Swales must go now

Friday, February 8, 2008 by

As of this week, ITV4 are broadcasting 24 hours a day, and one of the programmes in the new afternoon schedules every Thursday is something called The Big Match Revisited. As a football anorak, this did of course sound very tempting, although I assumed we’d have to suffer some smart-arse narration from Ned Boulting or someone about bubble perms.

But no, as yesterday’s first programme turned out to be nothing but an old football programme shown its in entirety from beginning to end. One thing it wasn’t, however, was The Big Match. Instead it was an episode of Granada’s crapply-titled equivalent Match Time from exactly 25 years ago this week, during the last few months of the old ITV regional systemwhereby each of the main regions would mount their own highlights show, with extended coverage of a local match and then edited highlights of the games covered by the other regions.

As well as the end for that system, in 1983 it looked like it was nearly the end for football full stop, and the programme gloomily reported on Blackpool and Wigan enjoying their lowest ever attendances, and Everton welcoming just 14,000 people through the turnstiles (such a momentous figure it was superimposed over a crap library shot of Goodison Park to emphasise this).

Perhaps the oddest aspect from a modern perspective was that reporting on these numbers as part of his news round-up was Denis Law, one of the most charismatic and popular players of his generation, who spent the whole programme sat next to main anchor Elton Welsby reading out results and introducing black and white photographs of goals that hadn’t been filmed. This seems a real waste, it’d be like Alan Hansen’s only role on Match of the Day being to read out the league table.

Still, it was a fascinating and evocative show, with Elton referring to “Yorkshire Television’s outside broadcast unit”, hoardings at all the grounds about saving water and even a late result from Torquay United, who for some reason played most of their home games on Saturday nights at the time. The football action was all the more nostalgic being surrounded by cardboard graphics and hideously stilted interviews.

Judging by the trailer in The Championship last week (and it says a lot about ITV Sport’s current portfolio that this was the only football they were able to promote), during the run – which is apparently going to cover each week 25 years ago for the rest of the season – we’ll be gallivanting across the country and dropping in on other regions’ programmes. We certainly got a clip of Fred Dinenage, so that’ll be one to watch.

So well done to ITV4 for what’s bound to be the best series they’ve ever screened. And maybe by May I’ll work out just why so many people took bog roll to matches to throw on the pitch.


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