With the right subscription these days you can view a whole array of football matches from around the world, live. But back when I were a lad we only had the option of crowding round a little television on a Sunday lunchtime to watch highlights.
The Big Match was regular viewing in our house during the ‘70’s.
Back then all we had was the Big Match on a Sunday lunchtime and, if you were old enough to be allowed to stay up, Match of the Day on a Saturday night. Football on TV was not what it is now.
ITV was resolutely regional. I lived in the South East and during the week we had Thames Television and then once Friday evening came around, we were switched to London Weekend Television.
John Bromley was in charge of ITV’s flagship sports programme, World of Sport, which was broadcast throughout each Saturday. Match of the Day had been launched by BBC in 1964 and was already a success. ITV and BBC were fierce rivals, seeing as they were the only broadcasters on the market.
ITV first broadcast The Big Match on 28th August 1968 when cameras were at Loftus Road to see QPR take on Manchester City. Brian Moore was the commentator and pretty soon he became the voice of football on the channel.
In addition to Moore on commentary, Jimmy Hill would provide tactical analysis. The Big Match was the programme which launched Hill’s media career. Hill introduced the programme for a while but then Moore took over when Hill moved to the BBC.
The format was generally one main match to concentrate on, taking up at least half the hour-long show. The rest of the programme would show goals from a couple of other games from other regions. Then there were one or two interviews and features. As the popularity grew during the 70’s, Moore would read out viewers letters.
For the 21st century viewer, these always amuse me when I watch them back. Mainly as Moore reads out the whole address of the author, house number and postcode. No worries about GDPR back then!
They introduced goal of the month/season and would often show clips from past matches at the request of the viewers. Interestingly enough they weren’t obsessed with giving you all the results or even league tables.
If you wanted passing or possession stats, this wasn’t the place for you. Points won from losing positions was the stuff of NASA as far as we were concerned.
Bromley’s ideas didn’t stop there as he introduced the concept of a panel of experts. The 1970 World Cup was where this was first unveiled and was a resounding success. For the one and only time, ITV’s viewing figures bettered BBC’s. Bromley understood how a combination of controversial and outspoken figures was a recipe for compelling viewing.
As the decade moved on the programme grew. Regular viewers became familiar with commentators from other regions. Viewers in those areas found many of their club’s finest hours synonymous with the same voice in their respective regions. Gerald Sinstadt covered the North West, Gerry Harrison East Anglia, Hugh Johns the Midlands. Tyne Tees television pulled off a coup bringing in legendary commentary from the BBC, Kenneth Wolstenholme. In the West, Graham Miller covered matches involving clubs from the South West and Wales. Martin Tyler would also be heard covering some matches involving Southern clubs, outside London.
My earliest recollections of the programme revolve around hoping Mum could be late with the dinner so we could watch some of it. With only one television in the house and no video recorder till the 80’s, quite often we would run back into the lounge when she was preparing pudding only to be summoned back when it appeared on the table. None of this ‘eating in front of the telly’ in those days.
Don’t forget we just had three channels back then, BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. We were served up a feast of just two highlights shows on a weekend. No live league football, other than the FA Cup Final. Generally, the only international matches which were broadcast live were England v Scotland and then the World Cup Finals.
Watching back some of the programmes brings back so many memories of going to football matches as a kid. The excitement and anticipation of getting to the ground, as you mingle with all the crowds, equally excited and interested to find out what may unfold, who they might see and what they might see them do. This was in daylight. By the time you came out of the ground it was dark. You’d been stood up on the terraces, huddled with the crowd keeping warm. Now you were out in the fresh air, feeling the cold around your nose and ears. There would be chattering of what you’d all just seen, and what it meant for your season and whether you could catch a lift with someone to the away game next week. Then you arrived home having listened to the results in the car being read out on radio.
When ITV broadcast the League Cup Final this was another first which BBC hadn’t bothered with. Of course, we didn’t actually get to see it live. It was the highlights package on the Sunday. But it covered the whole programme, with maybe a little time for interviews afterwards. It was still a measure of how ITV would occasionally get one over on their bigger, more advantaged rival.
Towards the mid-seventies the programme was interspersed with one or two celebrities and players. Bobby Moore and John Mitchell of Fulham appeared during the Second Division club’s record run to the FA Cup Final in 1975. During that year Wimbledon goalkeeper, Dickie Guy, was brought into the studio to take viewers through his penalty save from Leeds United’s Peter Lorimer. Wimbledon were a non-league side then. Terry Venables, then Crystal Palace manager appeared with a young Kenny Sansom. One Christmas show was hosted by great mates, Mick Channon and Kevin Keegan, with Watford Chairman, Elton John, making a guest appearance.
Men such as Moore and Hill were real pioneers. They had no idea the product would evolve into what we see today. Back then the view was if you showed too much football on television then people wouldn’t bother going to matches. How wrong they were.
In the early days the action replays were added back in the studio after the game had finished. Watch some of the early action on YouTube and that becomes quite clear. You would only get one replay too, as there were only ever a few cameras at the ground.
There was always a bit of a buzz going to a game in London and seeing the broadcasting vans parked outside the ground, knowing you might be on telly later.
The 1980-81 season ITV pulled off another coup when they won exclusive rights to all league football coverage in a move labelled “snatch of the day”. The BBC and ITV alternated between having their packages broadcast on a Saturday night. Then in 1983 television was finally granted live coverage for league matches. Sunday 2nd October 1983 was the landmark when Tottenham’s 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest was shown live.
We’re talking about things from over forty years ago, yet in broadcasting terms it seems a century away. It’s todays smart phone compared to a Nokia. Or fibre-optic broadband up against dial-up AOL.
But these were innocent times. We only knew what we knew and believed what we were told. So as you sit down to watch a Bundesliga 2 clash between Sandhausen and Hamburg, just consider yourself lucky people like Moore, Hill and Bromley saw the potential one day there would be a market for it.