Bob Murray was vociferous about the potential damage that would be caused to football by the mountains of money being injected into it by TV companies. In the mid-late 80s there was one game of football on TV per week – on a programme imaginatively titled The Match, presented by Elton Welsby, with Brian Moore and Jimmy Greaves providing commentary – as well as the occasional live midweek game.
As an aside, if you want a quick nostalgia hit, this is wonderful...
But in the early 90s things were changing.
BskyB dishes were popping up on houses, talk about a breakaway league of elite clubs had gained more and more momentum, to the point that, come 1992, we were in the final throes of English football as we knew it.
Bob Murray had long rallied against change. Whether it was borne from a fear of Sunderland not being able to compete under his stewardship, or something more altruistic all together, we’ll never know – although we may have our own suspicions.
He’d even banned TV cameras from Roker Park for long spells of the late 80s – failing to see the benefits increased exposure on local TV could bring.
Of course, one game a week on TV, and that being a Sunday afternoon at 3pm, made fixture scheduling very easy – and made it rather straightforward to plan away trips. No changes to kick off times, or days, in the weeks leading up to a fixture – and often you didn’t need a ticket in advance anyway.
But on this day 29 years ago, the tip of the iceberg that we now know was beneath the surface bobbed up to the top as news broke that Sunderland’s FA Cup Quarter Final at Chelsea – if we overcame West Ham in the Fifth Round Replay – was being moved to the Monday night, at the behest of BSKYB.
As you can imagine, Captain Bob wasn’t at all happy.
It’s a no-win situation.
I’m sure the supporters would not want the club to lose £60,000.
But from their point of view, they lose on two accounts.
One is the extra expense and the other is the Saturday factor with the traditional big build up through the week.
This is about supporters in general. But there is nothing we can do about it. It’s an agreement with the league.
If you don’t look after your customers you are going to lose them. The whole game is going through a very adverse period as far as the supporter is concerned.
The impact next year will be massive because of the amount of live and recorded games will be astronomical. Kick off times will be changed during the day, days will be changed and so on.
As it went, we did of course end up heading to Stamford Bridge a few weeks later to face Chelsea – a far more pleasant visit than our previous cup tie in West London.
For those of us who couldn’t make it to London that night, we were left finding people who had BskyB. In those days, they were a small minority, albeit one that was growing rapidly.
One of my mates back in the day, Dunny – a mag – had the dustbin lid fitted to the side of his house in Stanley, and I trekked from Consett to watch the match with him and his family. All mags. All quite happy to see us not get beat; it was pre-Keegan and pre-John Hall, after all. They’d probably deny that, though.
It was a hard fought cup tie, and John Byrne’s late equaliser meaning we returned to Roker for what would be the old stadium’s last great cup tie.
Of course, the BskyB cameras were there.
And, it turns out, Mystic Murray was bang on the money.