Unable to travel to the Tottenham game was bad enough but then not even being able to watch the game on the box was almost a step too far. What’s the point of a 2 year olds birthday party anyway, they haven’t a clue what’s going on. So it was a case of going back to my youth and listening to the Radio as the reds ran Spurs ragged a few weeks back.
And I was glad I did – It brought me back to an era when all we had to update us was Ceefax or Teletext, if you had a remote control TV that is. Luckily we also had BBC Radio Two for second half commentary – SECOND HALF! Many a glorious moment I had listening to the Reds on a Saturday afternoon as we marched towards title after title. Even better was the midweek show which started at 8pm. It was commonplace for games at Anfield to kick-off at 7.30pm in the 80s, which meant by the time the radio programme was on, we were 30 minutes into the action. So I had to wait until the programme announcer, usually Byron Butler, to set the scene and utter the words; “and already there has been some action at Anfield, Peter Jones describes the action”.
As you can imagine, the tension for those first few seconds were unbearable, so it all depended on the first player he mentioned as to who actually scored, so in those days it usually started with “Souness has the ball …..” YESSS…before the ball hit the net you knew it was the reds that were in front, of course the move usually finished with “and Rush scores”. The tension was over until the action started “LIVE” from the commentators. What huge games, what memories. Liverpool taking the lead through Ray Kennedy in Munich in 81! The Germans were so arrogant after the first leg even I believed it was going to be a step too far – step up Howard Gayle to run the Germans ragged as the red army marched on Paris. TV would win the day for that one as Barney stole through to shatter Real Madrid. Although I do have the radio commentary stored away on a cassette tape somewhere – just have to find a machine to play it on now!
The commentators themselves were important cogs in the machine; it was their job to transport the listener to the game. Some went onwards to TV like Alan Parry and George Hamilton; some were more suited to radio and have stayed there. Bryon Butler would always present the cup draw from Lancaster Gate, more nervous moments and much more drama than what we have nowadays with draws being made before the previous round has even been completed. Denis Law was a good summariser in those days and proved to be an ideal sidekick to the then young Alan Green and later Mike Ingham. But there was none better than the late great Peter Jones, cool as you like he’d announce “And Liverpool have won the European Cup”.
Memories of Peter Jones at the microphone transports me back to 1989 – I’ll deal with the Arsenal title decider first. Of course it was on ITV but I was involved in a local football game the same night and would miss most of the first half. But as a goalkeeper (at the time) I had a plan – I had a radio in the back of the net. And it wasn’t long before I was in the back of the net myself as I totally lost my bearings whilst thinking I had heard some dramatic action, the ball floating over my head into the goal. Meanwhile it was 0-0 at Anfield. At half-time my manager said “I don’t know where you were for that goal” I did, my mind was at Anfield.
Running home after the game I heard the Alan Smith goal go in, was it a goal, well yes it was – got in for the last 15 minutes of the game and over to Brian Moore on the TV. One minute says Steve McMahon, but then it happened, “Arsenal come streaming forward now in surely what will be their last attack. A good ball by Dixon, finding Smith, for Thomas, charging through the midfield. Thomas, it’s up for grabs now! Thomas! Right at the end! An unbelievable climax to the league season.”
Unbelievable it certainly was – but the Anfield crowd stayed on to applaud the new champions – the club had been through so much – it was only 7 weeks previous that we had played Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough. Irish TV had the game live and when no news was forthcoming from the Irish station of what was happening it was over to Radio 2 for what was to be an emotional three hours. BBC 2 Sports Report that day is still vivid in my mind, Peter Jones who was to die a year later whilst covering the boat race described the scene at Hillsborough in only a way he could.
“The biggest irony is that the sun is shining now, and Hillsborough’s quiet and over there to the left are the green Yorkshire hills, and who would’ve known that people would die here in the stadium this afternoon. I don’t necessarily want to reflect on Heysel, but I was there that night, broadcasting with Emlyn Hughes, and he was sitting behind me this afternoon, and after half an hour of watching stretchers going out and oxygen cylinders being brought in and sirens screaming, he touched me on the shoulder and said ‘I can’t take anymore’, and Emlyn Hughes left.
“The gymnasium here, at Hillsborough, is being used as a mortuary for the dead, and at this moment stewards have got little paper bags, and they’re gathering up the personal belongings of the spectators. And there are red and white scarves of Liverpool, and red and white bobble hats of Liverpool, and red and white rosettes of Liverpool, and nothing else.
And the sun shines now.”
It’s the single most poignant piece of radio commentary I have ever heard, and ever will hear.