With today’s technology, manipulation of photographs for whatever purpose, devious or innocent, is the simplest of tasks. It’s laughably easy to iron out a facial wrinkle, brighten a dull autumn sky or, say, pop a poppy on to a politician’s lapel. It’s easy, in other words, to make things appear not as they really are.
Back in 1979 it was a bit harder, but photo manipulation was nevertheless a flourishing art, in Fleet Street as well as in graphic design studios the world over. For example, taking a pair of scissors or a scalpel to a print to alter reality was known in some journalistic circles as doing a Hammersmith, in tribute to the surgeons of the west London hospital. An altogether different process, however, was employed to take the cover photo of one football club’s matchday programme and turn it into the cover photo of another football club’s matchday programme.
Strange but true, and it happened here. We’re indebted to the wonderful Brighton & Hove Albion retro blog The Goldstone Wrap for doing the legwork on this story of copycattery, which explains how legendary Seagulls striker Peter Ward ended up as a U’s cover star.
On Tuesday, 22 August 1978, United, newly arrived in Division Two of the Football League following a second successive promotion, were playing at the Goldstone Ground, whose site is now partly occupied by a drive-through Burger King. It was something of a surprise when a goal from Floyd Streete and an og by Brighton defender Graham Winstanley led the visitors to a 2-0 win in front of 21,548 spectators. The Seagulls were, after all, being tipped for promotion to the top tier that year and had a predator in Ward who had snatched 36 goals in 1976/77 and 17 the following season.
Perhaps the U’s players had flicked through the programme in the dressing room before the game, wincing inwardly at the front-cover image of Ward in typical pose, snaking sinuously between three Blackpool defenders. They were to become much more familiar with that photograph.
In the opinion of the Wrap, United not only left the south coast with the win, they also took away the programme and, using ‘blotchy felt tips’, traced the Ward image for future use on their own publication. It was probably with a measure of indignation, and perhaps hilarity, that Albion supporters regarded the programme when they travelled to the Abbey on Tuesday, 4 September 1979. There are the felt tips and there’s Wardy weaving his way through the Tangerine lines, only this time he’s a U, looking a bit like an out-of-focus Tommy Horsfall. And the felt tip artist has cunningly changed a shirt number.
Brighton had the last laugh. They’d already won the first leg of the League Cup first round tie 2-0 at the Goldstone, and they completed a 4-1 aggregate score at the Abbey. ‘It proved that cheats don’t always prosper, at least not ones armed with felt tip pens and a high level of temerity,’ observes the Wrap.
Dave Brown wrote much of what appeared in the programme in those days, but we don’t know if it was his idea to raid WH Smith for fibre tips. Was it secretary Les Holloway? Commercial manager Dudley Arliss? A designer at Eastern Counties Printers? Please tell us if you know: firstname.lastname@example.org.