Football At The World Cup: Part One (1966-1978)
Four years ago, we ran an article on the subject of the theme music used by British television companies for World Cup finals series. It seemed to touch a nerve at the time and today it’s back. It’s a little more complete than it was four years ago, although there are still one or two gaps and we would gratefully appreciate anybody that can help to fill these for us.
Prior to 1966, live television coverage of the World Cup in Britain was patchy, to say the least. The BBC had offered some live coverage of the 1954 and 1958 finals but, when the tournament went to Chile in 1962, footage of matches had to be rushed by motorcycle courier the airport, where it was sent to the USA to be edited and transmitted back to London, from whence a nightly programme was put out by the BBC, usually around three days after the match had been played. Within four years, however, developments in satellite technology meant that matches could be shown live across the world. Much of the BBC and ITV’s coverage was jointly produced under the “Eurovision” banner (Eurovision then being an effective brand name for the European Broadcasting Union rather than a short-hand name for a song competition). This clip from TV Ark gives a hint at what viewers could see, and this march (entitled “On The Ball”) has turned up on a couple of compilation albums labelled as the ITV theme music for the tournament but it is difficult to quantify such a bold claim.
Within four years, the broadcasting landscape had changed again with the growth of the use of colour television. British television had introduced colour television for the first time in 1969, but the majority of people that watched the 1970 World Cup finals still had black and white sets. Even so, however, this was the first tournament to broadcast live in colour, although there were some technical difficulties in that Mexican broadcasting used a different television system to that used in Britain (the technically minded amongst you may be interested to know that it was 525 NTSC rather than 625 Pal – a slightly lower resolution), meaning that programmes had to parsed in order to be viewable in Britain.
Between the 1966 and 1970 World Cups, a fundamental change had taken place in British television that would, in its own way, change the face of televised football in this country forever. In 1968, new franchises had been awarded on the commercial ITV network, and a couple of the companies, most notably London Weekend Television, were much brasher than those that they replaced. One of LWT’s first innovations had, under the watchful eye of their new Head of Sport Jimmy Hill, been a complete overhaul of their sports broadcasting, with a new football show called “The Big Match”, which almost immediately made the BBC’s “Match Of The Day” look rather fusty by comparison. ITV’s Head of Sport John Bromley decided to take this innovation and apply it to their coverage of the World Cup finals in Mexico.
The result was what we have now come to know as the World Cup Panel. Rather than sending them out to Mexico, the four man panel of Malcolm Allison, Derek Dougan, Pat Crerand and Bob McNab stayed in London with Brian Moore (who acted as the anchor) hosting. Through a fug of what seemed like cigarette smoke and whisky, they were a bar room argument brought into the living rooms of the nation. The BBC, by comparison, also offered a panel for the first time, but a rotating panel including Don Revie, Brian Clough (who was not the national celebrity that he would go on to become), Ray Wilson, Bob Wilson and Ian St John paled beside the ITV’s equivalent and, for the first and only time, ITV beat the BBC in the ratings for a World Cup finals.
For their title music, both organisations decided to, as it were, “go native”. ITV opted for “The World At Their Feet”, a jaunty cha-cha-cha with bongo drums and whistles, whilst the BBC went with the slightly more staid (yet still quite bouncy – almost risqué for the time “Mexico Grandstand“, recorded by The Syd Lawrence Orchestra. Close your eyes and it’s not difficult to imagine them in their velvet jackets, plump bow ties and ruffled shirts. With a short stretch of the imagination, it’s not difficult to imagine the world’s most famous xylophonist, Sir Patrick Moore, chiming in at the end with a quick solo whilst en route to host an episode of “The Sky At Night”.
Finally, the 1970 World Cup proved to be a swansong for Kenneth Wolstenholme. A regular fixture on the commentary gantry since the start of the 1950s, Wolstenholme had reportedly been suspecting that the BBC were planning on replacing him as their first choice in favour of David Coleman, but he hung on for one last tournament. From 1971, though, Coleman was the BBC’s main man. ITV, meanwhile, arguably left their best known commentator, Brian Moore, in London to act as their anchor and Hugh Johns was their first choice in Mexico. It is entirely possible that football audiences in the early 1970s didn’t know how lucky they were. On one side, Johns, with a voice as rich as treacle, exhorting, “El Ré! Pelé!” as Pelé soared above the Italian defence to head Brazil in front. On the other, Wolstenholme expressing, “They seem to take in turns to give an exhibition” as they stroked the ball through for Carlos Alberto to lash in the icing on the proverbial cake. We’ve never had it so good.
Spin forward four years, and England the mood had changed. The national team’s failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals had been lavishly covered by both ITV and the BBC (ITV showed the match live, while the BBC showed extensive – some might say rather too extensive – highlights later in the evening), and Scotland’s qualification for the tournament couldn’t mask the somewhat more muted television coverage of the tournament. In truth, the 1974 World Cup was a slightly odd tournament, which mixed many of the contradictory mental images of the 1970s that we hold today.
On the one hand, the 1974 World Cup was metaphorically dampened in atmosphere over security concerns following the 1972 Olympic Games and literally dampened by pouring rain that threatened a couple of group matches with being called off over water-logged pitches. Even the Cold War made a brief appearance, with West Germany taking on East Germany in the group stages for the first (and what turned out to be the last time). On the other hand, however, we saw the dazzling football of the Dutch that was edged out in the end by an unfairly unheralded West German side, Haiti leading Italy in their group match, the extraordinary perm of Paul Breitner and Johan Cruyff’s beads.
The music selected by the BBC and ITV reflected the brighter, bouncier side of things. The BBC went a little bit loopy with “Striker“, which was recorded by The Anthony King Orchestra. “Striker” is a quite extraordinary 1970s artefact, a piece of music that hits you like a full sensory overload, with that most 1970s of musical relics, a jazz flute (well, a jazz whistle), thundering bongo drums and a bass guitar riff that seems to be threatening to meander off, out the door and up the road to the nearest free festival. ITV, meanwhile, went for a tune that would end up a staple of people’s Saturdays for the next three decades. “Lap Of Honour“, composed by the former Manfred Mann guitarist and flautist Mike Vickers and performed by The London Stadium Orchestra, is still used by the Scottish football radio show “Superscoreboard” and was also used by London’s Capital Gold radio station.
Whether the 1978 World Cup finals should actually have been held in Argentina remains debated to this day but, in all honesty, FIFA were put in an impossible situation. Having awarded the tournament to them in 1968, few could have predicted the cycle of political violence that would have engulfed the country by the time of that they kicked off a decade after the original decision was made. General Omar Actis as the man put in charge of Argentina’s hosting of the competition, but he was – unusually, for a member of the Argentine government at the time – concerned at the spiralling cost of the tournament and was even threatening to speak out against FIFA (who were sponsoring expensive infrastructural improvements in Argentina, including the construction of a new stadium at Mar Del Plata and the introduction of colour television) when he was murdered.
The stadium was built, and the pitch was watered with sea water, killing all of the grass on it. The colour television system was introduced almost entirely for the benefit of European television audiences, and it was ruinously expensive. The 1978 World Cup started in front of carefully orchestrated scenes of joy and celebration, but there was a sense of nervousness in the air. Breitner and Cruyff had already withdrawn from the competition. Argentina won the tournament, earning their place in the final with a 6-0 win against Peru that was widely claimed to have been fixed. Anything less than a 4-0 win would have sent Brazil into the final instead. There were still things to get excited about. The new, lighter Adidas Tango balls meant that long rang shots were the order of the day – the Netherlands’ Arie Haan was a particular specialist in this respect – and the final itself was a thrilling match in which the Netherlands hit the post in the last minute of normal time with the scores tied at 1-1.
England, of course, weren’t there for the second time in a row. ITV covered them beat Italy 2-0 in their final group match, but the Italians qualified on goal difference. Scotland, meanwhile, had qualified with a controversial 2-0 win against Wales at Anfield. Their subsequent failure at the finals is well documented elsewhere, and the other major flops of the competition were the holders, West Germany, who crashed out in the second round with two draws and one defeat – a defeat at the hands of Austria that ranks as one of Austria’s finest ever results – from their three matches. The other major moment of excitement involved Clive Thomas, the Welsh referee who ridiculously disallowed a last minute Brazilian goal in their match against Sweden. The dropped point put Brazil in Argentina’s group in the second round of the competition.
The BBC and ITV stuck with the same formula as they had done for the previous two tournaments. The BBC’s main anchor was Frank Bough, whilst ITV again confined Brian Moore to the studio as their main anchor. 1978, however, was a last hurrah for two of the main football voices of the 1970s. David Coleman and Hugh Johns both called their last World Cup finals. Coleman, who had usurped Kenneth Wolstenholme in 1970, was himself shuffling along in place of John Motson (just as 1970 had been the year of Wolstenholme’s last FA Cup and World Cup finals, so it was for Coleman in 1978) and Hugh Johns called his last World Cup final for ITV after four consecutive tournaments for them, though he did stay one of their principal commentators before going into semi-retirement in 1982.
The title music used by the two companies couldn’t have been much more different. For the BBC, “Argentine Melody” was written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and perdormed by one Rodriguez Argentina, who was actually Rod Argent, writer of “God Gave Rock & Roll To You” and the singer with the 1960s band The Zombies. In 1978, it was just possible that “Argentine Melody” evoked the spirit of South America, but at thirty years remove it sounds rather more like the demonstration song from a 1980s keyboard. Only the delicately picked guitar and the clickety-clack of the maracas give much indication that it was actually performed by human beings. ITV, on the other hand, decided that the best maxim that they could go with was, it if aint broke, dont try and fix it. “Action Argentina” was, to put it simply, “Lap Of Honour” with twenty per cent more disco (1978, of course, being the year that Britain at least mildly caught Saturday night fever) and thirty per cent less charm.
When the World Cup returned again four years later in Spain, it had taken some steroids and expanded to twenty-four nations. In the next part of this somewhat over-wrought series, we will be taking a look at the 1980s and 1990, when the first seeds of football starting to take itself rather too seriously started to sprout.
Produced with the invaluable assistance of Football & Music.