Back in the day, nothing said “big match occasion” like pre-match entertainment. In the era of terraces – before mobile phones were dreamt of, and when fans might be in the ground an hour or more before kick-off to ensure they got a place – people would happily watch any old rubbish just to pass the time. Jimmy Hill kicked off the crazy stuff in the Sixties, as the family-facing part of his Coventry City revolution: by the time we had got to the mid-Seventies and seen the birth of the NASL and all its associated razzamatazz, anything really did go.
This being the heyday of bovver, the game’s administrators also entertained hopes that the distraction of a troupe of cheerleaders or a brass band would stop the crowd braying lumps out of each other. In fact, the opposite often turned out to be the case. Never was this more evident than at possibly the decade’s highest-profile orgy of violence, the 1978 sixth-round FA Cup-tie between Millwall and Ipswich. On an afternoon chiefly notorious for battalions of flare-clad loons running amok and enraging Bobby Robson, a surprising number of those who were there remember it most for the Wild West shootout that took place on the pitch beforehand.
On to Ashton Gate. Now, among afficionados of the genre, Bristol City are widely and justifiably regarded as the doyen of pre-match madness. Many and various were the wheezes dreamt up to delight late-70s cider ‘eds, and with some justification. City, a decent First Division side, were big box office between 1976 and 1980. Most weeks the team played to full houses, and people needed distracting while they waited for Donnie Gillies and Trevor Tainton to entertain them.
For a window on the whole glorious epoch, you must see this excellent piece from the estimable Football Pink, ably abetted by Miles McClagan’s brilliant Flickr site.
Once again we’ve delved into the programme collection of MILES McCLAGAN (@TheSkyStrikers) and came across some wonderful oddities over at BRISTOL CITY. We insist you to visit his site to enjoy more HERE If there’s one thing they loved down at Ashton Gate it was messing about with animals; from the PG Tips monkeys to performing seals, the Robins couldn’t get enough…
Chimps, though. Whatever the rights and wrongs of performing chimps, I don’t see how anyone could ever think that having some on the pitch before a top flight football match was anything other than risky. If pre-match entertainment had a pinnacle, this was surely it – a concept so leftfield that even people who were there now doubt it really happened. Well, it did – and here, to prove it, are a selection of memories from the One Team In Bristol website, www.otib.co.uk
“Don’t remember the year, but I definitely remember the PG Tips chimps appearing on the pitch.”
“Pre-match entertainment to bring the fans in early. Chimps on a climbing frame, Shag Connor & the Carrot Crunchers, lacrosse, llamas, not forgetting the cheerleaders, the Rockin’ Robins. All part of the late 70’s matchday experience! I seem to recall a parade of cars around the pitch, and I’m sure it was City where the marching band would not leave the pitch until they had finished their ‘set’, despite both teams having re-appeared.”
“I also remember, on a separate occasion, a very pissed Len Fairclough from Coronation Street making as much sense as Charlie Sheen when he was given the microphone at half time.”
“Yes, and there was performing seals at one game. Tony Rance (CoE) hired loads of different acts.”
“I remember performing dogs jumping through hoops of fire once as well.”
“Yeah its true. We had loads of “entertainment” at the time. I well remember llamas being paraded around the pitch – unfortunately Bowyers sponsored the game and the Bowyers girls were out before the llamas tossing pies into the crowd. By the time the llamas appeared the pies had been unwrapped and people figured they were stale. As the llamas approached the East End they were pelted by the pies and they pegged it toward the open end, leaving evidence of their shock in their wake.”
“I also remember a police dog display which went wrong (to the amusement of thousands). The noise from the crowd appeared to confuse the dog and it chased the “thief” toward the Coventry fans. A roar of delight went up as the dog grabbed the wrong (and unprotected arm). Other police pegged it toward the injured officer to drag the dog off (greeted by a chorus of boos).”
“Pre-match entertainment was a popular thing in those days and we had lots of different things. A Royal Marines demonstration, PG Tips Monkeys, Avon & Somerset Police Dogs, circus acts, some of them were really good as well. Better than today’s offering of seeing someone trying to hit the crossbar or getting the ball in an inflatable Blackthorn glass….”
“On occasions the entertainment was desperate, but when it went wrong it went spectacularly wrong – and amused everyone who was watching.”
“This seems to be the way forward, forget ” Quid a Kid”. Sell stale pork pies for a few bob each and then parade round some llamas, who could object to that?”
“I also remember Father Christmas, back in about 1980, getting pelted with the same packets of sweets he had previously thrown into the crowd. He seemed a particularly bad tempered Santa.”
“It still goes on today, though its not part of the organised entertainment. The chimps have iPhones now and sit quietly with them throughout the half time interval.”