Here’s Tim Ellis with a Top Ten (in no particular order) of football in the 1980s…
1) The Mullets
Never mind Ian Botham, footballers had the mullet down to a tee – and no one more so than Chris Waddle flying down the wing with his barnet flowing in the breeze. The combination of shorter hair on top and at the sides, and a shaggy mane at the back, earned the hairstyle the distinction of the worst craze of all time, just ahead of the shell suit. “I once had a penalty shootout with Rudi Voller to decide who had the best mullet,” said Waddle. “I won and was awarded Mullet of the Year.”
2) Liverpool Rule The Roost
The Red Men dominated in a way that was clinical at first but then wonderful to watch as John Barnes and Peter Beardsley were acquired towards the end of the decade to ally sexy football to the solid foundation. It was a bit like seeing Steve Davis turn into Hurricane Higgins. The Anfield side claimed the Division One title six times and the European Cup three times, as well as bagging a couple of FA Cups for good measure. Liverpool were truly a global force in the 1980s that no English club has truly replicated since.
3) Who Likes Short Shorts?
Were they wearing underpants out there? In fact, were they wearing anything at all? The short shorts of the 80s looked so tight that they must have affected child-bearing capability. And as Graeme Souness reveals below, they didn’t leave a great deal to the imagination…
4) Saint And Greavsie
They may have laughed at their own repartee, but Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves were essentially the staple diet for football fans just after noon on a Saturday matchday. The former Liverpool striker played the straight man while Greavsie always had a twinkle in his eye to set off his mate’s distinctly Scottish laugh. It seemed almost like two blokes having a bit of a fun in a pub, but in actual fact it was more than that. It was spontaneous, entertaining and didn’t get so knee-deep in analysis as to become wearisome.
5) Astroturf Pitches
Loftus Road was the first English ground to put down the plastic in 1981, followed by Luton, Preston and Oldham Athletic. Joe Royle, Oldham’s manager at the time, said the Hoops’ ground was the worst pitch he had played on: “It was a nightmare, basically a layer of Astroturf on top of concrete. I once saw a keeper take a goal kick and it bounced so high that it flew over the crossbar at the other end.”
It certainly gave the home side an unfair advantage, agitating the top teams. Kenny Dalglish was apoplectic after Luton dumped his Liverpool side out of the FA Cup at Kenilworth Road in 1987. Luton historian Roger Wash said: “[Kenny Dalglish’s] side were beaten before they got on to the pitch really because he was moaning for a fortnight beforehand.”
The end of the 1980s was the lowest point in the relationship between football fans and the authorities. But popular club fanzines and When Saturday Comes gave supporters a voice when they needed it most. It was eloquent opposition to the attitude of the Establishment and part of the essential vehicle for change.
7) Proper Tackling
Back in the day, there used to be full-blooded tackling which was committed, physical, yet deemed to be fair. Now players aren’t allowed to touch each other without being reprimanded by the referee. All of the modern studio discussions are about being clever, knowing when to fall or to catch a leg in the penalty box. “Why does the defender go to ground?” whines Alan Shearer. Because that’s what tackling should be about.
Having said that, check out Vinnie Jones’s assault on Steve McMahon in the 1988 Cup final, which incredibly went unpunished…
8) The Crowds
In the 70s and 80s, the average fan could get in for next to nothing on the gate and join their mates in the swaying crowd. The Premier League has steadily become a tourist destination with inflated prices and apathy from the stands. It’s like a visit to the theatre, as Jose Mourinho often remarks. But English fans used to be some of the loudest in Europe before the baton was passed to teams like Borussia Dortmund with their Yellow Wall. Who knows if we’ll ever see the atmospheres of old return?
9) Matchday Programmes
Programme covers in the 80s were cheesy to say the least, but all the more entertaining for it. They were almost childlike in their innocence and conception. Witness the 1988 front cover edition for the Charity Shield that featured an artist’s view of Kenny Dalglish and Bobby Gould. Nowadays, you can receive digital programmes on an app with access to video content. Oh, social media, you have a lot to answer for…
10) Terrestrial TV
Who can forget smoothie Des Lynam on Grandstand and moustachioed Dickie Davies on World of Sport? Although live football was at a premium in the 80s, it cost nothing extra to watch and listen to Brian Moore on a Sunday afternoon with the dodgy white graphics of the scoreline and very basic match clock.
FA Cup final day started at around 11am on both BBC and ITV, with a helicopter following both coaches and a number of politically incorrect sketches. There was even an ITV Cup Final Wrestling Special involving those legendary prizefighters Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks crashing to the floor to hysterical boos and cheers.