This just in from Dominic Sandbrook’s White Heat:
Crosland’s chief idiosyncracy, however, was what his wife called his ‘passionate love affair’ with Match of the Day, which had started in August 1964. ‘Any living soul he was likely to run into on a Saturday,’ she wrote, ‘was alerted that on no account must the outcome of the match be revealed.’ Crosland even refused to enter his own living room until some other member of the family had turned on the television and made sure the players were on the field. When he was forced to attend a social engagement on a Saturday night, he would brief his children to come in at the appointed time and say, ‘The Prime Minister wants to talk to you,’ so that he could excuse himself and return an hour later. During the government’s greatest crisis in November 1967, he took the telephone off the hook while the programme was on, so that idle chatter about the survival of the economy would not interrupt the game.
Were Crosland just using MOTD as a means of getting down with the workers, in place of all that PM-related subterfuge there’d have been a huge fuss, made in front of as many people as possible, about missing the programme, and that more Saturday nights than not. But when someone like Crosland comes out with a love of football and that before World Cup ’66 let alone before Nick Hornby, one is inclined to believe them. Although not without weighing it up first.
But ‘idle chatter about the survial of the economy’ wouldn’t have interrupted the game as such: MOTD was recorded highlights. It was the programme that would have been interrupted, soi nto that brief, innocent line Sandbrook drops both memories of the one-game-only MOTD format of the sixties, and of the days before video recording. Blink, and it’s Aston… on to Charlton… finds Crerand… Best!!…goal, a goal, yes – gone.
All changed now, and that’s why so little serious football writing devotes space to the blow-by-blow account of the game. That’s done by live minute-by-minute reports these days, and not by David Lacey, Patrick Barclay or – heaven forbid – Simon Barnes.
There aren’t many Crosland counterparts now, from any standpoint, but those that do exist will be familiar with the phrase “Capped and Released by Fred 54” every bit as well as the rest of us.