Thursday, 20 September 2012

Good and bad of TV sport in the 80s

I think it was about two years ago when I realised that I was turning into a grumpy old man. My daughter started moaning that there was nothing to watch on TV, which led to me to turn to her and start a sentence with the dreaded words "When I was your age...". The line of my argument that day, was that she didn't know just how different it was when I were a lad, with just three channels to choose from (pre-1982), no dedicated channels for kids, and that she didn't have a dad who, once he discovered the beauty of a remote control, has rarely since relinquished control of it. At least my dad liked his sport though, allowing us to watch hours of the stuff through the 1980s. But sport on TV in the 1980s was a different beast to the coverage we are fed in the modern era, so much so that if you tried telling the youth of today how it was back in the day, then I think they'd look at us as if we were aliens. So this blog is an attempt to rewind the VHS cassette, and highlight the best and worst bits of following sport on TV in the 1980s.

What's the score?

Can you imagine turning on your television today to watch a live football match and potentially have to wait five or ten minutes to find out the score? This was acceptable in the 80s however, as we simply sat back and waited to catch a glimpse of the score or get a clue from the commentator. As soon as Sky introduced their on-screen clock and scoreline in 1991 it became apparent that we'd all been duped for years, and collectively wondered how someone hadn't thought of this idea before.

ITV did once leave the clock up on the screen towards the end of the greatest football match ever (Liverpool v Arsenal, May 26, 1989), Brian Moore shocking us all by informing us of this radical decision. And still the penny didn't drop. It wasn't just football that kept us guessing though, as I recall spending many a Wimbledon trying to grab a look at the big courtside scoreboards, just to get an idea of what was going on. How did we ever cope?

Cricket coverage

Love him or hate him, you must admit that Kerry Packer revolutionised cricket on television from 1977 onwards. One of his many innovations was to introduce cameras at both ends of the ground. Strange as it may seem, even in the 1980s, viewers in England would still spend half their time staring at the back of a wicket-keeper's bum. Fine if you were an admirer of Paul Downton's rear. A pain in the bum though if you wanted a decent view of the match, even from your living room.

Watch a cricket match on TV today and you get a completely different experience to that of the 1980s. Now there hardly seems an angle that is not covered: cameras at both ends of the ground; square leg cameras; stump cam; a blimp camera. As for the rest of the technology available, well the mind boggles at how I would have reacted had I seen the future back then. Hawkeye, Snicko, Hot Spot? You must be joking. You'll be telling me next that goal-line technology will be in place before I'm 40.

FA Cup final day

Ah, now I am going to get submerged in a sea of nostalgia. Christmas day for young football supporters would arrive every May, as both the BBC and ITV provided us with hours of non-stop football coverage. The foreplay was often the best part of the magical day - special features, such as Lawrenson v Lineker at snooker prior to the 1986 final; the team trip on the coach journey (or helicopter for Brighton); a visit to the team hotels; clips of the team songs; the road to Wembley, to name a few. The main action was often satisfying enough - Coventry v Tottenham a personal 1980s favourite of mine. And after the climax, it would be time to get down the local park to recreate the moments of the day. Bliss.

I still love football but there are quite a few things to dislike about the current game. The sad demise of the FA Cup as a special competition is the one that leaves me yearning for a time gone by. An age when semi-finals and finals were not played at the same venue, where teams at both ends of the table, in all divisions would play their strongest sides, and the final kicked off at the wacky time of 3pm on the final Saturday of the domestic season. How did a once great competition come to this? It's money, isn't it? That didn't take long to solve.


The one thing I dislike about digital television is the sad death of teletext. Surely there has to be someone kind enough to bring this back to our TV screens? Please! Thus you can probably imagine my excitement when I saw this website (it isn't dodgy I promise). Just like playing on a Spectrum simulator, it instantly whizzed me back in time, with the bonus that it is a much cheaper, easier and safer way of doing so than the method foisted upon Marty McFly.

Admittedly, describing teletext as 'sport on TV' may be stretching things slightly, but any child of the 80s lucky enough to have access to this facility will tell you that, come the weekend, checking the football scores on Ceefax/Oracle was the Gillette Soccer Saturday of our time (without the numerous oohs and aahs thrown in). And the drama of entering 341 on Ceefax and waiting and waiting until the inevitable could not be delayed any longer, and you discovered that England were 21/3, and doomed once again.

To me it still beats an auto-refresh web page, or hitting F5 repeatedly, and it definitely better than the current text services offered on digital channels. For once I don't seem to be alone in this opinion, as this tribute on the BBC website emphasises.

Sport on Friday

There were many quality sporting programmes of the 80s: Grandstand, Sportsnight, Midweek Sports Special, A Question of Sport, and Junior Kickstart are among my favourites. However, the one that I remember with the fondest of memories, was Sport on Friday on BBC 2. There was something about watching a dedicated sports programme on a Friday that was a little bit special, especially in the pre-Sky days. For a sports geek like me, it was my version of Ready, Steady, Go!, with the sporting weekend really starting here on a Friday. And the theme tune was a belter (which sadly I can't find anywhere on the internet).

Sometimes the sport may have been a little obscure - the British Cities Indoor Hockey Championships for example - but it didn't stop me watching it, indeed the fact that the BBC wanted to cram some more sport on TV suited me fine. One extra hit on a Friday was just what I needed to satisfy my sporting addiction, so a day sick off of school or half-term were made even sweeter when David Icke's face appeared on my TV. Not that I'd be saying that in a few years though.

Sporting Triangles

Oh dear. ITV's answer to A Question of Sport, was about as successful as their version of Eastenders (Albion Market, in case you're wondering). Initially hosted by Nick Owen, the quiz involved three teams, captained by Jimmy Greaves, Tessa Sanderson and Andy Gray (Emlyn Hughes took Sanderson's role from 1989 onwards). I obviously watched it and the show was passable, although it's main crime was being poor in comparison to the firmly established BBC favourite that it was trying to compete with.

The excellent TV Cream website describes Sporting Triangles as a "lame rip-off of A Question Of Sport", neatly detailing the problem faced by the show. Somehow, in the brief four series run, the programme spawned both board and computer games. The latter was described by Crash magazine as "A mediocre conversion of a less than brilliant TV quiz and for sports fanatics only". Damned with no praise at all, poor old Sporting Triangles never really stood a chance. Still, it was better than Albion Market at least.


  1. Apologies if I'm stepping back to the 70's here, but does anyone remember a tv series called All in the Game, hosted by Brian Moore and featuring teams from each of the old 1st Division clubs competing in various football 'skill' challenges (dribbling, shooting etc) - a bit like a footballing Its a Knockout and, I think, featuring the same referees.
    The whole series was filmed over a weekend at Bristol City's Ashton Gate ground. I was a big Leeds Utd fan at the time (everyone else hated them so someone had to!) so my dad took me to both days. I remember the crowd being herded into a small area in the camera angles, to make it look like a packed stadium and Brian Moore running off between each event to change his suit to make it look like a different program. It was a real eye-opener to how tv was made. I know it included many top players of the time but I can only really remember some of my idols from Leeds - Allan Clarke, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer and maybe Eddie Grey - but don't think the fun of the live event came across when shown as a 30min tv series.
    I've never seen it repeated or found any info on the net so assume it was binned after one series, but does anyone else remember it?

    1. This website gives very brief details about All In The Game:

      And if you Google 'All in the game Dickie Davies' then you get a few results back.

      It sounds great, and it would be a shame if it wasn't on YouTube. I might have a look later, although I'm not all that confident I'll have any success.

  2. I've got to come in on this ... The highlights of sporting 1980s for me included:

    Kickstart (and Junior Kickstart, where I always supported Dougie Lampkin!)

    Paddles Up! (canoeing version of Kickstart, and I followed Richard Fox's series victories)

    Run The Gauntlet (not quite sport, but jetskis, quad bikes, assault courses, etc - what's not to like?)

    Pot Black (enough said)

    Pot Black Timeframe (a 1990s experiment, but worth a mention.)

    Pot The Question (snooker-based mid-eighties quiz show)

    And one all-time classic: The Guinness Soccer Six, a six a side indoor football tournament for all top teams covered in Sportsnight one Wednesday every year. 'Not fit enough to go to the Euros,' say club managers? How about getting some serious carpet burns between Saturday matches!!

  3. Here in Australia one of the longest running TV sports shows was "World of Sport", based in Melbourne and telecast on Channel 7. As Melbourne is the epicentre of Australian Rules football, one regular feature was the weekly handball competition in the studio: