When it was popular...
WE HAVE all played a game of five-aside in the school playground, in the park or at one of soccer centres around the country.
So, we can identify with its capacity to make you run around like headless chickens until you get a stitch or argue about the ball going above head height, rush goalie or shooting from inside the ‘D’.
The pros talk about playing fun five-a-side games in training and in recent years there have various tournaments for celebrities and former players.
But back in the 70s and 80s, I remember watching on shows like BBC’s Sportsnight or ITV’s Midweek Sports Special a couple of competitions that were taken seriously by clubs and players alike.
In fact, London clubs had enjoyed an annual night out first in 1954 at Earls Court before moving to Harringay Arena the following year.
It ended up at the Empire Pool, Wembley until 1978 when the venue became known as Wembley Arena for the Evening Standard London Five-a-Side Championships as it was called (Charlton Athletic won the inaugural tournament in’54, beating Tottenham 3-1 in the final).
The London competition was usually held in May and open to all the clubs in and around the capital.
It ran for the next six years. In 1955, Fulham beat West Ham 4-1 with goals from Bobby Robson (two), Jimmy Hill and Johnny Haynes.
Tottenham won in 1960 and then for some reason the competition was not held until it was re-introduced in 1967 (fresh from World Cup fever).
It saw West Ham with the World Cup trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters beat Arsenal 4-0 in the final.
In front of an 8,000 sell-out crowd who had paid 7s 6d a ticket, Hurst scored a hat-trick and Moore collected a trophy at Wembley. A case of déjà vu?
During the following years there were wins for West Ham again in 1970, QPR in 1971 and 1974, Leyton Orient in 1976 and Arsenal in 1977,
Millwall had three wins in six years in the early eighties, while Watford beat Wimbledon in 1993.
Some notable performances came from the likes of Trevor Brooking, Stan Bowles, Liam Brady, a young Laurie Cunningham for Orient and Teddy Sheringham in his Millwall days.
However, West Ham’s David Cross must hold the record for the fastest hat-trick, scored in 32 seconds!
Wycombe Wanderers won in 1995, the final year the competition was held.
The Daily Express competition began in 1967 and went on till 1986.
Usually held in November, London clubs did well in the early years. It probably helped that they had some experience playing indoors already.
Charlton, again, won the first year, against an unusual mix of teams including Gillingham, Lincoln, Grimsby and Morton.
In 1970, Manchester City were the defending champions but were unable to send a strong team as it clashed with a European tie.
Arch-rivals Manchester United, with George Best starring, took advantage and lifted the trophy.
Tottenham won in 1972 by beating Ipswich in the final in a penalty shoot-out, still a novelty in those days.
In 1974, Leyton Orient surprised everyone by winning all their matches in penalty shootouts. Wolves won in 1975 and again a year later, Bobby Robson’s Ipswich took the title in ’77 and Crystal Palace clinched the trophy in 1978. During these years the tournament was televised comprehensively by the BBC’s Sportsnight show. Aston Villa took time out from their successful First Division campaign to win in 1980 and the following year Celtic became the only Scottish club to win. With a team of youngsters starring Charlie Nicholas, they beat a Manchester United side featuring Ray Wilkins and Bryan Robson on the way to a final against Southampton, who included Kevin Keegan. As the eighties kicked in, the clubs would turn up with reserve and youth players and so interest in the competition started to wane. The BBC dropped it after 1983 and without TV exposure the tournament ended in 1986 when Norwich City beat Manchester City 5-0 in the final.
Out of the blue, the Football League had decided to launch its own event, inspired by America’s Major Indoor Soccer League. Soccer Six was born.
This was frantic, unlike the five-a-side events which had touchlines and kick-ins. The ball was permanently in play due to a plexiglass wall which surrounded the playing surface and could be used as an extra man by playing onetwos off it.
The goals were bigger and with no height restrictions, players were encouraged to attempt spectacular long-range shots. Matches lasted 15 minutes, sin-bins and rolling substitutions added to the drama.
So, in 1981, the Austin-Rover Soccer Six was launched at the Birmingham NEC with teams from the Midlands.
The eight teams were full of unknown reserves and apprentices, Birmingham City running out winners. The organisers were happy to try again the following year with a line-up of teams from around the country – with Birmingham retaining the title.
Arsenal, Tottenham and Nottingham Forest all lifted the crown before the boom year of 1988 saw the peak of the tournament’s popularity with all 22 First Division clubs taking part.
Sponsored now by Guinness, the event had a total purse of £250,000.
The clubs took it seriously and players like Stuart Pearce, Gordon Strachan and Peter Beardsley would lead their teams.
But it was Charlton’s Mickey Bennett who was the player of the tournament as he led them to victory.
The BBC showed the action on TV and it quickly became a hit for a few seasons, especially around the time English clubs were banned from competing in Europe and so had time in the calendar and, more importantly, there were financial benefits.
However, once clubs were readmitted to European competitions, the writing was on the wall with fixture congestion.
Luton Town (who at that time played their league games on a plastic pitch) beat Liverpool 4-0 to win what would be the last tournament in December1990.
The bigger clubs were again unwilling to play or risk their star players. It was consigned to the history books when it was cancelled in 1991.
Alas, looking back, maybe it was only the fans who really enjoyed these indoor competitions.
Clubs don’t even acknowledge that they won these trophies never mind took part.