BY TREVOR KEANE
Despite always being a game with a ball and 11 players on each side, modern football has evolved over the years, especially the transmission and interpretation of data.
Tweets, shares, likes, blogs, opinions and stats are a staple part of our football diet and more than ever before, information is available at the touch of a button seconds after an event. Despite the best intentions of the Premier League’s authorities, games can be viewed over the internet and goals can be viewed minutes after they’ve hit the back of a net.
Unknown footballers and indeed teams suddenly have an audience to share their ‘tekkers’ as eagle-eyed cameramen in the stands become their ticket to the world.
The digital era has impacted and shaped our lives in so many ways but one of the biggest impacts has undoubtedly been on the world of football. Footballers used to make headlines on the field with their off-field actions waved away with a nod and a wink from their local barman. Nowadays, the proliferation of video and camera phones, the very same ones that promote their skills, means that before the wink is even formed, social media platforms are already discussing the indiscretion with mainstream media following hot on their heels.
The explosion of the Premier League, and the trickle down effects to the lower divisions (primarily in the form of inflated transfer fees for an emerging talent or the perception that spending money will get you to the promised land) means that football is on everyone’s lips, with the team’s stars almost bigger attractions than your mainstream Hollywood A-lister.
Of course, football was not always so egotistical. There was a time, long before my era, when the local pub was your social media platform. The equivalent of the modern day tweet-a-second agent or ‘in the know’ was a bar-stooler with an insider at the ground, more than likely the groundsman.
Fast-forward to today and the game has become instant and widescale, and should you wish, you could cocoon yourself in TV or internet coverage almost 24 hours a day. As I wrote this piece, the continuous football between Sky Sports, BT Sport, Setanta Sports and ESPN meant that from 11am until 10pm there was live football on the box. Overkill? Only if you watch it.
Back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, football was not as widely available as it is now, in fact unless you rambled on down to your local ground or gathered around the wireless (not a broadband device but an old name for a radio) chances are you didn’t get the result until the following day, or even the day after that. It didn’t matter too much, the talk in those days didn’t centre around the use of the false nine, the possession stats and the conversion rate per chances created or at least as far as I am aware it didn’t.
Maybe I am being too naïve in my perception of a simpler footballing world.
In October 1946, 67 years ago, football evolved another little bit when the BBC televised the first live match, it didn’t feature an Arsenal, a Liverpool or even a Manchester United. It was two teams that, at the time, played in the Athenian league (more on that in a minute) and were amateur; Barnet and their local rivals Wealdstone United. Or maybe that should be Tooting and Mitcham?
The history section on Wealdstone’s official website lists them as the being one half of the BBC’s historic event while Barnet’s own website mentions Tooting and Mitcham, perhaps a dig at their local rivals. Barnet’s webpage also states that they received £5 in royalties for the “live” event.
I put “live” in brackets because the whole game wasn’t televised, with some of the first half and another section of the second half making it live on air before impending darkness called a halt to events.
I am not going to do more comprehensive research to find out which of the two rivals is correct and in this age when lies, rumours, gossips and inaccurate events fly around Twitter, I like the fact that this historic event has been told through two different set of eyes.
Someone is right. Someone will read this and either tweet me telling me so, or write a piece of their own, a more accurate piece at that.
So about the Athenian league, and Londoner’s might know a bit more about this, it was an amateur league for clubs in and around London that struggled to live with its more attractive rivals, mainly the Isthmian league and it was finally disbanded in 1984 (to its credit it did last over 70 years).
Barnet, Wealdstone and Tooting and Mitcham were all part of the league with only Barnet out of the three achieving Football League association membership.
Barnet might have failed to acknowledge them in their history pages but Wealdstone are able to claim yet another first then they took part in the first two “live” FA Cup ties ever to be seen by viewers when the entirity of their victories over Edgware Town and Colchester United were televised by the BBC in November 1949
While the 1946 event has made its way loosely into the pages of history, it was not the first game screened on television – that honour goes to Arsenal who faced their great rivals, Arsenal reserves in 1937, in a specially arranged friendly at Highbury, broadcasted by the BBC.
Twelve months later the BBC showed England vs. Scotland and the FA cup final between Huddersfield Town and Preston North End, while the first FA Cup match shown live that wasn’t a final was broadcast in 1947 when Charlton Athletic played Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round.
From those early beginnings, football started to move fast. In 1954, the UK public saw a World Cup on live television for the first time and a year later, ITV and BBC started showing live games from Europe and Division one (the old Premier League), the live events per annum increasing year on year.
Terrestrial television provided a staple diet of football until the 1990’s when BSKYB emerged and football as we had known it changed. Nottingham Forest and Liverpool was the first live Premier League game to feature on Sky Sports and since then it’s fair to say there has been thousands more. It’s great, and we all love it, but sometimes I yearn for the time that history hasn’t forgotten but can’t remember entirely.
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