Back in January 1979 the FA Cup was in its most primitive forms. There were no such things as penalties to end a replay. So basically you replayed until such a time as there was a result. There was no ten day gap to the replay either; a couple would do if necessary. If the fans pelted you with snowballs then so be it (as in the match described below), oh, and you played your best available team…
That month produced a classic. It also produced my favourite and everlasting memory concerning the greatest medium of media communication.
The Third Round tie between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday went to four replays. Third Division Wednesday already had both the previous rounds go to replays, and combined this encounter with a successful promotion run that season. Arsenal themselves eventually won the tournament. I was ten years old and falling in love with game- and my little orange radio (Pictured).
Of the four evening matches that took place, I was snuggled up under the covers for at least two. Like most youngsters, I would be in bed before nine on a school night. I don’t remember the commentators, the sculptures of the night, but Peter Jones and Bryon Butler are among the most likely candidates.
Listening to the broadcasts was a tricky business around extra-time. My parents would come to bed very early, about nine thirty. So a half past seven kick off would be edging towards the exciting last stages. The radio would be intimately stuck to my ear, at low volume, so as to ensure that not the slightest sound would emanate from my room, no need to look in or disturb me, unless Mum needed a towel from the emersion heater locker. But I remember no such disruptions to this event.
It was dark and cold outside, as any January would render it. But my abiding memory is of beautiful warmth; a feeling that those people present in the wooden box and coming through this tiny piece of technology were there for me, and me alone. It made this child feel quite special. My love for sport has endured, and these memories of my association through the wireless are as strong as any I have experienced watching live. Truly wonderful.
It was in searching for the best avenue of following this afternoon’s victory at Fulham that these memories came flooding back. As reported in my previous entry, being at the live event is a rare option this year. So resourcefulness is a must. Or is it. There were no dodgy streams available today, and following text on BBC or NSC just doesn’t cut it.
I can’t seem to adjust to the idea of listening to radio online, except when necessary. I think for folk of my generation and older this may be true of many. However, the advancement to digital radio is something I have nothing but praise for. The clear and crisp sound is music, or speech, to the ear. But we must remember that the commentators are the fuel of the fire.
For the second half I tuned in to BBC Radio Sussex, or Southern Counties, or Radio Brighton, as some of you will remember.
One thing that occurred to me was how as, unlike in 1979, my brain was trying to create the scene of play. Whether it is because my natural imagination as a child was that much more natural and stronger, I don’t know. I do believe that it may be because those responsible for painting the landscape of the game were so much more able in a time when that was the main avenue of presentation. These days the sporting experience is far more visual.
Noticeably, I was listening out for the noise of the crowd upon each pattern of play. There were nearly 4,000 Albion fans at the match, but the position of commentary, and the 15,000 Fulham fans, ensured that a loud and sudden rise in crowd noise inevitably meant that the home side were pushing forward. That was ahead of the commentary, and seemed to be the case for much of the second half. As the crowd noise rose when the lines of the Albion’s penalty area were crossed I would experience even more tension than I would have done if I’d been able to see it. If you were at the game and felt full of angst, then spare a thought for those of us at home.
The description and lead up to the winning goal, through Hemed’s penalty, felt like a bit of a damp squib. Possibly because I was just relieved that Fulham weren’t attacking, possibly because the move itself didn’t warrant the height of a commentator’s enthusiastic engagement. There didn’t appear to be a gripping lead up to the strike, and I was convinced it would be saved anyway. As the news of the ball hitting the net seeped through, rapid movements of my fist twixt air and knees continued for a good fifteen seconds. My partner was dozing nearby, and I had the headphones on. Not a sound left my mouth.
I’ve loved radio for so long, even made a few broadcasts for local Internet radio and a London FM station myself. But I feel that this year’s Albion adventure will take me into my new Golden Age of Wireless. I’m looking forward to more of it- and shredded nerves in equal quantity.