Do you remember when there were only three guaranteed ‘live’ football matches on TV every season?
Those games were the FA Cup Final, the Home International between England and Scotland and, for some reason, the schoolboy international between the same two sides – and always “exclusively” on ITV.
No doubt the five year-old Adrian Chiles watched that very encounter back in 1973, absorbed in the game as it was played out in front of his fascinated eyes, absorbed so much indeed, that, at one point, he piped up to his mother, “Hey Mom, when I groo up, I’m guin’ter be a football commentator on the telly”.
“Shut oop’ our Adrian, you’ll only be bostin enough fer a daily politics shoo or, at a poosh, doy toyme telly, like”.
If only our Adrian has listened to his mum.
The reason why ITV chose to give that particular game regular attention whilst, in line with the BBC, relegating the League Cup Final and all three European club competition finals to a highlights package is down to one thing: they weren’t particularly bothered whether football was on television or not.
That seems inconceivable now. Yet it’s true. Football was a sideshow, a pastime, an indulgence for the flat-capped working folk; gritty theatre to accompany a pack of Woodbines and pint of mild.
Some television sport, on the other hand, not only thrived on television, its popularity and wealth grew because of the regular exposure it got on the small screen.
Thus, whilst many a football final was shunted inbetween the boxing and rally-cross on Sportsnight, events such as the Horse of the Year Show, the Boat Race (shown live on television every year since 1938), Wimbledon, the Derby, Sunday League Cricket and the Open Golf Championship were, along with a host of other domestic sports events regularly transmitted ‘live’.
The respective sports organising bodies had seized the opportunity to showcase both their sport and events to a wider audience as a means of increasing their popularity and growth, and, in doing so, their reputation and the overall wealth.
Thus, while we could all cheer Virginia Wade to the flying buttresses from the comfort of our settees and shout “go on Lucinda, go ON!” as the show jumping reached yet another thrilling conclusion, there was no such excitement or thrill of the unknown when it came to the football.
Take the 1975 League Cup Final between Norwich and Aston Villa for example. It was shown on ITV as edited highlights over 24 hours after it had been played; the football league’s showpiece match condemned to the Sunday afternoon viewing graveyard – the unheralded meat in the sandwich between slices of Weekend World and Celebrity Squares.
It was football on television but not as we know it.
So much football, so little of it on television.
It seems vaguely ridiculous now, even unbelievable.
Live football is the broadcasting equivalent of Colombian finest to TV executives across the land now, the recent three year deal signed by BT Sport for exclusive Champions and Europa League football from 2015 costing the company £897million in total.
In stark contrast, in 1962/63 Anglia TV’s Match of the Week programme paid a little over £1,000 for exclusive rights to 30 games that season. They involved four East Anglian clubs, one of which of course was Norwich City, together with Ipswich, Colchester and Peterborough.
So unprepared, however, were the suits at Carrow Road when this deal was announced, that the only place where the club could install a camera gantry was behind the goal in the River End. It was a position that gave an altogether unusual look for televised games and one which remained the case at Carrow Road until the beginning of the 1972/73 season, when the television gantry was relocated to the South Stand.
Even then however, clubs such as Norwich struggled to cope with the demands of the steadily growing demand for televised football. The clubs’ floodlights, for example, did not have sufficient power to provide enough light for colour pictures. This meant that for winter matches, the first half would have been recorded and transmitted in colour whilst the second half would be in black and white.
Anglia had, at that time, the distinction of being the first company to broadcast and edit a match on video rather than film in 1962 – a significant breakthrough in the recording and transmission of all sports worldwide.
And one made in Norwich.
The most well-known voice on Match of the Week was, of course, Gerry Harrison who, whilst he was working for the BBC in Merseyside, entered the corporation’s contest in 1969 to “find” a new television commentator in time for the following year’s World Cup Finals in Mexico.
That contest was won by Idwal Robling with former Liverpool player Ian St John coming second. Harrison came third and never looked back. He joined Anglia as their chief commentator, replacing Gerald Sinstadt in the process, that same year.
By then, Anglia and Match of the Week’s scope included far more than those original gang of four. They had been joined by Luton Town, Lincoln, Scunthorpe United and Southend, meaning that the associated travel costs for filming at such a wide variety of locations had escalated.
The company decided, at this point, to double-up broadcasts as much as they could – thus, if the Match of the Week cameras were going to be at Lincoln on a Saturday afternoon, it was a safe bet to assume the same cameras and personnel would also be at Lincoln Cathedral the following morning to transmit the Sunday service.
Anglia TV’s association with the Canaries really made its mark on television during the Canaries promotion winning season of 1971/72 and established Harrison as the voice of football and of Norwich City at that time.
One memorable highlight of that season was the Norwich’s 5-1 win over Blackpool at Carrow Road on March 25, which was enjoyed by 23,540 fans on that sunny afternoon, with most of them – plus tens of thousands more – tuning in again the following afternoon. Harrison was, as ever, in fine form (his commentary, plus the rather unusual camera angle, can be seen from 1:35 in this wonderful YouTube feature) on an afternoon that saw a youthful Graham Paddon shine for the Canaries.
With a first ever promotion to the top flight won at the end of that season, Harrison and Anglia TV were natural visitors to Carrow Road for the opening game of the 1972/73 season against Everton – Harrison describing the first ever goal scored in Division One by the Canaries in typical no fuss and frills style. All that mattered was what was happening on the pitch.
“…here’s Butler pumping one forward, an up and under for Kenyon, he gets it though – but it’s now Bone…Briggs…Livermore, chipping it forward for Bone and almost getting…Bone with the chance – it’s there! And he’s finished it off – but a nice little chip forward there from Livermore, an error or half error from Kendall but you can’t give Jim Bone two attempts – and there it is”.
Eager not to miss out on what was happening at Carrow Road and, maybe keen to see the Norfolk upstarts for themselves, the BBC soon turned up with the Match of the Day cameras. Their first look at Norwich that season came a fortnight later to record our 1-0 win over Derby – the then reigning English Champions who also had, in David Nish, the UK’s most expensive player at £250,000.
John Motson had a Norwich win to commentate on however, Archie Gemmill’s second-half own-goal winning the game and the points for the Canaries who went up to 9th in the table with that win.
Norwich made a further four appearances on Match of the Day that season. Away games at Southampton and Derby were both commentated on by Motson, with two more appearances in front of the cameras at Carrow Road – both against Leeds United – both being presided over by Barry Davies. The games against Yorkshire’s finest ended in a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup 3rd round on January 13 and a 2-1 defeat in the league a week later.
That game at Derby, incidentally, had been played on January 6 and meant that Norwich had appeared on Match of the Day – and this was when the programme only had a maximum of three games to show – for three consecutive weeks; an accolade no other club had on the programme that season.
One can only imagine the howls of protest and the letters expressing outrage at such obvious bias that were sent to the BBC!
Televised football was beginning to catch on. The following season, 1973/74, saw a total of 83 games shown on Match of the Day in highlight form, commencing that August and finishing on June 1 with England’s 1-0 win against Bulgaria in a friendly. The Canaries had appeared just twice in front of the programmes cameras that season, the 1-0 win over Leicester on November 11 and the defeat, by the same score, at Liverpool, on February 2.
The end of that 1973/74 season saw, of course, the Canaries slip back into the Second Divison despite a valiant attempt by John Bond and a whole host of new supporting characters to keep the Canaries in the top flight. However, such was the allure of Bond’s reign and the playing cast he had gathered around him that, even in Division Two, the Match of the Day cameras couldn’t keep away from Carrow Road for long.
And, so it was on November 9 1974, that the promotion chasing Canaries found themselves top billing on the programme for their home game with Bristol Rovers. Barry Davies was in place and the Canaries had form. They had won five games in six going into the match with thirteen goals scored to only two conceded; a 2-0 win over league leaders and previously unbeaten Manchester United being a particular highlight of that run.
The stage was set for Bond and his players to once again show their prowess and promotion credentials to the millions who would be tuning in later that same night.
But what happened? Norwich lost 1-0.
Perhaps our belief that we never seem to turn it on when we appear on TV had its origins on that particular afternoon?
Televised football had certainly come a long way, even then, for Norwich City since the club had been part of that original £1,000 deal signed between Anglia and the Football League back in 1962.
Carrow Road found itself centre stage the following season as the Canaries brought the First Division title challenge of QPR to a halt at Carrow Road. Ted MacDougall, Peter Morris and Phil Boyer were the scorers in front of a season’s best crowd of 31,231 as Norwich won a dramatic game 3-2 in front of a breathless David Coleman – the game and its significance deemed so important, he was dispatched, in person, to Carrow Road to commentate and report on QPR’s expected onward progress to the title.
QPR fans have, to this day, never forgiven us for beating them on that day. I doubt that David Coleman, on the first and only occasion he ever commentated on a Norwich game, ever forgave us either; party poopers that we were for him, QPR and all of West London.
David Coleman at Carrow Road. We’d finally arrived in the big time!