Andrew Lawn has been feeling nostalgic for the little things that have disappeared from English football, to the extent he's made a list. Yellow nets. Obvs.
Over the weekend, I lost 45 minutes, in a revelry about all the positive advances across football through the 1990s, thanks to a 442 article by Gary Parkinson on how the decade saved English football.
Included in the list are, among others; the arrival of foreign players and new ideas, improved punditry (there are further gains to be made here), the back pass rule, Football Italia, the rise of football magazines, literature and fanzines (of which we are of course ultimately one) and, most importantly to me; Championship Manager.
The 1990s was the footballing decade I grew up with and these advances in the game, came during my formative years, so I hadn’t ever really stopped to appreciate what were all, undoubted improvements.
England’s semi-final defeat to Germany at Italia 90 is one of my earliest fleeting football memories (I was 4), and it was in the coming seasons that I would first begin to accompany my Dad to Carrow Road.
As I reminisced, little details and memories flooded back and it got me thinking about all the little details that, as far as I know, have now slipped, unseen, away from the game.
The first one (and most frequently lamented in these parts) was coloured goal nets.
Long obsessed by football grounds (along with chants, they would be my Mastermind subject), there was a time when I could instantly recognise a ground purely by the colour and shape of their nets.
Carrow Road of course was graced by those beautiful, tight-knit, yellow ones, draped (not stretched) over rounded stanchions (another thing to be lost).
Wembley had those large white ones with the arched support from the crossbar to the ground, while Nottingham Forest had a similarly tight red net, marvellously constricted in such a way that almost begged you to lace one into it. Ipswich had those hideous great blue box nets and Spurs a tiny, almost hockey like ensemble.
All are now long-gone, replaced by the uniformity of a white, loose-knit, stanchion-less box. I can only presume this was done because in someone’s opinion it looks nicer on television, but for my money it has robbed the game of a little piece of localised character.
From nets to flags; specifically corner flags.
Now corner flags remain individual in terms of their colouring and frequently feature the crest of the club - they have to otherwise what other photograph would a club use on Twitter when they sack a manager - instead the thing I miss is their shape.
It was a revelation to me when I read in Match (circa 1994) that as part of winning the FA Cup clubs were awarded, alongside the trophy and a place in Europe, the right to have triangular shaped corner flags.
To an 8-year-old me, this seemed the height of sophistication. Triangular corner flags. Imagine. Immediately, I looked at our stupid square corner flags as an embarrassing sign that we were shit in the cup. Our subsequent, repeated, failures always hurt that little bit more as a result - a whole additional year of square corner flag hell.
Fast forward 24 years and now square corner flags are all the rage and the showy triangular affair is gone. When or why, I have no idea.
As corner flags silently became square, a variant vanished altogether; the halfway line flag.
Why they ever existed is a mystery. Did they tell the Assistant Referee where to stop running or did every club just have 2 spares and not want to waste them? One game they were there, the next they’d gone and nobody noticed.
Then there are intricate pitch markings, which were in vogue just a few years ago, but are now consigned to the FA Cup following an unremarked upon Premier League ban. I can see the benefit of insisting on clear horizontal lines to help the assistant with offside calls, but to be so prescriptive as to outlaw any sort of creative flair in ground staff seems unnecessarily stifling.
Finally, and borne out of my obsessions with both football grounds and Championship Manager, is the loss of adverts crudely painted on stadium roofs.
Brentford’s Griffin Park (sadly soon to be no more) retains them, presumably because it is under the flight path of Heathrow, and it is the principle reason I like them. There is something pleasing about using otherwise dead space to show off your wears to people hurtling by thousands of feet above.
Given the effort clubs, including ours, put into commercialising everything else, it seems odd that so little attention has been paid to the huge roof spaces. It wouldn’t affect the club’s heritage as to take a random example, selling off the name; ‘The Barclay’ would.
When the club now inevitably read this piece and immediately decide to do this, I ask 2 things; 1 - make it look like an old style shabby painting using pitch marking paint and 2 - give me 50%.
Reading back on the list now, I realise they are all little pieces of localised character that have been swept away as the game has become globalised.
The 442 piece was right, the 90s were a decade in which football and the experience of going to football was vastly improved compared to the preceding decade, but at what cost?
For what it is worth, I don’t think any of those little bits we’ve lost couldn’t make a return and if they did, our experiences would be a little richer and we’d all gain a little something that money can’t buy.