Man of the Match
You may ask. Who is my all time FIFA World Cup hero? Pele? Geoff Hurst? Johann Cruyff? All great players to name a few. No, it was a man who went above & beyond for me so many times, but one occasion seems apt. Of course it was Dad!
Let’s go back to the summer of 1974. I’m seven years old & just beginning to get into football. It will still be another year or so before I go to a live Reading FC game at Elm Park. But Grand-dad is already taking me with him to the minor league games where he acts as physiotherapist, but that’s another story.
But this is a World Cup summer, everyone is turning their focus to West Germany as was. England made way for Poland in the qualifiers so won’t be in the finals. But Scotland have made it, so, in more innocent days, they become Britain’s team.
And the Wise family are now the proud owners (well hirers) of a colour television set : four channels, mono sound, curved screen but state of the art.
And Simon has become the proud host of a dose of measles. I’m not allowed to go to school for two whole weeks. Those two weeks. The fortnight encompassing the whole of the 1974 FIFA World Cup tournament.
And so whereas the rest of year two at Wilson Infant School enjoyed lessons – and that school in those years was actually a joy to attend – Simon had a whole fixture list of afternoon kick-off games to focus on. OK, I was under an ice pack, and liberally doused in camolile lotion and supping gloppy 70s recipe Lucozade, but I’m watching the football!
But not in the evenings. Simon needs his rest to get his strength back. And for the most part I’m happy to have me tea and go up the stairs to the Land of Nod.
But the big game of the tournament is set for a 7.45pm start. Reigning world champions Brazil are up against
British champions Scotland. “Can I stay up? No. Can I sit up? No. Could I… It will be in the paper in the morning”.
Resigned to my fate I climb the stairs and flop into my bunk.
And this is when my Dad crossed over the line from mere hero to superhero in this boy’s eyes.
We had this radio, a wedding present for mum & dad in the mid-1950s, largely redundant in the mid-1970s. Large would be an apt description of this wireless set. A big and boxy Philips with a large dial connected to a display promising to take us to places like Luxembourg, Oslo & Hilversum. It still thought Radio 4 was called the Home Service and had no idea what Radio 1 was – happy days!
It was a permanent fixture on our sideboard, but for one night only it would be rehomed.
Dad – and who wasn’t in the best of health at that time – picked up this lump of a device and carried it across his chest, strongman style – up the eleven stairs and into my bedroom. “Didn’t want you to miss this game, Si-Si” , he might have said as he plugged the set in, adjusted the ariel and turned the dial to BBC Light on the long-wave (Radio 2 if you like). Dad stepped back as the set warmed up, I can still remember so much about it. Being June it was still quite light out, Long wave radio always had a distinctive whistle behind it and overseas radio commentary in those days was by telephone. It was very difficult to make out what was being said. I knew at that young age that Germany was in Europe – but on that night it was as if it commentators Peter Jones & Bryon Butler were on another planet.
Bereft of TV images I had to draw pictures of the game in my mind. I knew all the midnight blue clad Scottish players from seeing them regularly on Match of the Day or The Big Match. But all I had to go on for most of the canary shirted Brazilians was my brothers bubble gum card collection. No doubt as I became drowsy I would start making my own game up, giving Scotland the victory they didn’t get in reality.
And thus began my life-long love of listening to sports commentary on the radio, despite all the myriad ways of watching a game in our modern age.
In fact, I’m off to bed now to catch the second half of this current snoozefest of a game on my DAB radio!