Soccer Six football – A walk down memory lane

Soccer Six football – A walk down memory lane

Some years ago, when English clubs were not qualifying for the European Competitions with the regularity that they are today, or the F.A. Premier League had not been thought about, the football visionaries felt that an indoor tournament for Football League clubs was the answer. As a result, we were introduced to the world of Soccer Six in the early 1980’s.

Whilst this continued throughout the decade with different sponsors and success ratings, the tournament did not have the status or financial support to attract all the top clubs from the Football League. Guinness eventually became the major sponsors of the event providing that attraction, with an estimated £250K prize money, and around £50,000 for the winning team. The tournament was played at the G Mex indoor arena in Manchester, over 4 evenings in December, on a knock out basis, and proved very popular, with spectators travelling to Manchester, from all 21 1st Division teams plus Manchester City also took part.

Each team had 10 players, 6 on the pitch at any one time, with many house hold names taking part in each team. The games were fast flowing, end to end encounters, with substitutes rolling on and off, without any stoppages in the game. 2 x 7.5-minute halves, made for skilful and exciting entertainment for the crowd. This was not a walking pace, tippy tappy knockabout - it was full on competition with tackles flying in, as body checks became the order of the night. BBC Sportsnight was attracted to cover the tournament and the famous voice of John Motson could be heard, extolling the virtues of many talented players, with Bob Wilson as anchor-man in the studio.

Played inside a specially constructed football pitch, with a solid surface and see through Perspex walls, for spectator’s benefit, there was also a sin bin, where players could be sent for short periods, if their misdemeanours needed them to ‘cool down’.

Spectators were treated to being close to their idols, as many top-class players sat out the breaks by joining them in the respective fan zones. Autographs and photos were readily given, as parents took the opportunity to introduce their children to football in a safe and entertaining environment.

A small group of Football League referees were trained in the specific tournament rules and a team of 4 referees from the North West, Neil Midgely, Joe Worrall, Alan Flood and myself were appointed to share the duties of refereeing, controlling substitutes, time keeping and ‘sitting in the chair’ to observe that the ball was not kicked from one end to the other, without it touching a player or the playing surface. All the match officials were suitably attired in gold and black striped shirts, black shorts and gold and black socks – Guinness colours, just to add to the spectacle.

To view a typical game, visit:

https://youtu.be/HYffW8DknlQ

Whilst the Guinness Soccer Six tournament did not take off in the way that the football visionaries imagined, it did introduce the Baltimore Blast, from the American Major Indoor Soccer League, to this country and they played against numerous teams in the UK showing off their tremendous skills at football events in Sheffield, Birmingham and many more. Their American style of razzamatazz during stoppages in play, with music blaring, balls being kicked into the crowd as souvenirs and various other forms of entertainment at quarter and half-time intervals made this a night to remember for soccer aficionados. These evenings were well supported and offered a real alternative to the UK take on Soccer Six. The same

refereeing team from the North West officiated at all the events, with one or two additional colleagues, suitably trained for the task in hand.

As we moved into the 90’s, football changed dramatically, both here and abroad, so the indoor game suffered and midweek football took over, with the F.A. Premier League announcing its arrival in 1992 and the various European competitions taking control of midweek fixtures on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. To-day, every night in the week attracts football and most of games are shown live on TV -  what a difference to how it used to be.

By Roger Dilkes.