How did we used to get the half time scores?

By Tony Attwood

It is, of course, so easy today. If you want to know a score you can see it on TV at any time, both through teletext on the BBC and through Sky Sports News.

If you are at the match at the Ems you can wait until half time or full time, and the scores will come up on the screens.  Matches played before ours are shown on the screens around the stadium.

But, it was not always thus.

I have been trying to put a picture together of just how we used to get the scores in the past.  I have not as yet found any article that specifically covers the subject, so thought it might be a good one for the series in the club programme – but I need the facts.  And I am hoping you might help.

Here’s what I recall so far:

1960s to 1980s: Supporters used to take their radios (known then as “transistors”) to games.   “Trannies” had made radios much smaller than before and I can remember many having the sets held to the ear to catch scores on the Light Programme, and then later Radio 2, and then Radio 5.

Highbury – before the all seater stadium: We had two sets of A to Z lettering – one in the north east corner and one in the south west.  Each letter represented a match, and which match was which was written in the programme.  Towards the end of half time someone would creep through the tunnel behind the letters and insert the numbers for the scores.  There were groans and cheers according to the results as they went up.

I think that for one of the celebrations (75 years at Highbury maybe) the process was re-introduced and people could apply for the right to insert the numbers for a game or two.

Sports Report. This goes back as far as my memory of football – a 5pm programme on the Light Programme, with the results read out with deep solemnity and then reports on a few of the games (rarely Arsenal I seem to recall).  Football was just one of the many sports covered.   I am not sure when second half commentary of matches was added, but that was just one match, and it was very much the second half only.  I think commentary all the way through a game came in the 1980s.  Because of the size of radios in the days of battery operated sets, it was never an option to take one to a game until the 1960s.  Radio 5 still uses the same theme tune.

“All the half times; 3.30 winners”. I certainly remember leaving Highbury to the shouts of the newspaper vendors who sold the Saturday Edition of the Evening Standard, which they claimed had all the half times and the race results for the 3.30pm races – although I have no idea where.   I’m not sure when the Standard finished publishing a saturday edition, but when they did it was a prime source of information.

The report edition would come out by about 6.30 and then be rushed across London in Standard vans, with the drivers chucking the copies out to the news vendors and shops – no one actually got out of the cab to deliver them for time was of the essence.

The reports included some detail of the first half, but the second half was nothing more than three lines telling you who scored.  A picture, if there was one, would be from early in the match.  (This in itself is an interesting Highbury memory.  The photographer would take the picture, and then remove the plate and give it to a runner who would walk around the pitch and (I believe) get on his motorbike and drive off to the newspaper with it.)

Highbury – before the A to Z codes. I am told (but it was before my time) that people walked around the ground with a board showing the half times.  True or not – anyone know?

The Manor Ground. I had always assumed that people got the results in the 19th and early 20th century from the newspapers a day or two later – but it seems not.  Research by Mark Andrews has uncovered the fact that telegrams were sent from Woolwich Arsenal away games to a pub outside the ground, and the score was read out – not just at half time and the end, but during the game itself.

I have looked a copies of the Times from the era and they carried results from the start of the league days, but little more.  They also always put the winning club first in the early days, and then followed the score by the venue (as in Woolwich Arsenal 12 Loughborough 0 (at Woolwich).

So that’s about it so far.  Please do help me fill in the gaps.

13 Replies to “How did we used to get the half time scores?”

  1. Tony, Two added points:
    1. Remember BBC radio commentaries being assisted by a pitch layout(numbered squares) published in the Radio Times.The commentator
    might refer to a player on an attacking run and a voice in the background would identify the area by giving the relative numbered square.
    2. For those folk living outside the UK, without radios, the football results were published in a Football Press, a green paper, on sale on the streets, by shouting paper boys, soon after the end of play, price 1d. No floodlights in those days, which meant mid-afternoon in winter.
    This was probably started to coincide with the introduction of football pools.

  2. The Saturday London paper was the Evening News. I can remember being sent round to the local paper shop by dad / older brother to get wait for them to turn up. After the Evening News went out of business Robert Maxwell published a free evening paper in London to compete against the Evening Standard (Murdoch may have done the same as well, or Eddie Shah). It was alleged that they had a Saturday evening edition as well. I can remember waiting outside Oxford Circus tube station witing for them to turn up after we had beat Wimbledon in the first game of the 1988-89 season. I waited and waited and waited but they never arrived. Another reason to dislike the crook.

  3. I can also remember the ‘Pink’ with all the scores in the paper as well, including non-league games.

    During my time in the Royal Navy, we had to try and get the scores via one our High Frequency radios via the World Service. We (Communicators) would then type up the results for all divisions, including the Scottish ones and post them up outside our Communications Office for all to read.

    Now it is very easy to get the results via the Internet, email and mobile phones.

  4. As a small lad before being introduced to First Team fixtures I used to get taken to Reserve games. On these Saturdays the first team were invariably playing away, and the A letter of the corner scoreboards would be updated whenever there was a goal in the First Team game. A steward would emerge from the dugout and start to make his way solomnly round the outside of the pitch, which would immediately get the very small crowd quite animated. People used to call out to him for an indication on which way the goal had gone, but he always remained steadfastly aloof. He would then disappear through the small door behind the scorebard to select the appropriately numbered boards which were fed through from inside. When the numbers came up there would obviously be a cheer if Arsenal were the scorers, and a gentle boo if the goal had gone the other way. Sometimes the steward would play a little game with the crowd, mostly kids, by deliberately getting the score the wrong way round, usually in favour of the opponents. So he would get a boo as the score firstly went up, then a few seconds of apprehension as the boards were removed, and then a cheer as the correct score came up in Arsenal’s favour. Happy Days!

  5. Re my previous post, I’m talking about Highbury in the late nineteen fifties. Obviously giving away my age here!

  6. @Bringham

    I can also remember the Saturday ‘Pink-un’ (Evening Standard I think). The first issue of this paper would carry results and reports up to half-time on all games that day and be on the streets of inner London before the games themselves had actually finished. Subsequent issues would also carry score updates (with scorers) and even final scores on a Classified Results column on the back page. I can recall leaving Highbury after a game and walking the 3-4 miles to my grandparents home, by which time a Pink-un with all the final scores would be available from the vendor at the end of their road.

  7. I seem to remember back in the 50’s there were three evening newspapers, the Evening Star, the Evening News and the Evening Standard. The vendors from their steet corner positions would call out “starnewsstandard” monotonously. People would wait for the papers to arrive with the football results on a Saturday afternoon and when they were hurled from a moving van a rugby scrum would form as everyone tried to buy a copy. The vendors would then shout “classified, starnewsstandard, classified”. Earlier editions of the papers would have latest scores in a ‘stop press’ section at the bottom of the back page. This was the days before betting shops and a lot of the vendors would illegally take bets from the public for the bookies runners.

    With regard to the half time scoreboard by the corner flag I seem to remember if you went to a reserve game the score from the first team’s away game would be updated through the second half. When you saw the man walking towards the corner there would be an air of anticipation or dread. We would wait at the final whistle for an announcement of the final score which would be greeted with a cheer or a groan.
    At the reserve games the crowd would congregate behind the goal which Arsenal were attacking and at half time all traipse down the other end.

    Happy days.

  8. Having grown up in the U.S., and not getting into this kind of football until about middle age, I’m very curious as to how a person who wanted to know would have found out in my youth (the 1970s and ’80s). I was shocked to find out how rarely games were broadcast live on British TV, let alone anywhere else, prior to the 1989 Anfield finale.

    The impression I get is that “Match of the Day” and “The Big Match” were mainly highlight shows, akin to the American “This Week In Baseball” and “This Is the NFL” broadcasts, both usually shown on early Saturday afternoons, depending on which sport was in season (April through September for the former, September through December for the latter). Other than that, you had to wait until ABC’s “Monday Night Football” showed highlights of the Sunday games at halftime, until ESPN came along and showed whatever they could fit into an hour broadcast, and then repeated ad nauseam — Is it safe to presume Sky and the other U.K. networks did the same thing?

    The scene from “Fever Pitch” does stick out, where on 15 April 1989, at halftime of the Arsenal win over Newcastle (Brian Marwood scoring the game’s only goal), Colin Firth asks about the FA Cup Semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, at Hillsborough, hears “It’s in trouble or something” from a fan and then Mark Strong tells him “a bloke with a radio over there reckons there’s people hurt.” It made me wonder if English football grounds had what we in North America would call an out-of-town scoreboard — I presumed from this exchange that they didn’t, at least not at that time. But in the book, Nick Hornby tells of being taken to Highbury on his birthday, 17 April 1971, and watching Arsenal win while hearing from his transistor that Leeds dropped points, crucial in the Double pursuit. I wonder if the grounds had pay-phones where you could call a friend who ran a pub in, say, Derby and ask what was happening in the game there.

  9. Uncle Mike – at the Fever Pitch time it really was just scores on the scoreboard at half time, and then an announcement on the public address system – with people listening on the radio for whatever games were being reported on the BBC or local radio show. That was it.

    Match of the Day started in the 1960s, as recorded highlights of just a few first division games.

  10. I believe that it was April 1st, 1989 – that the Press Association linked in with teletext/ceefax etc to start offering ‘latest scores’. Before this date, there was no easy way (short of listening to the game and updates on local radio, or national radio for the big games) of knowing the score at any time during the game. Before this date, ceefax and Oracle would only offer half-time scores and full time scores.

  11. A belated reply to ‘Uncle Mike’ above …. It’s not a happy subject, but I’m intrigued by the description of a scene from Fever Pitch, which I’ve never watched (nor read), depicting how some of the Arsenal crowd at half-time learned of the Hillsborough Disaster through the radio.

    In fact I recall the stadium announcer, in giving the half-time scores, saying that the Hillsborough game had been suspended and that there were initial reports of fatalities. By the time of the full-time scores he’d clearly been told to keep quiet about it.

    One aspect has always bothered me. When the announcer broke the news, I looked all around at my fellow supporters expecting it to have caused a stir. They can’t ALL have heard it earlier through “a bloke with a radio”. But I could detect no response whatever.

  12. Hi Tony, regarding half-time score boards; some research I’ve been doing on Dartford’s old Watling Street ground, I found a piece in the newspaper stating: A huge half-time scoreboard was erected on the ground” this was November 1923.
    Unfortunately I’ve never seen a photograph of the ground with this scoreboard though.

    I would have expected that there would be photos of Highbury with the scoreboards in the background.

    Anyway, a good and interesting article and provides food for thought.
    Regards from
    Tony Brown
    DFC Researcher

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