It wasn’t like that in my day, part 3

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Information: This is an article I wrote for The Eagles Beak and has been published here 1 month it was published on their website. This version may differ slightly from their version. 

In this, the final part of my series, I’ll be rounding up some other aspects of football which we’ve lost since the Premier League reinvented football. For example, have you ever wondered why pundits refer to some players as a ‘number 10’ or an ‘old fashioned number 9’? Then read on…


Before the Premier League, clubs were only allowed to name and use one substitute in a match.

In fact, substitutes were first introduced in the 1965-66 season and could only be used for replacing an injured player. From the 1967-68 season the substitute could replace a player for any reason.

This rule remain in place right up until the Premier League’s first season in 1992-93 when three substitutes could be named, one of which had to be a goalkeeper, and only two could be used.

Some of you might be thinking that isn’t correct because we had Ian Wright and Dave Madden as substitutes in the 1990 Cup Final. This is true, from the 1987-88 season the cup competitions allowed clubs to name and use two substitutes.

It kind of makes you think that managers have it easy today, doesn’t it? To be able to name seven substitutes with which to change a game.

Back in my teenage years under Coppell when Ian Wright was our ‘super sub’ it made things a lot more relevant. I mean, having Wright on the bench meant we only had one back up tactic but football was a lot more fun in those days.

If a defender got injured then someone else went back into defence or a defender would go up front. But, of course, the best situation was always if a goalkeeper got injured or sent off and an outfield player had to go in goal.

I remember one such occasion verses Wimbledon in 1991 when John Salako went in goal for about 75 minutes after Nigel Martyn was sent off. He had nothing to do for the first 70 minutes then he let one in, their first shot on target and then produced a fantastic reflex save in the 90th minute to secure us the game 2-1.

So the next time you go to a match and see 15 people milling around the dugout just think, in the old days it was five people. The manager, assistant, physio, kit man and the sub.

Happy days.

Squad numbers

Back in the day there wasn’t squad numbers, simply because there wasn’t squads as such. Teams didn’t have to name a squad of players for the season and, as previously mentioned, transfers could be conducted until the end of March.

Pick a team picture from the pre-1992 era and mostly there are between 15-20 players in the picture. There really were that few players though it has to be said there were reserve and youth team squads too.

So on a match day the 11 players on the pitch were numbered 1 to 11 and the substitute had number 12. There were no names on the back of the shirts either.

In those days the most common formation was 442 or a version there of. Whatever the case the number 9 was always the big centre forward who was good at heading and holding the ball up. The number 10 was always the smaller more skillful striker who could run with it from deep if needed, almost like an attacking midfielder. The number 11 was always a left winger and number 7 a right winger. The number 8 was a more attacking midfielder and number 4 a more defensive midfielder. The defence speak for themselves.

How these numbers came to be associated with players in this way, I don’t know. It isn’t like they flow naturally from position to position however I can say there were times when players would change numbers from one game to another indicating their different role. So, once when Andy Gray filled in for Geoff Thomas he wore the number 8 instead of the number 4.

I can agree with you if you think it makes no sense in this day and age now we are used to squad numbers but it was funny to see a situation when a player who was a few sizes different wear a shirt meant for someone else.

For example, there was one occasion when Wrighty first came to Palace and he started a game which meant he had to wear Trevor Aylott’s number 9 shirt. He looked hilarious in it because it just swamped him. The same could be said when Micky Droy came to the club and he had to try and squeeze into Gavin Nebbling’s shirt. It looked like one of the modern day shirts painted on to his generous frame!


The good old chant ‘who’s the wa*ker in the black’ is rarely heard these days but before the Premier League the referees used to wear only black in domestic games.

The referees had day jobs, such as school teachers, bank mangers and so on. These days they are professionals which means being a referee is their day job, though you can’t tell. It was quite usual, especially in the old Division Two to find a quite rotund referee appear on match days who wasn’t very fit. Kelvin Morton springs to mind…

Unlike today, referees didn’t used to add time on for substitutions or the ball going out of play (see below) though some would be added for injuries if he remembered to stop his watch. There was no 4th official to indicate how much time was added on, it was purely guess work.


Today there are a batch of match balls around the ground, ready to be introduced at any time to keep the game flowing. Before the Premier League there was just the one! One ball, which if it went into the crowed you had to wait for it to come back. Many a time, say Shrewsbury away, the game would be stopped while an alternative was found because someone kicked the ball outside the ground.

This is where the term ‘put it into Row Z’ comes from. In the dying moments of a game a defender would hoof the ball as far up the back of a stand as he could so it would take as much time as possible for it to come back down, especially if it was among the fans who were winning.

This also had another significance, getting a hat-trick and keeping the match ball. In those days you knew the match ball was the one you scored the hat-trick with whereas today it might not be the ball you scored with at all.

Before the Internet

What did we do before the internet? How did we get our fix of football news, rumours and gossip? Well, apart from the newspapers, magazines and Bob down the local who knew someone who knew someone who knew a bloke who worked in Sainsbury’s, there was Teletext or Clubcall!

I guess most of you will remember Teletext, it hasn’t been that long since the service closed down. I’d go on to the sport section to find I’d just missed the Palace page and have to wait another 80 pages for it to come round again. Then, when it came round again, I discovered the news was over two pages so after pressing ‘hold’ to read the first page I’d have to wait 50 odd pages again to get to page two.

Clubcall on the other was a premium rate number that was launched in the late 80s as a way for you to get the latest information about club news, tickets and so on. Different clubs had different numbers so you knew you were only going to hear Palace related news.

The first minute was filled by rubbish, naturally, and then they dangled the carrot in front of you to keep you on the line only for there to not be anything of interest.

As backward as it may seem, these two systems were the only way you could keep up to date with the latest news, which as a lower second division side at the time, meant we got little newspaper space.


I’m not going to try and pretend football was better before the Premier League because it wasn’t. Fans were treated like animals, poor facilities, treatment by the police, etc. but it was more accessible. There was a chance that the player you just signed from non-league could be the next big thing (Ian Wright, Dave Madden, Andy Gray, etc.) whereas today it doesn’t happen like that.

Standing on a wet and cold night at Selhurst Park with 4,000 other people to see a league game wasn’t fun but it felt special somehow. When we did eventually get promoted the thing that means more to me than anything is the season we finished 3rd in the 1990-91 season and the Premier League seems to have erased that feat because all that’s quoted is that we had never finished in the top half of the Premier League or we never survived more than one season in the Premier League.

Fact is in 1969-72 and 1989-92 we were in the top flight for 4 years in a row and that should not be air brushed over by newspapers, broadcasters or our owners.

For me and other fans who attended all the games home and away during our previous stints in the top flight, the Premier League has made us feel like it all meant nothing.

So, 10th is our best ever Premier League finish. It wasn’t like that in my day!

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