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Sunday 23 October 2016

The anarchic history of Friday football

Published 18/08/2016 | 12:06

Wayne Rooney and his Manchester United team-mates are set to play Southampton under the Friday night lights
Wayne Rooney and his Manchester United team-mates are set to play Southampton under the Friday night lights

Whisper it quietly to those Premier League bigwigs intent on stretching their ultra-polished product further beyond traditional weekend confines, but Friday football has often brought with it a faint whiff of anarchy - and Biscuits.

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This week's top-flight showdown between Manchester United and Southampton is the first to be played in Sky Sports' regular Friday night slot as part of its new deal with the Premier League.

Of course football has traditionally been played on Good Friday, and its history stretches back beyond the rather killjoy implementation of association rules.

In Workington, the game of ''Uppies and Downies'' has been played on Good Friday since 1865. There are no rules, no time limit and no referee, and the sole aim is to get the ball into one of two respective goals situated on either side of the town.

In short, it sounds a damn sight more entertaining and competitive than anything Wayne Rooney and co are likely to muster any time soon.

Good Friday football has not always engendered the hoped-for holiday spirit.

The result of a 1915 match between Manchester United and Liverpool - which United won 2-0 to help stave off relegation - was found to have been rigged.

A subsequent Football League investigation determined that a number of players from both sides had plotted the result in a pub, and made a healthy sum from betting on it. All the major culprits were banned from the game for life.

As far as Friday night football is concerned, Tranmere made something of a habit of adopting the unusual kick-off time starting in the late 1980s, in a bid to avoid clashing with neighbours Liverpool or Everton and boost attendances.

Numerous other clubs would duly experiment with following Tranmere's example, but few stuck with it for long - the lowest Fourth Division crowd was recorded in 1990 when just 625 turned up to see Scarborough versus Wrexham at Seamer Road - not helped by the mother of all sea frets.

At Tranmere, however, Friday night football slowly evolved into something of a cult classic, helped by the attention of arguably their most famous fans, the subversive pop group Half Man Half Biscuit.

The band, led by Nigel Blackwell, even released a single in the late 1980s called ''Friday Night And The Gates Are Low'' - a riff on the famous line in ABBA's ''Dancing Queen''.

Its lyrics - that is to say, the Half Man Half Biscuit ones - included the catchy chorus: ''Friday night and the gates are low / And it's raining / [EXPLETIVE] slip of a sub's ruined my weekend.''

The band became even more well-known when they turned down an appearance on Channel Four's popular music show The Tube, because it clashed with one of Tranmere's Friday home games.

The programme was being filmed in Newcastle and producers were so keen to get the band involved they even offered to fly them back to Birkenhead straight afterwards.

Lead singer Nigel Blackwell told Sabotage Times in 2009: ''They did genuinely offer the helicopter but it would only have got us to the ground at half-time, and not being ones for a fuss we weren't particularly sold on the idea.''

Press Association

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