Monday, 26 November 2012

Sporting firsts of the 1980s

It is always a significant moment in your life when something special happens for the first time. Excluding the obvious life changing incidents - first kiss, first slow dance, first ahem, you know what I mean - there are often occasions in sport alone that stand out as unique and historic. The sporting equivalent of being the first to reach the South Pole, climb Everest, or land on the moon. Now, That1980sSportsBlogger will admit to a little bias on this subject, but the 1980s contained a fair few notable firsts in a decade rich in sporting drama. Some of the below may not seem all that remarkable in this modern era of sport, but I can assure you, back in the eighties some of these achievements left you open mouthed in astonishment. For any of the younger readers, you probably had to be there.

Snooker: The first televised 147

Possibly one day in the future, some of our successors, who by that time may have visited the moon repeatedly, will look back at all the fuss made about Neil Armstrong et al in 1969, and wonder if we were all from the same planet. Admittedly this is a poor comparison, but in sporting terms the 147 maximum break (excluding free-balls) could well be viewed in very much the same way by young snooker fans today. What was once a rare beast, now seems as common as a reality TV show. Forget the X Factor, in the 1980s, the maximum break definitely had the wow factor.

Inevitably, you may say, Steve Davis was the first man to achieve this feat in the exotically named Lada Classic in January 1982. Except that this would be Davis' one and only 147 in an official tournament, quite amazing due to his dominance in the sport and his robotic relentlessness. However, if you're going to compile your only maximum break in snooker, then I guess doing it before anyone else has done so on television is quite a feather in your cap. Davis' prize for pulling off this unique
feat? A brand new Lada Riva. Hardly a thrilling pot at the end of the rainbow, especially as the jokes related to the car at the time were notorious. But sometimes the pride is bigger than the prize.

What made Davis' feat even more remarkable was the fact that he achieved it on the back of just five hours sleep after a flight from Las Vegas, and had reportedly fallen asleep in the theatre before his match against John Spencer. Some people would of course unkindly point out that Davis could easily send them to sleep too, but this was one occasion when the Englishman kept everyone interested enough, creating history along the way.

Darts: The first televised nine-dart finish

Very much the equivalent to the 147 in snooker, the perfect leg in darts had yet to be achieved on our TV screens until the World Matchplay championship on October 13, 1984. As John Lowe stepped up to the oche in his quarter final match with Keith Deller, no doubt all he was thinking of was driving home his advantage in the match. When one 180 followed another however, the anticipation grew, in both the crowd and in commentator Dave Lanning's voice. "We are on course for a nine-dart checkout," stated Lanning in a way that was both factually correct and nerve jangling at the same time. "It's never been seen in televised history," he added, just to crank up the tension that little bit more.

Only 141 points, and three more perfect arrows stood between Lowe and sporting immortality. I'm not sure my description would really sum up the drama of the moment, so I'll leave the rest to Lanning: "It looks like he's going for three seventeens...yes. Treble-eighteen his next target...yes. He wants two eighteens for £100,000. YES! A moment of darting history, the first ever televised nine-dart 501." With a single arm raised, Lowe turned and shook hands with Deller, grinning from ear to ear, looking remarkably calm for a man who had just won a cool 100K. He wasn't called Old Stoneface for nothing.

Not everyone shared the joy of Lowe and Lanning though. Writing in the Daily Express, Alan Thompson (The Voice of Sport apparently) commented: "In the time it takes to blink an eyelid, John Lowe earned as much as the highest-paid Manchester United footballer earned in a season." There, ladies and gentlemen, is a sign of the times for you. However, Thompson hadn't finished: "Has any man ever earned so much in such a short time for doing so little? Don't get me wrong, I'm not decrying Lowe's performance. Rather I am filled with admiration for his ability and coolness. I begrudge them none of their wealth. But, great as Lowe's final dart was, it was not worth that sort of money." In fairness, Thompson did have a point, though voicing his concerns the day after such a fine achievement did seem a little mean-spirited.

Like the 147, the nine-dart finish doesn't seem quite as special nowadays. Although both are undeniably great accomplishments, the modern player has somehow taken the extra out of the extraordinary. Strewth, Phil Taylor even threw the perfect leg in a warm-up once, if this clip is to be believed. Back in the eighties though we weren't to know this, which in my opinion makes Lowe's leg seem much more out of the ordinary than anything that has followed since. Now, two in one match - as witnessed by Lanning in 2010 - would just be darts from a different universe.

Athletics: Uwe Hohn throws the javelin over 100 metres

Not as renowned as Roger Bannister's four minute mile, this mark however will remain in the history books forever, as an "eternal world record". When Uwe Hohn of East Germany launched his javelin into the Berlin sky on July 20, 1984, he knew immediately it was special, raising his arms above his head in celebration just after releasing the projectile. No man had ever thrown the javelin over 100 metres, but as Hohn's throw finally reached the grass, it soon became apparent that history had been made. A number of athletes warming up on the inner track at the end of the javelin field ran excitedly towards the mark. If Hohn had thrown it much further then it may have speared one of them in the process, as it barely landed on the grass, such was the enormity of Hohn's efforts.

The IAAF were already concerned about the old style javelin, in particular the frequent number of flat landings requiring officials to make a judgement on whether a throw was valid or not. Hohn's throw in 1984 probably sped up the need for the IAAF to act, and in 1986 a new style javelin was introduced, the greater weight and change in centre of gravity leading to less distance and an increase in the number of legal landings. So Hohn remains the only man to ever have thrown the javelin over
100 metres in an official event, and stands alone in the record books for all to see. It would have been interesting to see just how far a man could have hurled the old style javelin had the IAAF not changed the design in 1986. Probably not though if you had tickets in the seating area at the opposite end of the javelin runway.

Football: First live league game on the BBC

It really is hard to comprehend in the post-Sky era that we all had to wait until 1983 for our first helping of live league action on the BBC (ITV had first shown a live league match in 1960 between Blackpool and Bolton). It seems now that you are only ever six hours away from another helping from the Sky trough, as our constant diet of football leaves us bloated and attempting to loosen our belts, before we settle down for more, more, more. It wasn't always like this though.

You may be able to imagine the excitement caused on Friday December 16, 1983, when the BBC screened its first live league match, between Manchester United and Tottenham. Appropriately it fell just before the festive period, and it pretty much felt as if all our Christmases had come at once. It helped that the match itself was a belter, United running out 4-2 winners, although this was almost irrelevant. Comical errors by Gary Stevens and Ray Clemence, a cracking goal by Alan Brazil, and
the pantomime booing aimed at the returning Argentinian Ossie Ardiles (very much in keeping with the season of goodwill) added to the drama of the occasion. Friday nights for a period in the eighties would never be the same again.

Old man alert: I do wonder if the kids of today get any kind of buzz from watching live football 24/7? For me in the eighties, watching a live match was as exciting as Christmas, and naturally if you celebrated that every day of the year then the novelty would soon start to wear off. So even though I am probably just as guilty as the next man in gorging on the feast of football on our screens, I'm glad I went through the period of relative famine in my childhood. Sometimes less can keep you wanting
more, and that was certainly the case for me in that marvellous decade.

Cricket: New Zealand's first test win in England

By the time New Zealand toured England in 1983, they had been visiting English shores from 1931 with consistent results; played 27 won 0 drawn 11 lost 16. So when they lost the first test of that series - by a whopping 189 runs at the Oval - it looked as if normal service was the order of the day. Surprisingly though New Zealand skipper Geoff Howarth was upbeat going into the Headingley test: "England were a bit flattered by their 189-run victory at the Oval. We were in the game for four days
but our catching let us down. Our morale is still good and our confidence high."

Lance Cairns backed up the words of his captain, taking 7/74 as England collapsed from 135/2 to 225 all out (very English, very 80s) in their first innings. John Wright (93), Bruce Edgar (84), and Richard Hadlee (75), proceeded to give the Kiwis a 150-run first innings lead, and England were up against it to say the least. From 116/2, England slumped again to 142/6, before somehow managing to get to 252. Despite an inspired spell from skipper Bob Willis (5/35), New Zealand finally pulled off their first test victory in England, reaching their target of 101 for the loss of five wickets. The champagne flowed in the away dressing room, and a country rejoiced, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon sending his congratulations, as Howarth declared the win "one of the greatest moments in New Zealand's cricket history". And although New Zealand went on to lose that series 3-1, in the next few years they would achieve their first test win in Australia, and in 1983/84 and 1986 they would defeat England
home and away.

As for England, the rest of the eighties was no picnic, culminating in the summer of four captains in 1988 and the series from hell against the Aussies in 1989. The warning signs were there even in 1983, but naturally nothing was done about it until we all finally realised that the national game was in a mess. Now that is something from the eighties that I do not miss.

Rugby Union: First World Cup tournament

Take one look at Rugby Union today and you see a very professional sport; fit athletes, coaches in every conceivable department, top medical practitioners, and video technology at the forefront of the game. So it seems a little strange to think that it took until as late as 1987 for the various rugby boards to finally get their act together and agree to launch the first Rugby World Cup. Compared to the slick operation and media interest now, the 1987 event looks like it belonged to a different era; that's because it did. Those who feared that the amateur elements of the game would be eroded by the introduction of a World Cup were eventually proved correct, although whether this was solely down to the tournament is open to debate. But would we have it any other way now?

The 1987 World Cup, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, did have its moments: John Kirwan's try against Italy; the exciting Fijians; the tense 21-21 draw between France and Scotland in their pool match; Wales' run to the semi-final; England's general ineptitude; a quite breathtaking semi-final between Australia and France; Paul Thorburn's dramatic last-minute kick to earn Wales third-place. But most of all, it had a simply stunning winning team in New Zealand, streets ahead of anything else in the tournament (a month after the final, New Zealand triumphed 30-16 in Sydney just to prove the point).

The very first World Cup was obviously not a work of perfection, but at least the ball was set in motion resulting in the great event that we enjoy every four years now. And for that we should be eternally grateful that in the 1980s the powers that be sanctioned the 1987 tournament. I'm sure Messrs Woodward, Johnson, and Wilkinson would agree.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic blogs and a great reminder of a bygone age. We didn't have live league matches in Scotland (apart from very few one-offs) so our yearly live rations consisted of the Scottish Cup final, European Cup final, some International away qualifiers and the annual match v England. Throw in the odd European match and a few League Cup finals and that was it. The excited anticipation of an upcoming live broadcast however, for me, used to start about a week before the game was due! Christmas for this young teenager in the '80s only came around every four years (we didn't know the Euros existed until 1992) and lasted around a month.

    Thanks for a lot of rekindled memories.