When superstars played six-a-side at Christmas! Arsenal defender Kenny Sansom in the sin bin, Coventry striker David Speedie in goal… and Luton Town are still the reigning champions
- The midweek six-a-side tournament was played in December
- First Division clubs battled it out to win a share of the £250,000 prize pool
- The final edition of the tournament was played in 1990 after nine glorious years
Premier League managers want more substitutes, fewer matches and longer rest periods.
So imagine the furore were the following idea to be floated at their next managers’ meeting: a midweek six-a-side tournament to be played in December, with your best players on display and to be shown on terrestrial television.
Rewind 30 years and that was exactly what used to happen ahead of the festive fixtures — and not a soul complained about it, either.
Manchester United forward Brian McClair (centre) in action against Tottenham Hotspur
Organised by the Football League, the Guinness Soccer Six was, for football fans, an early Christmas present; Steve Rider introducing the action on BBC’s Sportsnight, John Motson on commentary and First Division clubs giving it their all to win a share of the £250,000 prize pool.
For any child of the Eighties, the following day on the playground would be spent trying to recreate goals scored by the likes of Peter Beardsley, Paul Merson and Tony Cottee. Or the saves of Bruce Grobbelaar and David Speedie, the striker who somehow spent an evening in goal for Coventry City in 1988.
The language often heard was less repeatable, commentator Tony Gubba apologising when a frustrated Malcolm Allen yelled ‘For f***’s sake’ in the direction of Norwich team-mate Ruel Fox. It proved they wanted to win, at least.
Sadly, the final edition was played in 1990 after nine glorious years. The holders are Luton Town, whose side included winger Kingsley Black. He was a little surprised to take a call from Sportsmail this week reminding him of the anniversary.
Arsenal defender Kenny Sansom had a two-minute cool off in the sin bin
‘I thought everyone had forgotten about Soccer Six,’ says Black, now 52. ‘It did occur to me a few years ago that we are still the reigning champions.
‘Unbeaten in 30 years… yeah, I’ll take that.’
Black was 22 when he won the tournament, but before that he had been hooked on the concept as a schoolboy just like everyone else.
‘I actually went on a school trip to watch the Soccer Six,’ he says. ‘And I wouldn’t miss it on TV. I remember watching Micky Hazard run the show for Spurs one year. I loved it.’
The holders are still Luton Town, whose side included winger Kingsley Black (above)
Luton had finished 16th in the First Division in 1990 but, given they played on a plastic pitch at Kenilworth Road every other week, were among the favourites for the six-a-side festival at Manchester’s G-Mex Centre.
‘We trained a lot on the plastic as well,’ says Black, ‘so we were suited to that style of football. We were a pass-and-move side. One, two touch. And we had the players to do a trick or two, including myself. It’s incredible to think we sent our strongest team. But we just used it instead of training. We went up on the coach and booked a hotel for two nights, so we were confident. It was just like being a kid, playing five-a-side with your mates, only in front of a sell-out crowd and on TV.
‘There was a real razzmatazz around it. The organisers weren’t silly. That prize money was a massive incentive for any club at the time, that’s why you saw the best players there.’
Fans pack into the G-Mex Centre in Manchester for the the Guinness Soccer Six in 1986
Luton faced First Division champions Liverpool in the final, a side including Beardsley and Jan Molby. They won 4-0, Sean Farrell, Lars Elstrup, Julian James and David Preece the scorers.
‘For someone like Sean, who I played with in the youth team, scoring that goal (a cheeky backheel) on the TV was probably a bit of a career highlight,’ recalls Black. ‘We then got a good 1-1 draw against Arsenal on the Saturday in the League, so you could say we took a bit of momentum from the Sixes!’
Some Sportsnight coverage of Soccer Six remains captured on YouTube.
With 15-minute matches featuring rolling subs and sin bins — Arsenal’s Kenny Sansom had a two-minute cool off — perhaps there is something for the modern manager to get on board with. Motson certainly thought there was a future for the format, when he declared on Sportsnight: ‘It would be tempting to say that the eventual and logical extension of the tournament would be a European Cup for indoor football with the giants of the continent sending teams across to take part.’
If only, Motty. If only.
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