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Watching The Big Match Revisited the other day awakened in us a stirring (not that kind). We have since been trawling YouTube for clips of classic football shows, and the one exercising us most this week is 'Saint And Greavsie'. For readers too young or too foreign to have watched the show in its 1980s and early 1990s Saturday lunchtime heyday, it consisted of chat, goals and what we did not used to call 'bants' between its two hosts. They were, from left to right, former Liverpool striker Ian St. John and ex-Spurs leg-end Jimmy Greaves. The world was changing and football was changing but in an increasingly digital world, here were two analog men.
This clip from 1991 captures the easy chemistry between the pair. And indeed the apparent bafflement of Jimmy Greaves. Loving the opening remarks: St John competent and firm, Greaves burbling in a confused manner. For those who have grown up on a diet of slick graphics, thrusting young pundits and efficient, pleasant but rather faceless media droids like the Shephardbot3000, it looks alarmingly amateurish. We can confirm that this was indeed on national television by the way. This particular episode is from the show's later period: a year after this, along came Sky and the Premiership, and an end to live league football on ITV.
Aesthetically, it is as heinous as any other 80s-style TV programme. The slightly melancholic Casio keyboard-style opening music is even more dated than Greavsie's often garish selection of viscose-printed shirts. They sat in studios which are awkward-looking and angular and made in the colours of a cheap TK Maxx training shoe, usually some variation of grey and lemon. But the awful music and set design aside, it is the chemistry between them that delivers the show. Clearly, they get along and are good friends with Jimmy playing the clown to Saint's straight man. And it has to be said, they were good at it.
Saint and Greavsie found themselves out on their ear and suddenly looking distinctly dinosaur-ish. This 2009 interview in The Guardian is oddly upsetting - Saint saying that "he and his wife are on 200 quid a week" - and both men lamenting that there is no football country for old men.
"There's millions of us old bastards out there. We're just not recognised by the media," Greaves says.
"They shut the door on you," St John adds. "There's nothing for old people. The crap that comes on of a Saturday night, it's all for teenagers, but they're all out on the piss. Who's watching it? Us. But we don't want to be watching it, we want to watch something that interests us."
Aw, Saint! Greavsie! Sad to think of those chortling old busters having a tough time of it. But that is the march of fashion in the meeja. Rewatching S&G now it all seems splendidly naff, more like they are giving a joint after-dinner speech at a medium-sized Daventry-based sprocket maker, or on a roadshow tour of some of the larger regional theatres, than a flagship national TV football programme.
For all the smart-causal, houndstooth-jacketed, v-neck lambswool golf club sweaterishness of matters, it still manages to be both informative and entertaining. You get your football fix with clips, interviews and previews. Each show seemed to have the potential to fall apart in corpsing, chortling and general japery, yet never quite does. This is perhaps their greatest legacy. Football is so damn serious these days and hey kids, remember, it's supposed to be fun.
In some ways Soccer Saturday, though obviously very different in format and 12 times longer, is the inheritor of the Saint and Greavise-style bonhomie. Indeed, we'd like to see Saint and Greavsie watching football on a TV while actually on TV for six hours and we're pretty sure they'd like the work. So why not have a Soccer Saturday veterans panel once a month? It'd offer a different perspective, different voices and a break from Merse repeating his sentences, Jeff, literally repeating his sentences, Jeff.
While we by and large think it is a bad thing that football media is dominated by ex-pros, Saint And Greavsie was so doggedly unpolished that we think we would quite like to see some of these ex-footballers unfettered by a nodding and guiding actual real broadcaster. Imagine Robbie Savage and, say, Lee Dixon doing their own show without the calming influence of a Colin Murray to corral them. It could be glorious madness. It might be excruciating. Sadly these days, everyone is probably a bit too self-conscious and media trained for it to work, so perhaps the simplest and best solution is simply to bring back Saint And Greavsie themselves.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here
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or Johnny here.