Televised Football In The Regions: Anglia – Punching Above Their Weight

by | Nov 21, 2017

Throughout the late 1950s to the middle of the following decade, football in England underwent a shift in its tectonic plates that went almost umremarked upon. The traditional bases of power, the industrial towns of the Midlands and the North such as Burnley and Wolverhampton, found their power starting to wane, whilst the industrialisation of professional football led to the increased growth of big city clubs from Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and London. Perhaps it was a coincidence that this occurred at the time when regular league football started to be shown in the nation’s homes. Perhaps, though, it wasn’t.

None of this, however, is to say that there weren’t exceptions to this rule, and perhaps the biggest of the lot came with Ipswich Town’s shock First Division title win of 1962. Managed by Alf Ramsey, Ipswich had been playing Third Division South football five years earlier, and their promotion to the First Division in 1961 was followed up by becoming the champions of England at their first ever attempt. It was enough of an achievement to earn Ramsey the task of managing the England national team in a World Cup that they were hosting, but it also piqued the interest of the local commercial television company, who, the following season, would become unlikely trailblazers in the growing world of televised professional football.

By the end of the summer of 1962, Anglia Television had been on air for a little over three years. Commercial television had begun its creep across the nation three years earlier, starting in London before moving out to industrial heartlands of the Midlands and North, but the arrival of commercial television in East Anglia promised something different, a television service for a predominantly rural area, and the the company was awarded its contract before it had even settled on offices. A former corn exchange in Norwich was settled upon as its base, and a silver knight on horseback – modelled, it is said, on a statue of Robert The Bruce – as its readily identifiable logo.

In the summer of 1962, Anglia agreed to pay the Football League the princely sum of £1,000 for the rights to show highlights of thirty matches over the course of the 1962/63 season. They were beaten to the punch by the North-East contractor Tyne-Tees by two weeks in broadcasting the first regular Football League highlights show on British television, but on the 29th of September 1962 Anglia kicked off their coverage with a thirty minute highlights show called Match Of The Week, featuring a match between Norwich City and Derby County. Logistically, this wasn’t always easy. Carrow Road had been caught on the hop a little by the rapid expansion of televised football, which meant that the only place in which the club could accommodate television cameras was behind the goal at the River End of the ground, a situation that remained the same at Norwich until 1972. Another significant issue that came with the introduction of colour broadcasting in 1967 was that the strength of many clubs’ floodlights wasn’t great enough to allow matches played under them to be recorded in colour. For several seasons, matches held at Carrow Road during the winter would have the first half recorded in colour and the second half recorded in black and white.

The Ipswich Town team of 1962 would turn out to be a flash in the pan – they were relegated back to the Second Division in 1964 – but one of the more venerable names in televised football in this country, Match Of The Week (note that, contrary to the idea that Anglia may have chosen this name as a rip-off of “Match Of The Day”, this name was chosen two years before the BBC’s effort went on air), was here to stay. At the microphone for the first match was John Camkin, a man whose credentials for the job were second to none. Camkin had started his career in print with the Birmingham Gazette before moving to BBC Radio, where he would commentate on the 1954, 1958 and 1962 World Cups. Furthermore, he would come to occupy as curious corner in the history of English football when, as a director of Coventry City, he persuaded the chair of the Professional Footballers Association (and a man with no managerial experience at the time whatsoever), Jimmy Hill, to become the club’s manager. Together, the two would also come up with the idea of setting new words to the Eton Boating Song as The Sky Blue Song.

Despite the limited resources and restrictions placed upon them by their thirty minute time slot, innovation was the order of the day during the early years of Match Of The Week. Critical to this was the show’s director, Bob Gardam. Gardam had joined Anglia a couple of years having previously worked as a cameraman, including a spell in the area of news. He brought techniques from his previous experience with him, including the habit of taking advantage of Match Of The Week’s Sunday afternoon scheduling slot by watching replays of incidents during the previous day’s selected match with Camkin to record voice-overs of tactical analysis to insert into the show.

Small wonder, then, that upon being appointed as the new London contractor’s Head of Sport in 1967, Jimmy Hill made Gardam his first appointment. His subsequent work on LWT’s The Big Match would help to shape the tone of football broadcasting in this country to this very day, and it was his direction that famously kept the camera on the Sunderland manager Bob Stokoe at the end of the 1973 FA Cup Final. Following Hill to the BBC the following year, where he worked as an editor on Match Of The Day and Grandstand, he would continue to work as a director until 1995. Bob Gardam died in December 2013, at the age of eighty-one.

Anglia retained their contract in 1967 – they wouldn’t lose it until their eventual subsumption into ITV1 during the first decade of this century – but Gardam’s departure would be the second high profile loss from Match Of The Week in the space of just a few months. John Camkin had given up his seat in the commentary box at the end of the previous year on account of a recurring back problem – he would go on to own a small chain of estate agents and manage several professional golf players, amongst other ventures. His replacement for the following three years was Gerald Sinstadt, who arrived from BBC Radio and departed in 1969 for Granada Television.

Sinstadt’s first television job was in an area that was changing. Anglia’s initial contract with the Football League had only covered four clubs – Ipswich Town, Norwich City, Peterborough United and Colchester United – but the construction of two new transmitters in Sandy Heath, Bedfordshire and Belmont in Lincolnshire brought Hull City, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City and Scunthorpe United into their region as well, alongside Luton Town and Southend United, who were shared with the London and South of England regions accordingly. The East of England region was growing, as well, with eight designated new towns in the region by the end of the 1960s swelling its population and changing the viewing demographic.

Regardless of this growth, though, the problems facing a smaller contractor tasked with providing a weekly highlights package are immediately obvious. In a larger region such as, say, the North-West of England, scheduling matches was a constant headache, trying to balance the interests of the supporters of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton with the region’s other clubs and contractual requirements to feature  matches from all four divisions of the Football League. Match Of The Week had, therefore, a somewhat less glossy edge in comparison with other regional companies. Indeed, during the 1962/63 season they even dipped down into non-league football, featuring a Southern League match between Bedford Town and Cambridge United. The arrival of the new transmitters in 1965, however, did at least bring top flight football back to the region after an absence of two years. Anglia might not have been able to cover Northampton Town’s promotion to the First Division, but they did at least get to cover four matches from the Cobblers’ sole season in the top flight.

By the end of the decade, the Anglia region was establishing the style that would see it through the next decade and a half, to the end of regionalised football coverage on ITV. In doing so, they were curiously reliant on the BBC. In 1969, the corporation had launched its Find A Commentator, with the first prize being a trip to Mexico for the following year’s World Cup finals and a contract. The competition attracted a wide variety of entrants, including the Liverpool forward Ian St John, and was won by Idwal Robling. Gerry Harrison, who’d started out as a new journalist for the Daily Express before taking up broadcasting with BBC Radio Merseyside in 1967, finished in fourth place, but impressed Anglia sufficiently for the company to offer him a contract from the start of the 1969/70 season.

Harrison would go on to become Anglia’s head of sport and would commentate on four successive World Cups from 1974, finally leaving the company in 1993. The region was also continuing to change. By the end of the decade, Northampton Town were back in the Fourth Division, but Ipswich Town returned to the top flight in 1968 and Norwich City joined them four years later, having also reached the League Cup final in 1973, whilst, in addition to this, Cambridge United were elected into the Football League in 1970 in place of Bradford Park Avenue. Indeed, he and Anglia’s cameras were at The Abbey Stadium in August 1970 for Cambridge’s first match as a Football League club, a one-all home draw against Lincoln City.

Rumblings of discontent for Anglia, however, had started a couple of years earlier. Television transmission was set to begin the process of switching from VHF (Very High Frequency) to UHF (Ultra High Frequency), and the stronger signal of the Belmont transmitter would now be straddling two quite disparate parts of the East of England – Boston, Spalding, King’s Lynn and the Wash, which would reasonably be considered Anglia’s territory, and the East Riding of Yorkshire, Hull and Humberside, which would reasonably considered the territory of neighbouring Yorkshire TV. Upon reapplying for their license in 1967, the chairman of the Independent Television Authority (ITA), Lord Hill, had advised Anglia that the Belmont transmitter would continue to be theirs.

This, however, was subsequently considered to have been a mistake by the ITA, who opted to write to Anglia at the end of 1968 to advise the company that, whilst Hill’s promise had been binding to 1974, after that point the Belmont transmitter would be transferred to Yorkshire Television. The announcement was made public in the summer of 1970, and Anglia began a lengthy public relations exercise against the ITA’s decision, citing research which demonstrated that the majority of viewers in several areas covered by the Belmont transmitter would prefer to stay with them. It was all to no avail, though. In January 1974, Belmont transferred to Yorkshire, and Anglia lost Hull City, Grimsby Town, Lincoln City and Scunthorpe United from its regional obligations, although they did continue to cover these clubs until the end of the 1973/74 season.

For a couple of years Anglia’s profits were certainly hit by the reallocation of the Belmont transmitter, but by this time the company was profitable and perceived by many as punching above its weight. The company’s name was shown in surveys to be one of the most recognisable of all ITV companies, whilst programmes such as Survival (the natural history series which became, in 1979, the first British television series to be sold to China), the quiz show Sale Of The Century and Tales Of The Unexpected all attracting high audiences and/or critical acclaim nationwide. Meanwhile, Match Of The Week continued to plough its furrow, with Norwich City and in particular Ipswich Town – who finished in the top six in eight out of nine seasons between 1973 and 1982 – now established as First Division clubs and Cambridge United winning two successive promotions to rise from the Fourth to the Second Division between 1976 and 1978. Even Luton Town managed the 1974/75 season in the top flight.

With so much going on in the region, it’s no surprise that Anglia’s cameras were present at some highly significant points. They were there when Cambridge United secured promotion to the Second Division for the first time on the last day of the 1977/78 season with a win against Exeter City. A couple of years later, an almost bemused Gerry Harrison commentated on Ipswich Town putting six goals past Manchester United without reply in a match that involved the United goalkeeper Gary Bailey – who’d been born in Ipswich and whose father Roy had kept goal for Ipswich Town for nine years from 1956 to 1965, including, of course, being a member of the 1962 First Division championship winning team – saved three penalty kicks. The following season saw Ipswich push Aston Villa to the last day of the season to win the First Division championship, whilst Norwich City fought an ultimately unsuccessful battle to stay in the top flight, whilst Anglia’s cameras were also utilised for Ipswich’s appearance in the UEFA Cup final, broadcasting coverage of the first leg match against the Dutch club AZ.

At the end of the 1981/82 season, Norwich City returned to the top flight after just a season away, whilst they were joined by Luton Town, who were promoted back alongside them. Unfortunately for Anglia, though, the last truly dramatic act of this era of football coverage ended away from their cameras. Luton’s return to the top flight had seen them spend the 1982/83 season scrapping for survival, but it was BBC cameras who were present for their last day of the season win against Manchester City at Maine Road, a result that sent their hosts down in their place. The last episode of Match Of The Week visited Portman Road to see Ipswich Town beat Watford on the penultimate Saturday of the season. It was a sign of how underwhelming the 1982/83 season had been in East Anglia that, for the final Saturday of the season, Anglia chose to show Fulham and Leicester City slugging it out for the final Second Division promotion place rather than any of their own clubs.

With the centralising of ITV’s football coverage from 1983 on, Anglia would play a smaller role. All ITV companies showed a trimmed down version of The Big Match to complement their live coverage, although Gerry Harrison was still occasionally called upon for those rare occasions when the cameras travelled outside of London, Manchester or Liverpool to cover a match. Regional highlights did return to the East from the start of the 1989/90 season in the form of the somewhat cumbersomely named East Anglian Soccer Special, although this obviously took a back seat in the priorities list to the exclusive deal that ITV now had with the Football League.

For the last season before the formation of the Premier League in 1992, the show was renamed as Goals Galore and shunted forward from a Sunday afternoon slot to a Sunday lunchtime slot. For the start of ITV’s live coverage of the Football League from the start of the 1992/93 season, it had been expected that the company would broadcast weekly “First Division” (now the Championship) matches, but their coverage was patchy and Harrison, frustrated at being overruled on Anglia’s local sports coverage, left the company after twenty-four years at the end of 1993, although he would continue to occasionally commentate for them on a freelance basis for the next three seasons.

So great was the hole left by the departure of Gerry Harrison that it required three people to replace him, with Kevin Piper taking over duties as anchor, Tony Jones introduced as commentator, and former Scotland international Alan Brazil as the expert summariser. A new programme called Kick Off was introduced for the 1995/96 season showing extended highlights when a live match was not being shown, but it was only for this season that Anglia really got stuck into showing regular live matches. For the final year of this ITV contract with the Football League, the company only showed the match that was being shown live by Anglia, and when it briefly returned for the 2001/02 season they showed other companies’ coverage of Norwich City only, seven times over the course of the season.

By this time, however, Anglia Television was an independent company in name only. The Broadcasting Act 1990 had enshrined the right for commercial TV companies to start buying each other, and in 1994 Anglia was purchased by the owners of the new South of England contractors Meridian and rolled into one company called United News & Media (UNM). An attempt by London franchise holders Carlton to merge the two companies stalled and the company passed into the ownership of Granada instead, and the merger of Carlton and Granada in 2004 ended Anglia Television as a brand in its own right. And now, in 2017, the entirety of ITV’s football output rests with live coverage of England matches and major international tournaments. The days of multiple companies producing multiple football shows for a local audience, even those of modest resources such as Anglia, seem further away than ever.

You can get a taste for Match of the Week by watching this YouTube video – in two parts – of this match between Norwich City and West Ham United from the 1982/83 season.

And who amongst us wouldn’t want to re-watch Ipswich Town shovelling six goals past Manchester United in March 1980?

And finally, here are Cambridge United getting promoted to the Second Division on the last day of the 1977/78 season with a win against Exeter City.

None of this would have been possible without the absolute treasure trove that is this glorious history of football broadcasting on ITV. Show them some love by wading into their vast wealth of information.