This is the - est.1998
Pre-Ringing The Blues memories - 1989 and all that
Wed Aug 7, 2019 13:23

Phil Catchpole’s new podcast title, ‘Ringing The Blues’, has stirred up memories of not only using that service but how Wanderers fans of a certain age got their news fix in the pre-Football League days.

During most of Wycombe’s Isthmian League days, just obtaining the result of a game you couldn’t attend was a task in itself. The results were rarely included on the classified service on BBC and there was no local radio. The Evening Standard, available in High Wycombe town centre on Saturday evening’s was one source but it was usually word of mouth or wait until the small print in the sport sections of the Sunday papers. During the mid 1970’s there was also a curious alternative results service on Radio Luxembourg. This involved manipulating your radio at around 7pm on Saturday evening in order to discover if rivals Enfield had dropped any points against Dagenham – the signal usually fading away at the crucial time, only to reveal that mid-table Hitchin Town and drawn 0-0 with Tooting and Mitcham.

Wanderers’ first attempt to solve the problem was in the mid 1970’s when they launched their own ‘Information Line’. Essentially this was a local rate number connected to an answer-machine at Loakes Park. It would carry the latest match result and scorers, plus any vital ticket or match day information. It was lovingly updated in the main by Club Secretary of the time John Goldsworthy. He would update the line after each match and the in the case of the away games, once the team coach (with officials) had arrived back at Loakes Park. It had one line and during busy times it may take several calls to get through. However, it did its job and wouldn’t cost the equivalent of a pint of beer to phone-up.

Wanderers’ promotion into the higher profile Conference in the late 1980’s meant results became far easier to obtain – the BBC regularly carrying the results on their classified service. Although there was still very little local radio coverage for Wanderers.

The late 1980’s also saw the rise of the dreaded ‘Premium Rate’ telephone services – headed up in the football world by ClubCall. Telephoning one of their 0898 numbers would involve a charge of up to 38p per minute. Putting that into context – a pint of beer at the time was around 91p – so in 2019 prices would equate to around £1.20 per minute.

Although Alan Hutchinson made ‘Ringing the Blues’ a popular service in the Martin O’Neill era and into the early 2000’s, the Club did introduce their first ‘Premium Rate’ service as early as March 1989. A news item in the local press carried the following story after the launch.

Parry himself also eulogised the service, saying in his programme notes: “It’s like having your own round-the-clock radio station, exclusively about Wycombe Wanderers.”

Club Chairman Ivor Beeks also commented on the new service in the match day programme towards the end of the 1988/89 season, saying: “Many of you have asked to be kept more in touch with events and details of the Club. We have now installed a ClubCall line which Alan Parry has agreed to set out information on each week.”

But after the initial enthusiasm, the service quickly deteriorated as the 1988/89 season drew to a close. Wanderers’ Commercial Manager at the time, Allan Robson (described by some as the definitive second-hand car salesman), was heavily criticised for the lack of updates on the line, especially during a close season when news hungry fans were keen to seek out the latest snippet of information. The situation was detailed in the September 1989 issue of Chairboys Gas.

The bone of contention last season was the Club's lack of ability to be able to communicate to the public and the Club reacted with the introduction of a ClubCall service (38p per minute peak, 25p per minute off-peak).

Callers on the first day of the service on 25th February 1989 would been greeted with; "Hello and thanks for calling BluesLine, Wycombe Wanderers new information service. We've responded to your request for more news at what's going on at Loakes Park and from now on if you ring 0898 .. (etc.) you'll get all the latest up to the minute news at any time o£ the day. My name's Alan Parry and I'll be presenting this 24 hours, 7 days a week service which will include interviews with Manager Jim Kelman and the Players, team news, updates on the new ground and travel for away games, in fact everything you want on 0898 .. (etc.) - so make a note of the number.” Incidentally this 40 second intro' would have cost you 25p at peak rate.

Those of you familiar with these services will be adequately aware of their widespread use around the country and the reasons why these lines are introduced. It was a pleasant surprise therefore to hear the high quality of the service provided by Alan Parry. However, it appeared that as our Championship and Trophy hopes faded the initial enthusiasm also faded, culminating in a 20 second report of our final game of the season at Northwich put on to the system by the Club Secretary.

For many dedicated football supporters, the close season is a vital time -searching desperately for news of transfers, fixtures, season ticket prices, etc. A call to our ClubCall line however would have resulted in the caller hearing the Northwich result every day until the middle of July (65 consecutive days to be exact).

No news of the tour which took place in May, no information about season tickets despite the prices being set at the beginning of May and no news on the new ground even though the plans had been changed at the end of April. Even when the line was updated on 11th July by Commercial Manager Allan Robson this message remained unchanged for a month despite his promise that any new comings or goings will be announced on ClubCall, which will be updated every Friday throughout July and in August we will be updating the system twice a week."

It would have been a simple task to update the line at least once a fortnight during the close season instead the service deteriorated to an embarrassing level and to a level that has cost the Club dearly in potential income. During the season ClubCall was raising about £300 per week yet the loss of credibility of the service over the summer and more importantly of the Club may prove to be incalculable. These were points put to the Club at a recent Club Evening, to which Allan Robson said "For an awful long time there was very little information to actually put over - the problem was there may have been some snippet that could have gone on but by putting on these snippets it was almost wrong to get people to phone in to get one snippet of information, because the call is more than the normal charge. The thought of people picking up the telephone and incurring these sort of cost for virtually no information or confirmation of no information, I felt, was not worthwhile." Robson went on to say that "Now the season has started, the service will be updated at least twice a week." and after noting the comments, the Club said they would try and "put a bit more effort into communication".

I guess in modern day terms the state of the service was the equivalent to not updating the official website during the close season.
So it was following this kick-up the backside by Chairboys Gas that the service finally began to be updated – albeit at the loss of the old and much loved Information Line run by John Goldsworthy. It was also when Alan Hutchinson re-launched the service as ‘Ringing The Blues’ in the early 1990’s, coupled with the success under Martin O’Neill, that it really began to flourish and become a significant income stream – funded in some cases by disgruntled parents and unbeknown company lines.

Now, does anybody remember the Blues Pager?

References and further reading:

Chairboys Gas archives 1989/90

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