TV TIMES: An amazing 1981 football documentary is a media period piece

Some people have been binge watching over the lockdown and fair play to them.

Me? I’m in a rabbit hole of old sport documentaries on YouTube.

Let me recommend ‘City!’ a 1981 documentary on Manchester City.

It shows beautifully how the media landscape has changed.

In 1981 Manchester City were owned by a local businessman with a combover called Peter Swales. In the programme, the struggling club sack one manager and bring in another.

It bookends beautifully with 2018 when Manchester City now owned by United Arab Emirates billionaire Sheikh Mansour allowed cameras for a docu-series for Amazon that recorded their title win. Slick and glossy this is a global sports brand using a global distribution network.

The 1981 documentary is comms archaeology

If you are interested in comms, ignore the 2018 version and go to the 1981 version. Like an archeological find this shows not just how football used to be but how the media used to be. Look out for:

  • Every journalist is a white bloke over 40.
  • The press conference is delivered in front of strip-pine rather than sponsors logos.
  • There is only two TV cameras covering the action.
  • The media scrum is all photographers and all white males.
  • There appears to be no press officer anywhere in sight.
‘City!’ the 1981 TV documentary on YouTube.


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  1. I was a sports reporter in the 1980s and this bring back so many memories! I was one of the few women covering sport – it WAS mainly 40 and 50-something white blokes. And press officers didn’t appear till well into the 1990s, or even later – you still had to phone the manager or the coach (or the club secretary for rugby) to get the team!

    1. That’s really interesting. I worked for a weekly in a district office and at head office there was someone who it was said was one of the first female sports reporters in Glasgow. I never had the chance to talk to her about it which I really regret.

  2. Fascinating viewing for me because in 1981 I was a sports writer on the Daily Express in Manchester. Brought back memories. Although not a theme in this filming, biggest difference in football between then and now is the crackdown on deliberate fouls in recent decades which makes for a much better spectacle and has virtually eliminated the glorification of inadequate players being lauded as so called “hard men”. One minor factual point: I was in my early thirties at the time and by no means the youngest national newspaper sports writer around at the time.

  3. Watched this Dan. Good stuff. Manager walking around in his buff on top before the match. All a bit blinking mad. Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

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