Look Away Now: Match Of The Day, 3rd September 1983

The start of the 1983/84 season in the Football League marked, in some respects, the first rumblings of modern football. For the first time in its history, the Football League had accepted a sponsorship deal and was from now on to be known as the Canon League, whilst on the television, not only were shirt sponsors to be seen for the first time (though viewers would have to squint to start with, since the logos were, to start with smaller for televised matches than for non-televised matches, for which they’d been allowed for a couple of years) but the pungent scent of live League football in England for the first time since 1960 was also in the air, with the live broadcasting of matches being due to start in October.

At the top of the First Division of the Canon League, the big question was whether anybody could overhaul the dominant Liverpool team of the era. One of the more extraordinary statistics of the time is that Liverpool won the First Division title in 1983 by eleven points, despite losing five and drawing two of their final seven league matches of the season. The sense of hangover had seeped into the following season, too. That summer, manager Bob Paisley retired after having spent the previous nine years establishing himself as the most successful manager in the club’s history. He was replaced by Joe Fagan, yet another graduate of the Anfield Boot Room. But for how long could Liverpool continue to strike gold from there?

Meanwhile, their time in the transfer market had been low key. Out went “Supersub” David Fairclough, who was probably past his prime, whilst in came Michael Robinson, from Brighton & Hove Albion, and Gary Gillespie, from Coventry City. Early signs hadn’t been particularly encouraging on the pitch, either. They were beaten by Manchester United at Wembley in the Charity Shield, and followed that up by only being able to manage a draw at newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers on the first day of the season, before a much-needed one-nil win at Norwich City the Monday before had finally seen them win for the first time in ten matches, spread across the summer break.

Their opponents at Anfield for their first home game of the season were Nottingham Forest, who’d fallen away from their European Cup winning adventures of three years earlier. They’d taken the opposite trajectory to Liverpool at the end of the previous season, winning seven and drawing two of their last nine league matches to finish in fifth place in the table and qualify for the UEFA Cup. They’d started the new season with a home defeat against Southampton followed by a two-one win the previous Monday away to Manchester United. There were plenty of reasons, on the third of September 1983. Commentary comes from a very dapperly dressed Barry Davies. Bob Paisley pops in beforehand to pick up the Manager Of The Year award.

The BBC’s choice of second match reflects a somewhat different face of this period in football, and it is from the Second Division, between Fulham and Portsmouth. Fulham, John Motson excitedly tells us, are playing on their new “cell system” turf, the first of its kind at a professional football club in England. But there’s a cloud hanging over the club, having come so close to promotion at the end of the previous season before stumbling at the last. Things wouldn’t be that good again at Craven Cottage for some considerable time, and the decline would be fairly rapid.

Portsmouth, meanwhile, were showing signs of life again following a near death experience. At the end of 1976, the club had found itself having to launch a public appeal to raise £25,000 to stave off bankruptcy. They’d fallen into the Fourth Division in 1978, but had snatched the fourth promotion spot back on goal difference from Bradford City in 1980. The previous season had started with sad news, with the death of former manager Jimmy Dickinson (who’d managed the club as recently as 1979), but had ended on a somewhat happier note, with the Third Division championship bouncing the club up again. Mark Hateley was amongst £700,000 worth of signings they’d made over the previous year and a half. There was a sense of ambition about Portsmouth again, which had been missing from the club for some considerable time.

Bob Wilson adopts his sombre voice to report on crowd trouble at the match between Brighton and Leeds – whoever thought it was a good idea to schedule Leeds to play beside the seaside while it was still essentially the summer should probably be held responsible, there – before we switch to the goals from the Glasgow derby between Celtic and Rangers, and then it’s off to Ninian Park for the goals from the match between Cardiff City and Grimsby Town, with commentary for this match coming from the magnificently pro-Welsh Idwal Robling. But when the cameras go back to Jimmy Hill, the anchor has his serious face one. He has some choice words for any watching hooligans and a lament at the state of things before the credits roll.