Column: From Wimbledon tennis to FA Cup semi-finals, the past can be as much fun as the present

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, or is it. And with live sport suddenly at a premium, Kevin Anderson delves deep into the archives...

Saturday, 25th April 2020, 9:00 am
Short shorts, dodgy haircuts... the lack of present-day football has given us another chance to see how it used to be done. Here Liverpool face Everton in the 1977 FA Cup semi-final / Picture: Getty

Armchair or active? For the foreseeable future, we have precious little choice. An appetising summer of sport has been whipped away from us, locally and nationally.

Several Sussex clubs, including Eastbourne Town, were gearing for climactic promotion showdowns, now maddeningly denied. The final phase of the Albion season might well have been palpitating, if only for the wrong reasons, in the battle to retain Premier League status. But that is still on hold.

And then summer sport: Sussex county cricket at The Saffrons has just regained its foothold, after three successive annual fixtures in the one-day competition, each of them massively well supported. Cricket lives and breathes tradition, and since Ian Fletcher-Price and Co put us back on the cricket map in 2017, the crowds and the traditions have come pouring back. And ironically – with Kent’s visit in the Royal London not scheduled until late July – I guess that this year’s Saffrons Sunday is not yet ruled out.

A sight we won't see this year - a packed crowd at Devonshire Park for Eastbourne's week of top-level tennis / Picture: Getty

But our glorious Eastbourne Tennis Week has fallen victim. I managed to clock up 90 hours at last year’s tournament – yes, honestly. I saw the first point served in the first women’s qualifying match, and the match point of the final. Alicia Barnett and Karolina Pliskova respectively, in case it matters.

In fact the craziest of those 90 hours came in midweek, sitting with BBC Radio Sussex sports editor Tim Durrans, presenting his evening sports show until 10pm in the evening – in pitch darkness with failing torches, perched on one of the Devonshire Park picnic tables with a bemused but perfectly genial security guard looking on. This year, with a couple of breakfast show interviews, I reckoned I could just reach the 100-hour mark.

But now, instead of admiring Danny Negus’s shimmering green grass on Centre Court, I guess I’ll just be mowing my own lawn. Il faut cultiver son jardin, as the French say...

It goes without saying of course, that all this whingeing, from myself or any other sports nuts out there, is as absolutely nothing set against the devastation and the dreadful effects of the wretched virus. Not one of us, for a single moment, would put our silly games before the safety and health of our nation.

But anyway, we have a fallback. The Wimbledon fortnight, if not also the Eastbourne week, will be a feast of televised highlights from years past. Cricket pundits and viewers alike will spend hours trying to decide whether the 2005 Ashes series was greater than the epic summer of ‘81. (No contest for me – and yes, Mike Brearley was definitely England’s greatest ever captain.) Then they’ll get really forensic, and agonise over the most memorable ball in Test Cricket. Warne to Gatting for me, since you ask.

When the BBC started digging in the archives for grainy old football highlights, I wasn’t planning to watch. If you’ve read this far, you will surely agree that we need our fix live. But ever so grudgingly, I have to admit that the archivists and editors are coming up with some great stuff.

Just last Saturday afternoon – or it might have been Sunday, since we’re all finding the days blurring into one, aren’t we – the BBC were replaying classic FA Cup semi-finals, and goodness me, they were worth watching.

There is so much that we have forgotten, or half forgotten. Be honest – did you remember that little Chesterfield made it to an FA Cup semi in 1997? And was it really more than 40 years ago – 1977 – that Liverpool came achingly close to a treble of Championship, FA Cup and European Cup? Even the names of the competitions give their age away.

But quite apart from the historical context, those old highlights provide a fascinating contrast with today. A whole string of contrasts struck me as I watched. Here is the shortlist.

- The pace of those games is absolutely frantic, no cat-and-mouse or stroking the passes about

- The pitches were in an awful state, scarcely better than parks pitches in a wet November

- The fouls were a bit less cynical, but a lot more brutal. And not a red card in sight

- Few action replays, and certainly no VAR, only some very dodgy refereeing decisions

- Those shorts, excruciatingly short, and those haircuts, embarrassingly long (not to mention the de rigeur droopy moustaches).

“Grandad, did you really look like that?” - “Yes, darling, but it was a different world in the olden days.”

It’s really true. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…