Growing up in the 70s and 80s I was an avid sports fan absorbing TV coverage of big events like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Cup, as well as domestic football. There were three TV channels (BBC1, BBC2 and ITV) until Channel 4 joined the party in 1982. I enjoyed following sports and personalities I knew about, but delighted in seeing and learning about new sports I had no previous knowledge of. These were heady days when everyone’s TV viewing experience was literally on a level playing field, because the advent of subscription TV hadn’t arrived. I look fondly back at these recollections.
FOOTBALL ON TV
MATCH OF THE DAY: David Coleman, Jimmy Hill, Bob Wilson, Des Lynam, Gary Lineker.
*SPORTSNIGHT: David Coleman, Tony Gubba, Harry Carpenter, Steve Rider, Des Lynam
SPORTSCENE: Archie MacPherson, Dougie Donnelly & Chick Young (Scotland)
*SCOTSPORT: Arthur Montford, Sally McNair, Hazel Irvine (women pioneers) (Scotland)
Aged two my first love of football was Nottingham Forest (peculiar for a wee Scots lassie). But the strip was red (favourite colour), I loved their badge (tree), liked the sound of the team name, they won the game and were a neutral choice. All important things in my toddler mind. That first football thrill must have come from watching Match of the Day! I still vividly remember watching Nottingham Forest defeat Malmo in 79 and SV Hamburg in 80 for a European Cup double. My devotion to Forest lasted into my very late teens.
I discovered Scotland World Cup player Joe Jordan came from my home village of Cleland. He played for Leeds United and his parents lived over the road from me. A crowd gathered to wave Joe off to the 1974 World Cup and sang the team song” Easy Easy” with the words Yabba Dabba Doo We Support the Boys in Blue and I wondered how the team knew Fred Flintstone?
* SPORTSNIGHT & SCOTSORT did cover other sports as well.
MULTI SPORT COVERAGE ON TV
GRANDSTAND with Frank Bough, Bob Wilson, Des Lynam, Steve Rider BBC
WORLD OF SPORT with Dickie Davies (Fred Dinenage relief anchor) ITV
Between both programs a variety of sports were covered on Saturday afternoons, and the anchormen were class acts. The BBC tended to monopolise the bigger sports such as rugby union & league, football, cricket, boxing, tennis, golf, motor and horse racing. Ian St John & Jimmy Greaves were a joy to hear talking about football on World of Sport. But more minority sports such as speedway, darts, show jumping, Australian Rules football and I think ten-pin bowling got a look in too! The 4pm wrestling spot on World of Sport with the likes of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks was a highlight not to be missed. Both my parents enjoyed horse racing so I was very familiar with the dulcet tones of Peter O’Sullevan BBC commentator, and Brough Scott ITV presenter discussing racing matters (delighted to say he still does). Big races such as the Grand National with Red Rum (my first sporting hero), Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Derby spring to mind alongside riders like Lester Piggott, Willie Carson, Walter Swinburn and the big week long events at Ascot and Goodwood.
SKI SUNDAY: Single handed David Vine was responsible for introducing me to winter sports through this flagship program. World Cup downhill skiing (SWI Permin Zurbriggen) and New Year ski-jumping (FIN Matti Nykanen) were both thrilling to watch and Vine made this alien world accessible. Although the program still runs today, I think it’s become a shadow of its former glory, trying to fit in too many other snow sports into the same timeframe, with presenters joshing like schoolboys at times.
ICE SKATING: John Curry won Gold for Great Britain in the Winter Olympics of 76 with a routine filled with elegance, grace and athleticism. A deep love of figure skating developed then, and I delighted in seeing Robin Cousins victory in 1980 and the Torvill & Dean 84 Bolero ice-dance spectacular. After Torvill & Dean retired and went on tour, I saw them perform their Bolero routine LIVE, an amazing experience.
Of course a plethora of winter sports can be seen during the Winter Olympics and I’ve always enjoyed the spectacle of the ski and skating activities. But an unforgettable moment for me was watching the “chess on ice” women’s curling final of 2002, and hearing Dougie Donnelly ecstatically announce “SHE’S DONE IT” as Rhona Martin secured a GB team Gold.
OLYMPIA HORSE OF THE YEAR SHOW (Equestrian) I loved watching the show jumping events with names like Harvey Smith, David Broome, and Michael Whitaker taking part. The big wall event Puissance was a nail biter too. My younger self would never have believed I’d attend this actual event, once to see show jumping and three times to watch DRESSAGE a totally unknown sport to me. But just as I learned to appreciate and enjoy the physical and aesthetic splendour of ice-skating, I’ve come to adore the grace, discipline and joy of viewing dressage. The legend of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro had something to do with it.
GYMNASTICS: Probably after the 1976 Nadia Comaneci sensation, gymnastics got a bit more coverage on the TV in Britain. I have an abiding memory of avidly watching both World and European championship tournaments for years on the telly (think ITV), despite GB having little or no representation at all. The sport was dominated by the USSR (my favourite Dmitri Bilozerchev) USA, China and Japan. After decades of watching this graceful yet punishing sport, I sat in 2012 with tears pouring down my face as GB athletes medalled in the Olympics. My pre-40 year old self could never have envisaged that scenario.
BOXING: I vaguely remember a reference to Muhammad Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle of 1974, but knew Ali more for his interviews on TV with Michael Parkinson. He was quite a character and really rather handsome (he knew it) for a boxer, and I always thought he must have been very good at boxing not to look so battered. He was the exception for the heavier weight divisions as I much preferred the lighter weight category fighters. Jim Watt (Lightweight) Alan Minter (Middleweight) and Barry McGuigan (Featherweight) I watched ALL their title fights. Bantamweight Johnny Owen’s death in 1980 deeply affected me as well.
TOUR DE FRANCE: I’ve followed this big summer event in Europe since I was a toddler, so must have seen coverage on either Grandstand or World of Sport, before Channel 4 gave the event a British TV home for years. I got a lot of pleasure following the fortunes of riders like Laurant Fignon, Bernard Hinault, Greg Lemond, Robert Miller, Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong (though tainted), Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome.
Sadly without TV subscriptions and/or internet facilities for streaming, so many things from the TV sporting world are out of my reach now. Thinking of all these bygone sporting delights, athletes, presenters and TV shows, really brings a smile to my face. With TV sport being literally none existent recently due to the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a joy to look back and reminisce.