Just 8 weeks before the launch of this new era, England’s woeful Euro 92 campaign farted and spluttered into nothingness via two 0-0 draws, and a spanking at the hands of hoover nozzle entrepreneur and sometime Swedish footballing lardball Tomas Brolin. The ’92 failure wasn’t about Graham Taylor’s pragmatism, Carlton Palmer’s improbable international career, Paul Gasgoine’s injury or Gary Linekar’s premature retirement, it was about the levels of testicular constraint leveled at the country’s finest footballers. Their shorts ended just below scrotal base, leaving large expanses of thigh and a distinct bulging in the pants area.
By August of that year, the short short long short revolution had happened, out went tight, short and shiny, in came long, baggy and matt. At once, a line was drawn in the sand between what is officially known as ‘the past’ and ‘the modern era’ (or, if you work for the Premier League marketing department; the entire history of football, ever). Look at your team’s greatest moment and consider their shorts. If they look like they’re wearing swimming trunks; then, I’m sorry, your team is from The Past. Many, like us with our peak in the mid-80s, missed the cut. Although our boxing day opponents Wimbledon got to don the baggy shorts of modernity they died trying to keep them on and will always be known for their short and shiny ’88 FA Cup win.
Sky’s Boxing Day treat for those suffering from turkey reflux was pure 80s throwback. It was a decision that can only have been made by those battling with the ills of their late-30s. That generation of eternal children, with their converse trainers and ironic t-shirts, who have surfed the property boom without ever having to grow up. Now, with the dawning of the age of austerity and the end of the consumer electronics orgy, these souls are lost. Christmas needs re-defining, and where better to look for it than the magical Christmases of their childhood when a pinstripe Liverpool shirt* as a present was the pinnacle of all life’s possibilities and Oxford and Wimbledon were resolutely top-flight.
That and the fact the game was being played a few miles from Sky’s Isleworth studio, which presumably made mustering a decent crew slightly easier.
Certainly the nostalgia narrative was strong in the build up to the game; with both our Milk Cup and Wimbledon’s FA Cup wins from the 80s being shown and bubble permed pitbull Terry Gibson shivering on the sidelines as the surprisingly erudite and balanced expert analyser. We were reminded that the two teams met in the top flight on Boxing Day 1986, almost as though it were a legendary meeting. How they would have killed for some footage.
It would be pushing it to say that there was a Wimbledon bias in the coverage, I guess most of those involved couldn’t give a stuff about who won and were just thankful that the kick-off was sufficiently early to allow them to get back to the half eaten box of Quality Street they’d been working on throughout Christmas Day. It’s hard not to want the Wimbledon project to succeed given the injustice of their recent history. But to the general frustration of all, we proved emphatically that we’re better equipped to progress this season.
We were so in control in the first half, despite the claims of luck in the first goal, that Sky – hearing the echoes of TVs being switched off everywhere – were using examples from unrelated games to prove that this was still a competition.
‘You would never have believed that Ipswich would have scored 5 second half goals against Barnsley a few weeks ago, so it’s still game-on here’.
The second half was a different affair, the central storyline focussed on a plethora of penalty appeals, which they eventually mellowed on. Andy D’Urso was never actually going to award six penalties and there was recognition that, in most of the cases, you could only make the call with the benefit of multiple camera angles and slow motion replays. At least Dons Manager, Terry Brown, was decent enough to recognise that their loss and the Dons current poor form is not down to poor refereeing decisions. You’re not going to get that kind of response in the Premier League.
As the clock ticked beyond the 80th minute, we had regained our composure and saw the game out with some comfort. Wimbledon’s success in the 80s, the subsequent stripping of their soul and their resurrection via park football and fan power is undoubtedly the greater story of the two clubs, but of those whose celebrated success in the era of the tight short, we’re the more likely to have something to celebrate come May.
* Ever the counter-culturalist, in my case it was an Ipswich Town shirt – long story.