookcase full of the damn things.
The craze had filtered down to the non-league game by 1992. St Albans City had been promoted back to the Vauxhall-Opel Isthmian League Premier Division in 1986 after a twelve year absence and had endured five years of narrowly avoiding relegation before finishing in thirteenth place in the 1991-92 season. At the start of the following season, they released a video of the highlights of 1991-92 and, buoyed by their good start to the next season and the fact that I was starting at University, I bought it. I could write a good thousand words on the subject of this video, but I will shorten it down to the following six points:
1. Okay, so thirteenth place was an improvement on the previous years’ showings, but was it really necessary for this video to be four hours long? I did manage to watch it all in one sitting once, but had to receive fairly extensive counselling afterwards. Every single match was covered, including County Cup and AC Delco Cup matches – every match, that is, apart from those that the cameraman missed because he went on holiday. I bet BBC Sport never have this problem.
2. Each match featured more or less every shot at goal St Albans took (no matter how wayward), as well as extensive shots of goalkeepers waiting to take goal kicks. On the other hand, opponents were limited to just their goals being shown, giving the pleasing (if inaccurate) impression of every match having been a miscarriage of justice of epic proportions. It also gave the (somewhat more accurate) impression of St Albans’ goalkeeper being a incompetent buffoon who was incapable of stopping any shots whatsoever.
3. Each match was preceded by a still shot of a carpet with the names of the teams and the date that the match was played on arranged on strips of white paper in Letraset, whilst a voice that I can only describe as being “Mr Bean’s idiot younger brother” intoned, “Diadora Football League Premier Division. Seventh of February 1992. St Albans City versus Harrow Borough”, or some such.
4. I was reminded of the existence of Michael White. Michael was a man of limited… well, suffice to say that, at over fifty years old he still had a paper round, who regularly watched St Albans and would spend the whole of home matches circling the ground shouting abuse at players. At away matches, though, he would excel himself by taking a trumpet with him, with which he would serenade the players by playing an exceptionally out of tune version of “When The Saints Go Marching In”, whilst the rest of us almost died from the resultant laughter and embarrassment. The trumpet makes an unscheduled appearance during a particularly windswept trip to Windsor & Eton that season.
The following season, City shot up the table and narrowly on the league title to local rivals Chesham United, and at the start of the 1993/94 season they produced two three hour long videos of the 1992/93 season, which proved to be a step too far even for me, though I have had pause to regret this on a couple of occasions since. The 1993/94 season saw them resort to the headache-inducing four hour format, but this one (personal highlight – a 9-1 demolition of Wivenhoe Town in the second match of the season) was the final one that they bothered with. Nowadays it’s all DVDs and streaming video, of course, and even down in the Unibond League, FC United of Manchester have run into problems over showing goals from their matches on their website. In this day and age, though, the capacity for storing all of these matches online exists, in the capacious area that is the internet. All of this is giving me a very worrying idea. We should collect these all together on a website somewhere, and… no. I should put idea out of my head right now.