If You Don’t Want To Know The Score, Look Away Now
Right, so, football on the television. Nothing else has influenced the way that we all watch football as much as television. It still seems difficult to believe that, as recently as the early 1980s, there were only about three live matches on the television (typically the annual England vs Scotland international match, the FA Cup Final and the European Cup Final), but it’s true. In less than three decades, we have gone from the League going through something approaching an existential crisis over whether to allow clubs to have sponsors’ names on their shirts while the cameras were there to record what was going on to having matches beamed into our living rooms twenty-four hours a day from all over the world. You’ll need to right click and save the files below, by the way – almost all will play in any media player, but a couple will require something that plays Real Media files – I would suggest Media Player Classic for these purposes.
The BBC were, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first people to football on the television. In 1937, just over a year after they went on air, they broadcast Arsenal playing Arsenal Reserves, and followed that up with the England-Scotland match and the FA Cup Final between Huddersfield Town and Preston North End the following year. Broadcasts were sporadic until 1960 often on “Sportsview” or “Grandstand” (which offered a full results service at 4.45 on Saturday afternoons), when ITV signed a deal to show 26 matches with the Football League. It wasn’t terribly successful. The first match between Blackpool and Bolton didn’t bring good ratings, and had a very negative effect on the crowd. Clubs started to withdraw access to the grounds, and the scheme was quietly dropped after the League tried to negotiate drastically higher appearance fees for the clubs. A couple of ITV regions experimented with highlights in 1962 and 1963, but the BBC finally got around to covering the game properly in 1964 with “Match Of The Day”.
“Match Of The Day” has become an institution in the years since then (rather too much for my liking), but in its first incarnation it was a rather humble affair. It was the highlights of one match, introduced by commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme from the stadium to save on money. The early credits demonstrate its humble beginnings (this curio, from a documentary about the history of Manchester City, shows the last day of the 1967-68 season with a quick explanation of how, even though City needed just a point to win the League, the cameras went to Old Trafford to record the United match instead), but by 1969, ITV had received something of a shake-up and was taking football more seriously. The format of “Match Of The Day” would remain unchanged until 1983. There would be highlights of two matches, introduced by Jimmy Hill, and with a round-up of everything else that had happened in the Football League with Bob Wilson (no action – just Bob sitting behind a desk telling you what had happened). Which matches were to be broadcast would be decided several weeks beforehand (and, to prevent crowds from falling, was kept secret until just before the programme started), and the BBC and ITV took it in turns to have first pick of the matches. Here are some opening titles from 1982 (note the BBC’s traditional use of Loftus Road – the nearest ground to Television Centre – for the specially recorded segments).
Highlights ended in 1983, when Spurs played Nottingham Forest in the first live First Division match on ITV. The BBC and ITV shared live duties until 1988, when ITV won a four year exclusive contract to exclusively show League football, while the BBC were left with just the FA Cup. In 1992, though, with the formation of the Premier League, it was back on Saturday nights, providing highlights of every Premier League match played on Saturday afternoons while Sky showed the live action on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights (these opening titles, from 1993, show the BBC already becoming pre-occupied with the show’s “heritage” – on top of their grandiose “BBC Sport” ident, the titles feature some of the show’s great moments from the past, including Jimmy Greaves, George Best, Justin Fashanu and Glen Hoddle). They lost these rights on 2000 to ITV (more on the debacle that was “The Premiership” tomorrow night), but won them back in 2003, returning “Match Of The Day” to its traditional 10.30 Saturday night slot. Throughout this period, “Grandstand” (here’s a little something from 1980, an Olympic Grandstand from the games that Britain chose not to boycott and won a couple more medals than they might have done had the USA bothered to show) had continued to be the ballast of the schedules, featuring “Football Focus” (the weekly preview insert that ended up outliving “Grandstand” itself) and the “Final Score” results service.
It hasn’t all been about the League. The FA Cup final has been an annual event on British television since before even I was born (here are 1980s pop stars Marilyn and Boy George looking mortified in advertising it on the BBC – note the withering sarcasm in George’s voice). As TV coverage has expanded, so the range of football that the BBC shows has grown with it. They now also cover the African Cup Of Nations as well as the World Cup (there’ll be a World Cup special on here in a couple of days) and the European Championships (here’s how we saw Euro 96 and Euro 2000 in this country on the BBC). Currently, they are showing the Women’s World Cup from China (I sat and watched the England team maintain a proud tradition by losing to the USA in the quarter-finals last Saturday). I’m scared about what ITV will do to the FA Cup when they get their grubby mitts on it, but the BBC have got used to sporadically losing their football broadcast rights over the years. It’ll be back on there when the next contract runs out.
Tomorrow night: ITV.