Through the ether


Shortwave memories

There’s little that can touch the thrills my brother and I shared listening to football commentary on shortwave radio.

Growing up in the US in the late 60s/early 70s, the radio was our only football source.

Soccer’s takeover of the US collapsed for a first time in red ink in 1968. The TV companies, initially curious at this odd sport played by men with strange names and haircuts, figured your average Joe in Omaha didn’t get it. The plug was pulled on the flow of cash though the fledgling North American Soccer League, the rump of two (yes, two) competing pro leagues, limped along.

Our local team, the New York Cosmos, were reduced to playing before a couple of thousand on Hofstra University’s skin abrading astroturf pitch. It had a bigger camber than a motorway and was barely regulation width.

That aside, we relied on a small transistor radio that could just about bring in the BBC World Service on a Saturday morning and the odd Wednesday afternoon for big European matches.

Paddy Feeney, I think, introduced the sport programme. We got the last half hour of the BBC’s featured Saturday match. The World Service stretched to full coverage of the FA Cup.

That’s me pretending to be listening to Spurs beating Chelsea in the 1967 cup final. I believe we managed to miss the match due to misjudging the time difference and poor reception.

One of my abiding shortwave memories is David Fairclough’s crucial goal for Liverpool against St Etienne in the 1977 European Cup. We could barely hear the commentary through the static, but knew instinctively that Fairclough had saved the match.

By 1977, of course, soccer had exploded on to US TV screens again. Pele, Beckenbauer, Best transformed the game. In addition to Cosmos Sarker, we got “Football Made in Germany”, “Star Soccer” from ATV Midlands as well as a hotch potch of Latin American games. Violent clashes between  England and Argentina and a similar kick-fest when Scotland visited Buenos Aires’ “chocolate box” stand out in the memory.

But, we continued to crank up the shortwave, try and tune out the static as Clough’s Forest chopped through the First Division.

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