Pete looks back 55 years on from United’s first appearance on MOTD
BBC Match of the Day 16th March 1968
Torquay Utd v Bury – League Div Three (Attendance 10,693)
During the late 1960’s, the BBC’s well established Saturday Match of the Day programme began featuring some more attractive lower league matches as a finale to their featured main League Division One game.
One of the earliest featured was a key game between Torquay Utd and Bury.
Saturday match days in the period had evolved to once a week coverage at around ten o’clock on a Saturday evening after the the TV “comedy” show of the time Till Death Us do Part featuring fictitious West Ham supporter Warren Mitchell as the extremely bigoted Alf Garnett. A television sketch show accepted and considered as very much as the norm at the time. A show though that would shock any modern audience and be rightly condemned and regarded as an embarrassment today .
Very much a sign of the times, at midnight after the football you could stand and salute old tv footage of the Queen on Horse Guards Parade, sat and waving in her carriage and the listen National Anthem before the terrestrial signal was switched off and the picture went all fuzzy wuzzy.
The grainy monochrome VHF 405 lines picture was just about watchable on the families massive 20” Visionhire rented CRT set of the time. But watch it we did, BBC was the only choice in our household unless you could afford a ITV UHF 625 lines multi-pronged aerial and had the obligatory clunky channel knob on your tv set!
After England’s World Cup success In 1966 the sports loving public simply couldn’t get enough football and television brought the sport regularly into our living rooms at no extra cost.
Attendances remained high In most divisions of the football league. Six thousand plus crowds were a regular occurrence at Plainmoor, often many more for the local derbies against Bristol Rovers and also Argyle after dropping down to join us in League Division 3, the very same season after winning only nine games in their FL league 1campaign of 1967/68.
For a very short period of time TUFC held the bragging rights of being the best team in Devon!
During this period the majority TUFC supporters, regarded Exeter City as just a minor club up the road, our poor neighbours who struggled in the inferior league below. In the 1967/68 season Torquay were going great guns, enjoying one of the better periods under Frank O ‘Farrell, who had assembled a hugely talented squad. A number of talented West Ham players were signed by Frank. As a former Hammer star Frank was hugely respected and would have had a great relationship with the London club. Frank attracted some great players to the club, John Bond, Ken Brown, John Smith who left for Swindon the following season and played in the League cup final versus Arsenal, Tony Scott, Bill Kitchener, to name a few played alongside the much worshipped by Torquay fans, Robin Stubbs.
So to March 16th 1968. Torquay Utd v Bury on a cold grey wintry afternoon.
I remember it so well and as one of the highlights of a very memorable period in the clubs history. Bury had given us a rare 5-1 drubbing at their place a few months earlier in the October of 67 so sweet revenge was on the cards. For a twelve year old, knowing the BBC would be there for the big game was hugely a exciting prospect. Approaching the ground in anticipation, watching the huge crowds reaching the ground. A mass of heavy cables strewn around the pavements. The BBC’s great big blue vans of the era. A special gantry platform on the old Popside roof. The over-sized multi lens cameras, etc. etc. made it feel like a very unique and exciting day. As a team we were pretty special that day. I recall a cheeky John Smith goal as the pick of the three. Sadly the archive video was destroyed and no longer exists.
Typically after dominating at the top of the table for the majority of the season we fell away badly in the final few weeks winning only a couple of our remaining dozen or so matches, missing out on promotion.
Oxford Utd and, you guessed it Bury were promoted to Football League Division Two (what is now the Championship).
By the end of 1969 Frank had moved on to manage Leicester City to test and prove his undoubted skills at a higher level. As a successful FL club we had peaked. The replacement manager, Scotsman Alan Brown, tried his best but the core of United’s players in the squad had moved on, most following John Bond to Bournemouth.
Our league status has never again reached those giddy heights of 1968. Sadly the following seasons were of slow decline with only an occasional blip of success. Barely enough though to recharge the supporters batteries..
Fifty-five years on from that 16th March 1968 Match of the Day I still care as so many do – Pete