Some years ago, when English clubs were not qualifying for the European Competitions with the regularity as they are today, 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, it didn’t 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 an estimated £250K prize money, and around £50,000 for the winning team. The knock-out tournament was played at the G Mex indoor arena in Manchester over 4 evenings in December and proved very popular.
All 21 First Division teams, plus Manchester City, took part, with supporters travelling to Manchester from all over the country.
Each team had 10 players, six on the pitch at any one time, and with many household names taking part. The games were fast flowing, end to end encounters, with roll-on, roll-off substitutes, hence no stoppages in the game.
Two x 7.5 minute halves made for skilful and exciting entertainment for the crowd. This was not a walking pace, tippy-tappy knockabout either. Full-on competition mode with tackles flying in and body checks were the order of the night.
BBC’s Sportsnight were attracted enough by the concept to cover the tournament. The famous voice of John Motson could be heard extolling the virtues of many talented players, whilst Bob Wilson was anchor-man in the studio.
Played inside a specially constructed football pitch, with a solid surface and Perspex walls for spectator’s benefit, there was also a sin bin where players could be sent for short periods if their misdemeanours required them to ‘cool down’.
A small group of Football League referees were trained in the specific tournament rules and a team of four 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.
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 Major Indoor Soccer League to this country.
They played against numerous teams in the UK showing off their tremendous skills at football events in Sheffield, Birmingham and many more.
American style 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.