Football on TV – the good old days ?
On this FA Cup quarter final weekend, I was reminded of bygone days when all the ties would of course kick off at 3pm on the same Saturday; BBC would have the rights for highlights of two of them for that day’s “Match of the Day” and then on Sunday, ITV would show highlights of the other two – a rare opportunity for Granada viewers to see the LWT-produced “Big Match” with Brian Moore.
There is a strong whiff of nostalgia here of course as it harks back to my childhood, bringing with it a temptation to proclaim that everything was better then and the inexorable march of progress has served only to undermine the quality of football on TV.
My Saturday nights were mapped out for years; BBC 1 – light entertainment – usually Mike Yarwood, Two Ronnies, or Cilla/Lulu – crime drama – Ironside, Cannon (“a Quinn Martin production…”) or Starsky & Hutch - the news (“if you don't want to know the score…look away now..”) then Match of the Day followed naturally enough by Parky. I’m sighing now just typing this.
Match of the Day was absolutely essential viewing. It set the standard for all TV coverage of football. Jimmy Hill, as so many times in his mercurial career was ahead of the curve by introducing analysis, once memorably castigating Rovers’ Glenn Keeley for a challenge on Luton Town’s Lil Fuccillo which only just stopped short of GBH. The clip is available on YouTube and is well worth your time and energy in seeking it out.
The baton passed from JH & Bob Wilson, to Des Lynam to Gary Lineker – each Dr Who like reincarnation bringing something new to the mix. My personal “fantasy MOTD” line-up was probably Des Lynam assisted by Gary Lineker and Trevor Brooking…not Mark Lawrenson…NEVER Mark Lawrenson.
ITV on the other hand…there was always something of the “amateur talent show” vibe about their coverage, the imperious Brian Moore excepted. Gerald Sinstadt was a more than capable commentator but when presenting I half-expected him to set me some history homework.
In an attempt to revamp the coverage when ITV first won the rights to Saturday night football, a young Elton Welsby (real name, ask your parents/grandparent kids) took centre stage. Elton was young, hip and trendy, the coming thing and he was to be the studio-based anchor for Granada’s attempt to usurp MOTD.
“Match Night” was Granada’s answer to MOTD. Produced out of Quay Street by the late Paul Doherty (son of the Man City & Northern Ireland inside forward Peter) it tried to be innovative and creative but seemingly on a tight budget. It was the love child of “Kick Off”, the Friday teatime football magazine show that would not be entirely out of place on Sky Sports 3 even now.
It was a series of errors on an episode of “Kick Off” that started a chain of events that ended up with me, three days before my 17th birthday, sipping vodka & lime with Ray Clemence.
Rovers were having a great season. Hot on the heels of promotion from Division 3 the previous season, momentum had continued and the prospect of a second successive promotion to the glorious hinterland of Division 1 was a real prospect. But… The problem was, “Kick Off” kept getting vital facts wrong, league tables, line ups, highlights incorrectly captioned…but only to my (unbiased eyes) when it involved Rovers ! I did what any righteously indignant (read…pompous) teenager would do at the time – I wrote a letter of complaint. That’s right kids – a LETTER – paper, ink, envelope, stamp – addressed to Mr Paul Doherty at Granada TV.
I expected to hear nothing, but a few days later a crisp, typed envelope addressed to yours truly landed on the mat. Inside, a reply from the very same Paul Doherty acknowledging every item on my charge sheet, apologising profusely and inviting me (& a guest) to attend Granada TV studios to watch how the programme was put together and to meet the studio guest that night.
Saturday 28th February 1981 saw me and my compliant (Burnley-supporting…I know) uncle sat in Granada TV studios watching the editing team select the “highlights” from the game at Blundell Park that afternoon as part of their round up. Trust Rovers to deliver one of their standard away, Howard Kendall defensive displays but this time fail to score and register the usual 1-0 away win. I could hardly press the case for a 0-0 game to figure front & centre.
The main attraction that night was Liverpool’s 2-0 home win over Southampton and so the studio guest was the England goalkeeper Ray Clemence who was accompanied by the charming Mrs Clemence. I was allowed to be in the studio whilst the pre-news trailer was broadcast by Elton and was up “in the gallery” when the actual programme went out.
It was absolutely amazing. I loved EVERY second but it got even better when after the closing credits, we were invited to have our photographs taken on the set…I sat in Elton’s ACTUAL chair but, there was more.
“Would you like to join us in the Green Room ? Elton & Ray will be there and we can take your photo with them ?”
…and so it was dear reader, that I was ushered in and shown a cocktail bar and offered whatever I wanted. That was the only time in my life I think I have ever asked for a vodka & lime. The chap next to me (presumably from the production team) had asked for one and well, I didn’t want to rock the boat and more pertinently, I had not a clue what to order.
Elton was lovely, Ray was lovely, somewhere in the loft in my memories crate, I have a manila envelope with several photos in it, one of which is signed by Ray Clemence and of course; I have the memories, which more than 35 years later still make me glow warmly inside.
Is football on TV better now than it used to be ? Well, yes AND no. A little part of me will always belong to Paul, Elton, Gerald & of course Ray.