The Saturday Movie Club: 101 Great Goals From Match Of The Day

by | Mar 24, 2018

These days, of course, it’s all there at the touch of a button. Despite the best efforts of FIFA and other rights holders, Football YouTube is a genre unto itself, featuring documentaries, goal highlights, full matches and, of course, compilation videos of the greatest moments of some of the world’s players, lovingly created by fourteen year old boys and backed with soundtracks truly befitting the high emotion with which they consider their heroes. There is, to put it bluntly, no such thing as “no football” any more, and you don’t even have to search very much to find it.

Things weren’t ever thus. At the risk of sounding exactly the age that I am, there was a time when it was entirely possible to avoid the football, should one wish to. There was no internet. It was reserved for the back pages of newspapers only – and during the summer they may go for days on end withoutb mentioning it at all – and live matches, while they were at least on free to air television, were only shown at most a couple of times a week. If you wanted any of that fancy foreign football, you needed to install a satellite dish the size of the Hubble space telescope in your back garden.

Until the early 1980s, people just got on with their lives when there was no football available. Some might read about it, others might talk about it, but from a watching point of view, there were only a couple of live matches on UK television – the FA Cup final, the European Cup final, and the annual England vs Scotland international match – whilst two weekly highlights shows kept us up to date with what was going on in the annual matches themselves. Live league football in England, which had only been previously seen as a brief experiment on commercial television at the start of the 1960s, didn’t arrive until October 1983.

In the meantime, however, a quiet revolution in the home had been going on for the best part of a decade. The growth of the video cassette recorder changed us as television viewers in ways which seem half-forgotten, nowadays. No longer did we have to be sitting in front of a television set at the precise moment that a broadcast was going out. Now you could set a machine to record the programme and watch it at your leisure. And where you’d needed to go to the cinema to see a movie at a time of your choosing before, now you could rent one from a shop and watch it whenever you liked.

It wasn’t long, of course, before television companies started to see the value in this new market, and the BBC quickly became one of its biggest players. With a vast archive of programmes sitting in their archives – though nowhere nearly as many as there should have been, thanks to their long-standing policy of wiping tape recordings of many programmes in order to reuse expensive videotape – they skilfully exploited people’s need to see the same things over and over again through selling episodes of their old shows on cassette for quite a large amount of money.

101 Great Goals was released by the BBC in 1987 at a cost of £9.99, an amount of money which now equates to £26.46, when adjusted for inflation. The video goes back through the BBC’s archives from twenty-three years to pull out its first for this sixty-five minute compilation – there were no twelve hour long box sets with directors cut commentaries in 1987 – and, to give them credit, they kick off in style, with Liam Brady scoring with an improbably curling shot against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in 1979, followed up with Bobby Charlton driving the ball into the bottom corner of an Old Trafford goal during a match against West Ham United ten years earlier.

It’s not without its faults – the dating of several of the matches seems suspect, to say the least – but this video does at least offer us a glimpse into something rather special of which we don’t see too much, these days: the BBC Football Canon. Some may regret that the BBC Football Canon isn’t a typo for a contraption built to fire Mark Lawrenson into Jupiter, but it actually represents a very specific period in football’s history. As mentioned above, there was a time when the only place to get football on the television – well, to get anything on the television – was through the BBC or ITV, and most people preferred the BBC, when given a choice.

With the BBC’s predilicition for repeating the same clips over and over again being what it is, certain goals came to become very familiar to us all. John Radford’s, for Hereford United against Newcastle United in the FA Cup in 1972. Justin Fashanu’s, for Norwich City against Liverpool in 1980, Glenn Hoddle’s, for Spurs at Watford in 1983. I’ll gladly wager that any football supporter over the age of forty could describe those goals in any amount of detail, and that a good number could name the commentator as well (for the record, they were John Motson, Barry Davies and Alan Parry respectively.) Such was the power of the BBC during the 1970s and 1980s.

And they are all just about here. Charlie George, for Arsenal against Liverpool in the 1971 FA Cup Final. George Best, driven wide for Manchester United against Sheffield United – and not, as per the video, against Sheffield Wednesday – in the same year. Peter Osgood, for Chelsea against Arsenal in 1973. But there’s a problem with this all. These goals follow a roughly chronological order, but this compilation ultimately suffers from the same major flaw as all other goal compilations do. Shorn of context, goals – even “great” ones – lose a considerable amount of their importance. Who would know that Malcolm MacDonald’s goal for Arsenal against Newcastle United in December 1976 came as part of a hat-trick against the team for whom he’d made his name before transferring to Arsenal for £333,333.34 the previous summer? Or that Graeme Sharp’s at Anfield for Everton against Liverpool in October 1984 would come to take on a totemic symbolism for Everton supporter as the Merseyside balance of power began to swing their way in the middle of that decade?

The video’s release in 1987 marks the end of the chronological order of the tape, but it finishes on a somewhat surprising note. The 1987 FA Cup final between Coventry City and Tottenham Hotspur marks the final match featured, but rather than showing Keith Houchen’s diving header for Coventry (a genuinely “great” goal) or Gary Mabbutt’s own goal which won the game for the Sky Blues (maybe now a genuinely “great” goal, but definitely a genuinely funny one), they show Clive Allen’s near post header which gave Spurs a second minute lead in a match they went on to lose.

The BBC Canon only really exists as a historical document inside people’s heads, these days. There were goals added to it afterwards, of course. Matthew Hanlon’s for Sutton United against Coventry City in 1989, for example, or Mickey Thomas’s surprise swansong for Wrexham against Arsenal in 1992. Since the formation of the Premier League, however, the BBC’s importance as a broadcaster of football has lessened with every passing year. Sky Sports and BT Sport share the iconic moments between them nowadays, safe and secure behind a paywall, and only for those who can afford it. If nothing else, then at least 101 Great Goals is a reminder of a time when that wasn’t the case.