The warhorse of football highlights turns fifty years old on 22nd August. It’s had its ups and downs along the way but remains, despite everything, the place we turn to of a Saturday night between August and May. Time, then, for us to pay tribute to its finest moments…
1. “As you can hear we’re in Beatleville”
Highlights had been shown on Saturday nights since 1959 and ITV had actually shown a live league game in 1960 as part of an experiment the Football League instantly brought a halt to, but it wasn’t until Kenneth Wolstenholme and a BBC outside broadcast unit pitched up at Anfield on 22nd August 1964 that football highlights became a standard part of television culture.
2. The 1967 Charity Shield
It was supposed to be the first game ever shown in colour, but the special VT machine broke down. Never mind, we did get Ken being completely confused by Pat Jennings scoring from a long kickout and then hailing Bobby Charlton’s howitzer as “good enough to win the league, the cup, the World Cup and even the Grand National”
3. Sandy Brown’s own goal
A moment everyone seems to recall, Brown headed into an open net in the Merseyside derby. “He must wish the ground could open up” declared a sympathetic David Coleman.
4. Barry Davies
Poetic of linguistics, stern of moral, appealingly clipped of description (see the first comment here from his first commentary on the programme), it’s hard to think Barry was was originally an ITV man, covering Granada and working the 1966 World Cup. When Brian Moore was brought in from BBC radio he saw he wasn’t required, jumped ship and became the purist’s choice until leaving in 2004. Refused to state his birthplace until after his retirement from the programme lest he be accused of bias (Islington, for the record)
5. Ronnie Boyce’s volley
The cameras were at West Ham’s game at Manchester City to catch Jimmy Greaves’ debut; they got that, and a goal, but better still was City’s Joe Corrigan booting the ball downfield on an allotment patch of a pitch only for Boyce to smack the ball straight back from near enough the halfway line.
6. Barry Stoller’s masterwork
Debuted in 1970 by the library music composer, the theme was named the most recognisable TV theme in
the country by PRS For Music in 2010 but it’s never been officially released – if you have a version, it’s most likely former Manfred Mann member Mike Vickers’ cover from a year later.
7. The donkey kick
Willie Carr flicks the ball up between his heels from a free kick, Ernie Hunt volleys in. The first ever goal of the season, and practically banned on the spot.
8. “Leeds will go mad! And they have every right to go mad!”
Jeff Astle ends Leeds’ 1970-71 title charge with a goal that isn’t offside (it’s not even passed!), Barry urges on the fans and coaches invading the pitch to protest.
9. John Motson
Brought in from the radio in 1970 at Coleman’s suggestion. Never the stats automaton of legend – see the end of the 1979 Cup final or Spain-Yugoslavia from Euro 2000, where he lets the occasion carry him along. Though actually he remained quite prosaic in the face of…
10. Ronnie Radford
Despite the legend not his first commentary for MOTD (he’d already covered the leading game twice) but that which made his name as the Radford rocket stirred a nation. BBC bias, though – Ricky George, a mate of Motson’s from when he played for Barnet and John was a local press reporter, gave Motson a lift to the ground and went on to score the winner.
11. “Every man jack of this Leeds side is now turning it on”
Imperious Leeds, 7-0 up against Southampton, keep the ball between themselves in increasingly extravagant ways for more than thirty passes. “Poor old Southampton just don’t know what day it is” a spellbound Davies remarked.
12. George Best against Sheffield United
A commonly replayed clip from Best’s Mancunian dotage, running across the defence before slotting home from an acute angle.
13. Jimmy Hill
Invented the modern way of football presentation on LWT’s The Big Match alongside Brian Moore (not to mention John Bromley and Bob Gardam offscreen) and was the region’s deputy controller of programming for a while to boot but got asked what he was doing these days by taxi drivers outside London one too many times so jumped channels in 1973 so he could speak tactically and forthrightly to the nation. The beard lasted another decade until Gillette paid him £100,000 at a charity auction to shave it off.
14. Francis Lee sends Barry Davies over the top
“Interesting… very interesting! Oh! Look at his face! Just look at his face!” Davies’ favourite moment of his storied career, voice cracking as he goes.
15. Keegan and Bremner’s fight
Entertaining Charity Shield spat followed by shirt disposal somehow filled out by Davies’ scented-handkerchief moralising.
16. Mickey Walsh
“Ainscow coming square, that’s the ball…” A great example of how MOTD exposure could make a local hero into a national figure, Walsh’s turn and drive for Blackpool against Sunderland in 1975 was a totemic goal of the season.
17. “A quality goal by a quality player”
Motson could turn words on a dime too, watching Tony Currie turn a West Ham defender inside out in that same season.
18. The penalty spot repainting
Doesn’t sound like the greatest television as the mark gets lost in a notorious bog of a pitch at Derby’s Baseball Ground, but you haven’t seen the groundsman’s little run to the penalty area. Tape measure and everything. Motson sounds positively enthralled.
20. The annuals
Entertainingly scattershot around the turn of the Eighties. 1979, for instance, features Eric Morecambe admitting he “sneaks a look” at MOTD despite his LWT contract, Jimmy on campaigning to enforce the non-movement of keepers at penalties, a competition to match the players to a photo of their knees and Archie Macpherson described as “a man with hair resembling rusty steel wool”.
21. “Look at that! Oh, look at that!”
We already are, John. Liam Brady’s strike lit up a 5-0 derby win for Arsenal even further. John Radford told MOTD after the game he’d be celebrating the win with champagne. Jimmy: “I can well remember the day when players celebrated with a light ale on Saturday nights”
22. ITV couldn’t do this
And we mean that literally. After one of many protracted contractual disputes, this one after Michael Grade’s LWT had attempted to snatch the lot in 1978, ITV’s regional programming was obliged to switch to Saturday nights with MOTD taking up Sunday afternoons. ITV struggled and lost viewers, BBC settled into shirt sleeves and more time for Jimmy to work his oracle, and once the contract was up Central’s Gary Newbon declared “we don’t want Saturday night football ever again on ITV”. If only Brian Barwick had listened in 2001, eh?
23. Attempting to tamper with the theme doesn’t end well
1979 – synthesiser pre-set. 1990 – ambient post-Madchester. Both dropped within a month, the former, according to Jimmy, complained about by “a lot of gentlemen and even more ladies”.
24. Justin Fashanu
Norwich might have lost the game 5-3 to Liverpool, but Fashanu’s flick up and volley was named goal of the season and stayed in the opening titles for an age.
25. Clive Allen hits the stanchion
Improbably, all three officials managed to miss Allen’s free kick for Crystal Palace going in as it rebounded from the support at the back of the Coventry net.
26. The game of three goalkeepers for one team
First choice and first outfield reserve injured by the same player, at that. And Leicester still beat Shrewsbury 5-2 – Gary Lineker’s favourite game as a City player, apparently.
27. Ian Rush’s four in the Merseyside derby
Not to mention Glenn Keeley being sent off on his Everton debut, and it turned out swansong.
28. Commentators introducing their matches in-vision
For a while at the start of 1983-84 Motson and Davies would preview the games they were covering with predictions. Very much a Jimmy idea, this.
29. David Pleat runs across the pitch
After saving Luton from relegation. Makes that Derby groundsman look confident.
30. Kevin Keegan’s farewell
No, the first one, as a player at Newcastle, where he seemingly attempted to shake the hand of everybody in the stadium.
31. Graeme Sharp’s volley
A monumental strike in the… Merseyside derby. Some games are more equal than others.
32. Match Of The Day Live
Highlights fell out of favour with television so after plenty of toing and froing the league allowed a number of games to be shown live on Friday nights from 1983. The first ended Manchester United 4 Spurs 2. Before too long BBC1 was running Wogan over the first fifteen minutes of “live” games.
34. Sutton United
The BBC lost the league rights to ITV in 1988 but kept hold of the FA Cup and were on hand to witness a famous giantkilling of Coventry. Sutton manager Barrie Williams quoted Kipling in his programme notes; the programme ended with the goals accompanied by Richard Burton’s reading of If, perhaps the only time poetry and football action have actually worked well together.
35. 15th April 1989
The best broadcasters adapt to their surroundings. Lynam had been at Hillsborough that day intending to host the show from the ground. When tragic events transpired as they did he returned to London and expertly marshalled and questioned a series of interviewees while attempting to make sense of what had happened.
36. Motson makes the sheepskin coat iconic
Caught in a sudden snowstorm while waiting to tell Football Focus viewers that the FA Cup game at Wycombe had been postponed, the image of warming outerwear made the man.
38. “Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is, you know…”
“Schoolboy’s own stuff”, Barry mixing metaphors, as Gazza puts all he’s got into a free kick against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final and then goes completely to pieces in an entertaining way with Ray Stubbs afterwards.
39. Mickey Thomas
“The magic little man at the venerable age of thirty-seven” indeed.
40. “Stands the church clock at five to three, and is there football again to see?”
It was never going to be Alan Parry quoting Rupert Brooke by way of introducing a new top division, was it? The BBC got the rights back for the Premier League and had a subtle new approach to show off, chiefly involving…
41. Alan Hansen
He’d done some work for Sky on Italian football but hated it and was only too keen to take up the offer from editor Niall Sloane, where he was given free reign to redesign the art of sharp football punditry at a time when Andy Gray, who always had much more time to work out his analysis, was still faffing about with counters on a Subbuteo pitch.
42. The discreet charm of the editor
Gerald Sinstadt voicing over a goals round-up. Pitchside post-match nterviews with distracted players. A shot of a man eating a pie to denote half time. Now that every game is cut to the quick we miss all this.
43. “Bruce! Yes!”
The 96th minute goal that tipped the first Premier League season Manchester United’s way. Yet more of Barry carried away in the moment, if not half as much as Brian Kidd, who he then proceeds to ignore.
44. Everton’s escape
A nuts game in which Everton beat Wimbledon 3-2 to stay up, but also one of the first instances of MOTD, now they were able to show action from every Premier League game rather than just two or three, being able to switch between games to heighten the last day tension.
45. The BBC videos
101 Great Goals. The 60s-70s-80s double VHS pack. The Entertainers. The club-specific histories. No shelf was complete without them.
46. Blackburn winning the title
More smart cutting between two games, Rovers’ and Man Utd’s, and with a twist in the tail, topped with various Blackburn players in assorted states of inebration while being interviewed.
47. Matt Le Tissier against Blackburn
Southampton actually lost the game but it’s the Goal Of The Season-worthy jinking run, lazy top corner chip and non-celebration that people remember.
48. Manchester City taking the ball to the corner
Drawing with Liverpool they chose to run down the clock erroneously believing the score would prevent them from being relegated. Hansen’s apoplexy can only be imagined from his face.
49. Match Of The Day 2
Especially in its first year or so when Adrian Chiles and Gordon Strachan made every week a combination of knowledgeable debate and post-modern double act.
50. It’s still there
And perhaps uniquely, especially when you consider all the Trojan-friendly online streams, pub satellite hook-ups of borderline legality and lunchtime and early evening live games, still with roughly the same number of viewers as it had twenty years ago. Fifty more years!