Football in 1977: How it Compares with the Present Day

Sport, Football, League Division One, White Hart Lane, London, England, 12th February 1977, Tottenham Hotspur 1 v Manchester United 3, Two St John Ambulancemen attend to an injured supporter lying on the pitch following fighting on the terraces, as Policemen attempt to restore order (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

ITV’s ‘The Big Match‘ was a football highlights show in the 1970s. This article compares aspects of the two eras based on re-runs of football in 1977 recently screened by BT in the UK. It is safe to say that quite a lot has changed in the 40 years since.

Sand and Mud

Perhaps the most obvious difference is the state of the pitches. Nowadays, hardly a blade of grass seems to be disturbed on the predominantly pristine (and often mostly synthetic) surfaces. Back then, Stamford Bridge had more sand than grass; Upton Park looked bumpy and muddy; and at Anfield, the amount of mud meant that they had problems finding the penalty spot. In those days, most players left the pitch caked in mud. The most dirty of players of today look untouched in comparison when the full-time whistle blows. 

These conditions, understandably, tended not to promote possession-based games, with more direct and robust approaches favoured; particularly in England. In fact, if a team managed to string together four or five successful passes, it was not uncommon for there to be somewhat rapturous applause from the crowd, the kind of which is reserved for more intricate pieces of play in the modern game.

The Back-pass

When the ball did get close to the goal area, the defence could always resort to a pass back into the goalkeeper’s hands. This strategy was outlawed in the 1990s, and means that games from 40 years ago bear a striking difference to today.

That change of law was certainly one of the most well-conceived of recent times, as it has resulted in more offensive play and definitely made matches more fast-paced. Goalkeepers are often forced to deal with more shots on their goal which, combined with the lighter balls of today which dart about in the air, has greatly increased their skill-sets.

Scarves and Flared Trousers

Off the field, the differences are even more stark. Grounds then were comprised of large swathes of terraces. Stamford Bridge, when Chelsea were in the second division, looked more like a building site than a football ground. Debris was left around the area where the North Stand once stood, which would certainly go against the Health and Safety regulations of today.

The fans were, of course, kitted out in the fashion of the times; scarves around wrists and flared trousers were perhaps the most eye-catching staple.

Once matches ended, a number of youngsters would run onto the pitch to congratulate (or otherwise) their heroes. Towards the end of this particular season, in which Chelsea gained promotion, the near constant pitch-invasions meant that fences were erected around the ground, and eventually most stadia in England were kitted out with similar protection. Eventually, those decisions would end in tragedy, playing a major role in the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989.

A Different Era

Football in 1977 was a time of 50p entrance charges for juveniles, and iconic names such as George Best, Charlie Cooke and Rachid Harkouk would crop up in commentary of matches, far fewer of which appeared live on television.

Most famously, it was a period of dominance for Liverpool, but that season Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and Stoke City were relegated. Meanwhile Wolves, Chelsea and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, in third, came up from the Second Division. The following season Forest, incredibly, secured the First Division title, some seven points clear of Liverpool.

Watching those re-runs will be a feast of nostalgia for many, but for younger viewers it will likely serve as a window into a more primitive era. For better or worse, “The Big Match” is a great representation of the huge differences between football in 1977 and the present day.

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