Waiting for the classified

TODAY, we want information immediately when it comes to football – and we get it. Back in the 1970s, if you were at a game or on the way home from one and wanted to know the latest scores of a game, you had to get within earshot of someone with a transistor radio clamped to their ear. “United are losing…Leeds drawing…City winning” and so on. Less reliably, the old A…B…C… half-time scoreboards were the other way of finding out what was going on at other grounds.

After the game, one of the mandatory elements of the journey home for many was picking-up a copy of the classified results, a pink or green (or even white if you were waiting for the Evening News or Standard at one of the main London railway stations) newspaper with the results, tables and peculiar match reports that contained 90% of the first half and a couple of paragraphs on the second. By comparison to today’s intense coverage, these reports had scant detail, but this was in the day when reporters would phone through their copy of the first half during the interval and essentially “top and tail” it for the final whistle. Having written for many of these evening papers myself covering games, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and found it very stimulating. Before email took over, phoning through your copy could be frustrating, but also good fun. I wrote my first reports in the early 1990s for a Birmingham-based paper and loved it, remembering the time I saw some hacks interviewing Dave Sexton after a Chelsea versus Manchester United game and vowing that one day I would like a crack at that.

My first brush with these newspapers came in the late 1960s. On a Saturday evening, about an hour after BBC’s Grandstand had teleprintered us to death with the scores – 7 (seven) and all that – I would persuade my Mum or Dad to give me sixpence to walk up to the village newsagents (Derek Hall, South Ockendon) to buy the Evening Standard. There were other like-minded folk waiting for the papers, although most really only wanted to check their pools coupons. I was eager to find out if Peter Osgood or Bobby Tambling had scored for Chelsea.

The papers usually arrived around 6pm, an orange and white van, which had undoubtedly been waiting at Upminster station for a package from Fleet Street, would screech to a halt outside the shop and a dishevelled chap with print-stained fingers, dog-end screwed into the corner of his mouth, would leap out. “Two quire, Derek,” he would shout, indicating the number of papers being delivered, and would throw the bundle, bound with string and including an addressed label, onto the pavement.

I would spend the next 15 minutes scanning the front page, which had some headlines, the scores and some hastily compiled (and often incorrect) league tables, with the London clubs in bold. Equally important, the papers would list the games to be featured on Match of the Day or Sunday’s Big Match. I would punch the air with delight if the Chelsea game was on that list. The next challenge was to make sure I could commandeer the (black and white) TV for some late-night viewing and pray the valves would go the distance.

As for the quality of the reporting, it was pretty unimaginative stuff, but in the 1970s, Fleet Street’s finest didn’t have the internet, state-of-the-art technology or the thousands of eagle-eyed social media commentators to support them. In other words, the system was vulnerable and prone to mistakes, especially with scorers and goal-times. But how we lapped it all up – these newspapers made us informed experts at least until the following morning.

There was something a little exciting about buying a classified edition – about being among the first people to have some detail around the afternoon’s football – half-time scores in brackets, attendances in a separate column. You have to remember that without the tools of the modern trade, if you missed the results on BBC or ITV, you didn’t get a chance to see them until the next day’s newspapers. Match of the Day undoubtedly filled some gaps, but largely, you were in the dark until the paper popped through the letter box on Sunday. Midweeks were no different, you might catch the results on the late news, but it was hard to get information. I recall a European game in 1968-69 when Chelsea were knocked out of the old Fairs Cup after two 0-0 draws with DWS Amsterdam. I misread the blurred result as 6-0 rather than 0-0 and went to school unaware that Chelsea had been eliminated by the toss of a coin!

The two London papers used to issue special colour editions for big games, which became collectors’ items. In 1968, on the day of the European Cup final, my teacher, Mrs Perks, lent me the special for Manchester United v Benfica, but only if she could pick it up on the way home. I devoured its contents and by the time kick-off came (and Mrs Perks had cycled home with her special), I was boring my football agnostic Dad with details of Eusebio, Torres, Simões and Augusto, and predicting a Benfica win. I still have FA Cup final 1970 newspapers, European specials and a very innovative 1970-71 preview of Chelsea’s season, one of a series issued by the Evening Standard that included all London clubs.

Years later, when I was a regular at Stamford Bridge, my journey back to Essex included waiting for a classified at Fenchurch Street station, but I will never forget having one edition stolen by a group of West Ham fans who boarded the train at Barking and proceeded to tear it apart and throw it out of the window, piece by piece. From that day, I removed my scarf when I reached Tower Hill station.

Some of us mourn the passing of the old classifieds, but in truth, we have more today than we’ve ever had. It is probably not the error-strewn newspapers we are longing for, though, what we all crave is more simplicity in life. Technology and its tools was supposed to make life simpler, but in effect, they have made our lives more complex. When we think “classified” we are really yearning for less complication, or perhaps we are just hung up on nostalgia.