Televised Football In The Regions: From The North – Granada

by | Oct 30, 2017

The history of televised football in the North-West of England is complicated by the fact that independent television in Britain underwent structural changes in more than one sense during its formative years. When the Independent Television Authority (ITA) first advertised franchises for commercial television in the early 1950s, only three areas were made available – London, the Midlands, and the North of England – and in addition to this the ITA was sufficiently concerned by the amount of possible influence that any one broadcaster could hold that it decided to split each franchise into two, with one company to broadcast during the week and the other at weekends.

The two companies selected to broadcast to the North of England were simultaneously very similar and very different. Granada Television was chosen to operate during the week and the Associated British Corporation (more commonly known as ABC Television) at weekends but, whilst both companies came into this gig from similar backgrounds (Granada owned a chain of theatres whilst ABC was a well-established cinema chain), their perspectives couldn’t have been much more different. ABC considered their franchise as a stepping stone towards one of the two much-coveted London contracts, Granada took their responsibility to the North of England considerably more seriously, with the company’s founder Sidney Bernstein stating that he selected the North because “the North is a closely knit, indigenous, industrial society; a homogeneous cultural group with a good record for music, theatre, literature and newspapers” and – somewhat more frivolously – because “if you look at a map of the concentration of population in the North and a rainfall map, you will see that the North is an ideal place for television.”

The two companies both went on air in May 1956, and for the first twelve years of ITV’s existence the responsibility most of the sports coverage rested with ABC, who also held the franchise for the Midlands at weekends. Reticence on the part of football’s governing bodies meant that televised coverage of football in the 1950s was piecemeal in nature, but in September 1960 ABC and the London weekend contractors ATV reached agreement to show a small amount of live coverage of Football League matches. First to be shown was second half coverage of a match between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers from Bloomfield Road, but injury to the star attraction Stanley Matthews, the lowly league positions of both clubs, and a disappointing match – which Bolton won by a goal to nil – satisfied neither the Football League or the broadcasters, and subsequent scheduled live broadcasts were withdrawn. There would be no further live televised coverage of Football League matches for a little over twenty-three years.

ABC were a little slow off the starting blocks in terms of assembling a regular highlights package. This finally arrived in the form of World of Soccer, which began in November 1965 with a match between Preston North End and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The show took its name from a form of cross channel branding with its other major sports programme, World of Sport, which had begun in February of the same year. World of Sport, which came about as a competitor to the BBC’s Grandstand would remain on our screens until 1985, and would eventually feature a Saturday lunchtime preview show called On The Ball – which in itself would spawn Saint & Greavsie, a successor that would run until the formation of the Premier League in 1992 – and a full results service.

In 1967, however, the ITV network would be changed forever. New contracts were up for grabs, and the North of England region would be one of those changing the most of all. Firstly, the ITA were doing away with dual franchises for weekdays and weekends across the board except for in London (where they would stay until the end of regionalised ITV in 2002). This put ABC in a bit of a bind as they now had no franchise to reapply for, but they survived, though not without some degree of controversy after they were pushed into a shotgun merger with the (very unhappy) London weekday contractor Rediffusion to form a new company called Thames Television. Elsewhere, the North of England franchise was split down the middle, with Granada winning a seven day license for the North-West of England and a new company, Yorkshire Television, winning the same for that part of the country.

Granada Television always prided itself on a straightforward visual identity, allowing its programmes to “speak for themselves”, and this was reflected in the fact that it gave its Sunday afternoon highlights package the none-more-basic name of “Football”. Its commentator for the first season was a man who would go on to become familiar to tens of millions for his later work elsewhere. Barry Davies had begun his career with the British Forces Broadcasting whilst doing his National Service, and there he met one Gerald Sinstadt, who would later recommend him to work for BBC Radio. Davies would first work for ABC before moving to Granada in 1968, but he only lasted a season there before transferring to the BBC, where he would remain as one of the corporations voices of football until 2004.

His replacement would be the man who introduced him to the BBC in the first place. Gerald Sinstadt had left the BBC for Anglia Television in the middle of the 1960s, but his arrival at Granada in 1969 would make him the North-West of England’s voice of football for the next decade. As well as being their chief commentator, Sinstadt also hosted a local Friday evening preview show called Kick Off, and in 1975 he became the host of a newly revamped highlights show called, somewhat confusingly, The Kick Off Match. Of course, having both Manchester and both Liverpool clubs in their catchment area meant that Sinstadt’s voice became familiar to many. He was at Old Trafford on the last day of the 1973/74 season when Denis Law backheeled – or didn’t, since results elsewhere meant that it would have happened anyway – Manchester United into the Second Division, and was the voice of Liverpool’s ascent to complete domination of the English game from the middle of the 1970s on.

In January 1978, Sinstadt was joined by the twenty-seven year old Roger “Elton” Welsby. Elton Welsby came to Granada from the Liverpool-based radio station City AM and was mainly used to host The Kick-Off Match, although he did occasionally commentate on matches as well. By the end of the decade, however,  and despite the addition of the likes of Denis Law, Ian St John and Jimmy Armfield as expert summarisers, The Kick Off Match was starting to look like a slightly tired format. ITV’s attempt to secure exclusive rights to football coverage in 1978, still remembered as “Snatch Of The Day”, might have been unsuccessful, but it did at least offer the commercial broadcasters a stronger hand in terms of scheduling, and from August 1980 on ITV and the BBC would alternate showing their highlights shows between Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons on an annual basis.

Moving to a more prestigious Saturday night slot was as good a time as any for significant changes to be made to Granada’s football coverage, so from the start of the 1980/81 season The Kick Off Match was replaced with Match Night (which became Match Time the following season, when the show moved to Sunday afternoons), whilst Gerald Sinstadt would last just the one season before jumping ship himself. His replacement at the microphone was another young commentator who would go on to become an institution in future years. Martin Tyler had begun his career in television behind the scenes, working for London Weekend Television on The Big Match in 1968, before going to work for Southern Television six years later, commentating on his first match for them in December 1974. He lasted less than two years there, though, before leaving for Yorkshire Television in 1976, subsequently moving back to his native North-West of England upon Sinstadt’s departure.

Match Night and Match Time do not seem to be as fondly remembered as The Kick Off Match. Quite asides from anything else, they used Jeff Wayne’s “Jubilation” as their title music, the same as LWT’s The Big Match, rather than the gloriously bonkers title music, composed by former Curved Air keyboardist and guitarist Francis Monkman, which had featured at the beginning and end of The Kick Off Match. Match Time would finally come to an end in May 1983, featuring as its final match a Fourth Division promotion battle between Bury and Wimbledon which the visitors won by three goals to one, costing Bury a promotion spot.

This wouldn’t be the complete end of the regionalised television coverage of football in the North-West of England, though. The Kick Off name resurfaced at the end of the 1980s for local highlights – along with Granada Soccer Night – although by this time Martin Tyler was no longer committed to Granada by this point. He left ITV altogether in 1990 to join BSB, which was soon afterwards subsumed into Sky, and remains there to this day. The main commentator by this point was Clive Tyldesley, who’d joined Granada as a reporter in 1987 and whose first match commentary for them came with Manchester City’s famous five-one win against Manchester United in September 1989. Tyldesley, who’d succeeded Elton Welsby at City AM in 1978, left for the BBC in 1992 but returned to ITV in 1996, where he remains – albeit with a vastly reduced schedule – to this day. Welsby would stay with Granada until his contract was not renewed in 2000.

Upon losing top flight television rights in 1992 with the creation of the Premier League, the tone of ITV’s football coverage changed completely. The network consoled itself with Football League rights, and Granada dipped in and out of live Sunday afternoon matches under the name of The Granada Match Live until that contract expired in 1996. These highlights would make a brief return during the 2001/02 season, but the end of regional independent television in England was by this time an inevitability. The Monopolies & Mergers Commission allowed the merger of the two biggest remaining ITV companies, Granada and Carlton, in 2004, and the Granada name now largely only survives in the public consciousness in the name of ITV1’s nightly local news programme, Granada Reports.

In 1958, two years after its launch, Kenneth Clark of the Independent Television Authority noted that, “We did not quite foresee how much Granada Television would develop a character which distinguishes it most markedly from the other programmes companies and from the BBC.” The days regional broadcasting are gone and don’t show any signs of returning in the foreseeable future, but Granada Television will live long in the memory for bringing the distinctive voice of the North of England into the homes of the whole of the country for first time. It was an innovation of inestimable importance at a time when almost every voice heard on the television was riven through with received pronunciation. And in its football coverage, there is little doubt that the company dedicated itself with the same application and dedication to its region as it did in every other area. From the North, for all of us.

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. 

You can catch a full episode of Granada’s Match Night from the 31st January 1981, featuring matches between Manchester United and Birmingham City, Ipswich Town and Stoke City, and West Ham United and Preston North End, by clicking here

You can catch a full episode of The Kick Off Match from the 24th April 1978 featuring matches between Leicester City and Manchester United, and between Stoke City and Sunderland, by clicking here

You can catch a full episode of Football from the 14th April 1973 featuring matches between Blackpool and Preston North End, and between Stoke City and Manchester United, by clicking here

Picture credit: Pik-Yacker, through Wikipedia Commons.