Match of the Past: Seven Goal Thrillers (Or, Football Matches With Seven Goals In Them)

by | May 30, 2020

In the 1980s, the BBC was one of the first media organisations to realise that there was money to be made from the selling of old football. They didn’t exactly flood the market, but if you wanted a pre-recorded recording of “some football”, with as little guff as possible, there was a reasonably strong chance that you would end up with BBC footage. Match Of The Day first went on air in August 1964, and two decades later it was still very much in its imperial stage.

Until just two years earlier, ITV’s football coverage had been fragmented by regionalisation. Despite the fact that Brian Moore was the somewhere between the face and voice of the network’s output for major events like the FA Cup final or the World Cup finals, networked domestic football had only started on ITV in 1983. The BBC’s football coverage, on the other hand, had a cohesive identity. By 1984, Jimmy Hill was the presenter, with Bob Wilson as his side-kick. John Motson, Barry Davies, and one from an ever-changing line-up of back-ups were the voices.

Match Of The Day had briefly experimented with regional highlights at the end of the 1960s, but it hadn’t worked out so well. The country – barring Scotland – would get the same two or three matches, whether they liked it or not. Furthermore, both of the television companies had contracts with the Football League requiring them to show a number of matches from the three divisions below the top one throughout the course of the season, all of which led to Jimmy Hill occasionally introducing a lead match from the Third Division through gritted teeth.

The great British football archive is, therefore, representative of all four divisions. True enough, the BBC’s contracts with the Football League only required them to show a handful of Division Four matches every years, but represented they were, as were the two divisions above. This archive is also, however, fragmented. ITV companies started showing highlights of matches in 1962. The BBC followed two years later. The result of this is that English football’s televised archives sits in two separate places, half with the BBC and half with ITV.

The arrival of a pre-recorded tape was, for broadcasters, manna from heaven. Old footage which was sitting gathering dust could be monetised afresh, and there were few companies who would want to miss out on that particular extravaganza. The BBC’s football archive was wheeled out on videos such as 101 Great Goals, The Boys From Brazil and, eventually, a three-disc box set called 25 years of Match Of The Day.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the very best of the BBC’s football archive became canon. Close your eyes for a few moments and a familiarly unfamiliar cast of players comes to mind. Ernie Hunt. Mickey Walsh. Alan Mullery. Glenn Hoddle. If they’d been entitled to a cut of the royalties, any of these players might have ended up substantially richer than they were by the end of their playing careers. They’re lovingly collected together in the aforementioned 101 Great Goals, which is the Sun God of this genre.

By the middle of the 1990s, this market had reached it zenith. The extraordinary success of Danny Baker’s Own Goals & Gaffes in 1992, which sold hundreds and thousands of copies, inspired a slew of imitators. A market had matured by becoming less mature. The documentary-esque tones of 25 Years of Match Of The Day couldn’t have been much different to that of, say, Bradley Walsh’s Soccer Shockers. And in 1995, the BBC released Seven Goal Thrillers, the half-forgotten youngest child of the BBC’s VHS football brood.

The mere concept of a video dedicated to the seven-goal thriller almost sounds too good to be true. In a way, it is. With the greatest of respect to whoever put this compilation, the definition of what a “seven-goal thriller” might even be is really stretched to the somewhat more wafer-thin “a match which had exactly seven goals in it.” I’m prepared to accept that Leeds United’s 1972 7-0 shellacking of Southampton¬† is worth its place for its peacockery, and that QPR’s identical scoreline against Burnley from 1979 merits its place as an object lesson in defensive implosion.

Similarly, I’m more than happy to allow Leicester City’s 5-2 win against Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup from 1982 because it features not only seven goals, but the home team having to use three goalkeepers, two of which are outfield players, as well. Likewise, Leeds United’s 5-2 win at Chelsea from 1970 is marked by what may be a camera flash going off at a specific point as Leeds are scoring a goal. However this presumably accidental blemish came to find its way onto the master tape, we should be grateful that it’s there. On a pudding of a pitch, Leeds United pull one of the other strongest teams of the time to pieces.

So not every “seven-goal thriller” has to end 4-3, at the end of a “titanic” struggle. But I do have reason to question whether Middlesbrough putting six goals past a hapless Norwich City in 1980 can really be defined as anything more than “a football match that had seven goals in it”, whilst the inclusion of Everton’s last weekend of the 1985/86 season 6-1 win against Southampton, as hollow as wins come on account of Liverpool’s win at Chelsea handing them the league title, played out before a Goodison Park crowd that quietens with the sound of a deflating balloon.

The twist in this particular tale is that this is all fine, of course. Colchester United sticking five past Sheffield United in February 1982? Sure, why not? After all, Colchester have got Mike Walker playing in goal for them, and he was an established First Division manager at the time that this video came out, and viewers under the age of 45 might be excused wondering why this was worth commenting on at all. There is a beauty to the mundanity of just watching Team A smack the hell out of Team B, especially if Team B are allowed the deceptive carrot on a stick that is the consolation goal. Not every football match needs to be a “thriller.”

Seven Goal Thrillers should be re-released on Blu-ray and to streaming services in 4K under the altogether more honest title of, “Football Matches With Seven Goals In Them.” And for all the sniggering over the work that the title is having to do, there are some classics here, opening in style with a Scotland vs England match from April 1966, and continuing in strict chronological order through to Crystal Palace’s FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool from 1990 and the match between Oldham Athletic and Southampton on the last day of the 1992/93 season, with Oldham needing a win to stay in the Premier League. They’re not all thrillers on this video, but some of them are.