Look Away Now: Match Of The Day, 6th September 1980
It’s the start of the 1980/81 season and this week’s Match Of The Day begins in a sombre mood, with Jimmy Hill warning us all of the spectre of hooliganism. Indeed, this is such bad news that Jimmy has to tell us before the titles even run. Once that’s over and done with, though, it’s on with the show and one of the more infamous moments in the history of the show. The Goal That Never Was. Ironically, this would have otherwise been considered a fairly low key episode of Match Of The Day. The featured match is from the bottom of the First Division, between Coventry City and Crystal Palace. By this time, Coventry’s reputation as perennial strugglers is pretty well established (although they’d hold onto their top flight status for a little more than two decades from this match), but the reputation built up by Crystal Palace is under greater scrutiny on this particular afternoon.
Upon promotion to the First Division as champions in 1979, a game which had felt as though it was sliding towards the gutter needed something to cling onto, and Palace looked like they might be the answer. A record crowd of over 51,000 people had seen them clinch the Second Division championship against Burnley in May of that year, and such a figure – at a time when a two decade long slide in attendances was increasingly starting to look like an avalanche – coupled with an attractive team coached by the up and coming Terry Venables gave the impression of a club that was going places.
After finishing their first season in thirteenth place in the table, Palace had a curious summer in the transfer market, most notably signing Clive Allen from Arsenal just weeks after Allen had signed for Arsenal from Queens Park Rangers. Their season had started with a couple of high-scoring matches – 4-3 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur followed by a 5-2 win against Middlesbrough – a pattern of results which didn’t give much indication of what they would do over the rest of the season. The era of The Team Of The 80s (as Palace had come to be known over the previous couple of years), however, was coming to an end. Venables left Selhurst Park in the middle of October, and Palace finished this season at the bottom of the table, with just six wins and nineteen points – this being the last season before the introduction of three points for a win – to their name.
The second match features a club on the slide. As recently as 1976, Sheffield United had been a First Division club, but following relegation that year two seasons in the Second Division were followed by a second relegation into the third tier. The 1978/79 season saw them finish in mid-table, but at the start of the 1980/81 season few would have guessed that even worse was to follow. They may have started their season with a two-leg defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup, but the BBC’s cameras arrived at Bramall Lane to see a team that had started its season with three straight wins, although a narrow defeat to Barnsley the week before had given an indication of what might be to come. Their opponents on this sunny, late summer afternoon are Swindon Town.