Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the Box: Carry on all the Wembley way back to the Seventies

I am a child of the Seventies. I know what you’re thinking, how can that be possible? I mean look at that picture of me above, cute as a wee button, I look barely old enough to start shaving, but no, I must confess it is that decade from whence I hail.

It’s all the rage though at the moment, there are currently at least two programmes on BBC2 harking back to the dark days of that age and back then live football was as precious a commodity as electricity during the miners’ strike.

In truth, live football was the FA Cup Final, there was no 24-hour wall-to-wall sports coverage and Jim White was but a glint in the Irn-Bru man’s eye.

Things, though, have moved on. No longer the preserve of the terrestrial stations, the game remains shown on two channels, with ITV now fighting it out with ESPN but, in truth, only one of them is really trying to recapture the essence of the Seventies.

The latter were on from early o’clock and the groan would have been louder than a Bay City Roller fan being told tartan had been banned when they learnt that the game wouldn’t be kicking off to 5.15pm.

Obviously there was a good reason for this although I haven’t quite fathomed it out yet. Perhaps there was a particularly good episode of Murder, She Wrote that ITV simply had to cram into the schedules?

Eventually, a mere seven hours after ESPN had kicked things off, a big silver, shiny thing with big ears appeared on the pitch at Wembley — and standing beside Adrian Chiles was the FA Cup.

For me FA Cup Final day was about a never-ending succession of former pros from either of the combatants appearing to talk about how football was much better in our day interspersed with trips to the team hotel, the players playing cards on the bus or in Brighton’s case in 1983, a big chopper, and I don’t mean Ron Harris.

There was still some of this, mainly on ESPN, and I think Nerys Hughes and David Mellor were the only two people who weren’t asked for their thoughts on the battle between Liverpool and Chelsea.

ITV’s highlight was supposed to be Chiles’ interview with Fabrice Muamba, but near death on the pitch isn’t really the subject for cheeky-chappy quips although laughing off the Bolton star’s memory lapses due to nearly conking it, he pointed out ‘blokes do tend to repeat themselves tediously more and more as they got older.’ Finally a solution to Adrian’s problem, one that had even defied Jessica Fletcher.

Highlight for me was some flashbacks to the great Brian Moore’s commentary from 1978 as Clive Walker inspired the dark greys to victory over the lighter greys as ‘for those of you in black and white Liverpool are in all red and Chelsea in blue’.

Keeping with the Seventies theme it was back to basics as we were introduced to the Liverpool team by Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Pepe Reina playing a game of Scouser ‘Guess Who’.

“Is he a fantastic footballer but with racist undertones and a penchant for breaking the hearts of millions of Africans by cheating?,” was not one of the questions asked but as Roy Keane said of Luis Suarez, ‘you’re not going to win any many matches with a team of angels.” Aston Villa can testify to that when Juan Pablo was knocking about.

Talking of angels, and Gabriel (see what I did there?) Clarke caught up with John Terry who was offered the choice of ‘victory or popularity’. Hmmm, I don’t think the jury is out in that one.

But then, like a Seventies sex comedy, it all went a bit saucy and Clive Tyldesley turned into Sid James for the day saying of Suarez ‘he’s always up to something, a flick or a touch between your legs’ and before a matron could be ooohed at, he was off again, this time with Didier Drogba.

“Graham Norton seemed to get inside him last night,” he guffawed, as everyone’s faces at ITV turned a light grey shade with embarrassment.

And then it was all over, Liverpool robbed of an equaliser, but Gabriel back harping on with JT asking the Blues’ skipper was the ball over the line. ‘No’, came the reply and if JT says that’s what happened then that’s good enough for me.

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