Northern Ireland

Match of the Day: An accidental spectator at its birth

The birth of football on television was a curious experience for fans of the sport. The first pictures presented a grainy black and white world of shadowy figures cheering on their heroes.

It was also a very exciting time. Up until then, you could only watch your favourite team if you had match day tickets. It was a day out, a way to unwind after the daily grind of a working week.

It all changed on Saturday 22 August, 1964.

On that date, the first ever filming for a new programme called Match of the Day began and in the crowd was a young man from Portadown, County Armagh.

"Terrific feeling"

Brian Courtney was a sports journalist writing for weekly paper the Portadown Times and was in England visiting family. It was pure accident he went to the game at all.

"My cousin's husband knew I was a football fan. He was a Southport supporter and suggested we go see them play Wrexham. As it turned out they were away from home so we decided to go to another match instead," said Brian.

Brian worked as a sport journalist for over 50 years

That match turned out to be a first division clash between Liverpool v Arsenal. The opening goal of the game was also the first goal ever to appear on Match of the Day.

Match day was different in those times. There was little or no segregation between supporters, it was standing instead of seated and the price of a ticket was not too shabby either.

"Maybe £3 or something like that? I remember the atmosphere in the ground was crazy because Beatlemania was at its height. The Kop was packed with people swaying and singing She Loves You," said Brian.

"Supporters were mixing together and exchanging banter, it was a terrific feeling."

Kenneth Wolstenholme opened the first Match of the Day as a Beatles song played over the Anfield PA system

Footballs were different too, dangerous if you were not careful.

"You would certainly hear it if someone was on the receiving end, it could be a real sickener. Players were knocked out if the ball hit them on the face," said Brian.

'Dark art'

At a Premier League match these days the green turf upon which the players ply their trade is almost cosmetically perfect. In the early 60s it was a bit more of a lottery.

"The wet English winters often left pitches looking more like mud baths than bowling greens but the ground was in excellent condition that day," said Brian.

"The environment has changed though. Back then I don't think there was the same concentration on defence or defensive formations that there is today."

According to Brian, tackling was also a bit more of a "dark art".

"It was very much a physical contact game in those days, there was an awful lot of heavy tackling. Players like George Best didn't get much protection and the opposition often went out of their way to make sure they were hit very hard.

"I think it has gone a wee bit too strict now."

'Jubilation'

The presence of television crews at Anfield that day seemed to have very little impact on the crowd. In fact, Brian did not even notice they were there.

"We didn't know a thing about it until that night when we went back home and saw the nine o'clock news," said Brian.

"They mentioned there was coverage of the match in a new programme but it was on BBC Two and at the time that was restricted to an audience in London, so I never saw it."

Even though he missed out on seeing the football and TV history he was a part of, Brian still cherishes the drama of the day.

"Liverpool scored the winning goal in the very last seconds of the game. The crowd went daft, we just erupted with jubilation." said Brian.

"I still go over to see matches now and then and I have a wry smile to myself when I think about how things have changed."

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